How do you screen a client?

04.12.2010 / Question submitted by: John McHugh

Author: John McHugh 6 replies. Share yours.

Creative Process Discussion

Michael Lassiter:

For me to take on freelance projects, it usually has to either allow for creative freedom that may be missing from my day job, or be for a worthwhile cause/organization/business (such as a non-profit, a record label, an art gallery,etc.). I prefer to take on clients who trust my design sensibilities and experience, and won’t try to dictate how the process will go.





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  1. Shea

    It’s hard to be picky when you are trying to get a business up and running and trying to pay the bills. That said, bad clients are bad clients and usually end up costing more in the end.

    You want a client who respects what you do. You watch out for some of the key red flags:

    > “This is a great opportunity for you. You do this for free now, and it will mean a lot of business for you in the future.”

    > “This should be an easy thing. I just don’t have time to do it myself right now.”

    > “I don’t know what I want, but I know what I like when I see it.”

    > “I have a budget of $100 for my website/logo/etc. What can you do for me?”

    The best clients have an understanding of process, or at the very least, admit what they don’t know and are willing to learn and trust you. They set realistic budgets and timelines. They are organized and responsive.

    Whenever possible, I like to meet with a prospective client and hear them out. I watch for all of the things I mentioned and then try to sense if the chemistry is right. If you and the client are not vibing, it’s probably going to be really hard to work together.

  2. simon hakim

    I’ve been in the business for a while and still make common mistakes with new business. You often have the best intentions and you try to do the right thing by them and vice versa.

    First rule, for me is to work with people that you want to work with. I.e. not a random approach of working with whoever contacts you. If they don’t suit your business for whatever reason, then refer them on to someone you think they may suit or just say no.
    Be careful about clients who change agencies/communication companies often. You will see them in the news all the time.

    Final point. You are only as good as the clients you get. Some clients get creative work and working with creative people. Others won’t. A good way is for you to see the sort of work they’ve been doing and the stuff they sign off. If it is bad and they like it.

    Then get the hell out of there.

  3. Manuel Olmo

    My advise is to present a speculative proposal, but not for free. Clients will have more respect for your knowledge and experience, and you will be surprised. Thats the final test! If they consider you can do the job, they will pay. Always have the clients signature. SUPER IMPORTANT! Believe me, speculative work does not work, time and effort lost! Value your efforts, capacity and your profession.

  4. Speider

    The contract is usually the deal breaker for me. If they refuse a contract there’s nothing but trouble ahead and it usually includes getting paid, so walking away cost nothing and makes you feel empowered.

    There are early warning buzzwords and telltale signs when discussing the job with the client (as with interviewing for a full-time position). How do they communicate? Are they interrupting and boastful? That persona will micromanage and belittle you, followed by trying to cut your bill in half because he/she “did all the creative work.”

    The quieter and shy client will ask 200 or more people for their input on the design and then want 200 changes. Charge hourly and you can retire on the change this type of client rolls up…if you get paid.

    The overexcited type wants to be your friend and hang out at a bar during your meetings so he can get “psyched” and get you “psyched,” too. Since he/she is usually also a raging alcoholic, they won’t remember what they approved or asked or what they were told. If you get a contract they won’t remember it and argue that it doesn’t count.

    My favorite client smiles, tells me thy love my work and want me to do “something different.”

    It happens enough to keep me from quitting the business but the other personality types sure do strain one’s patience.

  5. Bruce

    I’ve been in the business for a while and still make common mistakes with new business. You often have the best intentions and you try to do the right thing by them and vice versa.

    First rule, for me is to work with people that you want to work with. I.e. not a random approach of working with whoever contacts you. If they don’t suit your business for whatever reason, then refer them on to someone you think they may suit or just say no.
    Be careful about clients who change agencies/communication companies often. You will see them in the news all the time.

    Final point. You are only as good as the clients you get. Some clients get creative work and working with creative people. Others won’t. A good way is for you to see the sort of work they’ve been doing and the stuff they sign off. If it is bad and they like it.

    Then get the hell out of there.



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