Design Domination Podcast Episode #18: Lessons Learned From Bad Clients

Fellow longtime graphic designer Evelyn Powers and I talk about lessons learned from bad client experiences (you might gasp or guffaw at some of them), how to identify red flags with prospects and clients, and how to fire bad clients.

Evelyn Powers is a strategist and designer for Design Powers, a design company she started in 1996. In 2015, she started a joint venture called Nice Work with a fellow web development colleague creating branding and WordPress websites for area businesses. She’s also co-founder of Awesome Women Entrepreneurs, a national organization of women business owners, and she also cohosts a weekly live radio show program called Awesome Women Entrepreneurs in Arlington, Virginia, where she interviews fellow women entrepreneurs and influential business leaders.

Colleen Gratzer: Welcome to the podcast, Evelyn. It’s great to have you here.

Evelyn Powers: Hi, Colleen. It’s great to be here.

Colleen: You and I have been doing this a very long time, so we have lots of stories to tell.

Evelyn: I will say I’m pretty fortunate that I don’t have too many bad clients, I guess I learned quick.

Colleen: Not anymore, at least.

Evelyn: Yeah, definitely right off the bat, when I was a young designer, I remember people tried to rip me off a lot. That was kinda my main problem, but I definitely learned from them.

Colleen: So I thought we would start out by defining what a good client is.

Evelyn: Okay. So I think a good client is one who is very invested and interested in the project. I guess we should say—we’ll use a website build as an example—and then one that can follow directions so if you put them through their paces a little bit and ask them to fill things out, and they filled them out totally and completely. Then they follow your very basic instructions, whatever those instructions might be. They keep a schedule because of course schedules are super important to, to anything.

Colleen: Right. How about some things that you watch out for?

Evelyn: I would say someone who is very, very, really invested in the details almost to the point where it’s almost minutia, right off the bat, that’s something that I can tell that it could be a red flag. Although—and I do have a little story about that—I do have a client who started out that way, but we were able to work that out through a little bit of therapy.

And maybe a client or potential client that is super grandiose: “Oh, when we launch this website, we’re going to get 100,000 users,” and you’re like, “Maybe, but probably doubtful.” Or they just have unrealistic goals and then finally so many that you think might be making endless tweaks or is just really, really unsure.

So these are kind of like the big things that I look for, but the main one is to seem very interested in what they’re doing, follow your basic instructions and want to follow a schedule. I would say that these are the three big ones.

Now for relatively bigger jobs, I require people do discovery with me and that’s a way to weed out people who don’t do those three things that I just said. Yeah. So if it’s a little job, sometimes you’re like, eh, I’ll just kind of bang this thing out because I know it’s just a one-off and I’m actually trying to not have too many of those jobs, but they knew, they knew pop up and sometimes you just take them on because you can bang it out pretty quickly. But, yeah, I would say those are the three biggies for sure.

Colleen: On my list I would say decisive and responsive, they don’t just ghost after a while and definitely are willing to follow your process, pay on time, not looking for order takers. Of course, that can depend on where you are in your career. Sometimes you just have to take a little bit of those kind of clients just for the money, but someone that’s not looking for someone to be an order taker and so they don’t just come to you with the solution and they just want you to do it. They appreciate your expertise.

Definitely ones that demonstrate respect and don’t stand you up for meetings.

Evelyn: Yeah.

Colleen: I’ve actually modified my contracts many times over the years as a result of coming across some bad clients and some bad behavior. One of the things that I did was start asking for money up front.

Evelyn: Oh, absolutely.

Colleen: Because I actually got stiffed by people I knew.

Evelyn: Yeah, 50/30/20 is my policy. So before you start and then at a good milestone that is mutually agreeable, you get the next 30 and then before it gets launched into the world, you hit the final 20 and that was another in the contract where if they ghost for six weeks, the contract is null and void. So we’re done and to restart the contract, it’s basically restarting the whole process all over again. That’s what we have in the contract for this is for again, sizable contracts because you can’t, if you have people disappearing for three, four or five weeks, that it messes with your entire business.

Colleen: It does. It really does.

Evelyn: Absolutely. And you and you just can’t have people popping in. “Oh, I’m sorry. Um, such and such.” Knowing again that we’re all human beings and tragic things can happen or, especially lately, environmental things can happen. But generally, yeah.

