NO! – The secret to the great clients

Recently I finished designing a website for a charity organization – for which I was paid a very unrealistic amount. After the design, a day later, the manager called me and the first thing she said was, “Zainab, I don’t like the site: objects are not moving all over the place, the colors are out of place, my gallery has so few pictures and there’s no contact form!”

If only I had told her no in the first instance, this wouldn’t be the case. But because it was a non-profit organization, I followed general sentiments and did a full website re-design for $80 – stupid, yea, I know. (I just charged them for hosting)

Sure, I didn’t have to design that website. I could have said no and the worst that could have happened would be:

  • I lose a potential customer
  • I get labeled as an unsympathetic chic
  • She claims that I’d lose other deals by not designing for her
  • I lose $80, which is not so bad after all.
  • I don’t get snarled at for a bad design – which in my opinion isn’t so bad a design. What would she say if I had used a free web template?
  • I don’t get to add that design in my portfolio
  • I sleep well.

It’s no big deal to walk away from a job or a potential client. I think if we, as freelancers learn to say no and walk away from jobs that are unrealistic and not profitable, we would end up making more with the few ones who are willing to pay our asking price.

Not saying no reflects poorly on us whether as designers or freelancers.

There are different reasons why we refuse to say no: either they have hit a brick wall and are looking for any paying work, or it’s for a friend, or we had too many jobs and we were just being greedy. Whatever the answer, we end up designing websites or writing codes that ain’t up to par.

What we should say NO to

So what exactly are we saying no to? But I think as a designer, programmer or whatever your field, we should learn to be firm when we say no. For example, I’d recommend saying no to:

Projects that don’t bring out the best in us.

If you always settle for the easiest way to do something, you’ll never improve your own design skills.

If you push yourself to always do things in the best way possible, you’ll constantly expand your skills and your knowledge. New and better techniques for doing things are coming out all the time, and if you expand your knowledge enough, you may be able to create your own techniques that do things better and easier than other methods available. (Web Designer Depot)

Projects/clients that promise us better jobs in the long run.

If they had the capacity to bring in better jobs, we want it now!

Jobs that question our moral integrity.

Imagine a client asking you to design a site that on a good day you would have problems doing, for example, a porn site, a site that steals passwords and stuff like that? What would you say? Would you take it because you were broke, or would you walk away and say no?

Clients you are not sure of.

I think, maybe, if I had looked into the background of the client I talked about in my introduction, I would have realized that they not only had the capacity to pay for any amount I wanted, they were used to taking advantage of designers who were, should I say, sympathetic to their cause. I learnt my lesson the hard way…

The rewards of saying NO

When you say no to ‘bad’ jobs and clients, you are stating to the world that you are designer that sticks to principles. Your fellow designers will respect you and so will your clients.

‘Like attracts like’. Potential clients looking for cheap designers will steer clear of you while potential clients looking for designers with class and design style will come your way. I sure hope this client used as my case study doesn’t recommend me to any of her friends. I may end up getting $80 web deals!

You will end up becoming a better designer, because if you get clients willing to pay for your time and skill level, then you wouldn’t want to design ‘whack’ jobs for them. It could cost you your rep! I had a client who needed me to include a live counter on their website and they didn’t want stuff like Google analytics or AWSTATS. I had to learn the code for that in PHP for any week. And because of that, I cannot say I’m fluent in PHP, but I sure can do some wicked codes. All because I had a client who pushed my limits.

Good clients will respect a designer who stands by his or her own principles. If you’re confident enough in your own skills and your own aesthetic ideals, stand up for them and good clients will respect you for it.

I had a business meeting for a client who wanted a 5 page website. He thought that because it was 5 pages, I would go easy on the price. But, having learnt my lesson from previous clients, I stood my ground. He ended up paying full price, and at the end, he was very satisfied with my design. He later confided in me that he’d never have agreed for such a price, but because it was me, and he was confident of what I’d do for him, he succumbed.

You can live comfortably! When you say no to ‘cheap’ and unnecessary clients, you can stick to your price with the few quality ones you get and still be able to pay your bills, save, and still buy that Ipad you wanted…

Start today! Learn to say NO!

It’s not easy to say no, this I know from experience. Especially if you’re just starting out and you need the funds anyway and anyhow you get them. But would you prefer to say yes to all sorts of clients, neglecting how it would affect you in the future?

Low standards in your designs will bring you low-quality clients. And the thing about low-quality clients is that they are generally more of a hassle than they’re worth. These are the people who will request a million revisions, delay paying you for as long as possible, and wonder why you didn’t send them back the changes they requested within the hour.

I’m learning as well. I know it’s not going to be an easy task starting afresh and rewiring our mentality, but in the long run, we will be rid of clients that want to ruin us. I have let go of cheap and infuriating clients, and though I don’t want the word ‘no’ to be frequent in my dictionary – I need the clients – it sure comes in handy when I need it.

How many times have you said no to a potential client? Did you regret it or was it for the best? Do you feel there are some exceptions in saying no? Share your thoughts below.

Zainab Sule


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The Author

Zainab Sule has been working in the field of web design for four years and runs her own web design company, Pish On Designs in Nigeria. She also runs her own blog. You can follow her on twitter with @zainabSULE

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