6 Signs You Should Say ‘NO’ To A Project Proposal.


You’ve been approached by a prospective client for some work and you can’t quite figure out whether that strange feeling in your stomach is your gut fortune telling; or if what you ate last night is simply rebelling against you. Sometimes you may feel uneasy about accepting a proposal; but end up ignoring your instincts because fear tells you that you have to accept absolutely everything that comes your way in order to be ‘successful’. Fear told you a bold faced lie.

Not every opportunity operates on your frequency. Not every opportunity will nourish you or serve you in the way it should; sometimes the best thing to do is say no. This post breaks down 7 red flags to look out for when trying to decide whether to move forward with a client project or not.


1. They have no clear vision or end goal.

Your role as a designer, is to convey and communicate a particular message to achieve a specified goal or set of targets. For example, if a company wanted to appeal to a specific audience to increase revenue, they would need a designer to come in and produce a set of visual identity aids to enable them to do this. If the client doesn’t have a clue who they’re targeting, or claims their goal is simply to ‘make more sales’ – not only is it not going to be possible to provide effective designs, this will also strip you of your energy. You will spend a copious amount of time trying to figure out what the vision is, who you’re creating for and why – up the creek without a paddle; you are not Sandra Bullock. This isn’t bird box.

How can you be expected to work your magic and produce results when the client doesn’t even know what they want the outcome to be themselves? It’s a massive waste of time producing work for a client/company that hasn’t taken the time to do their research and establish a mission and a purpose.


2. They ask you to recreate/edit someone else’s work.

This is a big no no. It’s no secret or surprise that every idea and every creation is a derivative of something that already exists; whether unintentionally or not – there are not many concepts that exist under the sun that have not yet been explored in some way. However, this doesn’t make it okay to copy and ‘adjust’ the work of others; especially to fulfil a brief. Not only is this theft, this could also be massively detrimental to your creative business; your integrity will be scrutinised and others will find it incredibly hard to trust you.

It’s seriously not worth the risk. You are the designer at the end of the day, they need to trust that you can deliver something with a fresh prospective, tailored to them and their business goals.


3. They prolong deposit payments.

You’ve set a date for payment and it’s crickets. If you outlined a deadline for deposit payment, only for the client to agree only to disappear thereafter – this is a sure fire sign that this one is a doozy and should be sat out. Even if they re-emerge from the dead several weeks later, claiming they have the money to pay up now – they are still in red flag territory as they have not stuck to their side of the deal – and the project hasn’t even started!

I’m no Mystic Meg, but I definitely predict a huge set of delays, grievance and problems going forward.


4.  They want you to show them a preview before deposit payments.

Any work you do – needs to be paid for; bottom line. If someone approaches and tries to enlist you for a design project, chances are, they’ve had an in-depth look at your portfolio and have seen that your process and style of work ties in with their needs. They’ve seen your work and have an idea of the quality of work they can expect from you – so what happens when they ask you to send them a draft before going ahead with payment?

Your portfolio is the draft. Your portfolio is the reference. Some people may try to exploit designers by extracting free work in the form of drafts, sketches and brainstorms – knowing they have absolutely no intention of ever paying you for your time. I’m willing to put money on the fact that once you send these pieces over – you will never hear from these people again.

There’s an order of events that needs to be respected – and if they genuinely don’t feel sure you can meet their needs – they need to go in search of another designer.


5. They ask you to fulfil tasks out of your area of speciality.

Illustrators have different roles to graphic designers. Website designers have different roles to illustrators. Photographers to UX designers and so on. There may be the odd occasion where you get contacted by someone asking you to create something that’s completely out of your remit.

Now, there may be a part of you that feels that although it’s not necessarily something you do on a daily basis – you could do it if you really tried, and it’s this voice that may try to tempt you into taking it on; either to prove a point to yourself that you can do it – or for the money. However, I urge you to just stop for a second! Think this through: would you rather be regarded as a trusted specialist in one area, or a mediocre dabbler?

How much impact do you stand to make with your designs if they are based on a fleeting interest and quick quids? Figure out what kind of design projects you want and hone in on that. Learn the ins and outs and become a specialist in that area.


6. You are saddled.

If you are feeling overwhelmed and as though you are fast approaching burnout – strongly consider a pause before plopping any more eggs in your basket. In order to maintain quality and complete projects to the highest of your ability, you need to be operating at optimum level. Your mental health and stress levels can manifest themselves in so many ways – how much of yourself can you really give to any individual thing when you are spreading yourself too thin?