Then the other one is the point of contact. This has to be decided upon right away who, if it’s, you’re working with an organization who is the person that is going to be primarily responsible for dealing with the project and if they’re not around, who’s the second or the third person.

Colleen: Did you have something happen specifically that you can think of that that was a big issue?

Evelyn: I do have a client right now where they were the main point person and they were pretty good all through discovery and really all through the the build, but now the site is launched. It’s kind of a tricky situation because the site is based on this particular person, he’s an expert so you really do need his buy-in, but he travels extensively internationally. He just always has a lot of balls in the air and he won’t follow a schedule. This is going on right now. I’ve been thinking about do I even want this client anymore because the site’s cool and it has a lot of potential, but if he’s not going to follow the schedule, it’s kind of, it’s just not worth my time. Then when I do kinda reach out to them and say, “Hey, what, what, what’s going on? I haven’t heard from you in eight weeks,” it’s excuses. So I’m actively trying to figure out if this client is worth it or not because I have tried a couple different tactics in terms of trying to get other people within his organization to take responsibility and they said they would and then they do and then they don’t. Yeah, it’s an ongoing situation.

Colleen: I had something happen just like that. Actually the my point of contact was traveling and it was a very big-name client and then she was like, “Oh, I’m going to be out of the country. You’re going to have to talk to so and so.”

It actually ended up turning into eight different people that I had to talk to and nobody was communicating with anybody. The more people involved, the worse it got. Yeah. I had to educate each of them all over again every single time. I was like, I’m never working with you again.

Evelyn: Generally how, how I’ve dealt with it—just for the purposes of the podcast—is to charge money, but even that with this particular client, now he’s, he’s gone from being someone that was pretty generous to now becoming a cheapskate and that’s where it was “Okay, well if, if there’s no money and you’re going to be a pain in the butt, we got nothing going on here.”

Colleen: Right.

Evelyn: So I mean that’s just self-preservation right there. But I do have another. Again, this is pretty recent where it’s a company that I’ve worked with for a long time, eight or nine years, and they were always pretty good. They’ve always had a good point of contact. They actually got a new person in right off the bat. He was really, really, really sort of picky about minutia and I remember thinking, oh, this could be a big red flag, but I went ahead and did discovery with him and that it really kind of what it turned out to be is I think he was just sort of focusing on the minutia because everything was overwhelming and knew that he kind of defaulted to things that he knew, but then once he got to know and trust me, that kind of fell away a little bit, so that’s actually a good story that I think kind of shows that sometimes what might be a red flag you can just, through communication and good discussions, having them do a little bit of due diligence, it kind of works its way out.

Colleen: Yes. I found that to be the case sometimes too. Well, speaking of point of contacts, I had a client once, early on in my career who contacted me for a logo design and a brochure, and he said, okay, so let’s meet for lunch. I had a full-time job, but I ended up taking a lunch break to be able to meet him for this project. And he said to me, “You’re going to have to impress my mother,” who was at the lunch too!

Evelyn: Right?

Colleen: He was totally for real, but he ended up being a jerk. He ended up threatening me via e-mail because he wanted native files but not for the logo. Of course I would give those. He wanted it for all the other materials that I did. And I’m like, “No, you don’t, you didn’t, you don’t get those. Those aren’t included.” My lesson learned from that was to always specify the deliverables—

Evelyn: Right!

Colleen: …to say “This is exactly what you’re getting.” And so then if they’re like, “Well, am I going to get this?” No. If it’s not listed, you’re not getting it.

Evelyn: Yeah. Well, so then, hold on a minute, it turns out that you did impress his mom.

Colleen: I guess I did. Yeah. That was a huge red flag though, but it’s weird. It was kind of creepy.

Evelyn: Well, let’s talk about something else that I think is a huge, huge red flag that I did not ever think about before and it’s not really specifically client based. It’s more processed based. I don’t do RFPs anymore.

Colleen: I don’t either.

Evelyn: I think RFPs are a big red flag and so to be kind of helpful to—

Colleen: It is the “red flag process.”

Evelyn: Yeah! It is the red flag process! Oftentimes you’ll read these RFPs and you’re thinking this person doesn’t even know what they’re talking about—

Colleen: Right.

