Get Fired

by Justin Ahrens
Not every job—or every client, for that matter—is a good thing. No matter what state the economy is in, working with the wrong client is just that…wrong. What to do when you find yourself in this scenario? The short answer is simple: get fired.

I’ll admit it’s easy to say this, versus actually doing it. Willingly passing on work can be scary, but the time spent finding the right work and wooing the right clients has a much better pay off long-term—guaranteed. All firms should have a screening process, but some “bad eggs” do get through and when they do, you have to address them.

The first and best way is to have an open conversation with the client. State that your firm might not be the best fit for their needs. Be prepared to suggest several firms to take your place, tell them you will help with the transition. Honesty is always the best bet and, combined with a desire to not burn a bridge whenever possible, usually helps you keep emotion out of it. And even if it’s not a welcome process from their point of view, you can sleep at night knowing that you helped them move along.

The second strategy is to raise your prices. Not everyone agrees with this philosophy, but sometimes it’s the only thing that will get a client’s attention. I look at each scenario and decide the best avenue. (Hopefully this isn’t a common issue for you; if it is, retool your screening process and stop taking every job that comes your way.)

For new inquiries, I find the process much easier. During the initial business meeting, if alarm bells start going off in my head, I do one of two things. First, I try to find a way to decline gracefully, and then, if that opening does not appear or if this call is a referral and I feel obligated to respond, I ask a couple of key questions:

1. “What is the value of this project to you?” or “What is your budget?”
(BTW, there is ALWAYS a budget.)

2. “What is the timeline?”

I’ll use their answers to craft my proposal, giving them a price that is definitely on the high side, if you know what I mean, and a timeline and terms that are very much in our favor. Sounds a little crazy, perhaps, but if you lose work, I have found losing it on price is the best way to go.

I’ve also had some of these scenarios turn into a deeper conversation with the potential client—and we were able to work out any perceived or existing issues. The others … well, they were just good choices so I could focus my studio’s time.

The key is to not do anything to hurt your firm’s reputation. Be sure to use every interaction to network in some positive way, if you can. You can’t be everything for everyone, so do your best to avoid attracting/conversing with the wrong client or project. And since occasionally you don’t know until you have a meeting, be ready to turn the conversation into a professional “No Thanks” and provide suggestions for the other firms that might be able to serve them.


ax resting on a block

Willingly passing on work can be scary, but the time spent finding the right work and wooing the right clients has a much better pay off long-term—guaranteed.

Image courtesy of Rule29


Quick Tips
1. Whenever possible, have the stones to gracefully decline a project up front; this saves everyone time.

2. Every situation can help educate. Do your best to inform potential design-buyers about the way our industry works and standard pricing ranges. This helps all of us.

3. When you do refer a job, make sure you call that firm and give them a heads up—unless of course you don’t like them (kidding).


Dig Deeper!
1. Get a box of popcorn and watch Jerry Maguire, and realize that the right clients are the ones you want to work with. Ones with mutual admiration—the “I had you at hello” kind.

2. A great resource to have at your fingertips is Managing (Right) for the First Time by David Baker, It’s like you have David sitting next to you and that’s awesome. He may even give you a hug. (Or you can listen to David’s HOW Conference presentation of Managing (Right) for the First Time.)


2 thoughts on “Get Fired

COMMENT