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  • Writer's pictureSarah Elissa Stanick-Woods

How To Lose A Client In 10 Ways

The best designers are the ones who can build a loyal base of customers and foster long-term relationships that result in repeat business. However, even some of the most talented designers can lose clients for one reason or another. Whether it's through poor communication or just not meeting expectations, mistakes happen -- but they don't need to happen again! Read on for my list of how to lose a client in 10 ways:

Not Communicating

Not communicating well or often enough? No one's a mind reader! Ask questions upfront. Sometimes it's more important to ask questions than to have all of the answers. In order to fully understand and meet your client's needs, ask questions that will help you better understand their target audience and project goals and ultimately help you deliver work that meets their needs.

Be honest about what your skill set is and what you can deliver. I have had clients ask me to write their press releases, code their websites, and even how to sell their products to wholesalers. I am a Graphic Designer and visual content creator. If something isn't within your skill set, be upfront and honest about that. If they have additional needs beyond your scope and capabilities and additional budget you may suggest someone within your network that can provide those skills.

Beyond email and Slack, some of my favorite communication tools are Google chat and if you need a free phone number for your business, Google phone number. You can even record and transcribe voicemails from your Google phone number and set it up so you call from that number instead of your personal number. Not only can this go a long way in keeping your personal number spam free, but also helps separate your "work-life" from your "personal life".

Not Understanding Their Audience

What you don't know will hurt you here. Not familiar with your client's industry? Ask them to fill out a branding and design questionnaire. Work with them on who their competitors are, who their customers are, and how they help their audience with the services or products they provide.

If they're unsure who their audience is, work with them to define their target audience through crafting audience personas. This will go a long way for their brand messaging in how they speak to their audience, but also provide you both with full clarity on who they need to talk to and how.

Check out this article from HubSpot to find your target audience. When you're ready to craft your target audience persona check out these tips, templates, and examples from Hubspot and Column Five Media.

Not Being Upfront With Your Rates

Don't be afraid to charge what you're worth. If it took me 10 years to learn to do something in 10 minutes then I'm owed for the years, not the minutes. Think of yourself as a business and act accordingly. If you're not charging enough, you're undervaluing yourself and you will end up juggling 50 things across 50 clients until you're overwhelmed, burnt out, and ready to close up shop.

Know your worth, but understand the value you bring. Be upfront about your rate whether it's hourly, project-based, or value-based, and be clear and specific about what you charge. Outline everything covered by your rate AND additional things that aren't covered. For example, you charge an hourly rate and they need stock graphics or images to complete a project. Communicate how the stock image or graphic is going to help complete the project and notify them of the cost. If they approve, great it's a line item for them on the invoice. If not, work with them to find another solution that meets their needs and budget.

Failing to Complete the Job

If your client asks you to work within an unrealistic budget, don't do it. If they're not willing to value what it takes for quality work, they're not going to value the work you bring, and that's okay! Your time and expertise have value; make sure the client understands this before you agree on a budget. If they need fast and cheap, please direct them to

Explain how you will work within the client's budget. Communicate with the client throughout all stages of the project. It's important for both parties to feel like they're informed about progress and changes along the way so there aren't any surprises later on down the road. In addition, ask more questions so everyone knows what needs doing. This will ensure efficiency while keeping everyone happy too!

Being Too Vague

Assume nothing and be prepared to explain everything. Don't assume that your client knows what you're talking about. Instead, ask questions like: "Does this make sense?" "Do you have any questions about x,y,z?" "In order for us to move forward with this project together I'd like our communications to be open and clear." Be specific and upfront about everything from timelines and deliverables to budget expectations.

Not Meeting the Deadline

Delaying a project or not meeting the deadline is one of the most common sense ways to lose a client, and it’s easy to understand why. No one likes having their time wasted!

Be prepared to explain yourself and what went wrong -- this involves some serious introspection. If you didn't deliver on your promises or expectations with this client (or if there were other problems), ask yourself these questions:

  • Were there internal issues that affected your ability? If so, what were they?

