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WHY AWFUL CLIENTS ARE GREAT FOR YOUR BUSINESS.

Dayka Robinson Blog June 2016 Why Awful Clients Are Great For Business

Awful clients.

The ones that want you to give them everything, at the highest quality, but then nickel & dime the budget. The ones that hire you to do a job but don’t trust you to actually DO the job. The ones who won’t acknowledge that they don’t know what the hell they want. The I-already-know-how-this-works-because-I’ve done-this-before people (except that they don’t know how it works) and the can-you-do-it for-cheaper? folks. Ridiculous turnaround times, unrealistic expectations, clients who think they can do your job better than you, & clients who just want to use you for your resourcesthese folks can quickly become an entrepreneur’s worst nightmare.

Whether you’re a Photographer, Graphic Designer, Personal Trainer, Copywriter, Fashion Stylist, Videographer, Baker, Producer, PR guru, Interior Designer or any other kind of creative business owner, you’ll probably encounter one of these people at some point during the life of your business. Do I hope that they never–EVER–cross your path? Of course. But the reality is that they probably WILL show up along your entrepreneurial journey because they’re there to teach you how to show up more fully in your business. Knowing them will raise your blood pressure, create tons of physical stress & almost make you were sitting in an office cubicle instead of crafting a career you love…but these people can be really great for your business if you can learn what they’re really trying to teach you. Let me explain.

Over the course of my 5.5 years in design, I’ve probably had 3 clients who I’d put in the no-matter-what-happens-please-absolutely-never-ever-call-my-line-again category. Some as recently as 2015. With two of the projects there came a point where I thought, “there’s not enough money you could pay me that would make this a pleasant-enough experience to continue”–too many changes to the scope, too many fluxuations in the budget & not enough trust to execute the project in a way that would make this collaborative design process fun. And for awhile I did what we normally do in these cases–complain to family & close friends about what an absolute hemorrhoid these people had become. But that quickly got old. And I knew deep down that they weren’t just there to get on my nerves but that they (and my experiences with them) could teach me something, if I changed my perspective. Because all the “awful clients” are really doing is showing you where you need to “tighten up” in your biz–where you need to be more specific in your contracts, raise your prices, eliminate some services or set clearer personal & professional boundaries.

So I did. And here’s what I realized: that in the beginning of my career, as a fresh & bright-eyed designer, I’d constructed an ideal client profile that consisted of something like this: Good eye. Great budget. And that was pretty much it. What I most wanted were clients with a good eye for design who’d let me execute my vision + a sufficient-enough budget ($10k & up) with which to execute said design. They should “be nice”, “be cool” and “be flexible”. And when I found those people, I was straight up overjoyed. But now that I’ve had time to develop as a designer, expand my professional interests, work with a variety of clients & grow as a person (read: I’ve acquired some skin in the game), that short list doesn’t cut it anymore. Not if I intend to continue doing work I love, for people I love working with.

Here’s the invaluable insight The Awfuls have helped me realize: I’m no longer willing to settle for clients with just “good money & good style” and I can no longer focus on the traditional quantitative demographics like age, education level, marital status, family makeup & income level to identify the people I most want to work with (categories we entrepreneurs are traditionally taught to use). Instead, I’ve shifted to a Values-Based Client Profile which means I care more about WHO my clients are and what THEY value then what they’re bringing to the table. The Awfuls have schooled me on this:  My ideal/targeted clients are people with a high level of personal integrity–ones who take responsibility for their behavior. They’re people who value my time as a professional & who understand that Interior Design is a professional luxury service. These people trust the process of design and understand that there’s no one size fits all design approach. My ideal clients believe in the importance of self-care & view the creation of a beautiful home as an extension of their well-being. They communicate authentically, are decisive, have a great sense of humor & genuinely want to work with a designer. Do I still want them to have a stylish eye & enough of a budget to execute their wishes? Absolutely. But I don’t worry about those things because they’re encompassed within the values/standards I set regarding the people I want to work with. Because someone who understands that Interior Design is a professional luxury service would never belittle me or themselves by asking me to render a service for less than it’s value. Someone who really wants to work with a designer will give me the freedom & trust to work my magic and create something jaw dropping for them. Someone with a high level of personal integrity is honest about their budget upfront. See what I mean?

