Dream Smarter Podcast Ep27 - Client Breakups


Dream Smarter Podcast Ep27 – Client Breakups

Below are the show notes/summary for this episode. Please listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify for the full show! Xo, Alex



Today we’re talking about client breakups. Client breakups and client issues are something that we all deal with. It’s just something that nobody shares on social media because who wants to talk about that stuff?

It’s something that I have gone through many, many, many times. I’ve learned so many lessons when choosing my clients and then learning how to deal with client problems and then break up with them. I’m going to talk about just some red flags, how I choose my clients and why I decided to walk away from some clients, and maybe some experiences that I’ve had. We’re going to talk about how to deal with client problems, how I approach situations and then see how to break up with clients. 

How We Choose Who To Work With

We were in the position at High-moon Studio where we can now deny clients, which is a blessing. I wish that I would have set up this process before. So basically, how our process works is people apply on our website. We have a short form; it just asks them for just quick information. We run everything through Dubsado. It asks them for enough information to create a project automatically for them in Dubsado. 

Then we have a workflow where we have a longer-form questionnaire. In that questionnaire, we ask questions about their vision. I ask them to include a Pinterest board of their vision. We ask them about their business. We ask them about the pages on their website that they need.

We ask them deeper questions about the project because that way, we can understand them a bit more. That way we can decide if we want to work with them or not. You’re not always a great fit for the client. It’s not always about if the client a great fit for me. It’s like, am I a good fit for the client? 

I have had people reach out who’ve wanted styles that I can I do, but they’re not my signature styles. I don’t want to charge the person upwards of $15,000+ to get work. That’s a style that is not my specialty. It’s just not the right fit. That means we’re not the right fit for the client. I’m doing it for the client just as much as we’re doing it for ourselves.

In that questionnaire, many things happen; This is the client’s first test because often people will fill out that short form, but they won’t fill out the long-form. That tells me that they are not ready to put in the work for this because doing a brand and website with us is not a walk in the park. It’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of strategies, and I am not their business manager. We help with the business stuff. We help with the strategy, but we are not the strategist. They have to be willing to collaborate with us and put in the work to make this the best possible brand and website that it can be.

If they’re not willing to complete this long-form application, then they are not ready to be a client of ours. And same goes with how they fill it out. It’s amazing. I can tell how an entrepreneur is by the way they fill out this questionnaire. It is one of the best things I’ve ever done. 

It’s a way to kind of filter out all of the clients that we don’t want. If you’re a designer and you’re listening, even in any type of service, if you’re any type of service provider, I highly suggest this method just because you can spot all of these red flags from the very beginning. 

I’m a person who will bet on the entrepreneur, not on the business idea. Because I know myself, I could create any business that I wanted to, which I am doing actually. I want the rest of my life to be just creating businesses because I find so much joy in it.

And I know they’re going to be successful because I will never let myself down. I know that unless something crazy happens, like even COVID, my business flourished during COVID. I don’t bet on my businesses. I bet on myself. I always bet on my clients; I don’t bet on their business ideas. I bet on them. When they fill it out, they have this serious, serious tone, and I can tell that they are ready to go.

I think that’s one of the biggest things you need to look out for when you’re looking to take on a client. In the past, and I have taken calls with people or taken projects because it was for money. I couldn’t turn down money. It was something that I don’t regret per se. But I do think that when you turn down things that when you see those red flags, you know, in your gut, you know the feeling when it’s just not right.

I think just listen to that and feel comfortable saying no. I don’t have a problem saying no anymore. I’m a firm believer that when you say no to things that are not a hell yes for you, that leaves space for the universe to give you those hell yes opportunities. When you feel in your gut that someone’s not right, don’t feel like you’re obligated to do it. Even if they have a huge following or they’re willing to buy your highest package or any of that, those are all tests.

Those are just a test to see if you’re going to agree to it or not because guess what? You’re going to agree to it. And it’s going to be hell. The biggest thing is, you need to have a solid contract. You guys know, I speak so highly of having contracts. As you run into problems with clients, you add to your contract. 

It’s never just the client. It’s always partially your fault. So how could you have avoided that? 

All my other clients are amazing. This one client just really sucks, but no matter what, it’s always partially your fault. So how can you fix that in the future? It’s really about finding those sticky spots, figuring it out, adding to your contract to ensure that you don’t get over in the future. 

Make sure that you’re listening to your gut. Make sure that you’re paying attention. Have hoops that these people have to jump through. When you’re brand new, I always say make it as easy as possible for people to sign up. But if you’re on a call with someone and you’re getting this bad feeling in your stomach, you probably should listen. The money is never worth it because, in the end, you’re just going to lose money with those types of people. Note the red flags note, the sticky spots also and make changes. 

You signed on the client, and now you are having problems with the client.

What do you do? Nobody’s perfect. I’ve had plenty of problems with clients. Often you can figure it out. My number one thing is always to stay as unemotional as possible. Never talk about yourself because nobody cares. Your clients don’t care about you. They just care about themselves. I say this in the most loving way possible. Don’t make it about you. It’s not about you. I don’t even say sorry. They don’t care. All they care about is that you didn’t deliver something on time. 

You make it up to them. This is just one example. Hey, I know I delivered this late. I’m going to give you extra time to give feedback tomorrow, whatever it is. Hey, I delivered this late; I will give you a free Canva template because I delivered this late. 

If you’re not showing up and you’re not doing your part, like duh, they’re going to be upset. So just give them something and also don’t make it about you again. Never give long stories. I hate excuses in life and business. I don’t have time for excuses from anyone. I hate when people give me these long-winded excuses for things. Just tell me you messed up. 

