Design Domination Podcast Episode #154: Stop People Pleasing, Save Your Business

Smiling waiter holding a tray.Providing good customer service doesn’t mean you have to be at the whim of every client request or that the client is always right. In fact, if you do that, your business will suffer. Find out why people pleasing is bad for your creative business.

Why People Pleasing Is Bad for Business

When designers get into a service-based business such as graphic design, logo design or web design, you probably have every intention of providing good service and making clients happy—and you should. But many designers are people pleasers, which actually ends up hurting their creative business.

Stick around to find out how people pleasing hurts your business and what to do about it.

When I say “people pleaser,” what I mean is a person who sacrifices their own best interests and prioritizes making others happy. You’re afraid to assert yourself in your business.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t provide good customer service to clients. But providing good customer service doesn’t mean you have to be at the whim of every client request, or at their beck and call, or that the client is always right.

Symptoms of People Pleasing

In fact, if you were to do that, your business would suffer. I know because I did that for many years. For example:

I often made small edits for free just because it was a “good” client.

I underpriced work thinking it would help me get new clients. Ironically, I lost much more work from pricing too low than too high.

I assumed that if a client asked questions about the price that it must be too high. I was completely intimidated talking about money.

I would take on work that I wasn’t great at or hated doing simply because the client asked me to do it.

I sometimes sucked up the cost of revisions that were outside the original scope of the project.

I often would rush to get a project done earlier—and, worse, at no extra charge—if a client asked me to, even if it meant working late at night or on weekends to get it done.

I would sometimes answer calls or respond to e-mails outside of my supposed business hours.

I didn’t enforce late fees for chronic late-paying large clients.

I put up with bad behavior from clients. I made excuses like “But they’re my biggest client.”

My business was like a ping pong ball that just bounced from one client request to another. My business was definitely not in my control, and it was stressful.

So if any of that sounds like you, keep listening…

I see so many other designers doing these things.

When you’re a people pleaser, you lose all leverage. It’s no longer an equal partnership between you and a client. It’s a dictatorship, with them being the dictators. You don’t end up running your business. The client does.

Why Many Designers Are People Pleasers

If you’re a people pleaser, as I was in the past, then you may sabotage your business without even knowing it. You may do it for many reasons.

1.   You have low self-esteem

First, you may have low self-esteem or lack confidence in your abilities. I know of so many talented designers who don’t believe in themselves. They aren’t confident.

I see this a lot especially with designers who are just starting out, and I get it. I was the same way.

You don’t own your skills and expertise. You undervalue your work.

You might ask yourself: “Well, if someone can Google how to design a logo or build a website, why would they hire me to do it for them?”

You might compare your current skills or pricing to designers who’ve been in the industry a long time. You don’t compare apples to apples.

You might say, “But how can I charge more when there are better designers out there?”

You might say, “I can’t raise my rates because I don’t have experience in this industry.”

We all start at different levels. Some designers are awesome when starting out. I was not one of them. Some need to work on their skills more. I was one of those.

2. You want to avoid confrontation

Another reason you might be people pleasing is to avoid confrontation. Boy, oh, boy, did I do this all the time.

You want to avoid confrontation of any kind or what you might see as a potential “conflict,” even though it’s really not a conflict.

Anything that makes you uncomfortable, you look to avoid it at all costs. You don’t want to ruffle any feathers. You don’t want clients to balk or question you.

When your goal is to avoid confrontation or conflict, you may become resentful toward the client. That makes it harder to do a good job for them, because you already feel taken advantage of.

So what happens is that you may not do your best work. The client might even notice too. They could lose trust and question your expertise. That might make you lose a lot of confidence.

It could also cost you a good testimonial or review or referral to other clients.

But having what seem to be “uncomfortable” conversations is a part of being in business. They also always won’t feel uncomfortable. You get better from practicing these conversations.

That will actually help you build your confidence too.

3. You fear rejection or disappointing others

You may also people please because you fear rejection or disappointing others.

Some people in general—but especially designers—have a fear of rejection or disappointing others. After all, we’re creators, and when someone criticizes your work or doesn’t feel it was up to par, you may not be able to help but take it personally or you might start second-guessing yourself.

Sometimes that feedback can motivate us to become better designers. Sometimes you can do everything well and, no matter what you do, you will never please everyone.

You know what they say about everyone having an opinion…

4. You can’t say no

You might find it difficult to say no.

You want to be seen as the nice, helpful designer, so you say yes to requests that you shouldn’t.

You might take on work you’re not good at really doing and then not do the best job. Then the client won’t want to give you a testimonial or they may question the invoice. They probably won’t refer you to others either.

You might take on clients who aren’t a good fit. Not every client is a good client.

You might take on projects with unreasonable deadlines, which ends up affecting your other client work.

You might respond to clients outside of your business hours, or you respond immediately. They come to expect that from you.

Let me tell you: it’s really hard to untrain them from that.

You might let them text you when you really prefer they call or e-mail you instead.

