Common mistakes designers make with clients – Part 3: Burning bridges

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This post is part 3 of a series. Read the rest of the series here:
Common mistakes designers make with clients – Part 1: Not signing a contract
Common mistakes designers make with clients – Part 2: Allowing a discount

For today’s addition to the Common mistakes designers make series, I’d like to discuss one that I had a personal experience with recently.

In case you didn’t know, recently I got an office job.

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I still freelance design on the side, so don’t sue me, okay? But with my new job came the responsibility to hire designers for certain projects which has been very insightful.

I’ve been able to experience the design process from the perspective of a client which has allowed me to write some really great content here at Millo – stuff I never would have understood without this new job.

Someone torched by bridge

As I was looking for a designer, I sent out a request via twitter (which I do all the time. Follow me if you’re interested) and got back a whole bunch of great responses.

I sorted through them and then sent an email to the top 4 designers that I though best fit the project.

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As I talked with each designer about timeline, rates, and availability, I finally decided on one.

Then I notified the other designers to which I got the following response from one of them:

“Fine. Thanks a lot for wasting my time. Can I bill you for 20 minutes of my precious time?”

The irony of it all

The irony of it all is that I was planning on keeping this designer on a very short list of designers I might be able to hire in the near future.

But guess what I did after he was so rude to me…

That’s right. I scratched his name right off the list. I’ll never contact him for work again.

He burned a bridge.

You never know

The truth of the matter is, you never know when and where you might bump into old clients or potential clients again. You never know what their plans are or if they plan to hire you again.

Never…let me emphasize… NEVER burn bridges with clients. You’ll miss out on all sorts of opportunities in the future.

I know it’s hard to keep your cool sometimes, but it’s never worth losing your temper in the heat of the moment. If you’re tempted to fall into the “Clients from Hell” mentality that many designers in the community have adopted, resist it.

I guarantee it will pay off in the future. If nothing else, you’ll feel better about yourself as a human being.

Don’t burn bridges with clients. What do you think?

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  1. So very true! Also, this is something that applies to many areas of life and not just design careers. For example, you could be working for a large company that allows people to transfer into say a management position. What this could mean is, that person whom you crossed paths with six months ago, is now your new boss.

    Lastly, you mentioned about keeping a small networking list of designers that you might call upon if the need arises and how one person lost their name due to their complaint about not getting the job. That’s a shame, because a person has to realize that even if they don’t get the job, there’s still a chance that the one who was hired might not work out for various reasons (Family issue, sudden medical issues, lack of performance, etc)

    I just went on an interview this past Friday and while it remains to be seen whether I’ll get a job with them or not, I thanked her for her time anyway. She seemed to appreciate the comment.

  2. Great article, but no one mentioned another reason why you should never burn bridges–and that is, we forget that our clients have a mouth attached to a megaphone. And that unfortunately people usually never talk about good service they had, but always about bad service.

    So now that client you burned will bad-mouth you to their friends, and maybe even those friends will tell their friends. Remember the last time a company totally pissed you off? Didn’t you vent to everyone you knew, and of course advised them all to go elsewhere, not to company x? Exactly. And they listen. Same thing in our industry. Testimonials, whether good or bad, have staying power and make a difference!

  3. EVen though it might feel great in the short term, I always remind myself to put emotion aside and deal with the facts. Some clients actually strike the match to burn the bridge, but it’s always best to take the high road and be professional, regardless of the outcome. A great compliment to this is a book called “Love is the Killer App”…. kill ’em with kindness and reap great rewards!

  4. I am not mad at anyone —

    My comment was about the fact you didn’t share part of the blame (eliminating a designer from your hiring list) which you too were responsible —

    You could have easily informed the designer he didn’t get the particular job you offered, but, you were keeping him for another possible project (whether or not you had another mission in mind [???]) …

    Imagine how much that would have appeased him/her without anyone burning out a welcome back —

    1. @Marvin,
      The point of the article is to teach designers that you never know what future opportunities could arise through potential clients. Never, ever burn bridges with clients no matter how mad you are.

  5. Too true. No matter how awful the experience with a client, resist the urge to vocalize any negative feelings to them. It all boils down to customer service. That client might have been a bear to work with, but they may have five really nice friends that aren’t. Vent to friends over a beer, not via e-mail or Twitter to said client.

    1. @Laura,
      I love what you said here:
      “That client might have been a bear to work with, but they may have five really nice friends that aren’t.”

      That’s genius!! Thanks for sharing!

  6. Preston,
    Great article. I’ve been in design over 20 years now and run into those that think they are ‘god’ because they ‘design’. A position of a little humility and willingness goes a long way. All it takes is a couple good word of mouth referrals from happy clients and you can have a good start. It also works the other way around for ones reputation.

    1. @Christina Rosepapa,
      I totally agree! Just because you may understand design better than your client doesn’t make you a better human being than them. We all want to be treated with respect whether people agree with us or understand us or not.

      (ironically, I’m dealing with something quite offensive myself. hint: have a look above at the comment thread.)

      It’s always good to remember that we are all human beings whether we communicate via email, phone, or blog comments. 🙂

    1. @Marvin,
      I can tell you’re mad at me, Marvin. If you take a moment to notice, I have responded to all your comments as far as I can see. If I have missed one, I apologize.

  7. Do you always look to fault the person who wrote you ????

    Why not include yourself to blame ???

    Would it not have been better, since you landed your first office job (without knowing about the other side of the desk) and what comes with it as a professional ???

    Why couldn’t you include in your rejection you were keeping him on file for another project in the near future ????

    By the way, thank you for not looking at my response to your communication yesterday — again, very professional (????) on your\
    part …

    U shoulddddaaa stuck with free lancing !!!

    1. @Marvin,
      I’m not sure what I did to get you so upset, but clearly I am on your bad side for some reason. If you’ll notice, I actually did respond to your comment yesterday (as I try to do with most comments on this blog). Take a look:

      While I always appreciate insightful comments and constructive criticism, I’d like to ask that you keep your personal attacks to yourself.


  8. Communication, it seems, is the root of almost every relationship problem business or otherwise.

    A couple tips so you’re not on the burning side of the relationship:

    – Keep emails as neutral as possible. You can’t be funny, clever or sarcastic the same way you can in face to face conversations, or even over the phone. So limit yourself to just the facts.

    – Always thank your leads for the opportunity to work with them, even if you don’t get the job, wish them well and offer to follow up with them in a few weeks to make sure things are on track.

    Freelance Funnel ( – The lead for your next gig could be in our next email.

    1. @Jeff Schoolcraft,
      Jeff, thanks for the great addition. Also, nice blog. I’d love to have you write a guest post for Millo about freelancing. Best of luck in all!

  9. Great article Preston. It’s an accepted fact that creative geniuses are often known for their horrific temper. I recommend those with a short fuse, especially in periods when dealing with a terrible client, to really read this piece of advice before blowing off your horns.

    Instead of burning bridges, why not spend the effort strengthening them?

    1. @Website Design Singapore – Morgan & Me Creative,
      Some great advice! What do you do to stregthen your client relationships?

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