How To Deal With Cheap Clients When You Work For Yourself

How To Deal With Cheap Clients When You Work For Yourself
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Answers by Jessica Hische, Lettering Artist, Author, Procrastiworker, on Quora.

A: You deal with cheap clients all the time, not just when starting out. Over time, you develop the confidence to explain to clients why things cost what they do and why the price they are asking is far lower than what it should be. If someone says they can find someone else to do it for less, just say "Of course you can, and if the only thing you care about is spending hardly any money then you should hire that person. But if you care about it being both well executed and well managed, you should hire a professional and be willing to pay professional rates."

I start a lot of pricing quotes with "Generally projects like this cost..." People like special treatment with everything except pricing. They just want to know that you are quoting what you normally would. If they truly don't have the money that the job should pay, it's on you to figure out if you want to make it work or if you want to walk away. Sometimes I do work for partial or full barter (I get free haircuts now!), but I tend to only barter if I'm already a fan of whatever the company is I'm bartering with. One of the best tricks for working with people with tiny budgets, is invoicing them for what it SHOULD cost, but then discounting it to what they are actually paying. You specify that this is a one time discount, so that if you work with them again there's no assumption that you will work for a very reduced rate, and they treat you like the higher paid designer you said you were. I did some extensive writing about pricing on my site, incase you're interested in reading more about pricing advice.


A: My main tip is that anything life-related that is truly important to you needs to be added to your calendar as if it's a client deadline. If you are having a hard time incorporating exercise into your routine because you're always behind on work and there is always some errand to run, you have to pretend that hour of yoga is an important meeting that you don't have the ability to reschedule. If Client A asked for a meeting when you already had a meeting with Client B, you wouldn't contact Client B to reschedule because Client A was being pushy. You have to be firm but polite and say "I have a prior commitment at that time, would X time work instead?"

It's important to be empathetic to everyone's unique work/life setup. We are not all perfectly healthy childless 25 year olds with endless energy and the ability to survive on 3 hours of sleep. Establish rules that work for you and stand by them when scheduling projects. I have a relatively strict rule of No Monday Deadlines because they imply weekend work. If I work on the weekend, I do so because I CHOOSE to not because I HAVE to. It's quite difficult for me to work on a weekend now that I have a child, so I only do so in emergency situations, not as a default state of being.

I can't work in the evening like I used to, and I'm not afraid to tell clients that. If we are honest about our particular set of parameters in a no-nonsense unapologetic way, people listen. If I tell a client that I'm only available between 11am and 4pm for phone calls it's not something that they can disagree with--they can only say if it does or does not work with their schedule. If they send me art direction at 5pm and expect revisions at 8am, I tell them it isn't possible and that the earliest I could turn them around is early afternoon. There are the rare times when the revisions are truly needed at 8am (to make a print deadline), but you're usually aware of that in advance and can at least warn clients about your availability ("Whatever we can do to get art direction to me by 1pm at the latest the day before this goes to press would be great--It's very difficult for me to work in the evenings so I'd want to get it handled before EOD that day."). Maintain professionalism but stand your ground.

Work/Life balance for me used to mean that work and life were completely intertwined--I worked whenever I felt like it, at all hours, integrating social time when I could or creating social time that was also work time (like sharing a studio with others, or going to design events). Now, work and life feel quite separate. I don't really prefer the separation, but I have no choice. Part of it is being a parent, but part of it is living in a place where people keep regular office hours. I don't have dozens of friends working at all hours of the night anymore, and it's way less fun to work at midnight when you don't have a few friends on iChat to pass the time with.


A: It kind of depends on what kind of burnout we're talking about. These are the main kinds I experience:

  • My Career is Meaningless Burnout
  • I Can't Get Motivated to Actually Finish Anything Burnout
  • I Feel Crushed Under the Weight of These Deadlines Burnout
  • I *cough* Have *cough* Been *cough* Sick *cough* FOREVER *cough [...]* Burnout

The main symptom of My Career is Meaningless Burnout is feeling like I'm not contributing anything positive to the world. I start saying things like "Graphic Design is such a selfish profession. All I do is make people want to buy stuff they don't need. This is all just ending up in a landfill anyway."

What usually cures it is finding a way to have a real tangible positive impact on a few people. I ramp up my public speaking, do more workshops, meet with students, etc. I'd say that if you're not in the very particular position I'm in (being a public figure), get involved in the creative community around you or mentor someone with less experience than you (there's always someone, even if you feel like a n00b!). If you feel completely detached from any sort of creative community (or any supportive community), you are most at risk of this type of burnout.

The second type of burnout is usually caused by not having enough work on my plate. If I don't have a way to procrastiwork (creatively bounce around--work on something I'm not supposed to be working on while putting off the thing I should be working on), I do unproductive things like endlessly refresh Twitter/email or spend HOURS searching for brushed brass wall mounted toilet paper holders. Deadlines help a lot, which is why I love client work. If I know I have a little too much time to work on something, sometimes I'll put it off until the deadline pressure is higher and my body kicks into survival mode.

So, the solution for #2 sometimes turns in to the cause of #3 if I let the deadline pressure build too much. Usually though, this is caused by creating a house of cards on my calendar with deadlines butting up against one another. If one project's deadlines suddenly get bumped around, everything falls apart and I'm scrambling to catch up. There are two things to do when you feel crushed by the weight of deadlines:

1. Actually start working. I start with a few smaller more accomplishable tasks to get the motivation ball rolling and then try to ride that through to the larger to-dos.

2. Ask your kindest clients if there's any "wiggle room" in the schedule. Assure them that you can of course make the deadlines as they stand, but it would be amazing if you could get just a few extra hours/days "to make sure you're exploring all possible options".

3. Ask yourself if there is anything that you can delegate to someone else. I don't often bring on help for a project, but if I really needed to, I could probably scrounge up a few folks to help with production to alleviate some of the pressure.

The last form of burnout is solved by ACTUALLY TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF. This can be hard, especially if you've buried yourself under too much work. If you really do need a break, because you have been sick forever and feel like a shell of a person, sometimes you just have to call it like it is and tell the client that in your current state you're incapable of delivering something awesome to them. Sometimes the client has more time, but sometimes they don't so you should be ready with a few recommendations of people they can hire in a pinch. I only do this in dire dire circumstances (like when I got norovirus and threw up every 15 minutes for NINE HOURS). Disaster does strike. We are human. It's OK to admit it.

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