So that’s one instance. Let’s say a client is not delivering things on time. That’s a sticky spot. Why are they not delivering things on time? Was that in your contract? Have you told them the step by step throughout the process when they have to deliver things? Because often, I see people like my clients never deliver late. If they do, they’re penalized. If someone reaches out and says, Hey, I’m not able to provide feedback. I can’t do it until tonight. I’m busy. 

We say, okay, if you’re busy, we understand. But just so you know, you’re sacrificing the draft that we would have given you today if you don’t provide feedback by whatever time, like we’re not going to work tonight. We don’t work nights. We’re an agency now. So that means you’re you are now sacrificing the draft that you would have gotten today.

The feedback that I get back from that it’s always, oh my God, I understand. I will get it to you in the next 30 minutes. It’s crazy what happens when you set expectations for people and you give them options. 

I love giving clients options. I think that’s when you have problems with clients; it’s all about options. Option A is you provide feedback on time, and you get the extra draft today. Option B is you are unable to provide feedback at the time that is required of you. And we always put it in the contract. 

I’ll give another example. Maybe the client doesn’t love what you did. First off, do everything to make the client happy. And if you’re getting a lot of clients who aren’t thrilled with their work, then that’s a sticky spot that you need to fix. And that’s your problem.

Maybe you’re not doing enough strategy. I mean, we go through strategy, then creative direction, then the branding, and it’s really heavy on strategy. It’s really heavy on creative direction. Then once we get to the brand, we rarely have any edits on it. 

You have to have a good process. If you’re running into things like that, remember it’s not always about the client. It’s partially about you. And that’s a sticky spot. 

I love sticky spots. What a blessing that it brought light to the areas of your business that you can make better. It’s all about having a growth mindset. So be as emotionless as possible. Even if they’re emailing you and they’re a bitch, just respond as emotionless as possible and say, Hey, in the contract, it said, X, Y, Z, here are your options moving forward. And then they have the option. If they decide not to go with either option, then that’s their choice. They signed the contract. Those that’s all they get; you at least gave them options. 

If you have just to say goodbye to a client and break up with them.

It’s not easy, but sometimes it must be done because it’s just not a good fit. You always stay as emotionless as possible. Always refer to the contract. This is why having a solid contract is so important. And you need to get something done by an attorney. You are going to lose thousands of dollars if you don’t.

Make sure that your business is legit. Make sure you have an LLC. Make sure you’re protecting yourself. Protection is so important in so many aspects of life. And it’s all about you saying these are my boundaries and you cannot cross them. And if somebody continues to try and cross your boundaries, you need to break up with them. 

Whether it’s significant other, whether it’s a friendship, whether it’s a client, you need to break up with some people who are sucking your energy because some people and clients will bring you energy. And then some clients will suck it right out of you.

You need to be able to sit down with yourself and notice the difference between the two. So basically, what you need to do is listen to yourself. And if you’re having a hard time, if someone’s sucking your energy and you’re like, I just can’t do this anymore. Look to your contract first. See if they break the contract, 

Often with these types of clients, you just need to give them an opportunity to break the contract because they will. If you’re not checking up on them, if they’re not giving you the things that you need, maybe don’t check upon them. For me, I have a clause in the contract where it’s like if I don’t hear from you for 14 days like this is over. And obviously, sometimes they pass that test, but often they fail because they are there. They’re the ones who are pushing those boundaries there. They are almost asking for it. So just give them that opportunity to break the contracts, and you have an out.

You don’t ever want somebody to leave and want to write you nasty reviews. As long as you’re doing everything that you can to make them happy. We all know there are people out there who are just never happy, and it has nothing to do with you.

It’s a complete reflection of their life at the time and how they’re feeling. When you’re starting, we’re so connected to our work as creatives and artists; it’s hard sometimes when people are like, I don’t like your work, and they’re mean. And obviously, there are levels of bad clients, and there’s a spectrum. And some people, it’s a reflection of them, and it has absolutely nothing to do with you. 

And that was a lesson that took me a lot of therapy to learn because it hurt me. I’m a people pleaser. 

I genuinely was extremely hurt because I thrived in making people feel happy. And when they’re not happy, it’s my fault. It’s difficult for me. And I know that so many others feel the same way, especially artists, and creatives because your work is so connected to who you are. 

Make sure that you know that, yes, there are sticky spots. Make sure that you look at it and say I need to fix that, but don’t make it about who you are or your work. Just know that it’s a sticky spot that you need to fix and just separate yourself from it. Don’t take it too personally is what I’m trying to say because often, too, it is a reflection of the client and how they’re feeling.

When you’re breaking up with them, sometimes it’s like, okay done. You have to leave. I’m going to stick to the contract and what it says. Sometimes it’s like, I’m going to bend the contract a little bit, and I’m going to give you some money. I’m going to set you free. And by setting them free, you set yourself free. 

Bringing It All Together

To wrap it up:

  • Stay as unemotional as possible when you’re speaking.
  • Make it all about them.
  • Give them options.
  • Don’t take it too personally because often it’s a reflection of them and how they’re feeling.

It feels so good to talk about this. I’m such a raw, real person, and I think these types of topics are things that many designers don’t speak about, but we all deal with it. Even all the designers that you look up to, we deal with this all the time. We have projects that don’t go, right. It’s life. It’s how it works. Nobody’s perfect. And I’m sick of going on the internet and feeling like I’m the oddball out or whatever. I just want you guys to know that these things happen often. Again, I look at the sticky spots, and I fix them. For me, it gets better and better and better every single year, but it’s still very real. And it’s something that, that happens all the time.

 Know that you are not alone. You’re never alone. 

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