  • Was there something outside of your control? For example, did someone else's work cause an unexpected delay?

  • Did I give myself enough time for this project when I was planning it out? If not, for any reason at all (even if it wasn't something I could have anticipated), did I underestimate how much work would go into it by being overly optimistic about my own abilities? Or did I underestimate how long tasks would take me as compared to others who had done similar work and have more experience?

If you answered yes to the first question, ask yourself how to fix it or work through it next. If you answered yes to the second questions, (e.g., the print shop made a misprint on your client's brochures) get this in writing and how that other party is going to help remedy the situation. If you answered yes to the last set of questions, go take a course, read a book, watch some tutorials and educate yourself until you're confident and ready to tackle the project within scope, budget, and expectations. You’ve got this!

Pushing Off Client Questions and Requests

You may be busy, but that doesn’t mean that you can ignore a client’s questions. It is your job to make sure the client knows exactly what’s going on and feels comfortable about it. Don't be afraid to say no if you don't think something is going to work for the project, but be prepared to explain why and/or alternatives that will work instead.

Don't be afraid of losing the client or how they might react by saying no. As long as the client understands why, they should respect your decision. If multiple people are working on a project, make sure everyone agrees with each change before implementing it.

If you have a demanding or micromanaging client, I have found project management tools such as Notion, Toggl, or Todoist to be helpful. This keeps them informed of the current progress of the project, but also mitigates constant progress questions. Set clear boundaries, manage expectations, but most of all maintain your mental health. If they're too difficult, refer them elsewhere.

Showing Up Late

Don't be late! Life happens, but communication helps. If something comes up, it's important to let the client know asap so that they can plan appropriately for their day and for the call itself.

Be realistic about your schedule. If you chronically run late to one meeting because another call goes over time every time, block your calendar for an additional 10-15 minutes between calls to give yourself time to wrap things up with one client and prepare for the next.

Use free scheduling tools like Calendly that makes it easy for clients to book with you and integrates with a number of platforms like Google calendar to make scheduling and rescheduling less of a headache.

Assuming Clients Understand

Some designers might assume that clients understand design. Why? Because we're designers! We know about hierarchy, design psychology, and typography. We've read books on color theory and have studied the work of masters like Chris Do and Paula Scher. However, you know what they say about assumptions. ;) Clients aren't designers -- they don't have our knowledge base or experience -- but everybody appreciates good design. You still need to be able to communicate with them effectively in order for your relationship and the project to succeed.

If a client asks you why something is the way it is, walk them through the design and why decisions were made. Explain how your design choices will achieve their goals with respect to the project and their brand. Remember, not everyone thinks about these things as much as we do!

Forgetting You’re Not An Employee

As somebody's employee, your employer takes on the repercussions of what happens to their business either good or bad. So if things go poorly for their business, it impacts their entire livelihoods. As your own employee (or small business owner), it's up to you to accept the consequences of your own decisions – and remember that those consequences are all on you!

Setting boundaries and managing expectations with clients is extremely important. By setting clear boundaries upfront, and communicating clearly and honestly with them about how they can best work with you will help to prevent any unwanted surprises down the road. Your contract should outline your open and close hours at which point clients will no longer be able to reach out via phone or email unless absolutely necessary (i.e., emergencies). If a client chronically contacts me outside of my open hours I simply state in my contract that there are additional considerations for asking me to work outside these times! It works wonders because most people don't want a hefty bill just for something last minute.

If a client has been late to multiple calls then suggest finding alternative meeting times or even finding another consultant who would better suit their needs going forward. Micromanagers can be tricky because sometimes they're just difficult creatures but there may be underlying reasons why they behave this way. Try communicating clearly what steps need completing next before moving onto another task.


Clients are vital to your business. Make them feel valued, be of service, listen intently, ask more questions, but always remember your value.

“Avoid the stress. Say what you think. Then do what you say.” – Chris Do, Pocket Full Of Do


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