I know it depends on a “lot” of factors and each case is quite different, but there are some common factors that decide our decisions to work with a particular client. And yes, as a designer, you do have a choice to say “No”.
This involves sub-factors like what industry is the client from [ whether you want to work for that particular sector or not – for example an arms manufacturer ], what does the company do, how long has the company been in business [ whether you want to work with established companies or start-ups ], what are the deliverables of the project [ whether the deliverables fall within your scope of work, if they do fall outside your scope of skills are you willing to learn more without charging the client for learning time – this would depend on the client’s timelines too.
Also, whether you are now specializing in your portfolio focussing on a particular deliverable like ONLY Corporate Identity design and whether the client is offering that same kind of project or something else ].
Another area where I NEVER take projects is speculative work. If the client tells me that I have to submit mock-ups before the client decides which designer to work with, I just say “No Thank You”. Sometimes if a client seems agreeable, I do send them a link to the NO SPEC website – but most clients will not appreciate that and you can be assured that they are never coming back to you.
What the client thinks of designers and creative people
If the client tells you, “I like your work – it is more business oriented than creativity oriented – most creative people have this tunnel vision and don’t know what they’re doing – they’re so focussed on the creative part of the job!”, then you need to weigh other options and take a call – what if during the course of the engagement the client turns around and tells you, “You’re acting like a creative person now.” It’s a danger signal – and there can be many others – you need to keep your eyes and ears open and then decide which signals are the strongest.
This is a very important factor that will affect your decision. While some clients will readily pay your the money that you ask for [ without negotiating even once ], there will be some clients who will want to negotiate till cows come home. And there is no way of knowing which category a client falls into till you reach the stage where the client gets back to you on your quote. This is a gamble and only with experience one starts to see the signs that tell you before the quote whether the client will negotiate till cows come home.
For example, a client who has been forthright with you from the start – she tell you she likes your work, she tells you she isn’t speaking to any other designers, she tells you who referred her, she acknowledges the receipt of your e-mail, she returns your call – she is most probably not going to negotiate hard. If there’s a client who tells you in the beginning that they have a start-up when you can see on their company website that they have been in business for at least seven years, then you know you have someone who doesn’t want to pay for your time and effort. Most real-life clients aren’t as simple to decipher – we’re all human beings after all.
As a designer, what you need to decide is what you bottom line is – once you’ve assessed the project’s requirements, you need to decide what your ideal charge would be and give that to the client. [ Here ideal charge means, what you think you’re worth – in a perfect world with a perfect client. ]
If the client agrees to that amount, you know you’ve got a fantastic project coming up and you know it will be one of your best works till date [ it’s difficult to acknowledge, but the money is important and one of those forces that make a designer happy ]. If the client lets you know that the quote is “way beyond” what they were expecting, the ideal thing to do would be to ask them what their range was, if they tell you, you will know whether this project is something you’ll consider doing or whether it’s a no-go.
Always appreciate those clients who tell you that their range was 1/10th what you quoted – al teast they had the guts to ask for something they wanted! If it’s a non-profit organization, do the work for free – you’ll probably end up with some of your best work.
Whether you will be able to show this work in your portfolio
Sometimes, you will get clients who are offering you terrible work – you know from the start that they want you to copy someone else’s website or brochure and to top it off, they’re paying you extremely well – you need to decide first of all whether you want to do this project. If you do decide to do this project, [ which could be because of various reasons – you’re an independent designer and have had a work slump for three months now – your bank reserves are running out or whatever else ] you will most probably decide not show this project in your portfolio and maybe never mention it on your blog or any place related to your work. Again, this is a call every individual designer has to take.
Then there are client who don’t want you to show the particular project in your portfolio EVER. Some projects require that you do not disclose the details for a period of time [ could be anything from six months to three years if the client is reasonable ]. In this case, again, you need to decide whether you can stay off talking/showing this project in your portfolio or not.
More than anything else – it’s all about a “gut-feel” – if the project / client doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. But in all cases, it will be a combination of various factors that will affect your decision. The biggest enabler is to know that you have a choice. To say “Yes” or “No”.