Evelyn: …or the people that put this together and then if it’s a lowest-bid process, well do you really want to get into a situation where you’re trying to do work for people that don’t really know what the work entails for the lowest price? No, I don’t want… I’m not interested.

Colleen: The other thing with RFPs too is some people think it’s really smart for their organization to go and broadcast them on their website or send them to big e-mail groups and lists. Email groups and list. Yeah. In the past when I did respond to them, I’d be like, you have no mention of budget. I’m not even going to bother. And how many people is this going to? If they answer, “Oh, it’s on our website,” and I’m like, so it’s maybe gone to 20,000 people, so my odds might be 1 in 20,000, 1 in 2000, 1 in 100. Sorry. Unless it’s maybe three, four at the most, I’m not even bothering.

Evelyn: Yeah. So that, that is a big red flag, for sure.

Colleen: I have a good story here. You’ll appreciate this. I think I was laying out a conference brochure for a client and I really liked working with this woman and she was really nice, but then it came to… I think it was already round 2, and I was expecting a final approval and she turned around and said, “Oh, we have all new copy.”

Evelyn: Ugh.

Colleen: What are you talking about? You need to be marking the changes in the PDF so I can see what’s changed. And they said, “Well no, we just didn’t do that so you’ll have to lay on this new copy.” Oh, my goodness, right? And so then she says, “Okay, well we still have a draft laugh that’s included in the price.” Well, technically they did, but that didn’t mean it included a whole rewrite?

Evelyn: Right.

Colleen: Anyway, I was afraid to really assert myself and say anything. So I just dealt with it. But she actually said to me after that draft, she said, okay, well we have one more draft left, so let me see what revisions I can come up with.

Evelyn: Wow.

Colleen: Did you just say that? So my lesson learned from that—what I started adding to my contract after that is that instead of saying something includes “x number of designs” or “x number of revisions,” I always say “up to.” Clients trying to buy things based on quantity instead of quality—but no.

Evelyn: Here’s another lesson learned from a client that I had who kind of similar to what you said. I was doing a brochure and things were going along swimmingly and I think it was about the third author’s alteration, as I call them the AAs. I get this email basically saying, oh, we’re going to hire a new designer. Geez, what did I say or do? I thought I thought this was going to press next week.

What had happened was the organization, the point person, a new person had come in and just didn’t like what I had done with their person and said, “This is no good and we’re not going to pay.”

So she was trying to not pay me and, but I had saved all the e-mail communications that said, “That looks good,” “Okay. We’re going with that,” “Okay, next steps…” There was a running record of the communication that went on—

Colleen: And the progress… it was done.

Evelyn: I said, “Whether you want to print this or not, I don’t care, but you better pay me or I’m going to take you to small claims court.” Luckily, it was a pretty small job. I think it was under $2,000. But still it was, it was $2,000, and there were no red flags and then all of a sudden the red flagged walked into the office unbeknownst—

Colleen: And lit itself on fire!

Evelyn: That happened to me pretty early in my career and I remember it was a huge lesson. Never ever, ever delete any emails or any communiqué until after you’ve gotten paid for that task, because you never know when that line of communication is needed. And I do have the files. Most of them are archived because you don’t want to keep all that stuff around.

Colleen: I do!

Evelyn: But I’ve, I mean, yeah, I do. I have all of it archived.

Colleen: I have it on a disc or on a drive.

Evelyn: External drives just with stuff from 1992. So I’m sort of a digital hoarder.

Colleen: I do the same thing. I keep all e-mails, everything with the job and then I put it on an external drive. But it’s funny that you had that scenario happened because I had something very similar happen and there were no red flags and it was actually a different contact from a client that I really enjoyed working with.

I had tended to underprice things, so, not intentionally. And so I actually did. I thought I did well with the pricing…

Evelyn: Right.

Colleen: And I thought this is fantastic, right? And then I go to work on it. I’m really happy with the designs. I send it to her and I say, “Okay, let’s discuss it and then talk about any changes that might need to be done.” But we, we talked I think and then she said, “Okay, I’ll get back to you.”

