4 Years of Freelancing: Knowing When a Client Isn’t a Good Fit

good fit clients


The beginning of Feb this year (2019) I will have been freelancing for 4 whole years.

F O U R 😱

In this time I’ve made a LOT of mistakes, but four years down the line, I’ve honed, learned, made some more mistakes, honed again, rinse and repeat.

The first step to understanding what a good client looks like to you is working out what it is you need. Having a clear idea of the kinds of clients you want helps to hone this list.

What does a good fit look like?

A client that works well for me is someone who is emotionally invested in their brand. Someone who wants to build their brand with the right designer. Sometimes that designer is me, sometimes, it’s not — and that’s the way of freelancing.

It’s important to me to find clients that understand the value of design. Some people aren’t there yet, some people never get there, these people aren’t my target market — but I understand.

In the past, I would start a dialogue to try to explain why investing in good design is a worthy cause, but a client just wanting to hand over a loose brief for you to take care of is usually not the kind of client that can understand why you’re even doing what you’re doing.

Here are some of the red flags I pick up on from clients that aren’t right for me;

Initial email is vague and rushed and instantly asks how much a service will be

This indicates to me that they haven’t used either freelancers or creative freelancers before. Whilst that’s no bad thing this style of email can sometimes mean they aren’t totally invested in their design.

At this point, I will email back usually indicating at this stage I’m not able to provide a quote and will need deeper discussions. This sometimes gets a return as they are keen to know how much I charge – but at this point I’m almost sure that budget is the most important factor for them. Budget is important, I understand that and I’m keen to help where I can, but it’s not where the conversation should start.

Loose Briefs vs Tight Briefs

I always prefer to receive a brief from a potential client prior to quoting, this gives me an idea of what they require and how long it will take, enabling me to quote accurately.

However, clients that haven’t worked with freelancers before sometimes don’t realise what they’re paying for and offer up loose briefs. Most clients require my daily rate, some the hourly and a large proportion, a specific project rate.

So having an initial tight brief means I don’t have to spend too long educating them and drawing up a quote. (tee hee, briefs)

You create a quote and you don’t hear back for a long period

If I have invested time in quoting, which can sometimes take it’s sweet time, it means their initial email didn’t give me any red flags. Once I’ve done that it’s reasonable, in my experience, to hear back within hours if someone is interested. If I have to chase at this point, it‘s potentially time to rethink next steps.

Delays at this point can just mean they’re busy but in my experience if they don’t have time to concentrate on their brand after they’ve instigated things, they won’t be giving it their full attention ongoing, and should be handing this project over to someone that has the availability or waiting until the right time.

They make an excuse about paying the initial 50% up front

HUGE red flag. I made one monumental mistake with one of my first clients, and 4 years down the line he still owes me over £1,000 — this I learned hard and fast and if any client questions that, it’s a no from me.

You’ve gotten past the quote stage, agreement of terms and have been provided the brief then they start changing things and asking for more

I am always very clear that if there’s more to do that will mean added cost, it’s not always where all is lost however, as it could just be a misunderstanding on their part — and miscommunication on mine, I do try to be as clear as possible, but sometimes miscommunications occur and can be rectified. However, some clients believe that as it’s their work they can adjust the goalposts, which isn’t an effective way of working for most freelancers.

Bad Fit Clients

Sometimes bad fit clients don’t reveal themselves until later into the project which can be a challenge to deal with. This can be pretty uncomfortable but is doable. However, it’s at this stage you have the potential to turn things around if the communication channels are opened on both side. Much like most relationships,

Go With Your Gut

Alas, these red flags aren’t always cut and dry, so learning to listen to your gut with each individual scenario is a worthwhile exercise. And if in doubt, speak to other freelancers who would be able to offer you their experiences.

In the beginning of my freelance journey I had no radar for this, I would be pleased as punch that anyone even got in touch and would, on a lot of occasions, flog a dead horse.

Hopefully my learnings will help anyone unsure where to start when it comes to thinking about their worth.

Hello, I’m Nik, I specialise in Brand & Marketing Design for start-ups and small businesses. I also enjoy writing about freelancing, authenticity, and design & marketing tips and tricks.

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