Freelancing decisions

How do designers know when to say no to a client? 

It’s too easy to take everything that comes your way even when you know you’ll be over stretched and working every hour available. The life of a freelancer is a precarious one. One day you could get the contract that will keep you in work for the next six months, the next your doing paperwork because the work has been a bit slow lately and you’ve got time to finally catch up on the tedious tasks. One thing I’ve found is that not everything that comes your way is worth saying yes to. It’s good to go with your gut feeling and say yes only when you are comfortable with the client, their needs and the work that is required. Just because the work is potentially a good one financially, it may be the bane of your life if the client isn’t prepared to accept the terms of the contract and is constantly questioning what they are getting for their money.

Am I speaking from experience, you may be asking? Yes! Earlier this year a previous client recommended me to someone they knew. Not a good friend or anything personal, just an acquaintance they came across in their own daily work. My client kindly pointed this person in my direction, for which I was initially most grateful for. However, what happened after that wasn’t exactly a pleasant working experience. This is where the ‘gut feeling’ should have kicked in, but sadly I was thinking about the earning potential of this job and decided to bite the bullet and go with it.

The whole experience turned out to be a rather large headache. I set out each item of work very clearly and priced it accordingly. The client agreed this brief  with the costs involved so I set to work. My ‘gut feeling’ moment was definitely during the first meeting with the client and I should have said there and then that I didn’t think I was able to fulfill the task within the time frame required (as an excuse to get me out of it, the reality was that I could deliver what was required, it would have been tight for time, but it was definitely possible). When your client tells you that they don’t really care what the logo looks like, alarm bells should be ringing rather loudly. For me, they were a dim chime in the background that I was refusing to acknowledge; to my detriment as it turned out.

To cut a long story short, the alarm bells finally rang like a team of campanologists in my head, when I was mistakenly sent an email from one of my clients minions, requesting a cheaper quote from someone else. This was a rather annoying moment, as you can imagine, but for me it was also the defining moment. I eventually parted company with the client, not without a battle though. I was threatened with letters from a solicitor, a rather feeble attempt to scare me into handing over the logo files I had created without the payment that I had requested so far. Fortunately I didn’t buckle, I stuck to my guns and eventually handed over the files once the full amount owing to me was deposited into my account.

Rightly or wrongly, I conducted all communication via email so to ensure that I had a written account of the whole process. It is far too easy for someone to deny something said in person or over the phone, having words in writing is definitely the best way when things get tricky. Of course not all clients are difficult, most are genuine, appreciate the costs involved when dealing with a professional service and are happy to pay for the service provided. As long as delivery is of a high standard, managed in a professional manner, time scales are adhered to and costs kept within a reasonable margin of the estimate, there shouldn’t be any need for a client to be unhappy.

The frustrating thing about working as a freelance graphic designer is that you are not always taken seriously by some clients, my point in case with this experience. Working from home at my kitchen table maybe a great thing for me, but maybe not the look that some people envisage when considering me as a professional. I don’t have the overheads of an office to rent, so I can keep my prices down quite considerably, so being freelance not only benefits me, but also my clients.

My parting words to the difficult client were as polite as I could possibly muster under the circumstances. I expressed disappointment regarding the email that was mistakenly sent to me requesting another quote after I’d spent hours on researching quotes for printing costs, designed the logo and started various other elements of the work commissioned. I also pointed out that I do not provide a ‘Vista Print’ service, and if that was the quality of design required it may be best to use that service rather than me. Enough said. I finally got the money owing to me, handed over the files that he required and never looked back.

A lesson in being cautious about the work I take on, that ‘gut feeling’ is there for a reason and in future, I’ll be listening to my gut with a lot more respect.

4 thoughts on “Freelancing decisions

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