And the next time I heard back from her, she said, “We’re going in another direction.” I said, “Okay, so we need to have a conversation about this so I can figure out what direction you want to go.” And she said, “No, we’re going with another designer.”

Going in another direction and going with a different designer are two totally different things. I don’t know what that was all about, but I was thinking what the heck?

Once I had a situation where I was working with a client for many years and everything was pretty copasetic, and I ended up firing them because I was so frustrated because they got this new person in there who became my contact and she wouldn’t, she just wouldn’t…  They trusted me. I got them a lot of results. But this woman would just go and talk to the printer without involving me. And at one point…

I found out about this because I went to send the job. It was a direct mail package. I sent it to the printer and he said, “Well, this isn’t in reflex blue and black.” And I’m like, “Why the heck would it be in reflex blue and black? Their colors are teal and purple.” And he said, “Oh well, so and so said that we’re going to be printing and reflex blue and black,” because it was $40 cheaper. It was something totally outrageous. What are you talking about? She never even told me that.

Evelyn: Right. Right?

Colleen: Why would it even be coming up? Right. So this, this happened several times and I just said I can’t do this anymore. You’re interfering with me getting things done for you. And I just can’t. I mean that’s the only person I’ve ever had do anything like that. That was some weird one-off thing. But whenever I have clients that really have no clue, I just, I’m like, “Let me handle print bids, let me handle print specs, let me handle all of that because it’ll make everything much, much easier.”

Evelyn: Almost 100 percent of the time they said, “Yeah.“

Colleen: Right. I’m like, “I’m going to deal with all this.” And she was getting involved herself and messing it up and I said, I can’t do this anymore.

Evelyn: Yeah. Yeah. Well, that one client that I was just telling you about very recently, he was very into the minutia. He really wanted to do some stuff that was kind of what I would consider old school. Yeah. I mean it’s not really old school but I just don’t come across it as much anymore because people don’t put big budgets into business cards and things like that very much—and pocket folders.

So he was Googling business cards late one night and he sees foil stamping and embossing and all these luxury stocks and stuff. And so then he was saying, “I’d like to go in this direction.” He was pretty close to a printer that I know very well, the location.

I kinda use a little bit of reverse psychology on him. I go, “Awesome. I haven’t been able to do that stuff in a while. If you go to the printer, tell them to price out foil stamping and embossing and pocket folders and have them look at Classic Crest and Mohawk.” And I go, “I love that stuff. I’m so excited you want to do that!”

He was all enthusiastic. He went over to the printer. The printer showed all that stuff. And they gave him the price, then he goes, “You know, I was thinking we’re going to dial this back a little.”

Oh, and this is a funny thing. Someone had handed him a card that was an engraved card, and he really wanted to look into that. And I was like, “Well, I think engraving is about $3 a card, but I applaud you. I love that stuff!” When he looked at the bottom line, he was like, “Oh, okay, well I guess we can’t really do that now.” And I said, oh, oh…

Colleen: I had this one client who was… This goes back to one of the things I think I mentioned in the beginning about respect being a big deal as good client criteria. I had this client that they… it was a large publication and I worked on it every month and I actually worked on it for 10 years.

Evelyn: Wow.

Colleen: But they were, well my, my contact that was there for a while. She was horrible to work with. She was actually very verbally abusive and disrespectful and then she’d turn around and praise me to other people. But then she’d say, “Come on, when is it going to get done?” After she had, after I had recreated a whole 200-page publication, proofread it and laid it out in two weeks.

The reason they got rid of their previous designer was because they were two months behind schedule, but here I get it done in two weeks and then I’m being told to hurry up and get this done, whatever.

That was lightning fast. Get off my back. Right? She didn’t treat me well and I put up with it for the money because I was taking business advice from family and friends that were like, “Oh, but it’s a lot of money and you should just keep on with it.”

So what I, what I learned from that was, well, first of all I learned don’t take business advice from friends and family, but also I was so busy with that job and I had other clients too, but I got so busy with work I didn’t do any marketing and I was at the mercy of this big client because they were paying me so much. I should have actually been doing more marketing, even though I had this other work with other clients because I probably could have gotten rid of that client—

Evelyn: Right. Yeah.

Colleen: …sooner than I did, but at some point I’m just like, look, I’m done.

