Client Red Flags (and How to Let Them Down Nicely)

When it comes to finding & booking your dream clients, sometimes you have to kiss a few frogs before you really start to find your prince(s). Those frogs usually come with a few red flags, and learning to recognize those red flags can help make your client acceptance & booking experience that much easier, while also ensuring that you’re truly working with clients that are a good match for your business, your process, and your energy.

Client Red Flags (and How to Let Them Down Nicely)

Before we dive into potential red flags, I want to give you permission to say no. Whether you’re newer in your business, or have been established for a couple years - saying no to work can be scary. But I promise, weeding out the projects that are not a good fit for you, will only help you fill your calendar with projects you truly love and are passionate about.

Here are some red flags you can look out for when booking potential clients:

1. The client who’s worked with a handful of designers, but no one can, “capture their vision.”

This usually means a few things: First, that the client is not properly communicating what they want to the designer. Secondly, that the client is a perfectionist and that no designer will be able to create exactly what they want (AKA no one will be able to make them happy.)

If you’d like to give this kind of client the benefit of the doubt, I’d recommend an in-depth brand & visual strategy be completed prior to any design work to really hone in on the direction that the client wants to go in, and make sure that there is solid evidence and foundation to back up the fact that the designs that you create will last and stand out in their industry.

2. The client who wants to pick & choose items out of your packages.

As the design expert, it’s your job to know what is going to serve the client best. If you have certain packages that you usually stick to because you’ve found its’ what works best for your design process, and the client responds by asking to pick & choose which services they’d like, instead of respecting your design process, this is probably not a client you want to work with.

If you’d like to give this kind of client the benefit of the doubt, you can reposition yourself as the expert by explaining why you include each item in your package, and how through your work with brands thus far, you’ve seen the immense impact that each step of your process has. If the client respects your experience and agrees to continue with your full package, you know they trust your expertise.

3. The client who asks you to amend your contract or payment options.

As a business owner, the parameters that you put in place in your contract, especially when it comes to payment - whether you wrote them yourselves, or a lawyer wrote them for you - are there to protect you. When a client starts off the onboarding process by overstepping a boundary and asking if they can pay you less up front, or if you can amend another large part of your contract, this is probably a client who is going to continue to push their limits and disrespect your business boundaries.

If you’d like to give this kind of client the benefit of the doubt, you can respond kindly to this client explaining that you’d hope as a fellow business owner they can understand that these rules are put in place to protect your business and therefore you’re not able to make the amendment they’re asking for. If the client can respect this boundary, or you can come to a realistic compromise, the project may be able to progress normally.

Tip: If you don't have a solid project contract yet, we highly recommend this contract template.

4. The client who wants to text you constantly.

Speaking of boundaries, if you’re someone who feels comfortable giving your clients your phone number, and they are blowing up your phone before you’ve even started working together, you can assume that they don’t respect your work hour boundaries.

To prevent this from happening, there are a few steps you can take to have better communication boundaries with clients. First and foremost, you can create a free Google Voice number or WhatsApp number where you only check texts or allow notifications during working hours which you can outline in your e-mail signature & contract. Alternatively, you can remove the texting option altogether by telling clients that the most efficient way to reach you is via e-mail, or through your project management platform such as commenting on the project in Asana, Notion, Trello, & more.

5. The client who has too many cooks in the kitchen.

Working with large companies, or multiple founders, can be really fun - but it can also be a lot of opinions to manage at one time. If you find that there is input from a large amount of people when it comes to their visual direction, goals, and required deliverables, you may find it hard to get everyone on the same page as the project progresses.

If you’d like to give this kind of client the benefit of the doubt, you can set the standard for how feedback is to be presented to you. For example, you can ask that anytime you deliver a presentation, the group meets together, and gives you one list of feedback that they have all agreed on, to prevent a chaotic overload of opinions.

How to say "No."

Now that you can recognize the red flags - how do you say no? Great question. There’s a few ways to be kind in saying no to projects without offending or burning a bridge.

  1. “Unfortunately the scope of this project isn’t a good fit for our current calendar, but I’d be happy to point you in the direction of someone who may be able to help you.”

This response should be reserved for projects that may need less resources than your current packages, or have a smaller budget than the packages you offer, but based on the conversation you’d feel comfortable referring them to another designer. It’s good to have a network of other designers who may have bigger & smaller packages, or offer a-la-carte items, who you can point clients to.

  1. “The vision for your project is so exciting, but I’d love to see you have ____ more well developed before you make the jump to investing in branding. I think it would really benefit you in the long run, and would love to revisit working together down the road.”

This response is reserved for projects that may be exciting, but not well-enough developed to go into branding & web design. A great example of this would be a skincare project who does not even have their formulas developed yet. Because the FDA has such strict rules on what needs to be on labeling, it’s important that beauty companies have their formulas perfected before jumping into product, label, & package design.

  1. “I really appreciate you thinking of us for your project, but I think in the long run ,you’d really benefit from finding a designer who can ______.”

This response is reserved for projects that you just don’t see yourself wanting to pursue, but that you also don’t feel comfortable sending to another trusted designer in your network, because of the red flags. This response tells them what they should be looking for when finding a designer based on their needs & requirements, without having to give them a direct contact.

For more intentional communication, we’ll be giving away our E-mail & Questions kit within our new course Design a High-End Client Process, to ensure a smoother communication process throughout all of your projects. You can access the course at our lowest pre-sale price now, before it goes live in May!

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