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How to filter cheap clients

how to filter cheap clients

Finding a good, well paying client can prove to be a little difficult when you just start your design business. Just like the physical world – the online world is full of cheap people. They are everywhere. Literally, everywhere. Not that being cheap is necessarily wrong, but when you’re on this side of the business, it’s not ideal and in most cases, hard to work with. If someone is being cheap, it’s probably because they are just starting out and might not understand that good design is expensive. I’ve worked with tons of clients like this. They have no idea what goes into web design or what the cost of hiring a good designer. They think it’s all plug and play with us. And as we all know, it’s far from that. Or, they simply don’t have a good enough budget. Which is okay but again, not ideal to work with.


If a client wants cheap design, and you’re willing to provide it because you need the work – by all means do. If you’re struggling for more work when starting out, you should probably pick the client up as a learning experience and to help build your portfolio further. Also, I think everyone should work for a cheap client at least one time in their lives. It helps you develop a sense of awareness and preparation for any similar circumstances in the future. It will help you recognize and prepare yourself for dealing and sorting through the headache that is a – cheap client. It’s entirely a new learning experience that will show you a side of business that unfortunately, you hope didn’t exist. And that’s fine. It’s going to happen regardless. Might as well learn early, right?

All you can do is prepare yourself and know when to recognize cheap clients. I’ve been at this for about 6 years now and can honestly tell you that I’m still learning how to deal with them everyday. Sometimes they sneak through the cracks and surprise you at the finish. And you never see it coming. You will always be learning. But I can help you acknowledge and get a jumpstart on what you should know, how you should reciprocate, and where to draw the line when it comes to dealing with cheap clients. Existing, inbound, or prospective.

1. Know your worth

Constantly take a look and examine where you are at in your design experience and career. Constantly re-evaluate how good you are, how fast you are, and how reliable you are. All 3 of these traits will continue to expand and evolve the more you design. Like anything, practice makes perfect. And when you’re making slam dunks and playing just as good as lebron, you should be getting paid as much as lebron. Plain and simple. Most of us start out more on the ‘middle school B-team’ level however. And that’s completely fine. At least you’re starting. You’ve got nowhere to go but up. So go up. Note: Don’t get too excited about that lebron reference. Practice makes perfect.

Look at your competition. Look at what they are charging. See how good they are. Compare your design to theirs. If your design looks worse, start designing like them or better. Learn, learn, learn. I constantly seek out new inspiration and competition. You want to get to a level where you can see anything your competition designs and say to yourself, I can design that in an hour. But actually be able to. Don’t get cocky over there.

Once you evaluate your worth, your confidence is created, adjusted, and in-check. You know how good you are, how fast you are, and how reliable you are. And you know what to charge and when to say, “no, I’m sorry but a project like this isn’t worth my time” to a client because they are trying to get you to do $2,000 worth of work for $200. Straight up – know your worth. Also, good clients feed off that confidence. They want a superstar. They want a rockstar that is confident about their work. Because like you, they take action and win. Cheap clients don’t and that’s why they will never understand or succeed.

2. Ask for a budget

Don’t ever let a client tell you, “I’m not sure what my budget it.. how much do you think this is going to cost?”. They always have a budget. Everyone has a budget. You do not start a business, run a business, or build a business without an idea on what your budget is. If a client says they don’t have a budget – or their budget should cover it (in a good way of course) quote or charge what you always do. That’s the client you want. I’m not saying overcharge a client by any means either. That’s annoying and idiotic. Never do that. But as long as you understand your worth and quote accordingly – they usually accept with no questions asked. Those are the clients you want to acquire and keep. Ask for a budget and if they don’t give you one, they’re most likely extremely cheap and not a good fit. Asking a client for their budget will also let them know that you’re an experienced designer and this isn’t your first rodeo. You get shit done.

3. Add a budget field to your contact form

This is by far one of the most important ways to filter cheap clients. As soon as I added a budget field on my contact form, all cheap people stopped contacting me about their new social media site that’s a perfect mix between facebook and myspace, but functions like tinder. It all stopped. I also use a dropdown menu. You can view it on http://dannyjeffers.com. As you can see, I only give someone contacting me 4 choices. The first one being $3000. It means, unless you can afford me, don’t contact me. Because I take my job seriously, I’m good, and I don’t mess around.

It’s like putting a sign on a bar that says, “we only serve top shelf” – cheap people are not going to show up asking for cheap drinks. They know you don’t mess around. High paying clients however, will be enticed and will want to see what you’re all about. But again, know your worth. Don’t put a sign saying you only serve top shelf and give them a 5’o clock and tonic. It will make you look like a scumbag, annoy them, and just cause you trouble.

