When I first started TheCrownFox something that happened, a lot, was that I got walked all over. Not in a mean or negative way, but if someone asked me to do something outside the Scope of our agreement I would just do it and take the financial/time hit out of fear of hurting a client’s feelings or displeasing them.
Something that has happened in my recent business evolution is the ability to stand up for my work, my business, and myself with a lot more ease (suddenly). I’m not sure if it just falls under being more confident in my services and abilities, being a 2nd year business owner, or growing more as a person – but either way I’m proud that I’ve become someone who can stick up for myself in my business.
There are a few scenarios that call for this sort of strength: people asking you to do work for free, people asking for you to do more work than you agreed to (with no extra payment), people expecting unreasonable results in limited time frames, etc. I wanted to cover a few main ideas about this topic and help motivate you to a) stand up for yourself and b) notice these issue and be prepared to handle them in a professional, polite way.
SAYING NO TO WORK THAT YOU DON’T WANT TO DO
As a designer in the online space I’ve rarely been faced with work that qualified as something I felt uncomfortable about, but before TheCrownFox I worked for a huge advertising agency briefly. I was desperate to impress everyone, eager to come in early and stay late, and overall an ‘overachiever’. One day I was presented to do work for a tobacco company that wanted to specifically target college kids in this campaign – and I felt sick to my stomach over it. I don’t smoke, I think smoking is not a good thing, and I definitely don’t think we should be targeting young people to take up this awful habit…
I felt really uncomfortable by the whole situation and conflicted over how to proceed. I didn’t want to look like a bad employee but I also couldn’t do the work. I finally discussed it with my superior and was met with nothing but kindness and understanding, which taught me a valuable lesson – you are allowed to say you don’t want to do something, you don’t feel comfortable, you don’t feel like you are able to do your best work, etc. People will respect your honesty and life will go on.
I haven’t been faced with that same scenario yet in my own business, but I say it to point out this to you: you don’t have to do work you don’t feel comfortable doing. If you think someone is selling scammy products or courses, and they want you to write their sales copy or design their graphics – it’s okay to say that you’re not the best fit. If you think someone is putting out the wrong kind of lessons and thoughts into the world through their business (for example: be extremely competitive, step all over people to move up, etc.) and that makes your heart hurt – don’t work with them. You can politely say this: “Thank you for thinking of me, but I don’t think I am the best fit for you in this project.”
I’d usually recommend offering a suggestion of someone else to work with, but in this scenario you don’t even have to do that! Be polite, be courteous, and don’t let anyone have anything bad to say about you and their experience interacting with you – but do be direct.
EXPLAINING YOUR PROCESS AND STICKING TO IT
Another scenario where you should focus on being direct and confident in your interaction with a client is when it comes to explaining your process. If you look at some of the most well known designers in our Internet space, something they all have in common is a very specific process – it what makes them stand out. Maybe it’s an incredibly short timeline, only presenting one logo, mailing a physical style guide, or something else – but it’s a process that they know works time and time again, and they only work in that way.
So here’s this thought that used to make me uncomfortable to acknowledge: I am the one in control. Yes, the client is paying me, but they are paying me because I can do something they cannot and they need my help. In this scenario I am the expert and I should be confident in that and in my ability to deliver.
I know that sounds really dramatic, like I am puffing my chest out or hair flipping – but I am not. I’m stating a fact. I was hired as the expert, the same way that I would hire a Pinterest expert or a copywriting expert to help me. So, remember that when it comes to explaining your process and sticking to it. Yes, clients have input and suggestions and ideas and boundaries, but overall you are the one that can and should present a plan of attack, a system, or a way to help a client (and they, in turn, should listen to your ideas, thoughts, and knowledge – trust me in this: there are dreamy clients out there who will think what you do is fantastic and love that you are bringing your knowledge to them).
When clients start to ask if they can drastically change parts of your plan, listen, acknowledge what they want, and yes, you can totally be adaptable and try to work with them. But, you don’t have to be and you don’t have to work that you aren’t selling/offering in the first place. If you’re a sales page copywriter and you have a process that takes two weeks, one phone call, and one round of revisions but suddenly a client asks to make it last a month because they haven’t nailed down the details, and they need text message updates, and revisions from themselves, their partner, and their friend… it’s okay to say that wont work.
Again, I reiterate my point from above – be polite and courteous, but also be direct. You can say, “that is not my tried and proven process, I don’t think that is the best way to approach this project. We should get started after you’ve nailed down the details so we can contain this work into my 2-week time frame and multiple people can definitely offer revisions, but it is up to you to compile them and send them to me as one set of revisions.”
