Digital Strategy Insights Marie Poulin

How to choose your clients wisely (and why you must!)



One of the most important things you can do as a business owner is to get ruthlessly honest about who you work best with, and for whom you are the best fit.

What this means:

You need to know your criteria for an excellent client fit.

And that won’t be the same as mine, or as any other business owner.

It also means that you have to be willing to often say no. Which can be really. damn. hard.
And initially this can seem impossible if you’re in a position where cash-flow is an issue.

You will be defined more by the clients you turn down than those that you work with.

You’re not giving your best to clients when you feel resentful, annoyed, under-appreciated, or under-paid. Either remove what is causing the resentment (under-charging, too-quick turnarounds, bad habits), or be at peace with letting that client go, and move on with your business. Don’t take on any new projects where you already feel resentful (about their budget, their aesthetic preferences, or anything else for that matter) or plan to half-ass the project because you need the cash. Everyone suffers when you do this.

How do I decide who to work with?

I have my own criteria based on years of experience, observation, personal development, and self-awareness. I look at:

The business or idea/vision:

  • Is it interesting/unique/revolutionary and marketable?
  • Does it provide an interesting challenge for me professionally?
  • Does it provide something good for the world?
  • Is there potential for this idea to grow?

The client:

  • Are they passionate about their idea?
  • Are they open to collaboration?
  • Are they open to the organic nature of my process?
  • Do they value my contribution as an expert (or are they looking for a pixel pusher)?
  • Are they flexible, curious, and committed?
  • Do they have the required budget for the work involved (are they being realistic about desire vs cost)?
  • Will I be able to help them get a return on their investment?
  • Do I really enjoy them as a person?

My schedule/energy:

  • Do I really have the time available to do an excellent job on this project?
  • Do I have the mental space or energy to take on this project?
  • Does taking on this project feel expansive or constricting? (Yes, I always check in with my gut!)

Over the years I’ve learned a few things about the way I work, and it now informs who I choose to work with.

I know I am not a strong fit for:

  • rigid or tight timelines
  • traditional corporate clients
  • short, one-off projects
  • formal communication
  • people who are looking for the cheapest option

You are doing a disservice to yourself and others by taking on projects that you know are not a great fit for you or your working style.

The wonderful thing is, there are so many people who would be such a great fit for any of those clients! I am able to refer clients to other business owners who I know would be a great fit, and it’s win/win/win.

“I realized that even the process of saying ‘no,’ and sending the client to another designer could in a way be part of my ‘service’ to the client.” — Jessica Bloch-Shulman, DSS Student

Just as saying “No” to a client is a yes to something else on your plate… it’s also a yes for your client. Yes to another service provider who can give them what they need, and better serve them.

Everything in your business will change when you commit to letting go of clients/projects that cause you to feel resentful.

You have a lot more control over your business than you think you do.

It all starts with the clients you work with. Without clients (or customers), you don’t have a business.

So what kind of customers do you want to have?

What matters to you in your business? How do you want to feel during and after your projects? And how do you want others to feel when they work with you?

Get clear on who aligns best with what you’ve got to offer, and start saying NO to anything less. You owe it to your business and to your clients. This is you moving into a bigger leadership role, and making space for great.

So, who is a perfect fit for you?

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  1. Just the post that I need to read. Light Bulbs and aha moments everywhere. Because of this I just wrote a resignation email to one client 🙂 Thanks for sharing this Marie!

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  2. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and I think your questions to ask are spot on. I’m definitely adjusting how I think about my ideal client.

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  3. “You will be defined more by the clients you turn down than those that you work with.” – I love this quote!

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  4. This is great, Marie. I think a lot of these questions can apply to figuring out pricing for your services/products too. As in, “if I take on this project for $XX, will I feel like my time is being used wisely?”

    And the more experience I get, the more I also feel like I don’t want to work with clients who want the cheapest option/don’t value the work of the person they’re hiring.

    Thanks for sharing these helpful tips!

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  5. Such great tips, thank you! I think the part about the client’s passion and potential growth of their idea is super important, yet we often neglect it. When I started out, I took on several projects that seemed nice, but there was no potential. The clients were lovely people and I enjoyed working with them, but after a year, their websites are dead, although still beautiful. They just don’t have time or energy to work on their business because, for them, it’s mostly a hobby.

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  1. Professional Development – 6/20/16 – 6/26/16 – The Software Mentor - […] How to choose your clients wisely (and why you must!) […]

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