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How do you choose your clients?

I can tell if a project is going to be worth my time from the very first communication I have with the client. If they talk about their work with passion and excitement, if they want to connect with me as one human being to another, if they are willing to invest their time and energy into making informed design decisions that will best serve their audiences’ needs, then I know we’re going to be a great fit.

Whenever I feel a client is distant or disingenuous or rigid, I try to immediately disengage. Every time I’ve chosen to move forward despite my intuition – either because I’m flattered, I think the project will lead to better opportunities, or simply because I want the money – I’ve lived to regret it. Every painful client situation I’ve faced in the last decade was 100% expected because of what the client taught me about who they are, both personally and as a business, in each interaction we had leading up to the breaking point.

As time passes and I become more confident in my Spidey sense, I’m able to be much more honest (with myself and with others) about what I really want to take on. Money and prestige lose all value once you’ve given away your integrity. Do what you know is right for you even when it means you have to take a leap of faith…and wait.

As told to .net magazine

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  • Meg Rye

    I agree Whitney, was just reading similar sentiments in Mike Monteiro’s Design is a Job as well, so you’re in good company. The non-profit, world-changing side of me, though, is compelled to take on clients who need my help more than they may realize. Moth to a flame? Maybe. I prioritize clients like the ones you describe above, while also looking for rare and unique opportunities where I can inject better practices…sometimes (although rarely) that pain is worth the pleasure. Have you ever experienced a client like this?

  • Katie

    I’ve tried to do this consistently over the years. I hire clients…I have occasionally fired clients, although I’ve not often needed to. Lately, though, I’ve been working from a geographic area where there are zero local clients and the distant clients I have always gotten hear where I am and drop the conversation (which is probably a good indicator that they wouldn’t be a good client, but damn I wish it would stop happening.) On the whole, though, I think that the method leads to better results all ’round. Well done, you.

  • Norman

    Good article. I am finding this to be the advice I needed as I was putting up with people way too many jerks. The thing is the jerk comes out in the middle of the process, usually near the end.

    And like Katie, I’m in Columbus where clients are scarce so I advertise on Craigslist in larger markets like NYC and just don’t understand the whole, I can do this job from anywhere thing. Many bail. They want to be able to touch me to make sure I’m real.

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  • Carol

    I so agree with this article. Some time ago, when I began my consulting business, I learned the hard way not to do what I called “chase money” because whenever I said yes to a project or client based on money, I regretted the experience. I say yes to my clients based upon several criteria, including (1) are they passionate leaders; (2) do I like them and will I enjoy supporting their leadership; (3) am I excited about the work they are doing; and (4) do they have the capacity to work with me (or, are they ready for a consultant and can I be successful on their behalf). I share this advice with every new consultant who calls me for advice about setting up their practice because I have never regretted saying no when the client was not a fit. Thanks for this post!