Want to be a happy designer? Fire 80% of your clients

I’ve recently been reading The Four-Hour Work Week (*aff) by Tim Ferriss and I have to tell you, I’m absolutely loving it!

I’m only 45-50 pages (UPDATE: I’ve been loving the book so much, I’m already 127 pages in now and it’s only been a few more days! I highly recommend it!) in and I’ve already changed aspects of my life, changed some ways I do business, and I’ve fired almost 80% of my design clients.

If you’ve read the book, you’ll know what I’m talking about, if you haven’t read it yet, you totally should and then you’ll know why I fired 80% of my clientele.

💔 Falling out of love with your clients? Trade some of your worst clients for the best companies in the world with SolidGigs, our premium weekly freelance job list & course library. Love your business again. Learn more »

No I’m not crazy

A lot of people think I’m crazy when I tell them this strategy (and they thought Tim was crazy too, probably) but I’m not. And neither is he.

We both just got tired of overworking ourselves completing less-than-important tasks for low-paying clients.

The 80/20 rule

So here’s where this “crazy” idea comes from:

There’s this thing that you’ve probably heard of called the 80/20 rule. Now, the 80/20 rule has been stretched and used in ways it wasn’t meant to be used, but Tim explains the origins of the 80/20 rule in his book. The short of it goes like this:

Enter your email. Grow your business.

Submit your email below and join 45,000+ creatives who get our most helpful content via email every week. 100% free. Unsubscribe anytime. Privacy protected.

Vilfredo Pareto, a controversial sociologist suggested the theory that 80% of the wealth in the world is possessed by 20% of the world. He then applied this theory to all sorts of different aspects of the world and was shocked by what he found.

Indeed, in his garden, 80% of the peas he harvested came from only 20% of the pea plants. You can ultimately summarize this “rule” as follows: 80% of your results come from 20% of your work.

What does this have to do with design?

So what does this have to do with you as a designer?

Take a minute and mentally group your clients into two categories: high-paying clients and low-paying clients.

Now, which of the two groups takes up the bulk of your time? If you’re anything like I was, the low-paying clients take up more of your time. For me, at least, I had more low-paying clients and spent the bulk (probably about 80%) of my time working for them. They were the pickiest, the cheapest, and the most demanding of all my clients.

Identify the 20%, Fire the rest

So what did I do?

I identified the 20% of clients who paid the highest rates for the least amount of work.

Then I fired the rest of them.

Did I lose some money? Sure. Am I happier. Yep. Do I regret it? Nope.

Here’s why: While I may have lost 20% of my income upfront, I was able to take that 80% of clients and dedicate that time to finding passive ways of making money (including writing for this blog more often) and finding a few more clients that fall into the ‘high-paying’ category.

I dare you to try it

I would love to hear from any of you who dare to give this strategy a try. Fire the 80% of your clients who just don’t bring in the money to justify the work you do for them.

If it’s hard to rip off the band-aid all at once, try firing a few of your least rewarding clients first. Just one or two. Then keep firing until you have optimized your design business.

And when new clients come along, make sure they fit into the 20% of clients that will bring you the 80% of your income. Give it a try and let me know what happens…

PS. Happy Halloween!!

Keep the conversation going...

Over 5,000 of us are having daily conversations over in our free Facebook group and we'd love to see you there. Join us!

  1. all well and good
    but how exactly do you fire a client?
    I have been working with all my clients for a minimum of 10 years

  2. Hi Preston

    This post has been helpful 😉 I tried it and it really helped me alot because now I can focus on more important paying clients, my blog, marketing and learning new design trends.

    Thank you for the great post, keep post 😉

  3. Great book for some insights. I’ll take one great client that values my services over 10 that don’t anyday.

  4. I’ve read the book. While I think some of what he has in there requires more, “leap of faith” than a lot of folks can handle, there are some solid tips – like the 80/20 rule.

    What it all boils down to is really effective time management – and also, getting away from the thought that you have to do “everything” yourself. When you can let go and assign tasks to other, reliable people you work with, that will free up some time.

    It’s good to be surrounded by a team where everyone is doing what they do best. When someone’s over-burdened or working on something that isn’t their forte, the work isn’t going to be the best.

  5. Right now I have one client who pays best and have slowly ditched the rest. I am not taking a hit, since the ‘firing’ was done gradually, and the time I am not working for client is now spent on developing my own sites and managing my small network. Not to mention that, when I need it, I can find another client that pays well and supplement my income again.

  6. Never knew there was a name for this strategy. In fact, this is something that we unknowingly do at the end of each work year. We assess and evaluate the cost-time between projects (clients) and decide as a team who to ditch and who to continue working with…and yes, Preston is right, for some reason, it does pay off.

  7. I read that somewhere too and didn’t realize that it can work. if you have 80% free time after generating 80% of your revenue, you can always invest your time to generate better clients, so actually loss of revenue over a time should be negligible.

  8. Great advice! I have found out the hard way another type of “client” worse than low paying ones; the freebie kind, the ones with social causes and non-profit projects. My fault for having a soft heart and that inner need to help my fellow man. So I am limiting myself to only 1 volunteer cause on my plate and learning to set boundaries.

  9. Awesome article!
    Just wanted to tell you that I fired some of my clients last month. I was not quite sure whether it was a right step. But this article made me realize I did the right thing. 😀

The conversation's still going in our free Facebook group . Join us there!