Signs You Will Not Become My Client

Anyone who knows me knows — I LOVE my clients Seriously! My clients have some awesome businesses that I am lucky enough to play a part in growing… they are all really dedicated passionate people who truly love what they do. They appreciate and respect the work I do with them, they have kind hearts, open minds and great senses of humor. They tell me I am a pleasure to work with and I say the same back to them — and it is true.

I’m not bragging here — and I’m not some mythical freelance fantasy. Having awesome clients isn’t much about luck, but more about defining the client base you are after and not being afraid to turn down work with clients who are not desirable to you.

OK, i know — we’re in a tough economy! One cannot turn down an honest dollar! But, I tell you… if I worked as cheaply as 85% (that may be a bit of hyberbole,) of the people who email me wanted, I would work four times the hours each week and make a quarter of the money! How do I spot and weed out these less than amazing clients?

Streamline your Inquiry System

While my portfolio site does have a prominent phone number available, most make their first approach to me via the small contact form — they are able to specify that they are looking to get a  quote and have space for sharing some details about their design needs.

By using a simple Google Mail Filter set up, I am able to track each quote request that comes in from my website, making responding to each a much more productive task. I will usually check in on these about 3 times a week and follow up accordingly. My follow up system has also been streamlined over time, mainly because of the large number of exremely vauge inquiries. Who else gets stuff like this;

”I need a website, how much will that be?”

I actually have a canned response for these that sends out a list of questions about the clients business, industry and specific needs, budget and deadlines. My first lesson I learned here? Most people who cannot be bothered to write a proper inquiry are not very serious about the project at hand. This simple step of following up with some questions weeds out a large percentage.. so … for those who follow up with a response?

Define Your Pricing and Policies

Clients who are asking for you to quote them on something WANT to know a price. Don’t be shy! Too many of us get weird talking about money, but it’s something you have got to get over. I rarely work on an hourly rate, usually define a project price. So once I have a general idea of what my client is looking for — I can get them an estimate. This is based on my experience with previous projects that may have been similar, and that clients particular needs. I send them a quote and if at this stage the project seems even a tiny bit undefined, I let them know that the pricing is based on the information they have supplied — if the scope of the project needs to expand, we can adjust the price accordingly.

Clients who make it with me through the quoting step… go on to be one of my prized clients — the rest fall into a few categories…

The Disappearing Client

This is easy. Some dissappear after I email asking for more information about thier needs… but some hold on and then disappear after I send them a quote. Is it outside of thier budget? Did they just change thier mind? Who knows — these ones never respond. They disappear into the client abyss.

There is a small subset of the Disappearing Client, they do follow up to let you know they will “let you know” or that they will be starting the project “down the road.” 99.9% of this subset will never be heard from again, but that small sliver of them — they DO come back. I’ve had people write back and say flat out ”I want to work with you, but don’t have this in my budget right now. I’ll contact you once I do!” …and then one day, they do! (yay!)

The Cheapskate

Unfortunately, this category seems to be a crowded one and I have heard it all. “I was hoping to get something for about $200.” or “I watched a youtube tutorial on Dreamweaver and already did all the design and development myself, but the navigation looks weird on my husbands computer and I just need a blog added. Could you just fix what I have here? It shouldn’t be more than a few minutes work.”

Look. I am a small business too. I don’t own a home (I don’t even own a car!), I do not have a fancy office or a staff of hundereds. I understand that you have to be smart about the money you spend when you’re starting out… but I would never say anything like this to someone who I am looking to do legitament work for me that is going to help grow my business. For these folks, be polite — but you can tell them “thanks, but no thanks.”

And then there is…

“I saw this design here and I like it a lot, can you do my site JUST like this, but with my logo – of course!”

…Oh yes, of course, because otherwise that would be stealing! No. I can not will not do that.

“This is not in my budget, but maybe you could just walk me through my current website and let me know what you would suggest I change about each page to make it look a little nicer and be more user-friendly and then I can just have my grandson who likes computers do it for me.”

…Sure. This is called Consulting… here is my hourly rate for that type of work.

“I really like the work on your website, but could you mock up what you would do for me so I can see if I like it first?”

If you like my work, you can hire me to work with you on a design. I wor really hard to make sure my clients are happy (no, THRILLED) with the product they get from me — but if you find it isn’t working out with us, here is my policy on canceling a project…

My Final Thought

I don’t usually rant on this blog and I really dislike those who talk shit about their clients. But, here’s the magic — these aren’t my clients… and I intend to keep it that way.


