How to determine a failure project right from the beginning

And the clients who are not your “match”.


Ludmila Shevchenko

3 years ago | 4 min read

Recently, I revised my 2 years of freelance experience and realized I am really lucky with the clients and the projects we worked on together. Except for one recent case.

This undisclosed yet project has started more than a month ago. The work process, in the beginning, seemed to be easy and pleasant but turned out to multiple “we don’t like” feedbacks, doubts from my side, finally a mutual understanding, and sudden “we will not continue our work with you” following with “we won’t pay you for the work we won’t use”.

While it’s not clear how this situation will end, after all, I asked myself a question—how could I avoid this situation.

1. Trust your gut feeling in the beginning

Yes, this method does not have statistics and numbers we’re all looking for these days. It’s purely about your feelings and intuition. But still, that’s a very good thing.

If you doubt whether you should dive into this project adventure, stop for a moment and take a look. Whether it’s the manner the client talks to you, not the best working conditions you have to accept, or any other doubt, don’t simply overcome it.

In my case, I have some doubts but as the task was to work on illustrations, something that I like while still, my main kind of work is UX/UI, I started these turned-out-to-be hard relationships.

2. Treat yourself with respect and don’t let the client lowering your assessment

We all go through communication and search for the ideal agreement that will work for both parties. And that’s right. But at this moment you should not forget what you’ve reached in terms of experience, your unique vision, style, and professionalism.

In my case, I accepted the client’s vision on payment. As the result, I got a small prepayment in the beginning and when they decided to stop the project none of the done work has been paid yet (while prepayment covers only a small amount of hours).

To note: I do not start the work on the project if I don’t get the prepayment. In case when the client doesn’t accept the prepayment as the first step from their side, I won’t agree to work on the project as otherwise, I’ll be in a risk position.

3. Present a detailed explanation of terms on the work process and payment to the client before the work begins

That’s very important to agree on the terms on how you’ll work together and what are the obligations of both sides in the case when the project stops early.

In most of my projects, I didn’t have the problems but when it’s a tough client I realized I had to make this work in the beginning.

Some of the crucial points:

  • do mention “if work has been approved by a client it has to be paid by a client”,
  • what are the regulations in case of force majeure, what each party has to bring in the end,
  • the number of possible iterations,
  • the limitation on the small tweaks here and there,
  • the time interval for a client to leave feedback (to avoid stagnation).

In my case, the first crucial mistake was that I didn’t mention “if the work has been approved it has to be paid”. As a result, I created two full illustrations for the iOS app (apart from other work), they have been approved by the client but then, he said “we won’t use them” and decided to quit not paying.

I also didn’t think to mention the details of force majeure and the number of iterations thinking I understood what the client actually wants to have and I’ll reach the goal from the first attempt.

4. How do you feel about the tone of the feedback?

Another “feeling”. I remember I read a story on a website of one design agency saying the people there know how to deal with the toughest clients. And that’s a great achievement especially when it’s an agency.

When you’re a freelancer, I would say if you realize the feedbacks constantly sound in an inappropriate tone, the client does not like any of your suggestions, does not accept any of your ideas for a long time, there’s a high chance it’s better to avoid the following work.

Yes, we can’t skip any other problem and switch to another project saying “Adios” to the first client. We may have some temporary misunderstandings with the clients, sometimes during the first phase. Or we have a different vision and then, we need more discussions. But what I want to say is if this lasts way too long, you do not get any satisfaction from your work or you even start doubting in your professionalism, think whether you should continue with these relationships.

It might be better to head your time and talents in another direction.

5. The client being rude to you once will repeat the same attitude

Straightforwardness and rudeness may be mixed up. We all know that depending on the cultural background people behave in a different way—some hides their “I don’t like” in a series of polite words, others bring this message short and right as it is.

But once again, if that behavior repeats and in a tiny aspect of the feedback you see some disrespect, you should understand this client can stop the work abruptly with an impudent attitude not respecting the work you’ve done.


I believe the ideal type of work is a collaboration where the client knows his product the best possible way and you, as a designer and a professional, know the best ways how to present this project through design.

There’s no right answer on how to get the perfect projects and the perfect clients, it depends on every situation that consists of many factors—who are your future clients, where they are from, the first communication, the way you agree on the terms, and so on.

What you can do is analyze all these factors right in the beginning and think through pros and cons, think several steps ahead.


Created by

Ludmila Shevchenko

Designer & illustrator. Color lover.







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