5 Reasons You Didn’t Get That Freelance Graphic Design Job

This is a guest post by Jacob Gube from Six Revisions, a web development and design blog that provides practical and useful information about the topic of web-building.

We’ve all been there… you’ve just pitched an (at least in your mind) amazing design that will revolutionize the client’s company, and you even submitted a few mock-ups and a 20-page (single-spaced of course) design proposal that you did free of charge to try and win them over. Now you’re just waiting for that phone call that will tell you what you already know — that your proposal rocked the house, and now they want to pay you the big bucks.

The Perfect Pitch, or So You Thought

A few days go by, and finally, the phone rings (or Outlook does that “ding”ing sound signifying that you got new mail… I love that sound), and it’s the client calling about the design you’ve proposed. In you’re mind, you’re doing a little celebratory dance and thinking of all the luxurious things you’ll be purchasing after the money’s forked over to you (food, toiletry, and gas for the car). Then they drop the bomb on your merry dreams, saying the words you feared the most, “We chose to go another way”.

There are many reasons why we don’t get the projects, most of them are obvious: our portfolio isn’t aligned with the client’s tastes, or we slacked off in responding to their inquiries, or they simply just don’t like our personality (ouch).

But this article’s about the times when we thought the project was in the bag, when we preformed at our absolute best and there was no way this one would slip away. Here, I’d like to share five reasons that I’ve come up with to try and explain why a job that I thought was mine, falls through before it even begins.

The Price Wasn’t Right

When we have to come up with a rate for a particular job, it’s based on several factors such as: how long it will take, the difficulty of the project, the rates of competitors, and our perceived value of what we think we’re worth. We’ve gone through all that trouble of researching the “right” price (I mean, we even used a spiffy calculator) and now we’re thinking that the client’s on the same page. But the potential employer probably has his or her own notion of what the project should cost them. They may have used a web-based calculator (just like the one we used above) that spits out random numbers saying you’re worth $6.29 an hour, or have a 13-year old son that built the family website in exchange for a Nintendo DS.

When the client feels that my rate should be lower than originally quoted, I feel that I wasn’t truly able to outline the value of the service I’m providing. Maybe I didn’t fully explain the value of a website built using current web standards-compliant code or how their logo will be designed using a vector graphics application (like Adobe Illustrator ©) which gives them flexibility in scaling, modifying, and professionally printing their logo design.

The flipside of a steep price is when you didn’t charge enough. You can lose a job when your prices are too low. Everyone wants things cheaply, right? So maybe we figure that there’s really no harm in under-cutting our competitors by 50%. But, take as an analogy, getting a burger from a fast food joint. We don’t expect to get prime grade ground beef; we expect to get questionable-in-quality meat that may look and taste delicious, but will probably give us a stomach ache in the end. A low price may give off the unintended signal that your designs are sub-par (questionable-in-quality) or that you cut costs in ways that the client can’t see in the beginning, but will soon experience (the stomach ache) once you’ve commenced the project.

You Didn’t Connect With The Client

If you’re really that good and much sought-out for, or you’ve worked with them before and you were able to provide an excellent solution, this all doesn’t matter, and you’ll get hired—more often than not—if everything else is in place (price, timeline, etc.). But we’re not all rock stars, most of us depend on our ability to communicate effectively and establish a connection with the potential hirer to get a gig.

But how do we establish an effective line of connection when we (usually) have limited amount of information about the person that’s going to hire us? We can do our preliminary research on their company, but the company isn’t the one doing the hiring, it’s the creative director/small business owner/CEO’s personal assistant whose information isn’t as easy to obtain by Googling.

To figure out a way to connect with the client with little to no information—and fast—is something that usually comes with the knowledge you attain from dealing with a slew of different individuals. The more seasoned designers out there can establish a rapport with a prospective client very rapidly and very naturally.

Finding cues, such as the way they write to you (do they have impeccable grammar, or do they spell it “grammer”), what they have around the office (PC or Mac, a copy of “Web Design for Dummies“, Guitar Hero III ), or even their clothing style (did they show up to your lunch meeting in jeans or were they fully decked-out in power suits?) can all be significant cues that you can use to connect with your prospective client.

