I have heard it said that a successful business never turns down work. I think that’s poppycock. For a graphic or web design firm to develop a solid portfolio they need to be selective about the clients they work with. Lately I have been working with a client who is not a terribly good fit for my business, and have been thinking about strategies for choosing projects that help my business to move forward.
Identify your business goals
Before you can choose clients who match your business vision, you need to identify your professional goals. The sort of things on your list might include:
• Produce innovative design work
• Develop a reputation for expertise in Flash development
• Work with clients who embrace creative design solutions
• Work with socially and environmentally conscious companies
• Improve business profitability
• Win web and graphic design industry awards
• Zero in
Once you know the direction you want to go in, you can focus on winning projects that can help you get there. If you want to be known for producing cutting edge Flash websites, then clients in the arts and music sectors - who are usually open to innovative online solutions - would make a good addition to your client list.
Don’t be afraid to turn down work
If you focus on clients who help you meet your business goals, it follows that you will need to turn away prospects from time to time. When I’m approached about a new work opportunity I find it very difficult to say “no”. I hate to disappoint people, but in the long run it is much less painful to say “no” to an unappealing job than “yes”.
In most cases it isn’t necessary to invent an excuse for turning down work - simply explain to your client that the brief is not well matched to your business. If your specialization is building e-commerce websites, and the brief is to produce a rich media site for a hot new rock band, then your client will understand when you explain that their needs will be better served by a Flash specialist.
It can be tempting to use the “I’m too busy right now” excuse to turn down an unattractive project, but this approach can come back to haunt you. When the client calls back to see if your calendar has freed up, you will have to give them an honest refusal anyway. A firm but polite “no” to begin with will avoid an awkward situation later on.
When jobs are few and far between it doesn’t make sense to be choosy, but in most cases I believe it is better to take on projects that help fulfill your business goals, and pass up those that don’t. At the end of the day the projects that I’m proudest of, and enjoy working on the most, are also the ones that help my business grow.
8 Essential Strategies to Saying “No”
Leo Babauta has written an excellent article about strategies for turning down jobs.
Ideadsonideas discuss the advantages of business specialization.