As a freelancer, it's taken some time to understand which new design projects will be a good fit for me. While lots of my clients use me for multiple projects, a lot of my work comes from completely new clients. Early on, it was difficult for me to vet these clients and their projects, but now it's become much easier for me to discern what types of projects and clients I should take on. I’m much happier now that I’ve learned to be comfortable saying “no” to any project that has too many red flags.
Here are 7 Red Flags that a client or project might not be right for you:
1- A CLIENT IS ASKING YOU TO COPY SOMETHING.
This has only happened to me a few times. While we all get inspired by others’ work, it is important to maintain integrity when creating new types of design. Consider the consequences of earning the reputation of “the designer who copies.” Seriously, don't copy. You'll get caught. Because: the internet.
2- A CLIENT IS HIRING YOU USING THEIR OWN PERSONAL FINANCES.
"Can you design a logo for my grandma's knitting business? She has an Etsy store that sells blankets with dinosaurs on them"
A client commissioning you with their hard-earned money is more likely to be extremely emotionally invested in the design process. These types of clients will also feel easily neglected much easier and therefor will want to micromanage the process. By contrast, working for a company or brand that has budget will be much more used to working with a designer and not take the process so delicately.
3- A CLIENT SENDS MANY LONG EMAILS OR TEXTS.
One time this guy wanted a logo, so he sent me an email asking for one. Before I even had the chance to respond, he forwarded me three more emails - one of which had images of animals running around. I think he worked with animals, but I can’t quite be sure since I didn't respond because he sent me so many emails. Also I think there was a LinkedIn message in there.
The best clients and project managers are succinct. I love working with someone who is direct and to-the-point. My job is to design and I don't get to invoice for emails, phone calls or office visits so it's important that your client values your time as well as their own.
4- THE PROJECT MANAGER IS NOT THE DECISION MAKER.
Many of my favorite projects have arrived at completion only to be killed by someone higher up. Nothing hurts more than having an illustration that you've spent 50+ hours on never make it to print because the boss thought it "looked kinda weird". Make sure you're working with the person who calls the shots.
5- THERE ARE MULTIPLE DECISION MAKERS.
You’ve all heard that phrase "there are too many cooks in the kitchen". Everyone has different tastes and if we include everyone's favorite flavors in one dish we'll have a meal that tastes like garbage. You don't want your design to taste like garbage.
6- A CLIENT WANTS YOU TO WORK FOR FREE
Here is a common email pitch: "If you do this for us, we'll promote your work." Promotion is a roll of the dice. Even if said brand has a large following on social media, there's no guarantee that their following will be interested in your work.
7- CLIENT WANTS SPEC WORK
Often times I'll get emails that read: "design something for us, and if we like it we'll pay you". How about you cook me dinner and if I like it, I'll pay you? Your time is money.
Also, there's a likely possibility that this company is sending this same email to multiple designers. That's called crowd sourcing. Crowd sourcing is like playing the lottery. Except the grand prize is a lot less money and the ticket could take a week to design.
I'm not saying a single red flag is a deal breaker. More than a few times, I've had odd interactions with a client in the beginning but the project ended up looking great. But if a new client is showing more than a few of these flags I'll take a pass... UNLESS I'M BROKE THEN I'LL COME MASSAGE YOUR FEET FOR MONEY.
written by Joshua Ariza