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How to politely turn away clients

Are you afraid to be stuck with a client from hell? If so, knowing how to turn away clients politely is a skill you better learn.

In the last episode of the Resourceful Designer podcast, I shared 12 red flags for spotting bad design clients. You should be familiar with them before continuing to read. Unfortunately, spotting a bad client is only half the battle. The next hurdle is turning them away. I go into much more detail in the podcast. For the full story be sure to listen.

But what if you're wrong about a client? They may have raised one or more red flags, but that doesn't mean they wouldn't have turned out to be a great client after all. Just in case you have the opportunity to work with them again someday, you need to turn away clients in a way that doesn’t burn any bridges. 

Script templates you can use to turn away clients.

Feel free to copy, use and reword these script templates whenever you need to turn away clients. Just be sure that your final draft is as polite as possible and that you don't insult the client. After all, you never know what the future holds.

Clients you want to avoid.

In most cases, this first script will be all you need. From the red flags I shared in the last episode, this one covers clients with a bad reputation, clients with inconsistent communications, clients who complain about previous designers, those who flirt with you and clients who for whatever reason, give you a bad feeling.

All of these fall under clients you want to avoid. The best way to avoid going any further with them is to send them a message like this.

Dear (client’s name)

Thank you for considering me (or your business name) for your (insert kind of design project here). It sounds like an exciting project. Regrettably, due to my current workload, I am not taking on any new projects at the moment.

Thanks again for considering me (or your business name). I wish you success with your (insert project name).

Regards,

(insert your name)

That’s it. That’s all you need to say. Politely tell the client you are unable to take on new projects at this time and you wish them the best. No other excuses or explanations are required.

If the client asks when you will be available for new projects, tell them your work calendar is full for the foreseeable future.

Client rudely challenges your fee.

Challenging your fee is expected. It's called negotiation. However, when a client starts to get rude or obnoxious about it, you need to remove yourself from the situation with a message like this one.

Dear (client’s name)

Thank you for considering me (or your business name) for your (insert kind of design project here).

I know my (fee/rate/price) is not for everyone. I’ve spent many years developing my craft as a designer, and I’ve positioned my fees to reflect the level of service I provide to my clients.

I understand you are looking for something in a lower price range. Perhaps you can contact (insert list of designers who may take on the project). I believe (he, she or they) may be able to help you where I cannot.

I wish you success with your (insert project name)

Regards,

(insert your name)

If you don’t want to provide a name or list of designers, you could switch paragraph three to this.

I understand you are looking for something in a lower price range. I believe you would be better served by a designer whose services are not as involved as mine are.

This paragraph reaffirms that your prices are higher for a reason. Should the client not be satisfied with another designer they may return and accept your higher rates.

A client wants you on call 24/7 or to micromanage you.

This client still has potential. If you don’t want to work with them, you can use the first script above. However, if you wish to try and save this client but curb their overbearing ways, you may want to try something like this.

Dear (client’s name)

Thank you for considering me (or your business name) for your (insert kind of design project here). It sounds like an interesting project that I would love to work on with you.

Before we get started I’d like to share how I operate. My business hours are (insert your working hours). I expect all communications between us to be via email or phone during my business hours.

All correspondence regarding your design project is to be by email. Email documents our communications, so we each have a record of what we discussed in case we need to refer to it in the future. I will try to respond to email promptly.

I am reachable by phone during my business hours. However, I do not accept any project changes, updates or approvals over the phone. Any changes or approvals must be sent by email.

If you would like to move forward with this project let me know and I will forward you my contract.

Thanks again for considering me (insert client’s name) as your designer.

Warmly,

(insert your name)

Include other vital points such as how often you provide updates or how many revisions you allow. Stating these things up front gives you grounds to part ways with the client should they not oblige.

If they agree to these terms, be sure to repeat all of them in your contract. That way, if they do start to become overbearing, you can refer back to the agreed upon document.

A client doesn’t want to partake in your discovery process.

A client who doesn’t want to partake in discovery is not only dismissing your abilities as a designer, but they are doing themselves a disservice by not providing you with everything you need to do your job. A message like this one may help.

Dear (client’s name)

Thank you for choosing me (or your business name) for your (insert kind of design project here).

