BLOG: The Delicate Art of Turning Away Clients

When we started up, every client seemed like gold dust. Our goal was to build a client list, get some cash into the business and keep ourselves alive, so every client seemed important.

Between the financial worries of any start-up and the shaky economy, it was very tempting to accept any work which came our way, no matter how uncreative the work was. Whilst we had some great jobs, we found it all too tempting to take on clients who consumed vast quantities of our time but didn’t actually pay us vast quantities of money. We had clients offer fees ten times below our standard rate, but when you’re growing it’s hard to look beyond any source of cash to get moving.

Once we had been going for a while, we realised that all the time spent servicing clients for small fees could be better spent chasing larger clients with real budgets who wanted really creative work produced. We had taken on too many projects we didn’t enjoy, either creatively or financially. It took a few years, but eventually we reached that stage where we felt secure enough to focus on what we wanted White Circle Productions to be.

Ditching any client seemed a brave step. But an important factor we had to consider was that you’re only as good as your last job. Working on uncreative projects was generating a bad perception of the business, the quality of the work was low and we weren’t proud of it. Most of the time, we wouldn’t even promote the fact that we’d worked on a certain project. We just wanted them out of the door. Looking back, it seems obvious that if we weren’t confident enough to tell others about our work then why on earth were we producing it?

To help overcome our reservations, we decided to apply a criteria for what constituted a bad client. For us it was clients who consumed time, were uncommunicative, had uncreative projects and/or who negotiated rates too hard early on and weren’t getting us anywhere financially.

We ran some analysis on how we were reaching our monthly financial target and discovered that, too often, we had been working on 15 smaller, less desirable projects rather than chasing five impressive ones. It wasn’t just the quality, it created a lot more work. Working on more individual projects created higher cost of sales – due to more meetings, more changes, more opinions – more hassle. We faced up to these inefficiencies and decided some things had to change.

From then on we began to turn away clients. Some we refused outright and others we stood firm on our costs, so that either they would turn us down or accept it, and we’d have the financial incentive to take on an uncreative project.
For long term clients we began to slowly increase their fees until the point where either they committed to the ‘new us’ or left us. In all honesty, it was nice to edge out the clients who had negotiated too hard when we were a young company. Everyone wants to feel that they’re valued and it’s hard to work for clients who aren’t prepared to pay you a fair amount – those aren’t the people who we are willing to work for anymore.

Nonetheless, there’s still a side of you that’s apprehensive about not accepting an order or turning away business, especially in this economic climate. On the other hand, you know damn well where it’s going to take you. For me it comes down to the fact that I can’t run a business on projects I don’t respect. It’s as simple as that.

Now that we’ve made this decision to be more selective we have found more time to chase exciting projects with creative interest and a healthy budget. We’re the same size company and are still able to generate the same turnover, just more selectively and with clients we can shout about.


From their office in Bournemouth, WCP blur the lines between commercial and documentary, with intriguing subjects such as world champion swimmer Fred Bousquet and Portuguese footballer Hulk.

Illustrated by Tom Redfern

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