Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

Amateurs Get Angry With Clients. Professionals Educate Them.

As most experienced freelancers know, sometimes we have to fire our clients, for their benefit and ours. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

I used to think dealing with frustrating clients was just part of being a creative. But then I realized while, yes, there are frustrating parts of any relationship, frustration should be the exception rather than the rule.

There are certainly times when we want to turn into the freelance version of Donald Trump, screaming “You’re Fired!” at everyone we disagree with. But the truth is, we deserve the clients we get. Bad clients aren’t the result of some cosmic force working against us, they’re more likely the result of our own actions.

Frustrating clients are the result of some misstep we’ve made along the way. To do our best work and work with the best people, we need to be diligent in our relationship with our clients. Here’s how:

Have the guts to say “no.”

If it doesn’t seem like a good project for you, walk away before money is involved. Is that the type of project you want to be known for? Like attracts like, so if you’re filling your portfolio with work you aren’t interested in, all you’re doing is setting yourself up for more of the same (Jason Santa Maria gave a great Creative Mornings talk about the power and value of saying no to work). It can be scary, but think past just this one client. 

Walk away before money is involved.

Clearly communicate your values to the world.

The easiest way to do this is to blog regularly on the same website that your portfolio is on. Write honestly about the work you do. This immediately shows potential clients if their goals and values match up with yours and saves time discovering later that you and your client are out of sync.

Educate your clients.

Chances are, we’ve been part of more projects involving our craft than the person that hired us. We have a great opportunity to teach our clients what we’ve learned from all that experience. 

If a client disagrees with something you know to be right, don’t get bent out of shape. Instead, go into research mode. Show them using examples why what they want doesn’t work for your project. If they can turn around and clearly illustrate why their suggestion will work, you can concede (and learn something in the process). If they can’t you’ve squashed an issue while educating your client for (hopefully) many projects to come. Consider it an “investment” in a resource that you need for your career to be successful.

Interrogate potential clients.

What are their tastes in design? Does that match the work you’re interested in doing? There’s no point taking on a client that loves flashy bells and whistles if you like doing subtle minimal designs. Screening clients lets you pick the ones that are better to work with and provide you with the type of work you’re actually keen on doing more of.

Be clear on the project’s goals.

That way if there are disagreements, it’s not a matter of what they want versus what you want, which is highly subjective, it’s more a matter of what accomplishes the goals of the project in the best way. Put these goals in writing and refer back to the document when necessary.

***

It’s hard to say no to clients (and their money), especially when you first start out. But like any other creative endeavor, focus on quality early and your career will get exponentially easier. After all, good clients lead to us good work, which leads to us being more happy and fulfilled (and less complaining to our peers about how our clients keep making bad decisions). Creating a body of work you’re happy with can take a lifetime.

We are responsible for the work we put into the world, so why not make that work great?

How about you?

How do you filter for the best clients?

More insights on: Clients

Paul Jarvis

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Paul is a Gentleman of Adventure. He's also a web designer and author. If he's not in nature on some Thoreau-esque tangent (but with wifi), you can find him on twitter at @pjrvs.
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