5 Ways to Tell if a New Client is the Right Client
Learn to Ask the Right Questions
Have you ever noticed that some clients fit you like an old pair of jeans, and then some clients are a struggle right out of the gate? What if I told you there was a simple method for determining if a new client is the right client. It's simply a matter of asking yourself the right questions.
1. Will you be invested in this clients projects, goals and overall success?
I find that I do my best work when I have an emotional investment in the outcome. When the project is something that I feel strongly about, whether it's a message, a brand or an incredible product, if I feel strongly about what the client is doing, I'm more likely to produce something that I'm proud of. This is a question that I ask myself when approached by a new client: Do I believe in what this client is doing? Do I care about their overall success? Will I become invested in their product or message?
I know it sounds harsh, but if you can admit to yourself that you won't have the interest to immerse yourself in this client's project, then it's not worth it, for you or the client.
2. Is this client willing to accept your terms?
Most all designers have some sort of terms. Whether it's a partial payment up front, a 3 concept max, or usage rights, if the client is unwilling to accept your terms then it should serve as a red flag. This may not be the right client for you. Don't be afraid to stick to your guns here. Your terms are your terms. If you break or bend them for a client, then it says to that client that you're willing to do anything, and that's not a good message to send.
A good client will understand that you are a business, and you have certain terms and certain standards that you work by. Accepting these terms is simply part of working with you.
3. Does the client's project fall within your expertise or interest?
In the beginning of your design career, you may think to yourself that you're willing to take on any design work as long as it's a paycheck. I can't stress how bad of an idea this is. If you're a t-shirt designer, and that's what you love and want to do, then why accept a job building your uncle's real estate business website?
The clients that you want are out there, so it's okay to say no to the ones that don't fit within the realm of your expertise. It's far more important to spend time on the type of work that you do, than to waste time on a client that is the wrong fit for you. Some might say "a job is a job". Maybe so, but you wouldn't expect an electrician to come out and fix your clogged drain, would you?
You might say "But I'm a jack-of-all-trades". I'm willing to bet that you're not. There is something in your "all-trades arsenal" that you're better at, or that you love doing more than anything else. That's probably your true expertise, and what you should be focusing on.
4. Are the clients expectations realistic?
How many times have you heard something like this: "We have a tight deadline on this one, and we need XYZ by tomorrow afternoon". And you know that XYZ would normally take a week to accomplish. This is most likely the wrong client. Their expectations of you and the work that it takes to accomplish what you do are unrealistic.
Requests like these will cause you unneeded stress and anxiety, and will most likely set you up for failure. You can't do your best work, and you won't feel good about results you produce when the client doesn't have a clear understanding of what it takes.
5. Does this client understand your process?
Most designers have a process that they go through to accomplish a design. And this process should be clearly defined for a client in the beginning. But if a client can't agree to or follow you through your process, then you can't produce your best work, and you won't be happy during the process or with the end result.
For example… In step D of our process we've invested a considerable amount of time and decided on a design, now we'll decide on a color scheme, a final format, and go ahead and contact vendors for printing. "Oh wait… our CEO wants to go back and add a picture of his dog" which essentially throws everything off balance, destroys the progress made thus far, and takes you back to your first step. Consider this a sign that this may be the wrong client for you.
It's okay to say no
One of the hardest things to do as a designer, especially those that are just starting out, is saying no. You're turning down work, turning down a paycheck, and turning down the opportunity to get your name out. That's all true, but it's far more important to know who you are as a designer, and know how important it is and how much happier you will be by finding the right clients. Doing work that you are passionate about for clients that you consider partners is essential in becoming the designer you want to be.
Have you had to turn down a client because of a red flag? Share your experiences below.