Samson Aligba introduced me to a video of Michael Bierut some days ago. I’ve raided YouTube ever since for every single video of him because I love the simplicity of his work and he is a really really polite man who still doesn’t accept the shitty things people do and has a very polite way of saying no.

I’m watching this video this morning and he has given the reassurance I require for rejecting potentially bad prospects without letting them allow me feel guilty for it. I’ve been on this journey professionally for 6 years and I know for a fact that I do not work well with arrogant people, people who want everything only at the last minute and people who want you in their presence for every single thing (the type that want you to come to their office to send them an email – exaggerated but you know what I mean).

I try really hard to be polite to people (till I’m provoked), I don’t like to talk to people’s faces except I really really really know them or I’m sharing my expertise as a speaker and I like to go over stuff again and again and again. People with opposite characters are not bad people but characters opposite to these of mine is sometimes not the best foundation for a great business relationship and ‘no relationship’ is better than a divorce.

Within 1 minute of a call, I can now tell what relationships might be a disaster. Initially I just used to double the fees to discourage the business. However, some will still pay and then make the entire process such a regrettable one that the fee becomes meaningless so I’ve learnt to say, “I’m sorry, but I do not think I will be the best person to provide the solutions for your need”.

I said the same thing to someone last week because I didn’t think it was appropriate to ask that I do 3 logos in less than 7 days and the prospect made me feel terrible by belittling the profession with the exact words “why take so long, IS IT NOT ORDINARY GRAPHIC DESIGN…” (then cuts me short when I tried to reply) IT’S GRAPHIC DESIGN (cuts me short again) IT’S GRAPHIC DESIGN (and again cuts me short) IT’S GRAPHIC DESIGN. I just kept quiet and later asked “are you going to let me talk?”.

I ended up asking if I should have kept the truth, collected the money, say I will try, and then don’t deliver because it happens all the time in this industry. I have clients who don’t work with me anymore because they wanted things at the last minute, I said I will try, I couldn’t deliver and ended up getting stinkers for being incompetent. ‘I will try’ is ‘it will be done’ as far as clients are concerned and so I have learnt never to try but get it done for people who will give enough time to allow it. I have such great clients and I value their relationship and referrals too much to ruin it because of people who conclude you live to serve only one master at all cost.

The statement ‘IS IT NOT ORDINARY GRAPHIC DESIGN’ put me in a really terrible mood (now my wife will know why I have been edgy the past few days) so much so that I began to doubt if I had chosen the right profession and I started speeding up work on my other ideas that require less direct and extensive interaction with human beings (those buy it or leave it kind of products), but watching this video of uncle Michael has given me the assurance to never feel guilty for being honest and saying NO to potential disasters and yes, I’m in the right profession.

Ever wondered how to know potentially bad clients, how to avoid them and how to grow without them? Watch this video by Michael Bierut and let me know what you’ve learnt in the comment box.

6 Responses

  1. Insightful post Professor. This is related to a question that has been on my mind lately. The question I this: sometimes you’re engaged with a client on a more long term project (for example you’re on retainer) and then you figure out the client is the type you would normally avoid when taking on one-off projects; they need things done yesterday and always want the logo “bigger”… and you realize that in view of your contractual agreement, the only way to get the most out of your relationship is by educating them and helping them “see the error in their ways”… How would you go about that? Do you have any previous experience with this?

    1. Thank you Ajibola.

      Let me take cue from Michael Bierut…

      Can you really ‘educate’ any client on design? I don’t think they are interested in the jargon. Hopefully, you didn’t sign a contract till death. If so, you should draw the client’s attention to where the problem is as regards your working principles and also clearly outline how their design direction might be a problem for their target market (not for fellow designers). If they refuse to understand after these points, just let them know it will not be a good idea for you to be responsible for a potential fail so you will prefer to part ways and even refer other greater designers.

  2. I started curving certain jobs after I got educated by Von Glitschka (a mentor and design father in the Lord) on “Gauging Perceptions”.
    It takes almost less or more than a one minute conversation (voice/text/video) to know if a client is going to be a log in the rear hole.
    Through the years, I’ve spent some nights regretting taking some jobs. You know that burning feeling that one gets and feels like refunding money back to the client?
    Anyways, this is a very helpful post and will be greatly appreciated by service providing freelance entrepreneurs who keep falling into the deadly trap of “troublesome” clients who either want to Art direct every step of the process, expecting unrealistic results (like a logo that illustrates every star in the milky way) yet saying the most annoying words; Is it not computer you’ll use to do it? No be graphic design? Or just want to overwork you for every single cent/kobo they paid when they see that what you’ve done​ is too simple or seems like it was effortless in production.
    Once again; thanks Yox.

    1. Some very deep insights from you o, Love.

      First of all, let me Google Von Glitschka.

      You are very right about deciphering the potential sour relationships from the first few minutes of a conversation. I’ve learnt to say NO and stick to the NO. They will still have a bad word of mouth about you anyway, but I have peace hearing ‘they say you have become too big to work for some people’ than hearing ‘he’s a terrible person who doesn’t deliver as expected’.

      No disrespect to anybody but the ones who want it really cheap are the ones hardly ever satisfied. They act like, ‘this guy is definitely not going to give me anything less just because I am paying less’even when you’re giving them same level of service as everyone else.

      Seriously, I’ve learnt to say NO. Because the client is always right, work only with the right client always. (Turning it into a DP. lol)

  3. I could not have read this post at a more critical time.
    Since I entered the graphic design and brand identity business my biggest issue has been my annoying conscience. I have learned that if you don’t deal with your weaknesses others will take advantage of them.

    There are the clients that specialize in “emotional blackmail” where they make unrealistic requests that place you in a position where you have to either
    1. Say no and look like an unacommodating person or
    2. Entertain their desires and risk committing design suicide
    and either way you come out at the end feeling like sh*t (sorry to say).

    And then with some of them you start to ask yourself “why did this guy even hire me in the first place? Might as well give him the software and let him do it himself” those are the design overlords/puppet masters.
    And then there are the “you don’t know what I can do for you” type of people that always assume that designers are the less fortunate in need of help and “exposure”. I could go on and on but I’ve started venting so I’ll stop here.

    I feel like what no one tells you before you get into this business is in addition to learning design, you have to take psychology side classes and learn yoga. Like cancer I would agree that early detection is key. Thanks again for this enlightening piece, I have found a new home.

    1. Emmanuel, I literally feel your frustration. I have also been talking to bigger design firms and the interesting thing is they also go through the same wahala. Nobody is free from the brouhaha o. loll.

      I’ve learnt my lessons the hard way. Because the personality of those I work with can influence the quality of my output, I always talk to the prospect first to understand the person. If I realize that it will make for a sour relationship, I just decline. Maybe when I grow and work with people who are emotional intelligent experts, then we’ll work for everyone whose problem we can solve. I face work, he/she relates with the customer. Till then, may the Lord guide us through. lol.

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Clients to Avoid and How to Avoid Them

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