Evelyn: Yeah. Yeah. Sometimes it takes working with a client, a couple of years or several years and, and there are times where the personalities just don’t mesh. I did have a client like that where I was producing a magazine, it was a quarterly magazine and me and my first contact got along really, really well and then he left after a couple of years. A new person came in and we just had no chemistry. There was just not the communication there and so…

But because I had sort of the institutional knowledge and had worked on the project for a number of years and knew the organization, I kind of gutted it out, but I didn’t enjoy working with this person. And then finally there kinda came a point where there was a good break in me being able to gracefully bow out, which is what I did. I just said, “I can’t really take this project on for x, y, z and thank you, thank you, thank you. You guys have been great and here’s two or three other people that would be ideal.”

Sometimes that just happens to and you can’t really beat yourself up about it. I mean you just can’t work with people that you can’t work with because that just makes for a miserable existence regardless of the money.

Colleen: Right, exactly. And I was actually thrilled when this person left, but then the person I was left dealing with, it was like dealing with someone that had amnesia on a daily basis. We do this publication every single day. Nothing changes. It’s the same process. And I would outline, I gave her a PDF with checklists, here’s what I need to get done at certain times every single month. And every day it was the same questions over and over again. Oh, so frustrating.

Evelyn: Maybe she had some short-term memory problem.

Colleen: You were talking about part of your process is discovery. And I have found that some clients. Well, identifying some red flags is kind of easy if they’re already showing themselves to not follow your process. I want people to provide certain information, answer certain questions before I get on a call with them, and then I send them a link to get on the call.

Well, I remember somebody saying to me they refused to fill out any form with the questions. They didn’t want a schedule link. So they were just not going to be a good fit. Thanks. I’m glad we figured that out right now. That’s fine with me.

Evelyn: Right.

Colleen: But then I was talking to this one person from a big organization and she wanted an estimate for a ton of work and so we got on a call and I told her it was going to be about a 20-minute call. In the middle of the conversation, while I’m asking these questions about the work and why it needed to be done, etc., she’s like, “Who’s interviewing who here? None of the other companies asked me any of these questions.” And I’m like, “Okay, thanks for your time.” Bye Bye. Wouldn’t be a good fit.

Evelyn: Yeah, I mean you, you could have said to her, “Well, maybe none of these other companies are as invested in your success as I am.”

Colleen: Yeah. I might’ve said it something like that too, but I was just like, “Yeah, that’s the point.” Nobody else has asked me these questions. They should be!

Evelyn: Right. Yeah. We really want to get a very clear understanding about what your goals are before we take on the project, so we can give you an accurate bid. We’re not just giving you a number and then we’re going to jack it up 100 percent as we get down the road. You know what I mean? This is for everyone’s benefit, not just… so. Yeah. Well, it sounds like you dodged a bullet, Colleen.

Colleen: She eliminated herself. So that’s fine. That was great.

But I’ve also had, I haven’t had this happen a lot and I don’t know how many times you’ve had this happen, but people that are expecting free work. I’ve had it happen in two interesting situations. One time, this prospect called and they wanted a logo design and the conversation was going really, really well and then towards the end they were like, “Well, I just want to let you know we are talking to other companies,” and I said, “Yeah, I figured that.”

He said, “Yeah, so after you submit your designs then we’ll decide who we want to work with.”

Oh, no, no, no. You’ve got this all wrong. Oh, no, you are free to do that, but you’re going to still pay for it.

I said there’s an awful lot involved. It’s not sitting down and drawing a picture and saying, here, what do you like? It’s not I’m cooking up a meal and putting different things on a platter. “Here. What do you like? Choose one.” There’s research and stuff that’s going on behind the scenes before any of this happens.

And then I had this other person call me. She was a prospect, nobody I knew. She just called up and droned on about how educated she was, how many degrees she had, all these things that she had done for the state of Maryland and I’m just like, I don’t care. I got to go. I got things to do, right?

So anyway, she kept going on and then finally she starts talking about how she wanted a book done and then she says that she had worked with several designers on this book.

Evelyn: Uh oh.

