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Negotiate with clients

How to negotiate when clients don't listen

Sometimes clients don’t really know what they want, which ends up wasting lots of time and money. But it’s not good either when they know exactly what they want and start to make all the design decisions for you – the designer. So what should you do now?

Just do as told.

No I’m not kidding. Just do exactly what they tell you to. But besides that, also pursue your own solution.

When it’s time for presentation, show the clients both. This will help them compare two solutions and (hopefully) they would know that yours is far better. Clients will see that you are not a designer with a big ego because you actually listen to them and execute their idea.

When negotiating, always listen before you speak

This is the number one negotiating tactic. If you just keep talking about how great your concept is the whole time and close your mind, you will eventually lose the negotiation. Remember it is you who need the money, not them. There are numerous designers out there and you can’t afford losing clients because of your ego, not because of your skills or your experience.

What you should do

First, listen to the other party. Don’t voice your opinion about how bad their design aesthetic is. Absorb the information. When you let them finish what they have to say, they would feel more relaxed and be open to your ideas.  At this moment, they would ask you back, “What do you think?”.

This is where you should start talking. And what you say now will have far more weight compared to your talking at the beginning of the conversation.


When your clients don’t listen, listen to them. When they insist on their idea, don’t refuse it, but still develop your own solution. Show them both. If you don’t show them what they want, they will have no idea what it would look like. They will not know that their idea is bad (if it is), since you don’t give them the option to compare.

Besides, there are times that I find the client’s idea is actually better than mine. This keeps me very open-minded compared to when I first start freelancing. Now I am more convinced that clients are not always wrong, and designers are not always right either.


Learn how to negotiate

Art schools don’t teach us how to deal with clients, and that’s why we struggle to learn it on our own. Out of all the books about negotiating that I’ve read, I find Getting to yes very helpful. It is like a negotiating bible to me, and even though the content is not very concise, it offers great eye-opening advice that would help you a lot with your freelance career.

In business, clients are the boss. If you don’t know how to please them, you will get fired.


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