Here’s another example: If you’re an “artisanal croissant maker”, your client is not “anyone who can afford $2.25 for a piece of bread”. It’s someone who LOVES a delicious buttery & flakey croissant. Someone who will find a bakeshop they love & drive 20 minutes clear across town on a Sunday morning to read the New York Times & have a croissant because it’s their “thing”–an act of self-love. It’s someone who believes in the value of knowing where their food comes from. High quality butter. Locally grown ingredients. Developing relationships with the people who make their food. A person who believes that not just anyone can make “good bread”.  If you’re a croissant artisan or specialty bread maker, your clients are not “anybody who will buy a croissant”–you want the people who appreciate the value of the service you’re providing. And if you really love what you do, you should want the same thing, too.

I’m not implying that when you encounter The Awfuls that it automatically means you need better people–that was just one of my lessons. I’ve also learned that if I have a misunderstanding with a client it’s probably a sign that I need to update my contract & make sure the major details are in writing. And I’ve learned that I needed to stop giving clients discounts that they didn’t ask for because giving without explaining the true value of the discount means they won’t understand the value of the service they’re receiving. And because of that, they will ride me bareback (not to mention that clients who want a discount should AT LEAST have the balls to ask for one).  Because I’ve had the ability to create my own path, I intend to work with the kind of people I genuinely want to be around. Think about these questions with regard to your biz: For whom are you making your product? How do you want your clients to interact with YOU? Who do you want them to be in their personal lives? What does investing in your product mean that they value?? I NEVER would this kind of clarity about my business & my tribe if it hadn’t been for The Awfuls. When I got fed up enough & realized I never wanted to work with those kind of people again, it gave me the push to figure out the kind of people I DO want to work with, which has made all the difference. And it’s also why I don’t really believe in “awful clients”–I just see them as the guides who show us where we aren’t in alignment with who we really are & what we really want. All they’re really here to do is point you towards greater happiness….so acknowledge what you need to change & go change it. ‘Cause your best work is still waiting for you.

18 Comments on WHY AWFUL CLIENTS ARE GREAT FOR YOUR BUSINESS.

  1. Crystal Apple
    June 6, 2016 at 9:54 am (1 year ago)

    good post! I like how you switched from a more traditional view of what a client should look like to a more holistic approach.

    Reply
    • DaykaRobinson
      June 6, 2016 at 10:13 am (1 year ago)

      Thanks, Crystal! I think the further along we get in our businesses it’s important to refine what/why/how & to whom–as we grow personally, so should our work!

      Xo,
      D

      Reply
  2. gail johnson
    June 6, 2016 at 7:33 pm (1 year ago)

    wow, great post – it hit close to home! i have taken less clients this year for that very reason, i want to enjoy life and not be mistreated by people who don’t value my worth.

    Reply
    • DaykaRobinson
      June 6, 2016 at 7:49 pm (1 year ago)

      Gail:
      A.M.E.N!! It’s wonderful to get to a place where you remember that you DO have a choice–no sense in owning a business and being unhappy in it! Thanks for the feedback.

      Xo,
      d

      Reply
  3. Celeste Alexander
    June 7, 2016 at 8:07 am (1 year ago)

    Great perspective

    Reply
    • DaykaRobinson
      June 7, 2016 at 6:03 pm (1 year ago)

      Thanks, Celeste!

      Reply
  4. Barbara Gilbert
    June 7, 2016 at 2:20 pm (1 year ago)

    Great Post! I am in agreement with everything you say in your article. The “Awfuls” are out there but there are tons of really great people too and we interior designers just have to find a way to reach them. What is the benchmark you use when qualifying your clients? How do you decipher who is going to be that ideal client? I have always been a good judge of character or so I thought, and it always amazes me when I occasionally encounter an “Awful”, there weren’t any signs.

