The secret to finding clients you actually want to work with

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If I asked the Millo community which clients they’d most prefer to have, I’m guessing 99% of you would say, “the ones that pay.” (Or some derivative of that.)

Am I right?

However, just because a client pays well and pays on time doesn’t mean they aren’t a stressful, rude, big pain in the neck to work with.

So how do you find clients that you actually want to work with? Follow these tips…

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Know thyself

You can’t know if a potential client is a good fit if you don’t have anything to fit them with! Take a look within yourself to determine your strengths and weaknesses not only as a freelancer but also as a person.

  • How do you prefer to communicate?
  • When do you prefer to be available to your clients?
  • How patient are you?
  • How well do you handle criticism and critique of your work?
  • Do you enjoy learning about your clients as human beings, or do you prefer to keep it strictly professional?
  • In what ways are you / are you not willing to be flexible? **this is a biggie**

Knowing where your boundaries lie BEFORE your initial consultation will help you sound more professional when you’re engaging with a potential client.

Now that you know who you are (personally and professionally), you can develop criteria for what makes a client a good fit for you.

Examine your existing clientele

First, take a look at your existing clients. Which ones do you look forward to hearing from and which ones are programmed into your phone so you can ignore it now and email them later? (Guilty.)

Why do you enjoy working with some and not others?

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Here are some common reasons:

  • Their personality and general attitude
  • Their respect / disrespect toward you and your work
  • How often they contact you
  • Their organizational skills
  • The quantity and type of questions they ask / reassurances they need
  • Their professionalism (or lack thereof)

Develop your criteria

Next, based on your personal strengths and weaknesses as well as your existing clientele, determine which characteristics are most important to you.

  • Which traits are you willing to compromise on and which are rigid boundaries?
  • How would your ‘perfect’ client behave?
  • How would they approach confrontation or a misunderstanding?

Example: For me, the perfect client is friendly, cheerful, mostly organized, and looks to me as a trusted source of design expertise. I’m perfectly fine with constructive criticism of my work, but rudeness and aggressiveness or finger-pointing is not something I’ll tolerate.

Measure their ‘fit’ness

Now you’re ready to have that first initial meeting with your potential client. Remember, it’s just as important to learn about your working relationship as it is to discuss project details!

Pay attention to the following details that are great indications of how they’ll act as your client:

  • Their greeting: are they friendly, cordial, brusque, rushed?
  • Do they interrupt you, and how do they react when they do?
  • What language do they use? (Yes, I have had a potential client cuss frequently the first time I met them!)
  • Do they regard you as a professional or a minion?
  • What do they say about the previous designer?
  • How much control do they seem to want?
  • How much do they know / want to know about the ‘whys’ behind the design?
  • Do they sound organized?
  • How do you feel at the end of the meeting?

Note: It’s okay if you assess your client based on what might be perceived as ‘shallow’ judgments. If you can’t stand the sound of this person’s voice, you’re going to procrastinate like crazy when you have to call them.

Don’t ignore your gut feelings

Are you getting a good vibe or a bad one? Listen to your intuition – it’s probably right. (Nerves are okay – even veterans feel anxious, especially on projects that push the limits of your expertise.)

If you find that you have to talk yourself into a project, it’s probably not for you.

Share your experience!

Tell me in the comments how you found your awesome clients and how you avoided your bad ones. Got questions? Share them below.

And don’t forget, you can be entered to WIN a FREE Skype session with April when you order her brand-new ebook during launch week (3/17-3/23). More details here or order the book bundle here. It’s an amazing resource already downloaded by hundreds of designers who are learning to get paid what they deserve. -Preston

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  1. Yes, I know it’s really very hard to find the clients you want to work with. It is also a very difficult task to engage the client to work with you long in long time relationship.
    There must be some important and useful tips that we need to follow to make a good clients from where you will get the work in bulk for a long time.


  2. Hello April!
    Great article. It is always good to be reminded that we must honour ourselves in business to be happy and successful.

    I actually got one of my best clients by going against my gut reaction (not intuition.) It was a tough decision for me. Our personalities seemed to hit it off, but she had what could have been interpreted as a “control freak” side.

    In our conversation she admitted to being a bit of a control freak and shared her experience with other designers which were not good. I took the time to reassure her, walk her through my process and answer her questions. She is now one of my coolest clients who is not controlling. She trusts my opinions and advice and uses me as a resource as well.

    What I learned from this? Sometimes people’s behaviours (which may trigger my gut reaction) are created by bad situations. Intuition is a step deeper than gut reaction, so I have learned to ask the right questions, (much like what you have outlined) to let my intuition guide me.

  3. The tone of voice and their response and selection of words tells a lot about their personality. Also if they say something like “that should not take you too long” or it is not much work. Also never be told how to do it. If that happens refuse the job.

  4. I very much agree that the way the projects work out coincide with the client relationship and continue that way into the future.

  5. My perfect client wants to build a good relationship based on mutual respect. They don’t bring a heap of solutions even before the project has begun that they mocked up and their family love (this sends alarm bells ringing) A perfect client says ‘i just provide the brief, I’m hiring you for the design’. Friendly, open-minded, professional and polite plus a good sense of humour is always a bonus!

  6. Great post! It’s good to know what kind of designer you are first before you decide what clients you want to have. My question though is if you do meet up with a client that you know you don’t want to work with, how do you turn them down? In a polite/professional manner of course.

    1. Hi Samantha:

      Great question! I’m going to add this to our post topics list because I think everyone needs to read this.

      Stay tuned for the answer in an upcoming post!


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