I found myself in a very uncomfortable and unprecedented situation the other day. I’ve been berated by clients before. Not often, but it does happen from time to time. But never, in all my years as a graphic and web designer have I been yelled at by a client’s mother. I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let’s backtrack to the beginning.
I was recently contacted by a very nice young woman who was in the early stages of starting her own small business, and she needed a logo. We set up our informal phone consultation, and she asked that another woman be included on the call. It turns out that the client was only 21 years old, and the other woman was her mother. Alarm bells rang in my mind, but I pushed them aside long enough to hear her out and see what she needed. Against my better judgement, I sent her my standard agreement and and invoice for the 50% deposit that I require. Several days later, she came back to me, wanting to add more revision cycles to the agreement.
I already didn’t really want to take her on as a client, and this request was all I needed to walk away from the project. I simply told her that I was booked pretty solid, and I would not have the necessary bandwidth to help her at this time. I was very nice about it, of course, as there is never any need to burn bridges.
The next morning, her mother called. As I was being brow-beaten for being “unprofessional,” all I could think was “man, did I make the right call on this one.” So why didn’t I want to work with this client in the first place? It’s simple really:
I like to work for business people, not people with “an idea.”
Don’t get me wrong, people with ideas built this country, and are responsible for every innovation in history. But small clients who come to me who are paying out-of-pocket and have only a vague “idea” eat up much more time than other clients, and they are rarely satisfied with the results.
Think about it - some of the best designs are born out of simplicity. I always push for it, and every single client asks for it, whether it’s what they end up choosing in the end or not. The problem is that micro-clients rarely think like business people. They operate on a much more personal level, and are often preoccupied with “getting their money’s worth,” rather than on arriving at the best design for their new business. This is true even when they originally ask for something simple and elegant.
They tend to reject the beauty of simplicity in favor of more bells and whistles. After all, if they pay $1000 of their own money for a logo, it better have a LOT going on. Most of my past clients that fall into this category use their revision cycles to keep adding different elements, whether they belong or not. They just want “more.”
Of course this is a sweeping generalization, and it isn’t true of all micro-clients, but I have found it to be the case often enough for me to screen them out when I see the warning signs. Part of establishing your design business is focusing on your ideal client base, and catering to them.
The Pareto Principle
Remember the 80:20 rule which states that roughly 80% of your profit will come from 20% of your clients. Conversely, the other 80% of your clients will only contribute 20% to your bottom line. If you can identify the 20% that contributes the most to the success of your business, it will free you up from the rest that can eat up all of your time, and not leave you with all that much to show for it. This allows you to focus on the kind of business and clients that you want to work with, since as freelancers, we only have so many hours in the day.
For me, this means turning down most micro-clients. I don’t do it across the board, every now and then I will talk to one that really has a great idea, and has the right business attitude that I can work with. I have learned to trust my instincts, even if it means turning away business. In the end, it is always worth preserving my sanity.Tags: client, Designer, freelcance