10 Reasons To Walk Away From A Project Or Client

"In negotiation, the one thing that really strengthens your position is the ability to walk away from the deal."
In a tough economy and with the current state of the architecture profession, I have made people wince and disagree with my stance regarding deals and/or clients, particularly when financial projections are nearing the red mark status while there remains an unknown forthcoming project win. Back when I was still starting out as an unlicensed architect, the pressure to accept every single project from anyone was so high. I'd even beg clients to let me work on their projects pro bono. In retrospect and several gray hairs later, I realized that accepting an undesirable opportunity was as risky as driving a car with faulty brakes.

These days, as a licensed architect I've become selective of opportunities I accept and here are 10 reasons why:

1. The client is asking the entire work for free.

Clients who undermine your work will only continue to do so. Be very careful about organizations to which you give your free time, of course there are some exceptions. It might create busy work for you now, however, this will keep you away from going after opportunities that actually pay your worth. Clients who ask you to work for free have no intentions of paying for your services in the first place and in the future.

2. The client steals ideas.

It's one thing to help or give value to people. It's another thing when they fail to give due credit to your contribution let alone begin to claim your ideas as their own. These clients have no intention of working as a "team" and are only after the spotlight. I usually ban these types for future work.

3. The client doesn't treat you with respect.

If the client has a filthy mouth or rude in any way, they will be that way throughout the duration of the project. Unless you are willing to accept that kind of abuse, you're better off expecting respect across the board.

4. The project will expose you to ethical or illegal risks.

Architects are expected to act in accordance with the profession's Standard Of Care. Any project is not worth compromising ethical or legal values.

5. The client causes nothing but grief.

When the client is impossible to please, chances are, even if you give them the sun, moon, and stars, they will still have reason to complain about your work. Do you really want this dark cloud looming over your head all the time while it continues to sap your creativity and enthusiasm for other projects? A healthy dose of grief in any project is understandable. It's when it begins to affect your health and outlook that it becomes poisonous.

6. The client won't pay what you're worth.

They want "the (champagne) works" but will only pay for it with a beer budget. If you continue to agree to every single thing the client requests without proper compensation, you are subconsciously setting up expectations from them to your detriment. Don't allow a project or client degrade you.

7. Trusted industry colleagues had bad experiences with this client.

What do other colleagues have to say about working with this client? Is this client about building long-term business relationships or just a one-time business transaction? Clients who are only after a one-time business transaction won't really care much about collaboration and trust since their only goal is to move forward with their agenda.

8. You cannot deliver what the client wants.

Sometimes the client will ask for services beyond your area of expertise. Be honest and transparent with them about this issue. If it's something you're not in a position or not licensed to deliver, refer them to someone who can meet their needs. You win twice in this scenario: first the trust of the client, second the person or company you recommend will owe you a favor--you can collect from them at a later time.

9. You have another (better) opportunity. 

This will be worth more of your time than forcing a project that will cause more harm than good.

10. The client is better off working with your competitors.

It is okay to walk away from a project or a client if it clearly is a bad deal from the start. Trust your gut instincts--if it doesn't seem right it probably isn't. You'll be happier to see that you won't have to deal with them and all the associated headaches. Let them go to your competitors and have them deal with the headache while you work on better opportunities more worthy of your time.
“Good architecture requires more than a good architect. It requires a great client—a risk-taker.” - Steven G.M. Stein
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