    Reply
    • DaykaRobinson
      June 7, 2016 at 6:02 pm (1 year ago)

      Barbara:

      Oh yes–there are tons of great clients to work with for sure! I was just addressing the refrain that I hear from most entrepreneurs about what a pain the awful clients are–this is my way to make EVERYTHING work in my favor. Finding one’s ideal client is a personal process and in my opinion, you can’t REALLY say what you want until you get out there…everything in life requires “refining”. Most of us KNOW when the bad clients have shown up, we just still take them on because it’s a “cool project” with a “great budget” and “great potential”. But the desperation makes us ignore the fact that the clients are total nightmares, lol. The wonderful thing is, you can learn from it all.

      Xo,
      d

      Reply
  5. Elle
    June 7, 2016 at 5:52 pm (1 year ago)

    Well said Dayka, I completely agree was nodding along as I read. There is much to learn from these experiences.

    Reply
    • DaykaRobinson
      June 7, 2016 at 6:02 pm (1 year ago)

      Elle:

      Indeed! Thanks for leaving your feedback!

      Xo,
      d

      Reply
  6. Barclay
    June 7, 2016 at 9:52 pm (1 year ago)

    Dayka,
    I LOVE YOU! Thanks for writing such a relevant blog post! I’m struggling and am in the process of trying to find my Ideal Client. It’s always refreshing to hear “the real story” from other designers out there!! You GO Girl! xo- Barclay

    Reply
    • DaykaRobinson
      June 8, 2016 at 11:11 am (1 year ago)

      Barclay:

      Hey girl!! I always say that you can set what you THINK you want but you only ever really learn by trial & error…getting in their with clients and see which ones you really don’t like versus which ones you do. It’s a learning process, always. Thanks for the great feedback–hope you’re doing well, friend!

      Xo,
      d.

      Reply
  7. Marsha
    June 9, 2016 at 9:45 am (1 year ago)

    Great post! Couldn’t have said it better. It is important that we learn from each negative situation and turn it into a positive lesson.

    Reply
    • DaykaRobinson
      June 9, 2016 at 10:40 am (1 year ago)

      I agree! Figure our how to really make it WORK for our benefit!

      Reply
  8. Nikki White
    June 10, 2016 at 10:08 pm (1 year ago)

    Lord. I wanted to highlight every other sentence in this here truth-telling excursion. Such a valuable post, and one I know I’ve been tempted to write for so long. The truth is most of us take on these clients in the beginning when we need the money and portfolio. But over time, quality work and sanity have to prevail. The greatest point here is that they are sent to teach you about yourself and to definitely make your contracts stronger. I’ve saluted many an awful client for my now artfully crafted contract. Lessons learned.

    Reply
    • DaykaRobinson
      June 10, 2016 at 11:14 pm (1 year ago)

      Nikki:

      Just two things, my friend. This:
      “The truth is most of us take on these clients in the beginning when we need the money and portfolio.”
      and this:
      “I’ve saluted many an awful client for my now artfully crafted contract.”
      YOU just said a mouthful. For me the biggest lesson is, when you’re out of integrity EVERYTHING else that follows is out of integrity, and there will be a price to pay for that! On a side note, now I understand your IG comment! 😉

      Xo,
      d

      Reply
  9. Antoinette Daniels
    July 7, 2016 at 11:50 am (1 year ago)

    Thank for sharing your insight. I really needed to here this. I’ve only had one good client so far that has believed in what I do. You just made me realize that I need to put more work into contract writing. Really just developing my business…if I want to stay in it. I’ve given up a few times because of this. Sometimes people are amazed at the work that some designers do…..I’m always amazed at how they got someone to trust in their talent, vision, and ideas.

    Reply
    • DaykaRobinson
      July 7, 2016 at 12:44 pm (1 year ago)

      Antoinette:

      It really starts with getting clear about who you are and what you value, and what you want your work relationships to look like. Once you know that you can frame your work in a way that speaks DIRECTLY to those people. It takes time, yes, but it really is the most worthwhile work there is. And in doing the work sometimes you find that maybe you only want to do EDesign, or projects with a quick turnaround–that’s how we refine what/how we work.

      You mentioned contract writing and I just launched mine for purchase. It’s 18 pages and pretty good, if I do say so myself. Click the “Shop” button in the menu for more info! Good luck and keep going!

      Xo,
      d

      Reply

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