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When To Drop A Design Client - RD300

Resourceful Designer: Strategies for running a graphic design business

Release Date: 08/29/2022

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When first starting in graphic or web design, firing a client may seem like a foreign concept. After all, isn’t the whole point of building a business to increase your number of clients, not reduce it? But money is money, and as long as clients pay, they’re worth having. Right?

If you’re strapped for cash and don’t have a choice, then I say, sure, get every client you can. But as your client list grows and things become more stable, you’ll inevitably notice that some clients are easier to work with than others. Or maybe it’s not the client. It might be that you enjoy working on specific client projects more than other client projects.

Like many of us, it’s also possible that you may find yourself dealing with clients who frustrate you for one reason or another. These are the clients that make you sigh or groan every time they contact you. Dealing with them is more complicated than with your other clients.

You can put up with these clients for a while. But if something isn’t done to resolve whatever issues you have with them, the solution may be to let them go.

Not every reason to let a client go is a negative one. As you’ll see from the situations described below, there are times when you may want to let a client go because it’s the right time to do so.

You’ll grow over time, as a designer and as a business person. This growth may lead you to pivot your business and perhaps narrow down on a niche, making some existing clients no longer a good fit for you.

Whatever the reason, you will be faced with walking away from a client at some point, hopefully, in a way that minimizes the impact on your business.

Here are 11 signs that it’s time to let a client go.

The client has unreasonable demands or is abusive.

If you ever feel like a client is mistreating you or is outright abusive, it’s time to let them go.

Some clients expect you to behave like an employee. They want you at their beck can call, doing their bidding whenever they want. Just because they are paying you does not give them the right to treat you unprofessionally. You’re a business person just like them, not their employee.

Any Abusive behaviour or verbal attacks against you or your business should never be tolerated, regardless of the cost of a design project. This may sound like common sense, but many designers put up with unreasonable and abusive clients because the money is good.

Let them go. You’ll find better clients to replace them.

The client negatively impacts your bottom line.

Some clients are notorious for expecting special favours. Maybe they want special rates or discounts or expect you to provide services above and beyond your typical offerings.

If your relationship with these clients no longer feels like a good business decision, let them go.

The client refused to work your way.

Any client who refuses to follow your guidelines or work the way you outline should be a concern for you. If you cannot resolve the issue with them, it’s a sign they are not a good fit for you. Let them go.

The client asks you to do the same monotonous work over and over.

Some design projects often become repetitive. I had a client years ago that wanted their product photos to be on a white background. So all I did for them was close crop photos.

It was easy money initially, but the work became tedious after several months. I realized the client didn’t require anything else from me other than this dead-end project. I let them go and devoted my time to other client projects.

The client has payment issues.

Having to deal with a client who is consistently late with payments or wants to negotiate on every project isn’t fun.

Hopefully, a well-written contract will alleviate these problems. But if not, it’s probably in your best interest to let the client go. After they pay you, of course.

The client is not someone you enjoy working with.

Not everyone gets along. That goes for designers and their clients as well. It’s not necessarily because the client is a difficult person. Sometimes personalities just don’t mesh.

If you find yourself in a situation where you don’t enjoy working with a particular client, it might be time to let them go and find someone better suited to you.

The client expects more than what you agreed upon.

You can’t blame a client for trying to get the most from their investment. However, if a client keeps requesting additional work beyond the original agreed-upon project, and isn’t paying for your extra effort, then there’s a problem.

Scope creep is quite common in our industry. It’s best to put a stop to it right away before things escalate.

If the work you are doing for your client keeps increasing, but they are not compensating you for it, it may be time to let the client go.

You’ve outgrown your client.

At some point, you may decide that a client is no longer a good fit.

Maybe your business grows to the point where you don’t want to deal with smaller-budget clients. Perhaps you narrow your focus on your services, and existing clients no longer meet your criteria.

Any time you outgrow a client, let them go and find new ones which suit you better.

The client is inconsistent.

Some designers prefer to work with clients who can guarantee consistent work. This is a perfect business model for retainer agreements which I’ve discussed in episodes 32 and 255 of the podcast.

If a client only offers you the odd project here and there with no guarantee of steady work, you may consider letting them go and focusing your energy on clients with recurring projects.

The client doesn’t respect you as a professional.

It’s a fact that many people don’t take designers seriously as business professionals. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t yourself.

Suppose a client disrespects you by consistently cancelling, postponing or not showing up for meetings. Or if they take forever to reply to your emails or phone calls. Or if they disrespect you in any other way, let them go. As a business professional, you don’t have time to deal with people who don’t respect what you do.

The client isn’t paying your current rates.

As time goes by, you will inevitably raise your rates as you grow your design business. You may start at $30/hr or $150 for a logo design, but you’ll want more at some point.

Raising your rates isn’t hard to do. You decide what your new rate is and charge it. All new clients pay the new rate.

But what about old clients who are used to paying your old rates? In my experience, most clients will understand and accept your new rate. I’ve never lost a client because of a rate hike.

But, should a client not be able to or is unwilling to pay your new rates. Take it as a sign that it’s time to part ways with them. Some clients can afford you, and some can’t. That’s Ok. It’s the same for every business.

There you have it, 11 signs that it’s time to let a client go.

As you can see, sometimes you should let a client go not because they are a lousy client but because you’ve evolved beyond them. Regardless of why you let a client go, it would be best if you did so in a professional manner.

Whenever possible, try to come up with a solution that will prevent you from having to let a client go. But if it comes to parting ways, always try to leave on good terms. Leaving on good terms can strengthen your relationship with the departed client.

There’s no telling what the future holds. You never know. A client you let go of today might be in a different situation down the road and in need of someone with your talents. If you parted on good terms, you might be able to pick up and continue that relationship.

Even a lousy client may one day see the light. So don’t burn bridges if at all possible.

I’ve talked on this show many times about how any design business’s success is built on the relationships you form with your clients.

Ending a relationship can be challenging, especially one you’ve had for a long time. Remember, you are running a business. As such, you need to do what is in the best interest of that business. Sometimes, that means letting clients go. They’ll respect you for it.