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How to Expertly Turn Down a Design Job

How to Expertly Turn Down a Design Job

Diana Mahoney | The Design Partner

A potential client may tell you they are not comfortable with a contract/up-front deposit, can we go without it? Don’t bend for anyone. Securing a deposit insures your ideas and work can’t simply run away. If a client suggests that you change your business practices for them, deny them (in a professional way, of course) and move on.

It behooves the designer to set forth a clear, concise presentation outlining the business aspects of the project. Of course, the fun is the project itself, but the foundation is vital to the overall success of the job. Without it there will be cracks. If a client isn’t able to commit to the foundation, the project may become weak and require unknown number of hours re-working or correcting problems that could have been prevented. So, if the writing is on the wall, address it swiftly with the client and prepare to decline the project altogether.

This past summer, my design selection services were contracted out by a reputable remodeling contractor. The client signed an agreement with the contractor, paid a deposit and selections were made accordingly. In the second phase of the process the client began to question pricing, became disgruntled and pulled out of the agreement with the contractor. A week later the client contacted me privately to see if I would finish the project with them without the contractor. I quickly declined the invitation citing that as a business partner of said contractor I would not be comfortable continuing the project due to the history. Clearly, my long-term relationship with the contractor was more important than the single job, and by declining, my ethics were defined. If you are not comfortable with a client’s ethics or business practices, you should stay clear and protect your professional reputation in the industry.

The bottom line is – there may be design work out there that simply isn’t a fit for a myriad of reasons. However, with clear contractual language and terms in place for clients, designers can get started with the creative work of the job. If circumstances present themselves showing a less than mutually agreeable professional relationship, it’s okay to decline the work rather than compromise standards. If a designer declines work it should always be done so with the utmost tact and professionalism whether it be in a discussion or in written form. You want to look back and feel good about how you handled it. Once it’s done – it’s time to move on and getting working on your next project!


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