Live to Design Another Day: Know When It’s Time to Fire A Client

We've all had them; they think they know what they want, they seem to be in control of their business, and then you find out they are completely inept. They order changes for the sake of change, they think their diploma says graphic designer instead of business administration, and they keep your cell phone number on their speed dial. The out of control client is a pretty common phenomenon, but how do you know when enough is enough? How do you know when it's time to fire the client? As for my company, we believe there are three scenarios in which the client should be fired.

We recently acquired a large package-rebranding project. For the sake of privacy let's say it was a potato chip company because I like potato chips. The project started with a detailed creative brief, quote approval and timeline approval. It seemed that the company really knew what they wanted, and we were all on the same page. At first show, the board members were ecstatic; they simply loved the re-design of the packaging and everyone was happy. A few days later we received an email with the first round of revisions. After completing those changes, we received another email with even more revisions. To make a long story short, we went through eight rounds of revisions on one package version. If you positioned our original design next to our last design, you couldn't see any similarities, and I'm not sure you could even tell we were trying to sell potato chips. It is at this point that we made a decision to stand up for our original design and inform the client that we didn't support the changes and would not produce the packaging. To put it simply, we were embarrassed to have our name associated with the project. So, if you have to sacrifice your integrity to please a client, they should be fired, because the success or failure of the project will ultimately fall on your shoulders.

When a client calls ten times a day, requests five meetings a week and emails non-stop, it's time to kick them to the curb before they eat up an excess amount of admin time. We had a client who was looking for a new firm to take over his company's marketing business. In order to see if we were compatible, we started out with a slight modification of the company logo and new business cards, which seemed like a simple enough task. Well, after fifty paper samples, an entire book of print processing samples and ten changes to the cards while on the digital press, we started to get a little worried. When we delivered the cards, the client reached into his desk and pulled out a magnifying glass to check the printing on the cards. This was a first for us, and we could only assume it would get much worse when dealing with larger projects in the future. So, after a three-month business card job, and the loss of an estimated 2,000 dollars of admin time, we simply had to fire the client. This particular client refused to be fired, but that's a story for another day.

Last but not least is the client who feels like quotes are negotiable. You send them a quote for$ 1,000 and they come back and ask if you will take $200. If your clients assume you run your business like the game show "Let's Make a Deal" it's probably time to fire them. We have been offered tempting and not so tempting items to trade out for our design services. My personal favorite is a company that needed at least 100,000 dollars worth of work. They called us into a meeting after receiving our quotes and offered us stock in the company in exchange for our services. Had this company been Google we would have opted for the stock, but since they were a no-name company with a terrible product, we simply refused the "deal".  The surprising part is they were shocked to discover we didn't want stock certificates worth zero dollars.

An extremely successful businessman once told me that if you begin to compromise work, prices and time for clients, then the reputation and credibility of your company is lost, and for a design agency this is everything. Some agencies go as far as to interview the clients before taking on the job. If the client seems to be in tune with the agencies procedures and standards, then they proceed into a business relationship. My company hasn't reached this stage yet, and with a tough economy we can't afford to interview clients, however, we do fire them from time to time.

Sherry Pappas

Sherry Kington

Teacher and Part-Time Author