  1. Hello! Awsome post! I work on an ad agency, but also take some freelance work too. With time I learnt that you have to price your work, otherwise, you will never be totally satisfied. And it get the “This is not in my budget, but maybe…”.

    I am learning to choose the clients too, the right ones.


  2. Really helpful!

    I’m making the switch from working in a marketing department to self employment soon. Definitely needed this.

  3. Hey Liz,

    I have emailed you and told you how awesome and how hot you are! I am glad I’am in the same business that allows me to visit your site often! One thing I don’t understand though is that you say No! to a client if they ask you to do a site like one they may have seen? I usually request that my clients list up to 3 sites that they admire and details as to why they like them! I use that info to incorporate into the site I’am building for them! Also for dealing with the disappearing client I simply request a $100 for me to PhotoShop a 600×600 one page jpeg. draft of the site and email it to them! Once they make the deposit and I send it to them you still sometimes never here from them again, but I am briefly compensated for the 3 or 4 hours it may taken me!

    1. Adrian,
      I do talk with my clients about their aesthetic tastes and the “look and feel” of their brand and we do often look at other sites for inspiration or ideas – but In the post I was more referring to the occasional request I get from people who do not want to hire me to design something for their personal needs, they want me to take a sites design that has already been done for someone else and copy it. That’s not something I am interested in being a part of.

      ….As for your $100 1page jpg design – that’s great if that strategy has been productive for you, but I’m just not interested in that type of project. Personally I’d rather spend those 3-4 hours with a dedicated client working on researching their industry and getting to know their clientele and business so that we can put together a design that is custom tailored just for them, in a solution that is based on their unique needs and goals.

  4. My sentiments EXACTLY. I have been doing this for 10 years and in that time the biggest lesson I have learned is that as long as you do great work, people will pay you what you are worth. If you don’t hear enough “I heard you’re expensive” then you are not doing something right. Now I get clients who are ready to pay.

    1. Well said, Yetunde! Someone once told me… “If everyone says yes to your quotes, you need to start quoting more.”

  5. This was a perfect post! I was nodding my head at every single thing you wrote.

    I’ve been bit in the ass once too many times.

    *thumbs up*

  6. So true! It’s amazing how much people tend to devalue good design. Not only on websites, but everywhere. Although it’s quite obvious, it’s still comforting to read somebody else’s point of view on these clients. Thanks!

  7. Very nice post, thanks for sharing.
    I’m dealing with a client right now, who didn’ want any support for updating his site, saying that he’ll do it on his own or “ask a friend who knows” to do it for him. Well, it’s two weeks that he calls me *evey day* to fix this or that, because he did some changes and *he doesn’t know how* the website is down. I’ve tried to tell him again about having a contract for updating support, but he still thinks he doesn’t need it; next time he asks I would answer: “sorry no, I won’t fix it”

    1. Federica – this is why I won’t do static sites for clients unless they have an in-house team to maintain it. For the future, you should consider selling your clients on using a CMS (Content Management System) like WordPress or Drupal or the like. They will be able to easily manage their page content and you can spend your time doing design instead of updates.

  8. Read@ lol

    I’ve dealt with a few of these situations and I have to say I’m awfully happy you made this topic. I don’t get the chance to talk to too many people about this personally, but clients can be a real pain. Especially the ubiquitous “can you add this item, and this item, and this item onto the site (during development of course) and the “can you drop your price a little” types of clients. I think the ultimate way to go about it is to have your own standards set in stone and for those who don’t value them, well they can’t have your services.

    Defining their business is also a great way to weed out fakes, I definitely agree. If you’re too lazy to put effort into a simple form there’s no way you’re mature enough to go through a complete project.

    I’m pretty flexible with my prices right now, but once I get my portfolio up and get projects going I’ll have my own rules.

    Another thing that annoys me is when I’m halfway through a project with a client and they just drop out not giving me a word. Happened when I got my first client, hopefully won’t happen too many times. >_>

    Maybe I’ll ask Liz for advice when I get to setting up my site!

  9. Hi Liz,

    I absolutely love this post! I’ve always believed that people who have crappy clients probably don’t have a weed out process; don’t value their own time that is wasted on projects that aren’t worth while; and are really just asking for “bad” clients and headaches.

    Sometimes, it can be hard to turn down a job, especially during particularly dry periods. But in the end, the few bucks you make off of them aren’t worth the hassle.

    So, I’m really glad you wrote this piece – if nothing else it’s a much needed pep talk to keep us, freelancers, from lowering our standards when it comes to taking on jobs.

