I currently met a man that was my car sharing driver who asked if I did business card design and I said I did and that is something I could help with and gave him my card.

THEN we talked about his project and long story short this guy sounds like he has so many ideas of what he wants, has a super small budget and wants to do things his way and not by the streamlined process I have. Just a nightmare. Car ride ended, he has my card and called me to help.

While I realize now that I should not have said I could help before getting to know him more, I am still stuck wanting to run but I did say I could help. No money exchanged yet, no contracts signed or anything.

Exactly how do I tell him that I changed my mind? I can't exactly say "This money isn't worth my sanity".

Thanks in advance!

  • 1
    In all honesty, you need to write up a sane contract. Once he reads through it and realizes that he needs to get his head out of the clouds or else it will cost him big $$$ then he will reconsider their thoughts and bail out.
    – MonkeyZeus
    May 21, 2015 at 17:25
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    Going along with what MonkeyZeus said, check out this thread What do I do when I quote a price for a design but the client keeps asking for revisions and redesigns?. If he wants to do revisions, just make it clear that it will cost him.
    – AndrewH
    May 21, 2015 at 17:29
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    You might mention to him the worries you have including the budget being above his range before going through the trouble of making a contract May 21, 2015 at 17:30
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    Sounds like a briefing document will help. Most ordinary people have no idea what the design process is like, or even that it is a serious professional process. Give them a briefing document to fill in, tell them that you'll use that as the basis for drawing up a contract for the work, and that one round of revisions is allowed but changes beyond that will cost. It'll become clear they need take this more seriously. (also, learning to firmly but politely say "no" is a vital, vital skill for a freelancer! You're not changing your mind, nothing was agreed, you're 100% doing nothing wrong) May 21, 2015 at 17:35

6 Answers 6


It sounds like what you're actually asking for is how to say "No".

I understand that you don't want to sound like you're bailing on him, but that honestly shouldn't be your main concern. If you feel like it would be a nightmare client, don't start the work and just politely say that you've changed your mind and that you don't think you guys would be a right fit for the project. You can explain to him that the thorough design process he requires is not how you work and that your fees aren't setup for that kind of work. You can recommend him someone who you think might be able to handle him better, I'm sure he'll appreciate.

  • "Sorry. I've had some changes recently and I just won't have the time to focus on your project at the level I feel it deserves. You would probably be better served by finding another designer for your XXXXXXXX."

If asked for further explanation, just refuse to explain stating "There are just some unavoidable things I need to attend to."

If he tells you he'll wait and it's okay if it takes awhile, explain that you don't know when you'll have time. It may be weeks.

You'll probably upset him a bit, but it happens. It's often best to take the blame yourself rather than alluding to reasons you feel you just don't want to work with the guy.

I'd suggest doing this as soon as possible. The longer he goes thinking you'll help him, the more upset he'll be when he learns you won't.

  • Another way of dealing with this is to scare him off. I wouldn't really recommend this though. It can backfire easily. Basically you draw up a contract with ridiculously strict terms and price very, very high. You limit his input in the design such as 1 idea and only 2 revisions. Anything more costs an arm and a leg. Basically you make your services unattractive.

The problem with this method is it'll spread word-of-mouth about you and anyone he comes in contact with he may share how difficult you are to work with.

Using the first option is general best, because even if he does tell others you backed out, it's just due to time management and not a direct "problem" with your services.


Like any business relationship, both parties need to feel like they are a good fit for each other.

From a purely business standpoint, there's nothing wrong with saying "Thanks. I've reviewed the project scope and I don't think I'm going to be the best fit for you for this project."

Granted, you have an additional personal situation here where you share a ride together every day. So that's going to make things a little more difficult.

Based on your specific situation, I'd maybe say "I think you have a lot of ideas that you'd like to see. While I can do this for you, note that my hourly rate is much higher than what you'd pay for a production artist at a printer. I think you'll find going directly to a printer might be a much more affordable solution for your particular needs"


You have two options.

1) As several people have noted above, if this guy wants to hire you as a professional, treat him as a professional. Prep for a design briefing, whether it's in person or a questionnaire which he fills out. Go over your process. Formally inquire about his budget and his deadlines. Explain how you operate. Explain the terms of your contract.

Basically, bury him in details. Either you will make him so uncomfortable that he'll back off because he will realize you aren't going to do this as a favor, or he'll fall into line and sign the contract, and then he won't be a nightmare because you will be holding him to your very clearly written contract which only allows for so many revisions and charges $Lots for overage.

2) Politely decline because you aren't a good fit for him. "I usually work with X kind of project, and this is more of a Y kind of deal. You could go to ABC Designer or Acme Print Shop, and they'll give you what you're looking for."

If your gut is telling you not to work with the guy, listen to your gut.


The simplest way to say no without really saying no is:

Give him a quote with a very (very) high price.

That's simple and you'll make him take the decision to not work with you, and will avoid embarrassing justifications.

If he asks questions, you simply need to mention that's how you work, mention the price of proofs is X amount and has to be done, your prices are adjusted to the number of projects in process and that schedule got filled by many new projects, etc.

And if the guy says yes anyway, at least you'll get a nice reward for the hours of revisions he'll ask! Just make sure to specify in your terms how many revisions you offer, etc.


Definitely go with your gut instincts here, I agree with the approach in letting him know that you don't think you are a good fit for this particular job, I don't think there's any issue with you explaining how you work and what you charge. Maybe he's just looking to the wrong type of provider to provide him a solution, maybe he just doesn't know how much this kind of thing costs and how it works, after all he's not the expert in this field, you are. It certainly sounds like he's looking for a artist to express his ideas rather than looking for a designer to provide a solution.

This doesn't mean you can't help or assist him (after all you want all your contacts to speak highly of you and your service), offer him more than one alternative, i.e. as suggested going directly to a print shop, or suggest using a service like fiverr.com where he can control his own budget and help round out his design ideas prior to the printshop. The other way you can help is to let him know what type of information he would need to provide to someone at a place like fiverr, what he can expect back for his $5 job. Just be careful not to get caught up in a 'but you told me to do this' situation.

  • Hey Annie, welcome to GDSE and thanks for your answer. If you have any questions, please see the help center or ping one of us in the Graphic Design Chat once your reputation is sufficient (20). Keep contributing and enjoy the site! May 26, 2015 at 22:25

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