For fresh freelancers and young agencies, finding new clients and projects is how you stay alive. Oftentimes, this manifests as taking whatever work comes your way.
For a while, this might be necessary to ensure you’re generating enough revenue to make payroll, pay off expenses, and generally keep your business afloat. As you start building your client base, however, you can afford to start turning projects down…but why would you?
Great client relationships are about more than what you can produce versus what they can pay (although that’s part of it). As you lean into your strengths and start to identify the kind of work you’re best at, it’s important to find clients whose needs align with your talents. Your success will depend on how well you understand client goals and whether or not they’re able to trust your team throughout the process.
When your team’s relationship with a client is on the rocks, a project isn’t going well, or communication is strained, you’re left with a tough decision. Today, we’re uncovering some of the factors agencies and freelance designers should consider when deciding whether a client or project is the right fit.
If you’re considering whether or not to take on a client—or if it’s time to part ways with one—think about these questions:
- Does the client respect your team’s expertise?
- Is the client engaged in the work?
- Do you have the right skills to meet the needs of this client?
- Does the client have the appropriate budget for their request?
- Does the client share your values?
Does the client respect your team’s expertise?
Any agency worth their salt is going to show that they’re able to deliver on a client’s needs before bringing them on. That could come in the form of case studies, leave-behinds, or examples of your previous work that you show during the initial pitch.
Once a client has decided to work with you, however, you should be able to stop proving your value at every turn. If they’ve signed a contract, they should do so with the knowledge that you can get the job done.
So why, then, do we still end up with clients who micro-manage the process and are overly critical of our teams? Sometimes it’s because clients are nervous. Maybe they’ve never worked with an agency partner before and they’re just hesitant about the process—that’s something you can work through.
Sometimes it’s a communication issue. If clients don’t know what’s being done for them, they might wonder what you’re doing with their budget. But this is usually fixable with a simple update meeting or client report.
However, companies that you’ve worked with before should have enough respect for your process and trust for your team that they feel confident loosening the reins a bit. A respectful client is kind and treats your team well, but it’s more than that. Respecting your team also means that the client trusts you’re going to do right by them and use your skills to create the best outcome.
This doesn’t mean they have no say in the process, but when clients start micromanaging designs and inserting themselves into your team’s workflow, it might be time for a conversation.
If they are to do the best they can, the designers and creatives who work on a project need to know their expertise is trusted—both by you and the clients you work with.
Is the client engaged in the work?
As you know, it’s almost impossible to create what a client needs if they’re not willing to set you on the right path. In the same way that micromanaging can cause your team to second-guess themselves or lose faith in their own abilities, a client who’s too aloof can be difficult to please.
Sometimes, lack of engagement from a client side can mean that they’re okay with whatever you produce. But if you’re coming back with ideas and mockups only to be shot down time and time again, you may be dealing with something worse.
Make sure your contracts outline exactly how many iterations of a design or concept you’ll produce before requiring the client to attend another discovery meeting and realign goals. That way, you’ll avoid overshooting your hours for the project.
Other times, a client may be unable to properly communicate exactly what they’re looking for. It can be difficult for people to translate what they want into creative or design terminology, so these clients may simply need more time and assistance to voice their opinions in a constructive way (that your team understands). However, if criticism from a client is simply, “I don’t like it,” you’ll have to push deeper to understand what’s causing their aversion.
When you arrive at an impasse where you’re unable to understand what the client wants and they’re not giving you the feedback you need to push the project forward, it may be time to reconsider whether this particular project is the right fit for your team.
Do you have the right skills to meet the needs of this client?
This is probably the most common reason an agency or freelancer would choose to decline a project. Once in a while, a client will approach your team for a project, and it’s something you’ve never attempted.
Sometimes it’s a good thing when this happens! It means companies have noticed you do great work and trust you’ll be able to help them. It also provides you with the opportunity to hone new skills and expand your service offerings. However, there may be times when someone approaches you with an idea that you know is simply beyond your capabilities.
In these situations, it’s okay to admit you don’t have the tools to get the job done. The client will appreciate your honesty, and hopefully you’ll have another industry connection to which you can refer them. In these situations, it’s important to set hard boundaries for the sake of your team as well as your reputation.
Does the client have the appropriate budget for their request?
Budget is a funny thing. Sometimes, you can take on a project knowing the budget is tight because you have strategies that will allow you to work within those confines and still create a great result.
Most of the time, though, budget is going to be a determining factor for whether or not a project is possible. That’s why it’s crucial to have the money talk in frank and honest terms with your clients. It’s also why many agency contracts outline what steps will be taken if a project starts to push beyond its initial scope.
If you have a client who is consistently pushing back on budget expectations, requesting that your team do more than what you consider to be possible within their budget, or dismissing your budget concerns when approached, it’s going to lead to bigger issues later on. In these cases, you may need to talk with the client and let them know that while it’s not the only important factor, setting and keeping within a budget is absolutely paramount to the success of a project.
Does the client share your values?
Possibly the murkiest issue to navigate on this list is what to do when a client doesn’t seem to mesh with your team. It’s not that anyone is doing anything wrong per se, but once in a while, you’ll work with a client whose vision you’re simply not understanding.
Sometimes your perspectives just won’t align on which method you should use to reach the target audience. Or your team feels their best work isn’t being fairly considered by the client. Or your client feels they’re not being heard.
As with any relationship, there will be people who you work with easily and others that are more difficult to pin down. Although it’s never fun, you have to meet with a client if you feel as though you’re consistently missing the mark—face-to-face, if possible.
You may find there has been a simple miscommunication and you’re able to talk it out over dinner. But when it comes to more polarizing differences of opinion, you both may decide it’s time to amicably part ways.
No matter the outcome, it’s better to address an ongoing issue than continue to experiment with your team’s valuable creative time and hope for the best. It will only leave your employees feeling burnt out and your clients feeling jaded.
A simpler approach to client management
Unfortunately, we can’t have the hard talks for you. What we can do is make the little things easier, saving you time to prep for the more difficult aspects of agency ownership. That’s our goal with Growth Suite.
All the administrative tasks that help you nurture client relationships and show your value are available through one easy platform. From billing for one-time and recurring services to automating client reports, Growth Suite helps you keep up with client communications before something goes wrong.
Learn more about the magic that’s driving agency success in our free ebook that outlines all the features Growth Suite has to offer!