For me the hardest part of running a business isn’t getting customers, it’s getting the right customers. I do all of my marketing on the web so everybody that sees my website is a potential customer. I rarely meet people face-to-face so I have to rely on certain tells a customer provides via email or over the phone. Herein lies the challenge of choosing the right customers. I’ve chosen my share of bad ones so I’ve developed a sense for which customers might not be worth pursuing. Here is a list of the type of customers I try and avoid.

The hit my hidden bulls-eye customer

darts2-150x150You know exactly what you want. If that’s really the case then you don’t need a designer you need a lackey who knows how to use illustrator and take orders well. Usually customer’s who “know” exactly what they want actually just “think” they only know what they want and once you’ve done the work they end up realizing how bad it is and then want something else. It just ends up being a long painful process for me and the customer. I’ve been a designer a long time and in leaner times I’ve taken on a few of these projects but it’s hard to do somebody else’s design work when the other person doesn’t know what they are doing.

Design is a weird business in that you constantly run across people that think that recognizing talent is the same thing as having it. I recognize delicious food when I taste it but I’m not a chef, I’ve read really good books but that doesn’t mean I’m an author. If I used a scalpel instead of a pen do you still think you could walk me through your nose job? Wanting plastic surgery is a million miles away from being able to do it. Obviously being a designer isn’t the same as being a surgeon, but bad design, like bad plastic surgery, can really damage your appearance.

The spec customer

no-specYou’d like to see some sample designs to see if I’m a good fit. That’s called spec work and doing work on spec is just bad business. No designer should do it and if they give into it then they do nothing but devalue their services and hurt the design industry as a whole. It’s kind of like letting me dig in your yard to see if I strike gold for you. I understand wanting to test drive a car before you buy it but spec work is more like having someone build you the car so you can take if for a test drive.

The pipe dream customer

dude1You don’t have the budget to pay me my full fee on this project but you’ll have a ton of work for me if I give you a deal on this one. How about you make up the difference by giving me foot rubs and washing my car.

The delusional pipe dream customer

Your business is going to be huge and I’m going to get great exposure! In other words you’d like me to do it for free or next to free and your inevitable success is as good as gold. Sounds great but I’ve got an even better idea. How about this, you pay me double my normal fee and when I become as famous as Andy Warhol and charge thousands of dollars for a doodle on a napkin you can brag to your friends about how your generosity was instrumental in my success.

The great deal customer

You’re looking for a great deal! I once had a guy send me an email stating “I’ want the best design at the cheapest price”, I emailed him back with the response “I want customers with low expectations and deep pockets” . That was the end of our correspondence. I like good deals just like everybody else but good deals aren’t the same as cheap deals. There are a ton of dirt cheap designers out there but more often than not people that go that route usually end up with irrelevant and ineffectual design. I’ve gotten some great deals on eBay but I’ve also been burned on eBay as well. The difference though is it’s all been stuff that doesn’t effect me in the long run. bad design keeps on giving long after you get it. A forgettable logo design won’t help you brand your business today or a five years from now.

The snake oil customer

bad-dude-150x150You sell something I personally wouldn’t buy or wouldn’t want somebody else to buy. The work I do helps people sell their products, their services and their ideas and by designing their logo, their label or their website I’m endorsing it by association. You’ve probably heard the acronym WWJD or What would Jesus Do?, a great question that I do occasionally ask myself but the acronym I live by is WWMMS or What Would my Mom Say?

Here’s an example of a project I couldn’t get behind, I had an author that wanted me to create a website to help him sell his new how-to book, cool I like books, I’ve even read a couple. The problem with this book was it was written to help recovering alcoholics become social drinkers again. It could be the very worst idea for book that I’ve ever heard of. That’s like saying you can teach people how to be safe drunk drivers. So if the product you need help selling is Adult Videos I’ll have to pass; Adult Diapers on the other hand, that’s something I could get behind.

As a designer these are the main types of customers I try to avoid. At least these are ones that came to mind as I was writing this. Did I miss any? Let me know…


  1. Just recognized someone like me in your list of customers to avoid. I said I have a picture in my head of what I want when I emailed you moments ago …but I promise it’s not a hidden bulls-eye! 🙂 Looking forward to working with you.

  2. I think i’m like Cathy in as much as I have an idea in my head, and would like to see it as a start point, but we are open minded. I think the problem is that people recognize intuitively that they need a logo, and therefore free form that in their minds eye, and so as a designer you end up having to remove that “place holder” and put in an actual effective work of design. Also look forward to working with you.

  3. Hi Tim. I’m sure you don’t need this, but I am impressed with your articles and designs and wanted to comment and say, “Well done!”

    As a Mom, I especially appreciated the WWMMS advice. I printed the whole set of articles to share with my newly graduated graphic designer. Thanks for taking the time to share this with others.

    Awesome site design too!

  4. The customer who wants to ask 500 detailed questions before they agree to go with you – once I hit 10 emails before they have yet to purchase anything from me, I let that person go! If they are going to pick things apart before they even see the finished product, they are definitely going to nit-pick once they get the end result!

  5. Tough love…tough love…but it is blatantly obvious you have been around the block more than a few times. Let’s just say your pan is well seasoned. Your comments are like that of an honest Marine…you might not like ’em, nor want to hear them…but they are true in EVERY sense of the word.

  6. You forgot the friends who want you to do it cheap. Who then get pissed off if you start charging your regular prices for continued work, who need it tomorrow and then take 2 months to get back to you. (Do I sound a bit peeved?)
    Fabulous, great, cool work and very cool and intelligent website – I am inspired… tanx!

  7. Literally love everything you have to say. Very articulate and thoughtful. I hope I can afford you. : b Look forward to working with you.

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