If you find that you’re unable to connect with your audience, in your next meeting, try to find information that’s freely available to you, if only you had looked or listened a tad bit more.


You Weren’t Being Yourself

Earlier this month, I published an article on Six Revisions entitled, “A Simple Guide on How to Effectively Talk to Clients“. In this post, I talk about “being yourself”. Often, to impress our audience, we try to say things that we think they’ll want to hear, and start talking industry jargon in the hopes of impressing them. We may also hide or obfuscate facts that might not get us the job we want, like our lack of experience or our overloaded schedule that will put their job on the backburner.

But decision-makers have an innate ability of detecting if you’re just all talk because they deal with B.S.’ers on a regular basis. Encountering someone who’s upfront about their situation can be a welcoming change. If you’re just starting out, you can put this in a positive light; new designers can create fresh designs and may be more current in knowledge and the skillset they possess then that dinosaur who still thinks that scrolling marquee text is still hip and the way to go. By being yourself, you won’t risk saying something that you can’t back up.

Your Mock-Up Was Weak (And You Didn’t Know It)

Different people have different tastes in what they think is “the sh**” and what they think is just plain “sh**”. Usually, when I mock a design up for the client, I will always say something like: “If you don’t like it, let me know what’s wrong, and I’ll design something else from scratch based on your feedback, or fix the existing one”. More often than not, I’ll get that second shot at winning them over, but it’s not so uncommon that the client gets turned off permanently after the initial mock-up. When you provide mock-up’s free of charge (watermarked, of course… hopefully) it can go one of two ways: 1) they’ll absolutely love it and will remember the fact that you went the extra mile to get their business, or 2) they’ll hate it and they’ll stop responding to your follow-up calls/emails. This is one situation where giving too much can hurt you more than help you.

A poor design is probably not because you suck, but because there was insufficient time committed to requirements-gathering. On projects failed because of a weak mock-up or design proposal, assessing your requirements-gathering methods is a key process for improvement.

If You Use a Questionnaire, For Example, Ask Yourself:

  • Did you ask relevant questions?
  • Did you internalize their responses properly and did you portray their input in your initial designs?
  • Were there unneeded questions that made your survey too long and made your respondent rush through the more important ones?

You Didn’t Really Want it Bad Enough

We can go through the motions of working laboriously on a design proposal or of preparing our pitch to a potential employer, but in the end if your gut is telling you that you don’t really want to do this job, whether intentionally or not, the client will detect your hesitance or lack of commitment.

This is one reason that I don’t mind losing the job over. I’ve learned to trust my instincts; to turn down a job because something just wasn’t right. If you can afford a few more nights on ramen noodles until you get a job that doesn’t involve compromising your principles, pass on projects that just aren’t right. Money is important, but so is happiness.

Well there we have it, five reasons that have cost me a gig or two. Do you have any experiences of your own where you didn’t get a job that you thought was already yours? Do you have certain techniques or strategies to establish a connection with your potential client? Make sure to share by leaving a comment here or shooting me a message over at Six Revisions.

20 comments on “5 Reasons You Didn’t Get That Freelance Graphic Design Job”

  1. Kofi Ansah Reply

    This is a great article. I loved every word and it’s a great inspiration and tip to web design beginners like myself or any designer out there without this information.

    This is awsome.


  2. Tom G Reply

    Brilliant article. I have to admit that I have fallen into the majority of the those categories at one time or another. Only after time with a little experience can you improve it.

  3. cicero Reply

    you speck for free? if so, bad move to begin with. they won’t take you seriously, and you should avoid the clients who ask for this kind of thing. if you are a professional, every minute of your time is worth money, and you should look for clients who understand this from the start. otherwise, they are not the kind of clients you want. they should pick you for your portfolio then expect your work to have that style.

  4. Jacob Gube Reply

    Thank you all for the feedback, and I’ll keep checking in here as more comments come along.

    @Kofi Ansah — this article is geared specifically for you (the people just starting) out, to inspire you to keep pushing if you get turned down. It takes a lot of “No’s” before the “Yes” start rolling in.

    @Tom G — Thank you, this article was a bit out of my element, since if you check out my website, you can see my writing style’s a bit more technical. This one, I wrote straight from the heart. It may not be perfect, but it’s an “experience” article not a “educating” article. I want to share what my thoughts are on “rejection”.

