Yes Virginia, amazing clients really do exist

Tom TumbushMy holiday season started out with some unexpected gifts. First, a designer I met at the Denver CFC in 2010 sent a new client my way and we did a small job together. A few days later, I sent my invoice and got an unexpected response:

“Tom, we’ll be sending you a bonus. We don’t think you’re charging us enough.”

The chair in my office is very sturdy. A good thing, because I nearly fell out of it.

I tell this story to emphasize something that freelancers and small agency owners don’t often talk about. While we all have our share of “war stories” about crazy, unreasonable, and disrespectful clients, there are also some truly amazing ones—and you owe it to yourself to seek them out.

While superior clients aren’t always easy to find, I’ve come to realize that there are seven common traits that all of my best clients share. Here’s what I look for when I encounter new prospects in the wild:

  1. Great clients believe their own marketing. It’s easy to spot the difference between someone who believes in the value of what they provide and a huckster who’s simply in it for the money. Go with the former whenever possible.
  2. Great clients care about their customers. They think of themselves as “problem solvers,” and have a sincere desire to help the people they sell to.
  3. Great clients care about their employees. They pay them well, provide the best benefits their organization can afford, and offer other incentives to keep turnover low. Look for C-level leaders who aren’t afraid to hire people who are smarter than they are or to listen to their suggestions. Low turnover rates or a willingness to let team members participate in decision-making are also good signs.
  4. Great clients care about your success too. We’ve all worked for people who try to squeeze the most they possibly can for the smallest compensation. That’s a recipe for stress, frustration, burnout, and even physical illness. That’s not to say superior clients won’t work you hard—in fact, many of them will push the limits of your creative powers. But they’ll also know what they’re doing and compensate accordingly.
  5. Great clients beget more great clients. When high-quality people like your work, they’re happy to become “rainmakers” by telling their friends about you. Like attracts like, which means their referrals have a good chance of being high-quality people as well.
  6. Great clients pay on time—or sooner. This may seem obvious, but it still belongs on the list. If your invoice says “net 30” and the client regularly takes 45, 60, or more days to pay, it’s a red flag.
  7. Great clients recognize the value of what you do. They’ll still haggle, but ultimately they’ll be fair—even if they think your creative skill is some kind of “magic.”

Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no amazing clients. It would be as dreary as if there were no FREELANCERS.  

So when you find clients like these, work your butt off for them. It will be worth it.

Have a great holiday!

Tom N. Tumbusch writes copy that creates action for designers, creative agencies and green businesses. He publishes a free writing tips newsletter each month and periodically shares more casual wisdom on the WordStream of Consciousness Blog. His tiny solar-powered corner of the Internet can be found at