Do Designers Choose Their Clients, Or Do Clients Choose The Designer?

The 6 P’s Checklist we follow when validating and declining projects

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I’m often asked about how I do business development and find new clients.

This is a good question, but not one that can easily be answered with a short explanation or within an article.

One issue that always gets met with raised eyebrows is the fact that we’re sort of picky about the clients we DO work with and how often we decline work.

What’s this you say? Decline work? In THIS economy? Are you crazy? I don’t think so no.

We feel that it is important to consider what our clients, their products, practices, and reputations say about us as their design partners.

I read a quote somewhere quite some time ago that stuck with me and it basically said:

“We need to be honest and produce quality work, while remembering that we are defined by the clients we work with.

Be as discriminating about clients as clients are about us, and we need to work with clients we respect, and products we believe in.

Good work, combined with good clients and honest relationships is the secret.”

This is a good statement that indicates how I feel about choosing the clients I work with, I would rather work with one really good client than five average clients.

Things aren’t always so black and white though. It’s very easy to say no to the wrong type of clients and projects such as things involving gambling or pornography.

I’m 100% confident I would decline a project for a tobacco client regardless of the potential revenue there would be as it’s something I don’t agree with or would like associated with my work and portfolio, and brand overall.

I know I do quite thoroughly and you may do to, but let’s be honest and very realistic about how often designers engage in any real due diligence investigating their potential clients and their backgrounds the way potential clients check us out?

A young designer for example will properly do a quick google search of the potential client, checkout their website if they have one and that’s it, some don’t even do that!

With experience comes this, proceed with cautious feeling when getting any sort of project request, making me very eager to run a background check on this potential client to find out everything I can that will help me to understand if they are a good fit to work with. 

I must say having a solid background in IT really does help me find out more than what I properly should ( It’s a good perk!) But it helps me decide if the client and their project is worth taking on.

Having been burned a few times in the past when I was younger and less wise to the world around me it’s made me develop a sort of think security and protection for myself and my family first sort of feeling.

I always tread with caution, i like to weigh it up first. And to quote a buddy of mine.

“Is the juice worth the squeeze?”

No amount of money presented to me is going to get me excited until I know everything about the person and the company who is presenting it to me.

I have declined projects with large amounts because of certain things I have found out about clients and their companies.

You have to be prepared and ready to turn projects down, It’s not just about money we as designers have a reputation to uphold our work is put in front of millions of people worldwide, and one project for the wrong client or company can tarnish our reputation.

But beyond the important ethical issues, think about

  • A potential client with no experience working with a logo and branding studio?

  • Is the primary contact you are dealing with not empowered with the authority to make minor or final decisions for the company?

  • If the client hoping to play creative director and micro-manage the project while taking creative control and treating you as a pixel pusher/order taker.

  • The potential client and their company could be in a different industry or sector to what the design studio specialises in.

These types of issues are all worth considering when making decisions when it comes to taking on new projects and working with clients.

It’s important to understand that it’s not always possible to land and take on perfect, well-paying projects and clients whose services and products are the things we believe in and endorse.

But we need to be open minded and cautious about who we are working with regardless of the budget at stake.

The 6 P’s Checklist

My studio has a 6 point checklist that includes 6 words that begins with the letter “P” that is used to validate and judge potential clients.

Positioning:

Is there anything about this client or the project that will enhance and leverage our portfolio to attract more, similar and better projects in-line with our emphasis on serving professional services and products?

People:

  • Are the people good and will we enjoy working with them?

  • Are these people experienced working with a logo and brand identity design studio like ours and respecting our team and processes?

  • Who is the point of contact with authority to make decisions? Will we be working with this person directly?

  • Do we have access to key stakeholders and leadership personnel in the organisation?

  • Will they trust us as a studio to do our best work for them?

Purpose:

  • Is the work this client is doing meaningful and can we be proud and passionate about it?

  • Is the client, their product and service something we as a business endorse and believe in? Or at the very least not compromise our ethics or do harm to people, communities or the environment?

Potential:

  • Are the resources available to meet the requirements of the project?

  • How will this affect the team or company’s growth?

  • If there is any doubt about us delivering a quality result on time, then we decline the project.

Profit:

  • Is there inherent potential to make enough revenue with the initial project to contribute to a healthy bottom line and sustain the business?

  • Is this a start-up client that is high risk and spending their own personal money?

  • Has the client allocated appropriate budgets and is being forthright about those parameters?

  • This criteria is intentionally near the bottom as we don’t want the pound value to be a key motivator for taking on work.

Perception:

  • Are there any other factors beyond the above that we need to consider?

  • What does our instinct tell us?

  • Can we determine why this client needs a new design studio?

  • Does it feel like they terminated their previous creative partnership for good reason?

The best work always comes to the surface when all of the above 6 P’s are aligned.

For instance, if the answers to the above questions are not a “Yes” to at least half of them, which is 3, for whatever reason, including my own gut feeling, then the project will be declined.

Sometimes this means losing thousands of pounds in revenue, perhaps more.

But by doing this we better understand who we are as a design studio, as a business, as individual people and as a brand as a whole.

Our integrity is intact and our reputation is unsullied.

Let me know in the comments how you select your clients to work with, and how often you decline work?

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As i always say - “Stay curious & enthusiastic, and good things will happen!”

Thanks for reading. 🙂


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