2 huge mistakes most designers make that push clients away (and what to do instead)

Recently, over at Reliable (our new PSD to HTML & WordPress company), we had an interesting situation…

A “tough cookie” wrote in asking for a quote on his project. 

But he didn’t hesitate to tell us that he was also looking to outsource overseas, and he was asking for proposals from 10 other companies, too.

We were #11.

Well, we just did our thing. First, we responded about 10 minutes after the email came in (we’re OCD with email like that…). Second, we followed the tips for email communication that you’ll read later on in this post.

This guy, as it turns out, was also an OCD email addict. 10 minutes after we sent our email, we got one back that said:

Wow, well already you guys are ahead of the game. I haven’t heard back from any of the other service providers I’ve reached out to yet. Thank you for such a quick and friendly response.

His tone changed a lot, too. We were super friendly in our email, and even threw in a smiley and exclamation points. His first email seemed very defensive and on guard, like he was expecting us to be cold and mean and stuff. Actually, because he seemed so on-guard and stiff, we made sure to be extra warm and fuzzy 🙂

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In his second email, we could tell we’d won him over a bit with kindness, and he opened up to us a bit.

It turns out being cool and friendly saved the day. We got the project, and he turned out to be a really nice guy and we’ve started a great relationship.

But it all started with our communication.

UPDATE: Our new favorite freelancing tool, Hectic is now completely FREE. 🎉 Proposals, CRM, invoicing, calendar, client portal, and lots more. Join for FREE with no catch or hidden fees.

In this post, I’m going to go over the biggest mistakes freelancers make with it, and what you should do instead. On we go!

One: the phone.

How you answer your phone is huge.

If you’re just starting out, there’s a good chance you don’t yet have a separate business line. So all calls — both personal and business — are going to your cell phone.

So you might answer like this:


That’s how most people answer their cell phones, right? So what’s the problem? Well, when someone calls in from your website, you’re not a “person”. You’re a company. And the way you answer your phone has to show them that.

Way back in the day, we made this mistake. And the response we’d often get was:

Hi, is this Unexpected Ways? Sorry, I think I have the wrong number… [Click]

Until you get a separate business line, assume every call is a business call, and answer the phone as such.

Say something like this…

Freelancer Joe Designs!

and you can even throw in a…

How can I help you?

Sure, some of your friends or family might get caught by it – but that’s what caller ID’s for, right? 😉

Pay attention to your tone of voice too.

Sometimes business and customer relations ask us to put on a strong face when we’re feeling tired or out of it or unhappy. But you have to remember that when you answer the phone, you’re answering as the “face” and “voice” of your company.

What kind of voice does your company have?

Cheerful? No-nonsense? Friendly? Serious?

Pick what you want your brand to be. And when you answer the phone, make sure you channel that emotion. Even if you want nothing more than a glass of wine or a beer and alone time with the TV.

But even if you are “faking” it… when you get a positive response from the person on the other end, and you realize your efforts are about to get you a new client…

Your mood just might turn around.

Two: email.

These are the most common mistakes freelancers make with email:

1: Not starting off with a greeting, (Like “Hey” or “Hello” or the recipient’s name)

2: Not fully answering questions or being too abrupt.

3: Not being conversational, kind, and genuine

Let’s look at a real-world example. Here’s the potential client’s email:


I’m interested in a website. What are your prices?


Joe Business Owner

With the above mistakes, here’s what a reply looks like:

$500 – $1000

Can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten replies like this when I asked businesses a question.

The thing is…

To you, this might be friendly. But to most people, here’s what your communicating without even realizing it (unconsciously, as our good friend Freud would say):

“I don’t have time to write your name or acknowledge the fact that you greeted me.”

“I don’t have time to explain what the prices mean or why there’s even a range”

“I don’t care whether or not I get your business”

Even if you had the best of intentions, and to you a short, to-the-point email is preferable… The biggest message emails like this get across is that you don’t care.

Now, let’s see an example of an email that doesn’t make these mistakes:

Hey Joe!

Thanks so much for writing in. I’d be happy to answer your questions.

Prices can vary quite a bit! Do you have time later today to talk for a few minutes? I’d love to learn about what you’re looking for and see if I can help.


Maria Freelancer

This email communicates:

“I’m happy to hear from you.”

“I’m happy to spend time talking with you to learn about you.”

“I care.”

It’s just words on a screen. But people unconsciously read over them the same way they analyze your posture, eye contact, clothes, and tone of voice in person.

They’re trying to peer through the cracks to see who’s on the other end. Show them that it’s a kind, genuine professional who’s happy to help.

A Few (Important) Last Words:

Put care into how you communicate. Fuss over every word of your emails (at least for a while, until you really get it down). Write them with heart and answer your phone calls with heart too.

Most companies don’t put care into how they communicate. They make you feel like you’re bothersome by asking questions. They make every request you have feel like a burden.

Be different.

Be the refreshing voice on the other end of the line who actually cares. Or the first freelancer they’ve contacted who actually seemed pleasant.

Have thoughts or questions you’d like to share? Add them in the comments.

I’d love to hear what you have to say 🙂 Comments here.

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Millo Articles by David Tendrich

David Tendrich is the co-head of creative agency Unexpected Ways, as well as the co-founder of Reliable PSD: the first-ever PSD to HTML & PSD to Wordpress service run by designers, for designers. He co-runs his companies from Portland, Oregon with his lovely wife and biz partner, Lou Levit.
Read more from David.

  1. Anders Sundstedt says:

    David, these are in fact wonderful ideas in about what do do instead for these huge mistakes.

    You have touched some good points here. Any way keep up the great writing on this great website!


    Sundstedt Animation
    Animation and Illustration

  2. Mel Gardner says:

    Heya thanks so much for this!

