We’re not talking about shoes here, we’re talking about designers, clients, and design projects and how to determine when it just might not be a good fit. Below are some tips and some indications of when working with someone might not work out – before you start.
Read through both the Client and Designer sections to understand each perspective.
You want the best designer you can find for your project and that’s understandable, but sometimes you might need to reevaluate your project as well as the companies you’ve chosen to submit a bid to ensure success.
Tip: First, designers need to know at least a ballpark budget figure that you have set aside for your project. To leave this a mystery is a mistake. While you may think, “but I don’t know what something like this costs” and that may work for very small projects, for a large project it’s pretty unacceptable. You might have to do some research to find out what the expected cost of a project similar to yours might run, before you start contacting design firms. Always have at least some idea what you can afford and what your max budget might be.
When it’s not a good fit: If you get generic quotes back that are well outside your budget, it’s not a good fit. If you told a designer your budget and they come back with a written estimate that’s well beyond your budget, I would say they are not good listeners. If your budget is not realistic for what your project entails, then a professional designer would tell you that up front and pass on submitting a bid.
Tip: If you contact a designer and simply state, “I need a quote on a website” be prepared to answer the second question (because the first is budget) which would be, “What are the detailed specifications of the functionality of the website?” – basically, what does it need to do, what features does it need to have, etc. (or in the case of graphic design – the dimensions, number of pieces, who’s responsible for copy and images and whether you’ll need printing). If you don’t have this prepared, don’t except to get an accurate estimate or complete proposal. Many different factors go into pricing projects and the only way to do it properly is for a designer to understand the specifications and requirements of it. So spend the time to really detail out what your project is, any functionality or special features involved, who your market is and the goals of the project (special note: going through this process you might even discover things you missed when you first thought of the project, so it can be helpful for both parties).
When it’s not a good fit: If, after you have done your part and provided a detailed explanation of what your project entails and you receive a very generic proposal or one that does not address your project specific details and concerns, it’s not a good fit. It might also not be a good fit if a designer is not responsive to your initial questions or can’t explain how they have the experience to work on your project.
Tip: Look for a design firm (or freelancer) that is passionate about what they do. Also, if they have a lot of experience working within your industry already, there might be more of a connection simply because they may already have an understanding of your basic target market and how best to reach them. Do not let this be the one deciding factor though (you might want to read our other article, Why not seeing exactly what you want in a designer’s portfolio is a good thing).
When it’s not a good fit: If the designer is hard to get ahold of or is unresponsive to questions, that may continue once you hire them. Designer’s are people too however, and if everything else seems “right”, inquire a final time if they are still interested in the project or if something has come up for them (it might something as small as an email not being received that’s the cause of the unresponsivness). If they are a freelancer with another full-time job commitment that job is usually going to come first and they should be up front and honest about that. If your project needs full-time attention, a freelancer with a full-time job might not be a good fit.
Tip: Do not expect a designer to work for you after business hours or on weekends. Hiring a design firm or freelancer does not mean that they are, “on call” 24 hours a day for you. If you have certain expectations such as a hard deadline, weekly phone conferences, etc., be up front about those before asking for an estimate. Also, do not expect a designer to complete work that was not contracted for – without an addendum to your agreement. This includes when you think of, “one small thing” to add to the project.
When it’s not a good fit: Uncomfortable or unrealistic expectations will almost always be an indication that working with someone will not be a good fit. Many designers are able to handle special accommodations, but only if they feel comfortable with them. Likewise, many designers can accommodate add-on’s while a project is in full swing, as long as you understand that it can have an effect on cost and timeline. If there isn’t something in a designer’s agreement on how to handle such requests, it also might not be a good fit. Likewise, if a designer has not spelled out in an agreement what your responsibilities as a client are as well as theirs, it’s probably not a good fit.
If you have gotten any feedback from designers such as, you do not have a realistic budget or not enough details to properly quote the project, reevaluate your budget and needs then come up with a set list of specifications.
If a designer has specifically told you that your project is not a good fit for them, listen to them. Feel free to ask why, as there are a number of reasons why a designer says this ranging from an unrealistic budget to moral issues. With a better understanding or a reevaluation of your project, you could more effectively locate a design team that can make it a reality.
You want every project to run smoothly and be a success and every client to be a joy to work with. Here are some tips and indications that could mean red flags.
Tip: If a client truly does not know what their budget is, proceed with caution. This can mean one of three things: they are trying to receive multiple quotes in order to determine what the project might cost first and haven’t actually committed to following through on the project; they simply don’t know how much money they can afford to spend which can also indicate that they’re starting from square one and they’re a long way from actually starting their project; or they are holding out for the lowest bid.
When it’s not a good fit: If the budget is low or unrealistic for what the client really wants, walk away. If you happen to have a solution that would work within their budget, offer that but only that. Then explain to them that in order to achieve what they really want, they’re going to have to increase their budget. If they’re not receptive to that, walk away, it’s definitely not a good fit.
Tip: Try to obtain the full specifications for the job and also write into your proposal that the estimate is for the current stated specs. It’s impossible to quote a project properly without understanding the details. It’s helpful if you have developed intake questionnaires or project planners to give to clients who may be having trouble determining all the details you need. Also, if you know for certain a requirement for a project is not in your skill set, do not submit a proposal for it.
When it’s not a good fit: If a client can not get you enough details to properly provide an estimate and proposal, walk away. Design can not be successful with vague or “moving-target” specifications. Also, if a project is out of your skill-set or you actually do not have the time in your schedule to accommodate it, it’s not a good fit.
Tip: Be available. I can’t stress how many times I’ve talked to a client who had previous unhappy experiences with designers who were “never there”. Also, be firm with your clients and make sure they understand that they also need to be available during the project to answer questions, provide materials or feedback, etc. These things should be spelled out in your agreement.
When it’s not a good fit: If someone is hard to get ahold of or unresponsive before you’re even doing business with them, it probably is not a good fit. Likewise, if you’re not feeling passionate about a client’s project or have a moral issue with a particular project, it’s not a good fit. One other special circumstance where it might not be a good fit is if you submit a proposal, they choose someone else then months down the road you hear from that person again, usually with a story that it, “did not work out” with the previously hired design team. This is a red flag. Proceed with caution. If you’re still interested in the project, find out why it did not work out and if you were previously not given a reason as to why you weren’t chosen the first time, ask for one. Use your best judgement when working with someone who previously rejected your proposal.
Tip: Make sure your agreement states what your responsibilities will be for a project as well as what a client’s responsibilities will be. Also, you are not “on call” 24 hours a day for a client. Keep regular business hours. If a client has an emergency that is going to require working a late night or weekend, renegotiate the agreement with a “rush” or other fee that compensates you properly for the request.
When it’s not a good fit: Uncomfortable or unrealistic expectations will almost always be an indication that working with someone will not be a good fit.
Move on to the next potential project! However, if you find that you’re saying “no” more often then “yes” to project proposals, you might want to reevaluate how you’re marketing yourself/your firm (including having a look at your own website) to determine if you’re really attracting the type of client you want to work with. Lastly, consider if your skill set needs refreshing (ex: you’re still making Flash websites in the year 2012 ).