Colleen: So that’s a red flag. Then she said, “But I had to even tell them what fonts to use.” That’s a red flag too. Finally, when I was able to get a word in—I mean, it was ridiculous—I told her I have a set process. I would send you an agreement and then 50 percent will be required up front since you’re a new client. She screamed at me on the phone and she said, “I can’t believe that you’ve sat here and wasted my time and you didn’t tell me that there was going to be a fee at the beginning of the conversation.”

Wait, this woman actually thinks I just wasted her time because she thought I was going to give her work for free because all these other designers had apparently done her wrong. So I’m supposed to make up for that!

Evelyn: That’s crazy. Yeah. No, I mean I have not had that. I usually will just say right off the bat, “No, I don’t do work on spec.”

Colleen: I didn’t even know that’s what she was expecting. I just thought she was droning on about these issues she had with all these designers. I’m thinking, yeah, you’re just checking yourself off of my list here. But when she actually said that she had expected me to do it for free because of her trouble with these designers… You’re insane.

Evelyn: Right, right. Well, she very well may be insane.

Colleen: She kept on yelling. I literally had to hang up the phone on her while she was yelling. It was ridiculous.

Evelyn: Yeah, no, I luckily have not had that.

I would probably say the thing that happens to me periodically still is I will have friends who will ask me to do something, I will say right up front, okay, this is just a quickie one-off. I’ll give you my friends and family discount, but these are the parameters…

Colleen: Right.

Evelyn: If you can give me this, this, this and this on this date, I will do this for that and you have to pay me cash. I treat it under the table, a quickie thing. And that’s usually all they’re asking me to do. I’m not even going to run it through my business. I’m just going to do this quick thing for you, but don’t turn it into something where I’m going to regret that.

Colleen: Right.

Evelyn: Again, I’d probably do it once or twice a year. You don’t always want to be like, “No you can’t do that unless you pay me.” But usually what they’re asking is so inconsequential, it literally does take you not that much time.

But no, I don’t, I don’t have too many people like that anymore.

Colleen: Me, neither. Thank goodness!

Evelyn: Probably, early, early, early in my career—and I would say rarely—I would do logos and then go to show them to people and they wouldn’t want to pay for them. They’d be like, “That’s great” and take the art—because this is even before files. You were actually giving them art.

They wouldn’t want to pay me and I was thinking, oh, geez, what do I do? I don’t have a bodyguard to go over there and strong arm them. I’m going to take your money out if you don’t give me my money. I know it happened to me a couple times and so I definitely learned you’ve got to get some money up front before you do anything.

Colleen: Yeah.

Evelyn: If you don’t know them—

Colleen: And then invoice frequently.

Evelyn: I would say that the biggest thing that you’ve just got to start doing if you’re a new designer and I know when you’re in your 20s and you just graduate art school or graphic design or whatever program that you’ve been in and you’re. Somebody wants you to do something. It’s really exciting. Yes, I got all these ideas and you want to dig right into it. But I just say stop. Stop yourself and say, “I need some money.”

Colleen: “I need to put my business cap on.”

Evelyn: “Now I’ve got to get some money from you first.”

Colleen: But it makes you look like more of a professional to do that.

Evelyn: Absolutely.

Colleen: …as opposed to not having a contract of some sort in place and then money up front because it’s saying, “I’m worth it,” and I’m going to be like, I’m taking this seriously and I want to get paid.

Evelyn: And from the client perspective, you’re making an investment. This is something that you’re investing in. We’re equally wanting to do a good job in and you to be happy at the end of it. I do think people value things more when they pay for them.

Colleen: Absolutely.

Evelyn: So if you get something for free, you’re just generally like, ah. Like I was just saying about my friends, if they need something quick, I still do make them pay me because I don’t want to do free stuff ever. Because, because it positions the value in their mind. It’s not that I need that money. It’s like, “I want you to know that there’s value in what I’m giving you, so you need to pay me some money for it.”

Colleen: Right.

Evelyn: This is for your benefit, not mine.

Colleen: You can even give them an invoice that shows the full rate of what you would normally charge. And then here’s what you paid.

Evelyn: There was a situation… and this is actually a great story. So me and my husband, we had… Our kids were really young and we had just bought our house and we literally had no money. Okay. We were just stretched thin, and my daughter wanted to do a theater camp. She was about 7 or 8, and I knew the couple that ran this organization and so I emailed the woman who ran it and I had talked to her at my daughter’s school and I said, “Listen, I really want my daughter to be able to do this camp this summer.” It was $600.