    I have already used the email lines you suggested. Its great to have a few of these in my head as it can be easy to sound like a robot.


    1. David Tendrich says:

      Hey, awesome! So glad to hear that 🙂 Hope they serve you well.


  3. Enjoyed this post a lot!! Thanks for the tips! I need to work on not answering the phone “Hello” – then again, I barely ever get contacted by phone.. Still..

    Totally agree with friendly emails! My attitude since I started freelancing has always been the same – work with friends. Because it’s more fun. Make clients your friends, and that happens if you just treat them as such. That being said if I can’t close an email with “xoxo”, “Hugs”, or “Namaste”, I know I’m probably not the right person for them and vice versa.

    I think there might be such a thing as being too verbose and interested in them, which has backfired once or twice – someone asks a simple question, and I reply with a longish personalized email with references to their business that I checked out online already, etc… Maybe that can feel too sale-sy even though my intent was genuine. Perhaps there’s a line with friendly emails – when you seem overly caring, some people are not used to it or it’s not what they expect, and get confused.

    But all in all, I try to write emails as I’d like to be emailed to 😉

    1. David Tendrich says:

      Haha, yes, definitely have been there myself. To this day I often write a long email, look at it for a minute, then delete the whole thing and write a much stronger one that’s a fraction of the length.

      I checked out your website by the way. You guys look like some cool cats 🙂


  4. Before I went back to school for design I was in client service for a home health agency. I followed the book on answering the phones and was super courteous. Our clients loved talking to me and would even compliment me on my attitude.

    Nowadays, if I go to a store or call a company and they have poor customer service, I will go out of my way to find another place to do business with even if I have to drive farther.

    I work for a company now but also do freelance work on the side and this hits the nail on the head. Thanks for writing about what I believe is the most important aspect of any business!

    1. David Tendrich says:


      There are a lot of places that make better coffee than my favorite cafes… but I drink their bad coffee anyway because the people are just so darn nice 🙂

      Thanks for your comment 🙂

  5. Loved reading this article! It’s funny though because these two mistakes seem to trivial, but they are so common and so important to not make. They really can cost you business.
    I will say though that responding with such a short reply, as with the amount as to “I’m interested in a website. What are your prices?”, is common sense. You want to acknowledge the person, not just seem like you are “short on time” or that you do not have the time to type out their name and more. It is a business yes, but be polite, act like you care, even if you don’t, and show that you’re really into helping this person out. I myself would be so turned off and would turn away very quickly if I were to receive a response such as that one.
    Either way, great advice for those who don’t understand the proper way, or the common sense ways of responding to a potential client.
    I look forward to more of your helpful articles–keep them coming!


    1. David Tendrich says:

      Hey Alexis,

      I know – it really does seem like common sense. But you’d be amazed at how many people don’t do this 😉 It’s pretty crazy.

      Sounds like you’ve got the right idea though 🙂 Thanks for your kind words.


  6. April Greer says:


    Great stuff.

    I used to be one of those “Hello?” people until my boyfriend told me how unprofessional it sounded. Then I used to announce my business name, until he said it sounded like I was the secretary. (Important people, he argued, have been ‘put through’ by the secretary, so they just use a warm welcome.)

    So now I use “Good , this is April,” in a cheerful tone and it has served me very well. As you said, even defensive folks warm up when greeted by a positive attitude (and if they don’t, it’s probably not going to work out between us).

    From there, I play it by ear on how friendly or social I am in our emails. But I use exclamation points regularly in business communication — otherwise, to me, it sounds too formal and stuffy — and when I really start to develop a good relationship, use emoticons.

    One other tip that may or may not have an impact is your closing. With signatures, often we include the “Best,” or “Warm wishes,” or “Sincerely,” in the signature. I choose to leave that out so I can customize it (as if you regularly communicate with them, you realize it’s just their canned signoff. So on Tuesday afternoon it might be “Have a great evening!” Friday morning might be “Have a super weekend!” Monday might be “Here’s to a great week!” or “Hope you had a nice weekend!”

    Thanks for the great tips, and glad to hear I’m not the only one who uses genuine interest and a positive attitude with success!


    1. David Tendrich says:

      Hey April,

      Haha, sounds like a good boyfriend.

      Yes, 100% agree with leaving the “sign-off” out of the signature. We do exactly the same thing 😉

      Great minds and all that 🙂 Great advice as usual.

  7. Hey David!

    First off, I love receiving the newsletters from Graphic Design Blender. They’re always full of such great tips for designers at all stages of their career.

    I was actually having a conversation with someone earlier about communication – and manners in particular. It’s so important to communicate with respect, interest and in a human way. So many people forget that, especially when it comes to email.

    Just wanted to say thanks for sharing your tips, and I’m looking forward to the next newsletter already 😉


    1. David Tendrich says:

      Hey Ross,

      You just made my day man 🙂 Thanks so much for your kind words.

      And I couldn’t agree more with what you’ve said.

      I’m looking forward to the next newsletter too 😉

  8. I literally just finished updating my outgoing message when I came across this post. As far as how I answer the phone, I actually have to be cautious.

    I’m in that shady place where I’m slowly pulling myself out of my day job to go 100% freelance. My employers don’t know and I don’t want them to.

    So my website repeatedly mentions “contact Mathew”, rather than “contact us”. Thusly, my outgoing message states, “Hello, you’ve reached Mathew Freeman. Although I’m not available at the moment, please record your message and… ”

    As far as answering the phone, at this point, I’m still screening all my calls.

    1. David Tendrich says:

      Yikes! Yeah, that’s a tricky place.

      Would getting a Google Voice # work? Then if you see the Google Voice # show up on your caller ID you can answer it on behalf of your new biz, otherwise you know it’s a personal / day job call.

      Best of luck 🙂

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