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You don’t have to do it all! Choosing the right projects and clients for your small business

Posted by on July 24, 2014 in A Designer's Life, Biz Talk | 2 comments

You don’t have to do it all! Choosing the right projects and clients for your small business

You don't have to do it all

Oh no, another silly cat picture on the Internet.

Bear with me, I have a point. Plus, isn’t he cute?

This is George, one of the studio cats. He and his sister Minnie hang out with me while I work. Sometimes they “help” (knock papers off my desk, sleep on the keyboard, fall asleep in my chair…)

Anyway, as you can see, George was having a little trouble getting up for work this morning. His lack of enthusiasm for facing the new day made me think of an important lesson I learned very early on in my business.

When I first started freelancing as a web & graphic designer, I took on any and every project I could get my hands on just for the experience. At the time, I didn’t really know who my ideal clients were, so I was open to any project.  This was okay for awhile.

Then I started to become really stressed out about work. Not like the normal every day stress that we all face in our jobs…this was real, paralyzing stress and anxiety. I realized after a few years that it was because of the projects I was choosing to work on. I wasn’t vetting the clients at all. Once or twice that really burned me.

A few unpaid invoices and a lot of hassle later, I was happy to let go of these clients and projects because it obviously wasn’t a good match for either of us. I was doing work that wasn’t utilizing my skills to the best of their ability. The clients had no idea what they wanted, and they weren’t happy with any of the suggestions I made. So, I wished them well and gave them suggestions for other designers who I felt may better fit their aesthetic.

If you run a small business, you’ve probably been in this situation before, or you will at some point. It can feel a bit discouraging when this happens. But try to look at these situations as good experiences in learning what does and doesn’t work in a customer-business relationship. Every failure or not-ideal project gets you closer and closer to defining your ideal client.

On the other hand, you don’t want this to happen over and over again. You can save yourself a lot of frustration and limit the growing pains of your business by not fearing the word “No”. Once you’re comfortable with the word “No”, the growing pains ease, and this is when you really start to develop your brand, your voice, your skills, your signature work.

Doing the work that best suits your specialties and your skills will benefit you most in the long run.

Turns out, my other clients – the ones who valued my time, loved my work, respected that I was running a small solo business, and took my advice to heart when they asked questions – are still my clients today. These are also the clients whose aesthetic, style, personalities and work ethic gel with mine.  These are the clients who benefited me and the healthful growth of my business. Once I removed the “No” projects from my busy schedule, I learned what types of projects I was best suited for, I defined my ideal client, and I have a vision for going forward.

Feel free to print George the “No” poster kitty. Let George remind you to never be afraid to say “No” if you’re too busy, if a project doesn’t seem right for you, or if you’re ready to stop working with a client/customer that isn’t a good fit.

You don’t have to do it all

You don’t! Even if you’re just starting your business. If something about a potential project or client doesn’t feel quite right for you, if there’s ever a feeling in your gut…ask George 😉

Have you ever had to say “No” to a project or a client?
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  1. Such great advise. I’ve learned to do a little bit of interviewing before working with some clients. This helps with acknowledging each other’s expectations and seeing if they are reasonable and if they are capable of being met. My experience has been that it’s very difficult ending services with a client, but it may be best for both parties. A practitioner or service provider shouldn’t feel emotionally drained after working with them. Thanks for sharing!

    • I’m sure as a holistic practitioner, with the intense and personal work you do for your clients, that an interview is a huge necessity! No, it’s never easy to end work with clients, for whatever reason. But if you do find that you’re mismatched for a working relationship, it’s best for both you and the client so you can dedicate your energies elsewhere.

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