4. Be clear about your pricing

Always be clear about your pricing. Let them know how much you are per hour or how much a project is probably going to cost them. If they question why so expensive, tell them why. And be clear. Explain why you charge what you charge. If you’re quoting by project and would rather not charge hourly (usually for large projects) then let them know how much it cost and everything that they get. Re-assure them that their investment is more than worth it and excite them at the same time. Be clear and give detail into everything that you are designing for them and how much it will cost. This will cover your ass in the long run if they try to haggle you at the end of a project. You can refer to your emails, contract, and other communication re-assuring them that they fully understood your agreement and how much it would cost before the project was even started.

5. Don’t haggle. Your price is your price.

If a client tries to haggle you, it’s usually not a good sign. However, some people just like to haggle. And you’re going to constantly run into this. But haggling in whole, necessarily isn’t the issue here. Haggling is fine… within reason.

For example.

Say you quote a project at $3,000 and the client responds, “Eh that’s a little more than what we were planning on spending on this… is there anyway we can go a little lower?” and you come back and say, “I can be a little flexible because I’m excited to work with you guys.. how about $2,700”

If the client says “No, that’s still way more than what we were expecting… can you go any lower?” – That’s a definite, N-O. Not worth you time.

However, if the client says “That sounds great! Thank you.” you’re all good to go. What’s $300 less? You land a new client who isn’t cheap and probably won’t waste your time and hard work. Trust me, $300 isn’t a big deal. Do a great job and they will continue to hire you. And they will know that they owe you little more since you gave them a deal on the first project.

If a client is trying to haggle you on your hourly rate, don’t even bother. They’re straight up insane.

6. Raise your pricing

Raising your prices is an obvious no-brainer to filtering cheap clients. If they can’t afford you, it’s not worth your time. However – Only raise your prices when it’s time to. Don’t raise your prices unless you can back them up. Again, know your worth. Raising your prices can be scary. Because it is. Say you’ve built up yourself a pretty good client base and decide to raise your prices.. yes, some will leave. Email them and let them know that you’re raising your prices to keep up with the high demand and if they want to keep hiring you, it’s got to be worth your time because some one else will. If they say, sorry, I can’t afford that. That’s fine. It’s their choice and they will have to look for a cheaper designer. And you will always be their go-to if they are in deep shit and need their rockstar again. It’s just the way this stuff goes. And if things get rocky and you’re in need of work. Simply email them and let them know that your schedule freed up and you’re available to work at the old rate if they need you. Just always keep things respectful with clients. Don’t be a douche.

There is something to be said about great clients though. If a client literally has no problems with your work, how you work, or anything. By any means – keep them at the standard rate if they can’t afford you. A happy client is a happy designer afterall. No headaches are a beautiful thing.

Raising your prices will help keep the cheap clients away. They can’t argue what they can’t afford. And if they can’t afford you – you don’t have to do cheap work anymore. You’ve moved up in the food chain. Work hard, improve, and prove your worth. As long as you do that, you won’t have any problems finding clients. They will find you. Simple as that.

7. Use a contract

Sometimes I don’t work with contracts. For little designs… just not worth my time setting all of that up. Note: I don’t do little designs for people I don’t know. Not worth my time meeting them to make $200. However, when we’re talking anything over $1000… yes. It is worth your time to setup a contract. You would be surprised how many sketchy people there are online. Know your client. The more you know about them, the better things will be. Know where they live. Their phone number. Find them on facebook. Everything.

Trust me. Setting up a contract will not only save your ass.. but it will help sort out those sketchy and cheap clients. They will be legally bound to pay you. And when it comes to legal stuff, cheap and sketchy clients get scared and think it won’t be worth there time. Because they are cheap. How surprising…

What you do need to understand however is the circumstances of the project. If you’ve got a client who lives across the country, refusing to pay you the $1000 they owe you for their design… then you’ve got to travel and take them to court there. Not to mention court fees and expenses. That will not be worth your time pursuing. Even if you do wan’t to crush them in front of a judge to prove a point. Evaluate the project and know where you’re covered and anything that might happen.

8. Know when to cut the rope

This is one of the hardest and most liberating actions you will ever have to do. Sometimes you have to straight-up fire a client. It’s okay too. You are your own boss in. If you don’t want to work with someone – don’t. It’s as simple as that. There is something to be said about not only being recognized for your great work, but compensated accordingly as well. If you’ve been working with a cheap client. And you’re trying to juggle them with a few other non-cheap clients. And they just aren’t worth your time anymore, raise your prices or respectfully cut your ties. Their business is growing, but so is yours. If they don’t respect the fact that you are furthering your career, then toss them out. Not worth your time. They could be a good client or even a close friend too. (I don’t recommend working with friends or family btw). Know when to cut the rope.


You’re going to run into cheap clients throughout your journey and career in design. They are everywhere and they want awesome design for next to nothing. They want that perfect world. Don’t be the person to give it to them. Because you value your time. You know your worth. And if they can’t respect your time or worth – you shouldnt be working with them. Plain and simple.

Be prepared. Know how to deal with existing ones and know how to sort the inbound or prospective ones. Know your worth.

Let me know any other strategies you guys have for filtering cheap clients in the comments section below!



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