10 Ways to Lose a Client

Providing quality service and retaining clients is critical to the success of any freelancer or design agency. In this post we’ll look at ten common causes for clients leaving designers. The intent is to provide some clear examples of things that should be avoided if you want to keep your clients happy.

1. Don’t Provide Quality Work

Clients will always have a certain expectation in terms of quality of work. It might seem that these expectations will correspond to their budget (high budget = high quality, low budget = low quality), but this is not always the case. Failing to live up to the quality expectations of a client can lead to a lack of repeat business, no referral business, and even the loss of a client before a project is completed.

2. Don’t Provide the Services that They Need

Most clients will need a variety of different services. Maybe they need web design, WordPress theme development, SEO, and copywriting. If you don’t provide these services yourself, outsource them, or have someone that you can refer to handle the services that you don’t provide, you could lose the client.

Most freelancers offer some variety in the services that they provide, but there will always be some clients that need services that are outside your area of expertise. For these situations, it is good to have an established network of contacts so that you can outsource the work or help the client to find someone for a particular aspect. Doing so can help you to meet the needs of the client, which is necessary for client retention.

3. Overpromise, Underdeliver

Making promises to clients that you cannot keep or failing to deliver on the commitments and promises that you have made will cause your clients to look for a new designer. Making that big promise may help you to land a certain client, but being able to live up to it is equally important if you hope to keep the client happy.

Underpromise and overdeliver is often used as a key to keeping clients happy. That way the clients don’t have unrealistic expectations and they are not disappointed or let down, instead they are pleasantly surprised when you overdeliver.

4. Don’t Meet Deadlines

Almost all projects will have deadlines of some sort. While there may be situations where it is ok, or even necessary to push back a deadline, in general it is a good way to upset clients and to cause them to lose trust in you. Deadlines are there for a reason, and when clients really need something to be done by a specific date it can have a significant negative impact on their business if the designer does not come through.

If you want to keep clients happy and avoid losing them to other designers, meeting deadlines is a great start. Always be sure that the deadlines you are agreeing to are realistic and set your schedule so that you will exceed them with some time to spare. That way if you run into complications you will still have time to work through them without missing the deadline.

5. Don’t Dedicate Time to Planning

If you want to produce poor quality work that will not be effective for your clients, don’t allow adequate time for planning. Getting to know the client, their business, and their customers is an essential part of the design process. Taking the time to understand their needs and to develop a plan that will work for them is necessary for quality results. Rushing into the project without proper planning is a great way to ensure that you are not doing your best work and not creating something that is truly effective for their business.

6. Don’t Handle Your Business Professionally

Clients expect to have a professional relationship with their designer, so if you want to lose them, treat your business like it’s a hobby and don’t provide them with the appropriate amount of respect.

If you’re aiming to keep your clients satisfied with the work that you are doing for them, demonstrate professionalism in your work and they will have a great deal of confidence in your ability to get the job done.

7. Don’t Respond to Calls or Emails

Customer service is a major concern for clients, so a lack of response will often lead clients to look for a new designer. This applies to the initial period of the design project as well as any on-going requests for maintenance, updates or support.

If you’d like to keep your clients happy with your services, always make an effort to get back to them as quickly as possible. In situations when you are busy and unable to help them right away, they usually appreciate a quick message to let them know that you will be able to help them and an estimate in regards to when that will happen.

8. Don’t Allow Clients to See the True Value of Your Services

Many clients will at some point evaluate the services that you are providing to determine if it is worth the cost for them. They may even be comparing you to a less-expensive option or someone else that they are considering hiring. By not letting them see everything that you are doing for them and demonstrating the true value of your services, you will be making it easy for them to feel like your services are overpriced.

Most clients don’t really understand everything that is involved with the work you are providing, and unless you break it down for them they may not appreciate everything that you are doing. If you’d like to show the value of your services to your clients, be complete and thorough in your estimates, proposals and invoices. Show them all of the phases involved, how much time is spent on each, on why each is critical to creating a successful end result. If you can help them to see everything that you are doing and the need for each step, they will not be as likely to choose to go with a lower-cost option.

9. Don’t Treat Them as a Unique Business

Each business has its own unique situation and requires an approach that is dedicated to creating something that meets the needs of that business. Treating each client as the same or taking a cookie cutter approach will lead to poor results and unhappy clients.

If you want your clients to get the most out of your services and to retain them long-term, remember that they are not exactly like any of your other clients and take the time to find out what is best for their specific situation.

10. Don’t Take Time to Answer Their Questions

Clients will frequently have questions about the design process, about their specific project, or just general concerns that they would like the designer to address. When they don’t get their questions answered or their concerns addressed they will often lose some confidence that the designer is doing a good job for them.

For designers who want to retain their clients and keep them happy, taking time to answer questions and get on the same page with clients is a good practice. It helps to show clients that you value the designer/client relationship, that you know what you are talking about, and that they are in good hands with you.

What’s Your Experience?

Want to share anything that you have learned about retaining or losing clients? If so, please leave a comment.