    Thanks again!


  10. What an excellent post … I agree with you on all points. I always tried to stress the same points to my former employer. I put together a questionnaire for the sales team, told the owner if we could get as much of the information back as possible we can really create sites the clients will be wowed by.

    We always got just a couple of questions answered, and when asked why, they said the client really didn’t feel like filling it out, or they had no idea how to answer them etc. Then they wondered why they have a 50% cancelation rate and their existing clients are always sending in changes.

    I’m so glad I made the choice to start freelancing … I just have to work on the marketing side of things now as the inquiries are not coming in just yet ;-)

    Love the your work Liz, and your site is so clean and inviting. Makes me want to re-think the design of mine lol

    … Scott

    P.S. Got any articles about getting the inquiries to start? ;-)

    1. Scott,
      Thanks for the comment – sounds like you had some good ideas to improve the business you are working with — but now you can implement those great ideas to benefit your OWN business, so cool!

      Good idea on a post – maybe i’ll try working that up today or tomorrow… although, I don’t really have a step-by-step guide or any tricks. I just spend a lot of time interacting on the web to make my presence known and i strive to make all my clients happy so they send me referrals.

  11. Man, all the points you listed made me think “OMG YES.” It’s good to know that even those as successful as yourself deal with these kinds of responses and inquiries too. I always try to clarify why I charge my rate (which is more than reasonable) and if a potential client still wants to haggle with me, I pretty much know it’s not going to work out. I LOVE working with small businesses and nonprofits, but it’s hard to find one not on a “limited budget.”

  12. Great insights and a healthy, well-earned pride in the value of what we do and who we are. However, this should not exempt you, or anyone, from being courteous and responsive to ANYONE who takes the time to contact you, whether it be for your services or from someone within your field. Unless it’s all spammy and lame, of course. Kindness and clear communication are rare in our ego-centric, emotionally volatile world, but it’s MUCH worse within our own creative industry.

    I recently contacted you for a request to consider doing a web & marketing project with me – I’m also an AD & Designer – and was completely ignored. How incredibly rude and unprofessional. I laughed when I read your post “….and I follow up accordingly”. Not even a decline or a canned-response “thanks but no thanks”. You should have gratitude when someone asks for your services. In the 15 years I’ve been in creative (at some of the biggest agencies in NYC) some of the nastiest, most cynical, self-absorbed people have been within our own tribe. You talk about value and worth, pleeeez.

    So, as I continue promoting awesome non-profits and good design for good people, I am sending you good vibes and wish you the best of everything. And I mean it.

    1. Hey Scott, Thanks for writing. I was alarmed when i saw this because your name didn’t ring any bells – i just sifted through the emails caught up in my junk mail filter and see your messages here – SO sorry about that! (honest mistake, but i am a little embarrassed.) I’m looking over these now and i’ll follow up.

  13. Scott Daris,

    Come on man! Anything could have happen(EX: your email could have got lost in the mail!)! Seriously it just seems a little weird for you to think that someone is obligated to answer your email! There’s tons of designers out there dude! I know that you yourself have skipped emails and if you claim you haven’t then it shows you must not get a lot of them or you haven’t been designing for a long time! I have emailed numerous professional companies to take on the work I couldn’t get to and never heard back from any of them.

    Honestly I don’t think your posting was about her not responding!
    I think it was an attempt to get her to respond to you! You thought by posting it where everyone can see it that she just had to respond to you! Come on man grow up! If you get upset from someone not responding to you or your email than what will you do when a client doesn’t pay you? Don’t think it wont happen because it happens to everyone in the business long enough!

    You say “How incredibly rude and unprofessional” Dude go somewhere and cry about it! As a designer you are no better than a non designer client! For you even making a post like the one above dude your an “Epic Fail” I could go on and on but it’s not worth it! Like (Daquan Wright) said above “The world is a cold place though, something you better get used to” Don’t bother responding because like before it will go unanswered!


  14. @Adrian: No, I don’t skip emails – I respond to everyone. No, I’m not without design work. No, I don’t expect big companies to always get back to me, but small ones and individuals, yes. No, my clients don’t ever not pay me. No, I wasn’t crying – I’m just offended by people who don’t respond, especially within our own field. No, I’m not “dude” to you because we’re not friends. No, the world is not a cold place – it’s just that we make it that way.

    Enjoy the summer :D

    @Liz: I understand hotmail addresses usually get junked, so no biggie. It’s just that not getting back to someone for a week in email time is like a month in real-world time! So thanks for responding. Looking forward *<:D

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