5. You’re empathetic

Another reason you might be a people pleaser is because you’re empathetic. I find this to be the case with so many designers. I think we’re naturally wired this way as creative individuals.

I think that empathy is also probably related to having imposter syndrome too. Because you’re so genuine and want to do a good job, you don’t think you’re good enough.

But what’s funny is that imposter complex expert Tanya Geisler, whom I had on the podcast, said that usually people who feel this way are the ones who aren’t imposters. The real imposters are the ones who don’t think about or care about this stuff.

6. You want to be liked

You might also just want to be liked. I mean, we all do. But being liked doesn’t keep you in business.

Being the nice or lowest-priced designer doesn’t usually get you more work. If it does, you might attract the wrong clients, the tire kickers.

If you aren’t going to be profitable, what is the point of even taking that work in the first place?

Being nice also doesn’t usually get you more respect. It doesn’t get you the next project or client. Clients aren’t looking for nice so much as they are looking for expertise and confidence to get the job done well and on time.

You might make exceptions to your rules such as not getting payment up front with all new clients, just to be seen as nice.

You might not charge for work that falls outside the original scope of work, making the project unprofitable for you and maybe the client sees you as a pushover.

Now I’m not saying don’t be nice. But be nice as in pleasant with your personality, sure. But you don’t have to constantly do favors for clients.

7. You look for external validation

You may also look for external validation of your self-worth. You seek praise, and when you don’t get it, you feel like you or your work aren’t good enough.

Yes, we all love to hear that we did a great job. But oftentimes I see designers looking for obstacles they can put in front of themselves to justify not doing something.

You might say, “I can’t raise my prices until I get such and such certification.”

You also might say, “I can’t offer a particular service to my clients until I take this particular course.”

These may also be a way for you to justify (in your mind) procrastination, not taking the steps you are ready to take because of a mindset of not being good enough.

I’ve suffered from perfectionism my entire life, so I remind myself of the phrase:

“Progress over perfection.”

So don’t let wanting to be perfect get in the way either.

How to Stop Being a People Pleaser

So how do you stop being a people pleaser? You start by putting you first. You have to put your business first.

1. Set boundaries

One way to do that is to set clear boundaries. Those could be how you want clients to work with you, and how and when you want them to contact you, when you expect payments, etc.

2. Don’t low-ball your pricing

Another thing to do is to not low-ball your pricing.

You have to make sure that when you’re pricing design work, it will be profitable, as opposed to low-balling to win a new client or project.

3. Talk money up front

Speaking of pricing, talk money up front. Don’t be afraid. This is what experts do. They talk money up front.

If you aren’t confident doing this (and I used to not be confident at all about this), run, don’t walk, to episode 42 with Blair Enns about pricing and sales.

Read his books: Win Without Pitching Manifesto and Pricing Creativity.

Listen to episode 50 on confidence and sales with Mike Killen. Get his book, Sell Futures, Not Features.

Such amazing advice in them!

4. Get comfortable saying no

Get comfortable saying no to clients.

Don’t go to such great lengths to make a client happy out of fear of losing them at the expense of your mental health.

I made this mistake for many years.

Say no to unreasonable requests, such as endless revisions or pulling all-nighters.

Say no to doing free work, unless it’s a cause you care about and you’re happy to do the work free. For example, I have done that for quite a few animal rescues.

Say no to things that you are not good at or that you’re not sure that you’re going to get a good outcome for.

Saying yes to projects or clients that aren’t the right fit means that you have less time for the ones that are the right fit.

5. Don’t take on anything and everything

Don’t take on any project or client. Take time to actually consider if they’re a good fit or not. Stick with work you’re good at and getting good results for those clients.

6. Look back to move forward

Look back at your past work to remind yourself how far you’ve come, how much your skills have improved. This will help you build confidence. It is sooo easy to forget where we started.

What you have to remember is that we all start somewhere and clients get the best that you can offer where you are now in your skill set and expertise.

I have shown pics of my college projects and my first job out of college on social media. If you saw them, you probably had a good laugh. That’s OK. I did too.

My skills vastly improved in a short timeframe, and then, as you’d expect, showed a ton more improvement after being in the industry for more than two decades.

Where you are now you are not stuck forever.

If your work isn’t at the level you want it to be, get a mentor to help you pinpoint areas you need to work on. Look at other designers’ work—not to compare but to see how they approached a design and why you think it looks better than yours, such as do they have a better grasp on typography maybe? If so, that’s something that you can work on.

When you’re more confident about your work, you’re less likely to undervalue it, underprice it.

Mentoring for Graphic Designers

I hope this was helpful to you. If you have any people-pleasing behaviors, nip them in the bud and it will totally benefit your business.

When I did it, it changed so much not only in my life but with my business. And it’s so amazing to come out on the other side and have respect from clients and only focus on work that you want to do and get paid more for that.

If you’re feeling stuck and having trouble breaking through to a better mindset, find out more about mentoring and inquire to see if it would be a good fit.

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