GETTING OVER THE FEAR OF LOSING A CLIENT OR SAYING NO
I totally feel you right now if you are reading this and thinking “this makes sense, but I can’t actually be that firm. I need clients to make money.”
Well, yeah, you definitely do but you need the right clients if you want longevity in your business, to avoid being burned out, and to avoid having unhappy clients (because trust me, the more you bend to doing everything you don’t want to do for a client, the unhappier you’ll get, the worse the work will be, and the angrier the client will get).
Here are two thoughts that helped me greatly with the idea of saying ‘no’ to a potential client:
- You won’t do your best work or make your best impression doing work you dislike/don’t want to do.
- If you fill up your schedule with work that makes you miserable, you’ll never have time to take on the dream client when they show up.
Keeping those things in mind when I answer the email or get to the point in the phone call when it’s time to say “no” makes it so, so much easier.
If it’s a client you’re already in contract with that is now making things more difficult, it’s okay to be polite yet firm in saying something along the lines of, “I’d be happy to send you a quote for that work, but it definitely falls outside of our original scope of work so I won’t be able to do that for you at this time.” In my experience, 9 times out of 10 the client doesn’t even realize that what they are asking for is outlandish and super time intensive.
PREVENTING FUTURE ISSUES
Over time I’ve come to realize that a lot of these issues result from me not being confident enough in my abilities and not being clear enough in my initial interaction/documentation of the project.
I’ve grown more confident over time, and you will to (I definitely think this is a scenario of faking it until you make it), but being prepared will ultimately help you the most.
So first things first: establish your client process, write down every aspect of it. Write down associated timelines and expectations. If you need the client to have their copy due 5 days before the start date of a project, write that down. Make it fool proof as far as what you need and what has to happen for this process to work (for both you and the client).
Then, take all of those assorted due dates throughout the project and make associated late fees, so that the client knows you are serious.
Now, make that a deliverable option to send to clients even before booking (but again definitely after booking) so that they are very aware of the rules of the road. Bonus points if you make them initial or sign an agreement that they saw, read, and understood the process. (PS if you need help designing this deliverable option, it totally falls into my wheelhouse).
Now, make sure to send over a detailed Scope of Work that works in conjunction with your contract that states exactly what you will do for the client and exactly what deliverables they are to expect. Make note in your contract that any delays caused by the client will result in late fee charges, as that will slow up the remainder of the process.
Review all of these points in your consult call and/or email. People, in general, value specificity and you are definitely offering that. Once they’ve agreed to everything, though, you HAVE to follow through on your end and work within that timeline/process that you presented.
You should also be specific about ways of communication. My contract used to say that phone calls must be pre-scheduled, and otherwise communication could and should happen via email unless we have established a workflow via Asana, Trello, (or similar programs) or Slack. Lately I’ve adjusted it to include that at no point is text messaging or Facebook Messenger a means of communication and messages sent through those channels might go unanswered. You can and should also specify when you are available: so I say that I am available 10am-5pm EST, Monday-Friday. Now I might answer/respond outside of those hours, but I want it listed so that I cannot be faulted for not answering a message at 8:30pm or something. Be specific!
I also want to take a brief second to point out something else: while you should have a process and a system – you totally have the right to be as adaptable as you want to be for certain clients. There are some clients that can ask me to do something completely out of my wheelhouse – and I’ll do it, but here’s why: the respect and understanding is already there and established, they are offering to help me expand my skillset by taking new courses or learning new information, and they aren’t going to be angry with me if it’s not 100% perfect the first time.
But I say that with the thought that that type of relationship should be developed and a goal to work towards, not an assumption. In my case I’ve been fortunate enough to work with amazing lady bosses who definitely fall ‘outside of the lines’ in our communication or ‘rules’, but that happened over time of getting to know each other, understanding our working styles, etc. In my type of work now, as I do basically join on teams, a lot of these ‘rules’ have been stretched but it’s always been through an understanding on both sides and done out of mutual respect. It should never feel like ‘you have to do XYZ to keep this client happy or else’ in my opinion.
Wow, as I blow past 2,000 words I should wrap this up by saying a few things: first, never be rude or mean to clients (or anyone) online. Your reputation is everything. BUT, you do have the right to stand up for yourself and your business. Just because someone is paying you does not mean they own you, your time, or your abilities. Being as specific and detailed as possible will only help you, and it is okay to lose a client or say no – because the dream client is out there and will respect you.
I’m Kaitlyn, your design assistant! I work with successful creative entrepreneurs to create cohesive, clean, and compelling visuals for their businesses. You can keep being the #girlboss you are (but with more time to focus on growing your empire)! Let's set up a time to chat!