Design is more than a pretty image or layout. When done right, design solves a problem. The possible problems I’m facing with your (insert project) are (list possible problems). To pinpoint your exact problem and come up with the perfect design solution, I need to find out everything I can about you, your company, and your clients. Only then can I create a design that will work for your needs.

To accomplish this I go through what’s called a discovery process in which I ask you questions that I need you to answer honestly. Only then, once I get to know you and your business will I see the direction your project will need to take.

Let me know when you will be available to talk.

Regards

(insert your name)

A client wants you to steal or copy another designer’s work.

In a case when this happens, and it will happen at some point in your career, you should educate the client on why you cannot do what they are asking with a message like this one. If they still insist your only option is to walk away.

Dear (client’s name)

Thank you for considering me (or your business name) for your (insert kind of design project here). Regrettably, I am not able to take on your project as described. What you are asking of me not only breaks copyright law but it infringes on ethical standards. Designers are skilled professionals who deserve to be paid for their expertise. You are asking me to steal the work of another designer and pass it off as my own. This I will not do.

What I can do for you is create something unique that will represent you in the best possible way. If you wish to discuss this possibility further, please contact me.

Thanks again for considering me for your design project.

Sincerely,

(insert your name)

A client doesn’t want to sign a contract.

A client not wanting to sign a contract is a terrible sign. You must insist on a signed document before any work is to start. Sending them an email like this may help.

Dear (client’s name)

Thank you for choosing me (or your business name) for your (insert kind of design project here). I’m really excited to start working on it. I’m just waiting for you to sign the contract before any work can begin. Once I receive the signed agreement I can start working on it.

Thanks again for choosing me (insert client’s name).

Regards,

(insert your name)

A client wants you to work for free, on spec or for exposure.

It's too bad that some people don't believe designers are worth paying. The best you can hope for is to educate them enough that they change their ways.

Dear (client’s name)

Thank you for considering me (or your business name) for your (insert kind of design project here). It sounds like an exciting project. Regrettably, without proper monetary compensation, I will not be able to take it on.

I’ve spent years developing my skills as a designer and although I appreciate the offer of (insert their offer of exposure, references, a portfolio piece.). However, such offers are a gamble, and there’s no way to guarantee the sustainability of my business by taking it on.

I’m sure you can appreciate that just like any other profession, I use my expertise as a designer to make a living. I cannot do that if I am not compensated financially for the work I provide.

Thanks again for considering me (insert client’s name). I wish you success with your (insert project name)

Regards

(insert your name)

Build your client list

Dealing with clients like the ones mentioned above is frustrating. The good news is there are a far greater number of clients who appreciate you and your talents. Over time you will build a list of great clients with whom you'll enjoy working. Appreciate them and build relationships with them. By doing so, you will ensure a happy and successful design career.

Do you have a script to turn away clients?

Do you have your own scripts you use to turn away clients in any of the above-mentioned situations? Please share them with me by leaving a comment for this episode.

Questions of the Week

Submit your question to be featured in a future episode of the podcast by visiting the feedback page.

This week’s question comes from Audry

My question is regarding logos and what files sizes to give to clients. I understand the file types (PDF, SVG etc.), but just don't know which ones to provide a client that doesn't know ahead of time where their logos will be placed. So how can I be safe and provide them with all the right sizes and file types they'll ever need? I just want to make sure I cover all the necessary formats for where it could possibly be going (pens, letterheads, vehicle wraps, billboards, etc.).

To find out what I told Audry you’ll have to listen to the podcast.

Resource of the week Porkbun.com

Porkbun.com is a great place to purchase speciality domains. You can purchase standard domains such as .com and .net at Porkbun.com but they specialize in domains such as .art, .boutique, .consulting, .gallery, .marketing, .photography or .photos plus many more. Porkbun.com prides themselves on being the #1 ranked registrar for lowest registration and renewal prices.

On top of low prices, every Porkbun.com domain also comes with Free WHOIS Privacy and Free SSL Certificates making them an even better deal.

I own several .design domains and if you would like to own one I highly suggest you give Porkbun.com a try.

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I want to help you.

Running a graphic design or web design business all by yourself isn't easy. If there are any struggles you face running your design business, please reach out to me. I'll do my best to help you by addressing your issues in a future blog post or podcast episode here at Resourceful Designer. You can reach me at feedback@resourcefuldesigner.com

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