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Are they the right client for you?

Are all clients worth taking on? In this article Dr Steven Sparling discusses two warning signs freelancers should look for in a potential client.
A selection of creative books stacked on a table, there is also a multicoloured crochet chain, black tote bag, and white tote bag on the table.
© Kingston University

An effective working relationship with clients is a two-way street, but ultimately where money is exchanged for services, one party is an order-giver (the client) and the other is an order-taker (the freelance). Therefore, you want to exercise your right to not take on every client who shows up at your (virtual) door.

Finding the right clients that you can serve well, instead of taking any and every job that is offered to you, is the best way to build a sustainable freelance business.

In the previous audio step, we heard some ideas of warning signs about potential clients. Let me focus on two.

A client who is unsure of what they want is problematic.

How do you nail a brief and deliver excellent work if the client can’t define what they want you to do?

Starting a job without a detailed brief that has been agreed between you and the client is a recipe for a disaster.

Not every client is going to arrive knowing every detail of what they want, so you need to work with them to narrow it down and make it specific. So, there is an investment of time on your part to ask questions and guide the client towards making specific choices.

It’s not unreasonable to think that you might need to do some preliminary work to sketch out ideas for your potential client as not all can visualize through words. That’s okay – better to clarify this up front (though never give any files of work to clients at this brief stage to protect your intellectual property).

However, if you find after a few conversations that the client is still unable to settle on a brief then this should be a warning sign that you are probably never going to have a successful working relationship with this client. Either they need to go away and gain more clarity about what their need is, or they need to find another creative freelancer who they can work with. If you are unable to reach an agreed brief within a reasonable amount of time, you should consider that this is not a client to take on.

Don’t work with clients who don’t value your services.

As you reach an agreed project brief, you are going to have to give the client a quote as to what you are going to charge to do this work.

In the process of this conversation, you need to articulate what the value is that you are providing for the client, for example, a logo is not just a logo for a company – it’s part of their visual identity, their brand, it becomes the visual representation of that company’s mission, purpose, and values in the marketplace. It’s something they will likely use for years, and it will become a short-cut for the consumer to connect with the essence of that company. There is a value in that which is far greater than the actual colours on a page.

Your job is to communicate the value of your work to your customer.

However, if they don’t value this and try to drastically undercut your quote for your services, then this should be a warning sign that this is not likely to be a successful working relationship.

It’s not unreasonable for a client to look to see if there is some negotiation on price – you may be willing to negotiate on price, you may not (it might be more appropriate to look at reducing the scope of the assignment to match the client’s budget rather than reducing your quote) but aggressive price-gouging or clients who say ‘yeah, but I can get that done on Fiverr’ are not clients who are going to value the expertise you bring. Best to let them go and try their luck on a site like Fiverr.

The majority of clients are great.

Like all people they come in many variations, but most are honourable and genuinely want to hire you for your work. But there’s always a few you will encounter who are maybe best to pass on.

Above I have outlined two scenarios where you might want to pause and carefully consider whether you want to work with them or not.

© Kingston University
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