Graphic Designers: How to Say No to Clients

The word no made from jigsaw puzzle pieces
Photo by Horia Varlan

Do you ever feel like you’re drowning in work that you don’t actually want to do? Are you saying yes to every request that comes your way just because you want to be liked? Well, fear not, my friend, because I’m here to tell you that you can say no! And it’s actually pretty liberating.

You want to be liked. By your clients, your boss, and your colleagues. So you take on work that you don’t want to do. You extend deadlines to the point where you’re stressed and can’t think about much else. You can say no.  It’s time to start saying “no” on your terms.

It’s completely understandable that we’ve all struggled to say no at times. Maybe you’re worried about offending someone or losing a client. Perhaps you’re afraid of missing out on future opportunities. There’s often it’s that split second when you’re about to say no, but then you second-guess yourself and end up saying yes.

But it’s important to recognize that saying no doesn’t make you a bad person or a bad employee. In fact, it can make you a better one. By valuing your own time and opinions, you’ll be able to produce higher-quality work and maintain healthier relationships with your clients and colleagues.

When to Start and How to Begin

You don’t have to wait any longer. You can start today, or right now if you want. If there’s a problem with a client or a boss that’s been bothering you, you can bring it up and set the record straight. Make sure they understand your worth and what you’re willing to do.

When should you start saying no, you ask? Right now, my friend! Don’t wait for the perfect moment or the perfect project. Just start by writing an email to a client or your boss expressing a concern you’ve been having and specifying your limits and expectations around your time, and energy. Identify your needs and priorities first for yourself, then communicate them clearly to others. You’ll be surprised how empowering it can feel.

But how do you actually start saying no? Well, it doesn’t have to be a big, dramatic thing. Start small. Say no to staying 15 minutes late or running an errand. You can even say no to a production deadline that you know is unrealistic. And if you have a professional opinion about something, don’t be afraid to speak up and say “no, I really think the color should be red, and here’s why.”

When to say no

Now, when should you say no? Simple. If something is unfair, unreasonable, or just plain stupid, say no. And if you have a good reason for saying no, express your professional opinion and give them a chance to speak.

Remember, this is a negotiation. You might be surprised at how often people will actually back down or offer a compromise that works for you. You can also compromise if you hear something that suits you. If you went to a yard sale or bought a car, you wouldn’t have a problem trying some negotiation. Why not do it with your business and life?

Why say no?

You are an independent creative professional and should value your time and opinions. You don’t have to sacrifice your career, business, or family for someone else’s benefit. Companies and clients can always find someone else if they don’t think you’re the right fit. So why not think of yourself a little bit more? When you start valuing your time, others will respect you more and will understand that your time is valuable.

As a creative professional, it’s important to remember that we’re not beholden to any particular company or client. Back in the day, workers might have been stuck in one place for their entire careers, and luckily that’s not the case anymore. We have more freedom to choose who we work with and on what projects.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking we have to take whatever work comes our way, even if it’s not something we’re excited about or if the client is difficult to work with. But the reality is, if a client or company doesn’t see the value in what we bring to the table, they’ll move on without a second thought. And in the current job market, companies are laying people off left and right, so it’s essential to value our own time and opinions.

When we start saying “no” to work that doesn’t align with our goals or values, we gain respect from others and from ourselves. It’s not always easy, but it’s necessary to protect our time and energy. And when we do say “no,” we open up space for more fulfilling work and opportunities to come our way. So don’t be afraid to think of yourself first and set limits around your time and expertise.

Brian E. Young is a graphic designer and artist in Baltimore, MD.

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