How do you polietly say 'that job is an insult to my skills'?

I'm a senior graphic designer (10+ years in the industry) and am slowly building up my freelance business alongside my day job.

At this point I obviously want to be paid adequately for my work, but the 'funness' of the job is more important than the money - I want to be creating good quality work that doesn't feel like a chore when I'm doing it at 9pm.

I've got some clients that start off as interesting branding projects, but start to slip into random bits of very un-glamourous work.

How do you polietly say: I'm too experienced to be working on your photo scrap book? I don't want to be rude. I want to keep them as a client but put in some boundaries around the type of work I'm willing to do.

I suspect increasing my rates might help, but I also don't want to price myself out of working with small businesses.


  • I do agree with @Peter Jackson and @Luke Freeman, and @Louise Trethewey and what some of the others are saying. Really great advice!

    If you really don't want that kind of work, I would just recommend saying to your client that photo books isn't the type of work you usually do, and that they would be better off with someone who does that sort of work. If possible do try and recommend someone, create an introduction. Don't let the relationship get damaged.

    The client may also only want to work with one person wherever possible, rather than x for this, y for that, so whoever you pass on, could end up taking some of the other work that you do want to do. Something to be aware of. Maybe offer to bring on that person under you instead so you're still managing the client/relationship/project.
  • You never get a great brief everytime with a client, some work pays the bills and some briefs could by fun, good experience and may* help build your folio and business.
    As long as your learning and being flexible and seeing where your business takes you thats important. Its important to have good recommendations from clients to other clients (client management and relationship building, networking..). So if you turn someone down, then offer up someone else, but don't kill that relationship.
  • Would you be able to bring someone else to help you out?
    You can say that the work could be done by someone more Junior and less expensive and recommend someone else. They may appreciate you did that.

    The other reason why they may be asking you to do it is because they trust you as a safe pair of hands - and not want you to pass it along. In that case it may be better to mention it is a not a good fit for your skills or, if you do have other work, that your availability is low.

    Lastly, sometimes those requirements are the ones you end up with more creative freedom. May be good to ask how much you can explore. and add this exploration time in the budget if possible.
  • The fun in any project is down to you.

    I once had a brief for a nasal spray that reduced snoring.

    Fairly unglamorous, until I realised that it wasn’t people who snored that suffered, it was the people they slept with who struggled.

    This brief was about helping people to sleep together.

    All of a sudden you see the fun.

    Before you turn any work down, see if you can flip the challenge.
  • “I'm too experienced to be working on your photo scrap book?” regardless of your how experienced you think are, that is very undermining thing to look at on a project.

    Reading you’re question, insight you’ve sounded as if you become burned out of becoming a puppet to the client doing as they want you to do. If those projects pay best to keep them around to keep the lights on.

    I’d suggest maybe altering your collaboration process between you and the client suggest a different style/direction you’d like to take the project, then take them through sign off stage during development. If it’s something the client doesn’t like suggest them to use another designer.

    Sometimes you’d have to take those projects to pay the bills.
  • I have these too, and I tend to do them if there is a ceratin amount of creativity involved, but I tend to not do whatever I am not super confident with. When that happens, I would say, "sorry this is not my area of expertise, you'd better off finding someone who is an expert, you'll get better outcome". Then, I always, always, point them to someone who can. In my experience, small business albsolutely hate looking for a new freelancer. Some of them aren't that design literate, so they never know if they made the right choice. That's why they stick with you in the first place. I would never let a client out in the wild unsupervised :)
    The right clients will appreciate you going out of your way to help them, that you have the humility to recognise what you are good at, or at least firm in knowing what you can or can't do.
  • It's definitely good to set boundaries like that. Similarly to the responses below. I think it's totally fine to say this just isn't the kind of work I'm focusing on right now however I can recommend this person to help you out with it. Building a community and helping others out!
  • I agree with the previous answers: I usually say I'm busy ;). Sometimes I do them if I'm free and want to do simple tasks because I'm tired or in-between bigger tasks or the client is super nice, but it happened in the past that I hated the job, the person and myself, so...don't do what you're not comfortable with.
  • Yes totally agree with Anna! At my studio we have a minimum engagement policy (so smaller deliverables usually need to be connected to bigger projects). But if we get these “mini requests” and have some free time, we usually charge hourly or even hire someone to handle it! We had clients who said no and went looking for someone else, and then came back for other big projects. So I think you’ll be ok :) just stick to what you’re comfortable with and the right clients will follow!

  • It's great that you can identify what kind of work aligns with your values - and it sounds like brand design brings you joy.

    Every business, small or large, needs a strong brand to bring in revenue so I wouldn't worry about pricing yourself out and think of it more as how to better align the fees you charge to the value you're creating for them. If they are not willing to pay, someone else will. And if the initial brand development work is what excites you and delivers for the client perhaps you don't need to keep them as a client... until they launch their next business?

    Additionally I bet there are many up and coming designers on The Dots who would LOVE to learn from the skills and experience you've developed over ten years. As the brand guardian can you create opportunities for others to work alongside you on these post-brand-creation projects to keep the client happy and get someone else paid?

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