the importance of finding the right clients.
When you're first starting out, it is so easy to get excited about any inquiry to work with you that comes your way. You are eager for the experience of working with clients, and you're pumped there is someone (anyone!) willing to pay you. While I do agree that it can be great to work with a variety of people and businesses when you're starting out, I can't stress enough how important it is to narrow in and work with the clients that are the right fit for you.
For some, this can mean a specific niche. Maybe you love creative businesses like photographers, shop owners, florists, and so on. Perhaps you are really good at working with traditional businesses like lawyers, bankers, or accountants. Feeling connected to your work will not only motivate you to get it done, but it will help produce successful outcomes.
For others, it may mean finding clients with the right personality and working style. Meeting deadlines, participating in discussions, and allowing creative freedom are examples of styles that may be important to you in your client relationships. Or perhaps you have a fluid schedule and need to find clients who are not on tight deadlines. Whatever it may be, finding clients whose working styles jive with yours is invaluable.
How do you discover what is important in choosing your clients? Look back at your last several clients (or think about ideal clients) and ask:
- What types of projects did I enjoy the most? Maybe you felt very inspired while photographing products for the first time instead of people. Maybe you loved designing a lead magnet PDF for a new online business. Find the ones that made you feel most successful and identify what they all had in common.
- Which projects caused me the most stress? In those difficult projects, was it the client's demands that were stressful, or was it the actual work that was stressful? For example, you may have been designing for a restaurant (dream client type!) but the owner was nasty in her emails. Or, maybe you were designing a logo for a pet shop and the owner was very nice, but you had trouble finding the right inspiration to meet their wishes. Discover what it is that causes you to view a project negatively.
For me, I've learned that I work best with clients who have a respect for design and understand its value to their business, not just because someone told them they should get a new logo. I also look for clients who have a deep understanding of their business and the goals they have for it, and who are active participants in the process but don't try to act like the creative director. If someone comes to me and has short, two-word answers in their questionnaire or refuses to give inspiration examples, I know they won't be invested enough in the process. Conversely, if someone says they have their new logo all sketched out and know exactly what they want, they just need me to make it in Illustrator because they don't have the program, I run the other way -- I don't work well as a puppet. I want to work with clients who want to use my expertise, not just my software.
Ultimately, I think the key is learning to say no to those clients that are not a good fit. Take notice of those red flags early on and weigh whether a client will be worth it. If someone is demanding and curt in your first email exchange, things are not going to get better. You deserve respect in every situation.
And, there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to the right clients! That is why it is so wonderful that there are many people out there -- a terrible fit for one person might be a dream client for another. Find what works for you, not who you think you should be working with.
Bottom line? Go with your gut. You can often tell early on if a client is going to be a good fit or not. Don't be swayed by the money you'll make or the prestige a client will supposedly bring. No nightmare client is worth it! Finding the clients that you work best with will truly make your business soar.
PS Are you a designer?
Check out my ebook all about starting your own design business, including a whole section on finding and working with clients. See more here!