    Love to hear your own stories, make sure to spice up the discussion over here!

  5. Craig Reply

    Great article. As one who has lost jobs that I thought were in the bag, sometimes it’s like walking through a swamp at night: somethings are visible, and some things aren’t – lurking just below the surface – to bite you when you think you have made the sale. These can be: 1) Other developers that step up and say things like “hey, I want the experience, I’ll do it for free” or 2) A change in direction as you noted or 3) You were the “bid validation” victim, and you didn’t see it coming or 4) changes in management right when the decision is in process, and “the new guy” has a different approach or vision. At some point I hope to get in the groove and nail it down, but it still can be squirrely (that’s a technical term, btw).

  6. Jacob Gube Reply


    Your swamp analogy is spot on, that’s probably one of the most eloquent and thought-out analogy I’ve encountered regarding freelance job searching. Thanks for the share, I’ll quote your comment from now on, whenever I attempt to describe that feeling of uncertainess.


  7. Amanda Vlahakis Reply

    “The mock up was weak”

    I never do mock ups, firstly because I don’t see why I should hand over design ideas for free that take up my time. I want to be paid for my time.

    Secondly because you don’t want to spend too much time on a mock up just in case you don’t get the job – there is a chance it’s just not going to be good enough, and then you are making the client feel that this is all your are capable of when of course you can do much better.

    If you aren’t going to show them your very best in terms of mock up (but why do this when you aren’t paid for it, it devalues the industry I agree), it’s better to show them nothing at all other than portfolio works and win them over with this and your words.

  8. dustyBin Reply

    you forgot option #3 for the client – loves the design, screws you over and has a IT production put the site together in Dreamweaver. Good Job sucker!

  9. Jeff Reply

    I just came across a great freelancing site called ShortGig. It has freelance opportunities for programmers, web designers, networking, domestic work, construction and more. Just thought I should share.


  10. Nhia Reply

    Loved this article! AND the responses. Very insightful, indeed.

    I STOPPED giving free specs – STUPID of me to begin with!

  11. Courtney Reply

    This article just answered every question I had about an opportunity that I THOUGHT I had whipped.

    I committed at least three major crimes in my interview/presentation interrogation:

    1. I did a mock-up: I thought that it would be a good way to demonstrate to the (not) client that I was capable of giving him the work I thought he wanted. He had mentioned a competitors website before, so I mimicked the style of the competitor and create a mock-up.

    I wasted three days doing a mock-up that did not use his logo (I did not know the logo he had on his original page was their logo), used a different typeface (they actually use Times New Roman as their typeface) and used a color scheme he found repulsive.

    No wins at all in that area.

    2. Price: I set the bar WAY too low. They paid the previous designer (who stuck a JPEG on four pages and charged them $5,000) without a mock-up at all. I offered to redo the page “correctly” for half.

    Dumb move!

    3. Since I do not have a big portfolio-and they know that I still work full-time at another job-The (not) client asked me, “If you are so good, why are you still working another job?” I thought the answer I gave was great, now that I think about it, it just made me sound like I was desperate for anything I could get.

    In short, I came off as a desperate novice and they gave the job to a gentleman I know for sure does not care anything about decent web design – only about keeping as many clients on a string as he possibly can.

    I’m learning…

  12. Douglas Bonneville Reply

    “This is one reason that I don’t mind losing the job over. I’ve learned to trust my instincts; to turn down a job because something just wasn’t right.”

    Every single time I didn’t listen to that instinct, I paid the price. I have finally got my “bad job” rabbit ears finely tuned. Some of the wisest decisions I’ve made lately involve deleting certain emails and tossing certain sticky notes to call so and so back. There is no way around it – you have to trust your gut when you feel something is off. 100% of the time, you will be right. Sometimes the right answer is “No”!

  13. YTD Fan Reply

    Nice article. Makes me reminisce of all those lost projects… Nice touch. Many of us don’t like to ponder on our mistakes or the “ones that got away.”

  14. Freelance Graphic Design | Tony Reply

    The post is right on the mark. What freelance graphic designers should do and remember are all right here to avoid losing projects. We’ll never know when opportunities come knocking again so whenever they present themselves, grab it and if you fail again, learn from your mistakes.

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