January 20, 2010 4

When to Say “No” to Web Design Clients

By in Web Design

While it may happen more with freelancers than with firm workers, the feast or famine style still exists. When we can’t find clients, we cannot pay the bills, and perhaps may not be in a position to pick and choose our type of work. No matter how desperate, though, there are a number of times when web designers need to say no to clients.

Most clients aren’t perfect, and this is especially noticeable once we are in a position to take on the types we’d prefer not to work with. In this post we’ll look over the absolute top times a web designer needs to step back and refuse work, for the good of themselves and the business.

Spec Work

This is unfortunately one of the most common methods clients use to get free work out of web designers. Working on a speculative basis means the client wants to see unpaid work from you, and from a number of other competing designers to see ‘who the best fit will be.’

Any semi-experienced designer knows, however, that this is the biggest waste of time, and sometimes even a terrible scam. Some ‘clients’ steal work from these types of requests, others are just naive and seem not to respect designer’s time. Either way, neither is good for you. Your portfolio is where any potential client can see your style of work, so never do any spec work for free just to win a job!

Because there are so many clients that simply do not understand why many designers don’t want to do spec work, it’s always best to educate them on how it hurts you, the client (it can provide them with cheap, terribly-done work), and the industry. If ever asked to do spec work, say no, but also politely say why.

Here is a great article on How to Say No to Spec Work.

Can You Lower Your Rate?

Even in the most desperate of times, lowering your rate after giving a client an initial quote hurts only you and your business. Not only will you not make as much as you normally would, it can hurt your reputation and professionalism as a web designer and business owner. The client is more likely to not treat you with respect, and then you will also be likely dealing with project scope changes, unlimited revisions, etc., which can lower your hourly rate even more!

Note that this is different from lowering your rate in hard economic times, or hard financial times for yourself before quoting the client. If you regularly work at $45/hr, and change your rate to $30/hr for the time being, that is fine to accommodate certain circumstances. What shouldn’t ever be tolerated is a client not treating you like a legitimate business, and asking you to lower your rate after you’ve decided and quoted upon it.

Change of Project Scope

It is essential to outline in the beginning of a project, of any size, what the work will all include. You as a professional can conclude how much you can do, and how much you’re willing to do for the price of the project. There is nothing that wastes time more than an unexpected, “Can you also add…”, or a “Could you change this text from this to…”

As a freelancer it is important to adjust our own time and schedule around how much you need to earn, how you want to grow, and how you want your business to grow. Constantly attending to minute details or revisions just to please a client isn’t going to help you out. Discuss respectfully in the beginning of what you’ll be doing in detail. Then, if you feel the project scope is expanding, tell the client no, and refer back to any initial contract or agreement.


These are just the three biggest and baddest of client requests, but of course there are many other situations in which a web designer would want to reject a client. Feel free to suggest any other situation where a suggestion wouldn’t be tolerated, or otherwise when a web designer should comply.

About: Kayla Knight:
Hello, my name is Kayla Knight, and I am a web designer and developer based in Iowa, Usa. I focus on user-centric, beautiful, simple, and functional web design. You can check out my portfolio here: KaylaKnight.com.

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4 Responses to “When to Say “No” to Web Design Clients”

  1. Andrew says:

    great points! I will apply them next time ;)

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