For more freelancing-related content please see:

Stephen Snell is the owner and editor of Vandelay Design, a popular design blog.
  1. Truly said. All the 10 points really going to kill your business and the hard work made by you in setting up your business and relations

  2. April 26, 2010

    Good article. I am definitely guilty of #7 and #9. I think another critical error is not clearly outlining the schedule and prices of your work. I have had clients misunderstand my website pricing and think they’re getting more than what I am giving them and end up bailing at the end.

  3. April 27, 2010

    One you missed is a precursor to: 8. Don’t Allow Clients to See the True Value of Your Services and closely related to over-promising and under-delivering.

    It is “Underpricing and Undervaluing Your Work”. Clients will be drawn in by the price, not realising that you have unwittingly under quoted for the time and resources allowed. By not valuing your time and not quoting accordingly, you may end up feeling resentful of the client for excess time and alterations, and a lack of profit and this can effect the quality of the work.

  4. April 27, 2010

    Great post. I think some designers can often under-estimate the importance of good communication skills with their clients. Interesting to see that about half of these points are centered around relationships and communication – and all very valid points!

  5. April 27, 2010

    Re: 5. Don’t Dedicate Time to Planning

    True, but don’t do planning for free either. Too many clients expect planning to just happen, unpaid, in the background. They expect you to do weeks of planning work, gratis. Don’t do that. You won’t do it properly, you’ll resent doing it and, ultimately, you’ll resent the client.

    Make sure you charge for the time you spend planning. If the client won’t pay, don’t take the business. It’s not worth it. They’re already penny-pinching, they’ll probably be a terrible client anyway.

  6. April 27, 2010

    Nicely Said!!

  7. April 27, 2010

    I would account for the time needed for planning in the quote.

  8. April 27, 2010

    I am guilty of #6 and #9

  9. Rose_Ca
    April 27, 2010

    All good points. Another one “Don’t Respect Their Opinions”. Although we are the designers, we should use diplomacy to explain why they can’t put a big orange circle in the middle of the design. 🙂 It’s important to remember they know the ins and outs of their business.
    I agree with the comments that planning should be included in the quote. If there are a lot of peripheral elements (ie. hundreds of photos to sort), planning can be a huge amount of time.

  10. April 27, 2010

    I think that one of the most important things working with the client is being fair and offer them the solutions that might not bring you more money but that should work for the customer. Also, I think that you still should deliver some of the elements for free even simply giving a good advice. The thing I hate most is when you spend 24 hours preparing the proposal, planning and working out all the features but the client never get backs to you even saying thanks, we decided to go with the other company. I know this is a bit offtopic, just some thoughts 🙂

  11. April 27, 2010

    Can we use this to ditch annoying clients too? 🙂

  12. April 27, 2010

    Interesting points..

  13. April 27, 2010

    Communication, Communication, Communication. WOW! You’ve hit on some amazing points. Definitely things to live by when dealing with cliens. Thanks for posting.

  14. April 27, 2010

    Great article. Explains a lot of what we as web designers deal with on a daily basis.

    LiME Design recently tackled the same issue, except we turned into a puppet show.


  15. JoshuaCreative
    April 27, 2010

    don’t forget “bait n switch” ploys, change orders (without notification), and general disruptions to client expectations…

  16. April 27, 2010

    11. “Break the speech of the customer”

    Every customer’s word is gold for you, pay attention and stay patient, while the saying is valuable.

  17. April 27, 2010

    Great article and tips

  18. April 28, 2010

    I fully agree with you Greg. I spent a lot of hours for making and adjusting a prototype for one of my “client” till he was satisfied and then he disappeared. I was very disappointed. Don’t let your clients make you out a fool. Don’t do planning for free.

  19. April 28, 2010

    great valid points..nice stuff

  20. Jessica
    April 28, 2010

    Re: Alice Dagley

    It sounds like by creating a “prototype” you were in fact creating a proof of what they wanted, which should never be free. I have heard of clients that shrug off proofs they don’t want to use, and question why they should pay for that. It is a part of the design process at that point and should be a part of the quote or hourly charge, I wouldn’t consider that planning.

    I don’t disagree with point #5 entirely though, I think some forms of planning (like researching the business, or researching techniques for yourself) shouldn’t necessarily be billed to them, if it was an initiative you decided to do on your own. If you think it should be charged to them, you need to clearly explain that factor prior to doing the work. I can’t blame a client who is aghast when they are charged 2 hours worth of hourly pay for “research” that they had not specifically requested at the start.

  21. April 29, 2010

    Great points you mentioned here, i really agree with all 10.

  22. June 2, 2010

    Interesting read, Steven. We mirrored some of the points in our own blog post to building great client relationship – http://designforuse.net/?p=396

    And don’t forget, there are some clients worth losing!

  23. July 26, 2010

    Very very useful

  24. August 15, 2010

    I am surprised you didn’t mention the most robust Radian6 or ViralHeat or ScoutLabs… There’s also a vendor in

  25. November 7, 2010

    These are all very true. I definitely wouldn’t want to pay someone who displayed these characteristics.

  26. April 28, 2011

    Nice Post.. 🙂

  27. April 28, 2011

    Definitely some good points raised here. Good communication is key.

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