Recap | Homegrown: Make the Logo Bigger

This month’s Homegrown featured Karl Sakas of Agency Firebox. Karl provides agency consultancy and coaching to help them love their agency again. The topic of his presentation was “How to have fewer client services problems,” something we all would like to have. On the agenda for the afternoon: How to find good clients, How to get clients to pay you for all your work, and How to say no without burning bridges.

Karl began his presentation by showing this video parody of The Vendor Client relationship – in real world situations. A humorous look at how ridiculous client requests look when applied to real world situations. After we all had a good laugh, Karl

Finding good clients
  • Manage their expectations for day one
    • Give them an idea of what will happen. A good rule of thumb is to under promise and over deliver.
    • To illustrate this point, Karl compared the line for a ride at an amusement park with that of the wait at a doctor’s office. The amusement park posts signs letting you know how long the wait time is from various locations in the line, where as the doctor’s office tells you the doctor will be with you in a moment, when we all know the wait will be much longer.
  • Develop a good client check list for vetting new clients.
    • Has budget for the scope of the project
    • Fits your delivery timeline
    • Pays you on time
    • Respects your work, and the value of your time and talent.
    • Wants you to make a profit.
    • Needs your help.


Ask about their experience with previous designer. Ask questions to try to identify potential red flags.
Ask if the previous designer will share files, if they say no, that may be a sign that they didn’t pay the designer on time (or at all).

Q: Aren’t you at the mercy of your clients? Beggars can’t be choosers. When starting out you may need to ignore the red flags because you need the work. As you grow you can be more selective.
You can always choose who you work with.

Karl advises that if you work in-house and are having an issue with your internal client discuss the problem client with your manager.


Getting clients to pay for all work
  • Use policies to manage expectations from day one. Set rules. Ex: Pool rules—it’s your swimming pool now, you get to make the rules, or influence them if you work for others. You can have rules for pretty much anything else the market will bear.
    • Payment turnaround
    • Deposits
    • Number of revisions
    • Communication methods
    • Project timeline
    • Milestones
    • Fixed bid or time and materials basis, or per project
    • Priority. Rush rate, surcharges
    • Post launch support
    • Define what’s billable
    • Project management (a general rule of thumb is to add 20-25% pad to estimated  project management time, as it’s bound to be more than anticipated.)
    • Meetings, which you can role into project management fee as line item
    • Estimates, quotes
    • Phone calls
    • Mileage
    • Stock text
    • Copywriting


Karl asked the audience what items they have rules about in their contracts. Some have termination fees, bill for print management.  One designer shared that she offers a first concept fee in which 30% of the total fee is due upon delivery. From there the client can decide to continue with other concepts or refinement or decline to proceed.

Karl suggested giving the client a Client Bill of Rights, like the one Coalmarch Productions uses.


Enforce your boundaries (policies)
  • Website
  • Phone calls
  • Contracts
  • Emails
  • Meetings
  • Employees, contractors
  • Off hour fees
  • Limit to office hours, rush fees if outside

Options for dealing with existing problem clients

  • Do nothing
  • Roll out new policies for everyone
  • Defer the to another firm


Say no without burning bridges

Karl’s R-O-C framework for saying no, or as Karl puts it saying yes on your terms.

  • Cite a Reason
  • Give two to three Options
  • Let them Choose.


This approach gets them to take responsibility for taking on the task—getting budget approval, delaying delivery, etc. The result is usually that the client decides to proceed as planned.

Karl asked for audience volunteers to role play some typical client requests using his R-O-C method to resolve them. I think the volunteers enjoyed playing the client making ridiculous requests. And I’m pretty sure we all related to the “client” whose first year design student niece had revisions to the already approved and in development website.


When dealing with a client who doesn’t understand the design process, help them to understand what to expect, show them how they can help you help them better. Consider offering workshops, webinars, or ebooks, on working with designers, which is really showing them how to be a good client.

How do you determine how to price your services?Some audience suggestions were:


I really enjoyed Karl’s presentation. He was an engaging speaker and kept it fun. Oh yeah, he had some really great ideas to share, too! Thanks Karl!



Slides from Karl’s presentation

Breaking the Time Barrier: How to unlock your true earning potential ebook

The Process of Designing Solutions

AIGA Standard Form of Agreement for Design Services

By Amy Lyons
Published November 14, 2013