About two weeks ago, I fired a client for the first time. It wasn’t something I wanted to do, but it was the right thing to do. And I’ve learned a few lessons from it that I thought could be helpful for freelancers and clients alike.
Before I start, I want to say that this client is a fabulous person. They’re intelligent and passionate about their business. We just were not a good fit. Which leads me to…
- Not everyone will get along with you, and vice versa. My client and I had very different ways of communicating. I’m a bit more to the point, and they were more verbose and explanatory. They spoke in abstract ways, and I tend to be more literal. Neither way is wrong, but it wasn’t a good match. And that is A OK! It’s something that can be figured out, but sometimes the good vibes just aren’t there even if you want them to be.
- Trust your instincts about a person. I had a feeling, in the beginning, that this project was possibly going to be more of a challenge, and definitely different than what I’m used to. I pushed forward anyway, because I’m new to the game, I wanted the experience, and I thought it would be okay, despite the fact that the contract phase was drawn out way longer than it needed to be (which threw off red lights for me, but I ignored them).
- Speaking of contracts… make sure yours doesn’t suck. This project was stalled for 2 months on the client end, even though we had timelines for deliverables in the contract. But I didn’t put any consequences in the contract for not hitting the timeline marks. And when I realized it was time for us to part ways, there was nothing in our contract about cancellations. So I ended up doing 90% of the work, and only getting paid the initial 50% deposit. Basically, I was screwed and lost a lost of time and money.
- Make sure you have a design in place before getting started. This was my bad. Up to this point, I had worked with people that gave me free reign to design a project and we would tweak it from there. This was when I learned, though, that that is an exception in the designer world, not the rule. If we had built decided on a mock-up prior to this project, I would have avoided many headaches. But instead my client had a vision, and I had a different one, and they did not match up.
- On that note, communication is just oh-so-important! At times it felt like I was deciphering a different language when trying to figure out what my client wanted. And when given design options for their site, I managed to somehow not pick the ones they had in mind. My client needed to be more honest about what they wanted, and I needed to clarify where I was headed before diving into the project.
- Designers need to act with authority. We’re the ones with the knowledge and skillset, and the client is the one depending on us to create the things that they can’t. I did not keep that in mind, but rather tried to work to the whims of my client. As a service provider, it’s important to buck up and speak up when it feels like we’re losing control of the project.
Those are the main take-a-ways from my experience. I’m not happy about having a project end this way, and I was nervous about posting this blog, but I think it’s important to talk about the not-so-pleasant experiences. No one starts out knowing how to perfectly handle clients and pick people that we work well with. But luckily I learned a lot, and have also greatly improved my processes with the help of Leah Kalamakis’s Stress Less and Impress course. *
I’m sure we’ve all been there, right? Tell me some lessons you’ve learned from unfortunate client experiences.
Also, a shout out to Erin E. Flynn – her Designer Scripts e-book proved very helpful when it came time to cut ties.
*This is an affiliate link for a fabtabulous course that will make you a better professional.
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