I said, “I literally don’t have $600 to pay you right now. I said, is there any way you would ever consider bartering?” I said, “I’m a designer. Is there anything that you would consider bartering so that she could be in this camp and I’ll do $600 worth of graphic design work for you?”

Of course, I figured she would just email me back and say, “No, thanks.” But she could. Instead, she said, “Yes. Oh, my God, we have so many things that you could do that. We would love it if you could do that for us.” So we did. We set all the parameters out. I did that thing for… Then it wound up that my daughter wanted to do the camps every year for several years. I would just barter with them and we would always kind of do this equal exchange. And then of course my daughter, who’s now in college, graduated out of it, but they still liked me and still wanted me to do their stuff, so now they’re a paying client.

So there you go. There’s a situation where I was trying to make lemonade out of lemons and then it turned out to be just a fantastic little client. So sometimes you can figure out different ways to get services if you don’t have the money and I actually have something kinda like that going on right now with somebody who wants some work but doesn’t really have the money. So we’re thinking of maybe some creative ways. Again, this is pretty small stuff. I wouldn’t do this with a big web build or something like that.

Colleen: I once bartered some design work for, for meals at my favorite restaurant.

Evelyn: Yeah. Yeah.

Colleen: So what do you think are some good phrases for when you—clearly, if you spot red flags before you’ve worked with somebody you can just say, “We’re not a good fit.” But if you’re working with a client and they’re just a jerk…

If they’re a jerk, you don’t want to refer them to your colleagues because you don’t want them to end up having the same problems. So sometimes I’ve just said, “You’d be a better fit for so and so,” and that it is not someone who was a jerk to work with. Maybe it just wasn’t a good fit.

If somebody wants to art direct, I say, “I think you need to go check out Fiverr” or something.

So what are some things that you have said when you had fired a client?

Evelyn: I don’t really have anything different to add. Definitely “This isn’t working out.” And then I would say for whatever the particular reason is, and I have recommended people to go to Fiverr, especially people who want logos for free. There is a great place for that. Or 99designs which you can—

Colleen: Or if they don’t want to pay up front.

Evelyn: Right. Yeah. I’ve recommended people go to Upwork. I’m trying to think… So this one particular client that I was telling you about at the very beginning of the podcast and that’s ongoing… He actually asked me to do a pretty big web build for him for another thing that he is involved in and I did tell him, I said, “That’s not my niche.” It’s an e-commerce thing. I said “You really should get a company that that’s what they specialize in.”

So I just kind of steered him in a direction because I knew from the other website that he doesn’t follow the schedule. He doesn’t follow my process and he was really good about paying, but he was not being good about paying. I thought the last thing I want to do is get into a bigger, more intensive web e-commerce web build with them, which is going to be a big job.

If I had confidence in it… This is… we’re talking a $50,000 job. This would be a really great job. But because of those red flags, I don’t want to do it. $50,000 job that I ended up spending $100,000 of my life in, if you know what I mean?

I just thought there’s just no way there would be, there’d have to be all kinds of changes in the way that this guy operates for me to even consider it. He was sitting here in my office and I said, “This is the kind of place that you want to look for” and I showed him some other companies that specialized more in that sort of thing anyway.

I actually just had an instance this week where somebody asked me to consider doing their web design and I said no, because again, I’m trying to do a niche and more of a product, and this is outside of it and I don’t want to get into this particular niche. So I’m learning how to, for myself, I’m learning how to say no more and more to things that aren’t a good fit for to so and that’s to eliminate the red flags.

Colleen: And saying no to the work that you don’t want to do is saying yes to other work, other potential work, that you do want to know.

Evelyn: Yeah. Like you were saying, you opened the door to the projects that you really, really are a good fit for and then your clients happier too because you have this process that you’re putting them through. They’re getting their result and everyone’s happy.

Colleen: Well, this has been great. Thanks for being on the podcast, Evelyn. It’s been great.

Evelyn: Thank you, Colleen. I loved it. Yeah.

Liked this content?

Check out:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join the Design Domination Community

Hang out and get advice from designers of all levels in our welcoming community of graphic designers on Facebook.

Join the group