Being a creative it’s easy to rationalize a client that just isn’t a good fit for your firm. Throw a feeble economy on top of that and it becomes even tougher to stay away from the client danger zones that end up costing you money in the long run. Who hasn’t overlooked blaring warts on a sexy account? Creatives do it all the time. We love what we do and we’ll often throw in free wart removal services in order to keep doing it another day.
But the quest for creativity can promptly kill profitability. Design isn’t (or shouldn’t be) a hobby — but rather a means to keep a roof over your head and a PBJ in your George Jetson lunchbox.
Love yourself enough to run if you hear a potential client say:
1. “I want top of the line design, but this is all I can afford.” Doesn’t everyone want a maximum return on his or her dollar? Remember, your time has a value too. You also need to get the best result for talent and time invested and remain profitable to keep your doors open. Communicate your capabilities and explain the process involved. For those clients hit hard by the recession, rather than turn them away, we created a budget-friendly solution that doesn’t exhaust our resources but meets basic business needs to get give lower budgets traction. Check out: Birdsong Creative’s Hot Launch program for accidental entrepreneurs and start-ups: http://www.birdsongcreative.com/HotLaunch/index.html
2. “There’s no budget now but we can compensate you on the back end.” You only have to jump through a few of these vapor hoops in your career before you realize these partnerships only benefit one person — and it’s rarely you. If a business isn’t capitalized on the front end with a decent marketing budget, chances are your ship isn’t coming in today or on the back end. Choose this payment plan only if you have the financial ability to subsidize other people’s ventures.
3. “If you cut me a price break now, there’s more work in the future”. Proceed with caution. Sometimes, this is a genuine promise with real projects so use discernment. Think of it this way: When you go to the doctor and ask him to set a broken leg, do you ask him to reduce his rates promising him future work? Not likely.
4. “I like this — can you make it look like this?” When a client comes to a professional design firm with an established design direction — that 99% of the time is really bad stock art — this is not a good start. Their design sense is so far off, no amount of persuasion or teaching will fix stunted design sensibilities. This could easily turn into a tug-of-war relationship. If it does survive, the client’s learning curve will likely cost you.
5. “I just need this ‘simple’ thing, and I need it ‘fast.’” Fast and quality cannot co-exist peaceably. This client does not understand or value the brain trust that goes into the creative process. This kind of comment signals a project tempo that their emergencies will fast become your emergencies. Trust your process and don’t allow the client to re-engineer what works for your team (a huge temptation for creatives who get stars in their eyes over the bigger, more glamorous projects!)
6. “I had to fire my last designer.” While this may ignite your hero complex – don’t go there. This is your queue to press in and ask the right questions about what fell apart and why with the last designer. You may be able to save the day if the client’s complaints are legit but if he or she trashes the last designer, you need to walk. Okay, pick up the pace and consider a sprint.
7. “Sorry I’m late . . . again.” This is okay once or twice but if a client is chronically late it indicates he doesn’t respect your time. If he or she fails to return calls or emails in a timely manner, there’s a good chance he’s stalling you and courting other firms for a better price. Chronic lateness could also mean the client just isn’t organized; a deficit that could come back to stunt a project and cost you money in the end. If you are always late too, then fahggedababoutit — you may be a match made in heaven.
All of these scenarios have grey areas that require scrutiny on a case-by-case basis. When a client asks these questions, it’s not an indication of any kind of character deficit. Fantastic people can be terrible clients for a creative person. Creative projects require a strong launch and need to be agile enough to withstand changing variables inherent to the process. Trust your gut, employ the wisdom of hard lessons learned and ask the right questions up front. This will save you valuable time and cumulatively, may even save your business.