Monday, June 13, 2011

Trusting Your Gut: Knowing When to Say “No” to Freelance Clients

Freelance can be hard. I’ve been at it with my wedding calligraphy business for 5 years now. It can be especially difficult when you are desperate for cash to say “no”. But every once in a while, when speaking with a  potential client, you get this nagging feeling that this person can, and will, make your life a living hell for the next few weeks in your contract.

I have had great brides for clients: respectful, easy to communicate with and have been ecstatic with the end result that I deliver. About a year ago, I sat down with a bride and her fiancé, which isn’t too common, but I have seen it a few times…mostly the guys just sit there and nod, maybe ask a question or two. What was unusual about this couple was the bride sat there and said nothing at all, while I consulted with the groom.

Again, I was fine with it: that is, until the consultation dragged on and on, while he asked the same questions and flipped through my calligraphy portfolio over and over. He commented on a few totally different styles, and wouldn’t commit to any of them. If this wasn’t enough to give me that “I shouldn’t work with you” feeling, he asked of my 50 page sample book, “Is this all you have?”

Unfortunately, I felt caught at the time. This was back when I had intro calligraphy pricing – which was very low and beyond reasonable – and he already had his envelopes and deposit with him. So, I reluctantly had him sign my freelance contract and took the job – which also had to be completed within one week instead of 2-3.

When I returned the envelopes, he gave me the amount outstanding plus a tip that he expected me to fall over. Considering the amount of effort I had put into the job, a small tip – especially on top of my prices at the time – was not unusual. That night, however, he went through the envelopes and found a “mistake”, which he refused to disclose to me as I had the original list I wanted to check against it. I offered to re-do it of course free of charge, but he not only declined but continued to harass me with at least 5 emails on how disappointed he was. I knew he wanted his money back, but he had signed a contract. So I respectfully asked him to stop emailing me.

Honestly, it ate me up. I hate when customers aren’t happy with my work. Granted, it had never happened before or since, but as an artist you need to step back and realize that this person just has issues that have nothing to do with you. After you do everything – within reason – to make things right, and they are being disrespectful of you and your time, you just have to let it go.

Have you ever had a similar experience? Was there something you believe that I should have done to deal with this differently? Let me know!


  1. It was obvious when he wouldn't disclose what the "mistake" was that he just either wanted to get a refund or take out his bad day on you. That's too bad. Sometimes customers don't think about the time & effort we, as artisans/crafters, put into one "job". I think it was nice that you offered to redo the invitations and wonderful that you stuck to your contract & didn't offer a refund. You handled the situation with class.

    I hope you don't mind me asking you a question since you do custom work also. Do you have customers that ask simple questions about your product, like making them in a particular color, then never hear back from them? I have had this issue 4 times in 9 days. I answer the question and don't hear back from them. It's not even a question of price, it's simply verifying the size or color of a fabric. Is this a typical amount of "inquiries"? What can I do differently to "clench" the sale?

  2. Thanks so much for the comment, Cheryl: I appreciate hearing that I handled the situation well, especially looking back!

    In response to your question, yes, I actually have had this happen to me. I'm not sure why they do that, but my experience has been that they are in the early phases of ideas and doing more research than being ready to commit to a project. So by the time they hear from you, they may have changed their mind already. Does that make sense?

    As for doing more to "clench" the sale, I'd engage them a bit more before offering a quote. Ask them what their budget is, or to elaborate on the concept. If they are like most people, they'll be happy to ramble about what they are thinking, and you'll also get an idea about what they are expecting to pay.

    Hope this helps!


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