Hi friends!! I am working on answering those questions in the previous post. SERIOUSLY Great STUFF!! I am stoked to answer those. Until I finish up… here is a new post for ya.

In light of looking towards the new year… I thought I would share some thoughts on how and why I take on projects. Some projects and clients are draining, some inspiring, and others can just be neutral. No one EVER wants to feel drained with their job. We all want to stay inspired and moving forward. Once you have built your portfolio, and are now getting more work than you can take on, its time to move past the first come fist serve montra and make some decisions about which projects to take on and which projects to pass on. While I wish I could make everyone happy by accepting everything…. I have learned that it’s just not a reality. To maintain a steady work-flow and excitement for the future, I have to protect myself and my time – only choosing the projects that move me forward, keep me fresh, and pay the bills.

After evaluating my business over the last couple of years I developed three categories for which I use to make decisions on which projects to take on. I don’t always stick to these… but they are a helpful guide.

A GOOD opportunity is a client or large company with industry creditbility and a large network of likeminded people. A client with industry creds and a network of likeminded people will help attract more clients AND more clients LIKE THEM. You could view this has a marketing opportunity for your business. A question to ask yourself would be: WOULD I want to work with more clients like this? Or would I want to work with the people that “follow” my client? If your answer is no, then that particular project would not be a good opportunity for you.

An INSPIRING opportunity is a project that revives you, adds to your portfolio, aligns with your artistic aesthetic, or broadens your skill set. This project sends you jumping out of bed in the morning. Here are a few questions to ask yourself: Does this client have a really inspiring style? Will this get me out of doing the norm? Will this be a PERFECT addition to my portfolio? Will this showcase the BEST I possibly can do?

*Sometimes* to get GOOD opportunities and INSPIRING opportunities you have to sacrifice full payment. Sometimes. But that sacrifice is well worth it because you will make up for it with a killer project in your portfolio or a new relationship with a client that will potentially bring you more clients. Therefore, A MONEY MAKING opportunity is just that…. it pays the bills… at top dollar. At times you will come across clients that are not a very good opportunity and are not very inspiring and thats okay. You need to pay the bills as well. And thats where this project fills in the gaps of your business. I am a girl thats definitely NOT about the money…but you do have to make a living. So, if only one category out of the 3 is about money…I am okay with that.

My business has really grown using this filter. An example of a client that wouldn’t fit in any of these categories would be an acquaintance in the real estate industry that wants a custom website at a discounted rate. Why? 1) This would not be a GOOD opportunity for me because I am not looking to cultivate more clientele in the real-estate sector… so even if they had a large network it still wouldn’t help move my business forward in the direction I envision. 2) This would not be an inspiring opportunity for me because, well… I am an inspiration diva looking to work with creative clients, not corporate world clients. and 3) They do not value my work enough to pay the full price… SO I would not be making very much money doing this project. Therefore this particular job is a miss on all 3 categories. If the project hit at least 1 category I would consider taking the project. Are there exceptions? Of course there are! And I often look for those exceptions and take them. But viewing this potential project as a strictly business decision I would take a pass. I would rather do a free project for something I really come alive working on/or for.

pssst…There is a DREAM CLIENT category too!! But I don’t really see it as a category. I see it as a cherry on top. Some clients hit All 3 categories AND are AMAZING to work with… giving me full creative freedom and have very little revisions. THIS IS A HUGE DREAM CLIENT!! Hang on to those clients and always make room for them in your schedule.

A good combination of the above categories gives me a good variety, keeps me inspired, keeps new clients in the queue, and makes the money. Have you thought about how you except work? Even if you are still in the portfolio building stage or doing free work…. there are always instances where you need to make some of these decisions. I think its worth looking at your options now and planning for the future to prevent a burn out.

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  1. Annie

    This post answered a lot of questions I had but didn’t really know how to ask. As a beginner photographer, I feel like I have to say yes to everyone, but sometimes wish I could say no. It’s only when I get to the job that I realize I maybe should have said no. I guess meeting clients first helps, but how do you say no to someone in that situation? When you’ve already agreed to meet with them and discuss the work? How do you say it nicely? :) Thanks for this awesome post!

  2. Mallory

    Promise, I’ve been following for a while, I am a designer and a photographer and this post was SUPER helpful. Thanks for sharing. PS, the messy bun tutorial rocked!!!

  3. Krista

    Promise, I get it! I actually inquired about a logo and website design with you and received an email back from Alex stating that you were not taking any new projects. At first I was upset and thought “who does she think she is” and how can she reject business without knowing me or what I want. Now I get it. As an aspiring photographer I often offer to take photos for people for free as I am building a portfolio and my daughter can’t be my only “client” on my website. I guess their comes a time when you are given the freedom to choose between those 3 options. Good for you!

  4. Caytlyn

    Thanks this is a really useful!!!

  5. courtney jade

    I love this! I’ve been working a lot on this the past couple of months, and for 2012, it’s really going to be the heart and soul of my client base! I’m excited to say “no thanks!” to opportunities that I’m not interested in, and will not help my business move forward- it’s such a freeing feeling! You rock, as always. <3

  6. May

    I totally agree with your statement ” I would rather do a free project for something I really come alive working on/or for”!
    Even beginner can have a choice and SHOULD say No sometimes if the job doesn’t help build the portfolio they want to build!

  7. Rayleigh Leavitt

    This is great! I can get overwhelmed with too much work I’m doing for free or discounted and often it’s not even work that inspires me or builds my portfolio. I could benefit by learning to say, no thank you.

  8. Mailinh

    Promise, thank you or sharing a part of your work flow. It always helps to read how other creatives manage things. Hope your Wednesday is happy! :)

  9. Avatar of Promise Tangeman Promise Tangeman

    Hey Annie-
    Great question. Meeting with clients is great. For future meetings use phrases like “Lets meet up and discuss the needs of your shoot to see if we would be a good match. I love talking shoots and fun ideas.” That way you don’t overcommit yourself up front. If you feel like you don’t want to take on the project…. Think about why that is and then mention that you don’t feel like (X) is your strength… but you really love to focus on (x). Then refer them to people you think they would click with. For example someone just approached me to illustrate a line of gift cards they are going to mass produce. Sure… I could do it. But not sure that would be a great project for me. And I definitely don’t think I am the BEST illustrator they could find. So I would just be honest and then be confident in my referrals for them.

  10. Bianca Valentim

    Great post promise!!!! Me as a photographer can definitely use those guidelines!
    Thanks for sharing!!!!

  11. Annie

    Thank you so much for answering my questions Promise! I appreciate it! :)

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  13. Mailinh

    Thank you for sharing — always love your posts! Hopefully, I can be the “ideal” client. Hehe. ;0)

  14. Bethany


    What’s your perspective on doing work for friends/family? How do you manage the friend turned client relationship? Do you walk them through the same process as clients or do you streamline the process? Do you charge? Discount? How do you approach the subject of money with friends that request “a quick hand.” This would be the “fourth” category that regularly comes up for me. :-) sometimes my favorite, sometimes a nightmare. Hah!

  15. Char

    Love this. I LOVE that you have a predetermined categories to help you select the right clients. I will definitely have to do this for my biz!

  16. liz

    Really LOVE your insight on this subject, especially with the new year ahead!

  17. sia bevis

    love it promise!! – sia bevis

  18. Jenika

    Solid advice. Thanks for taking the time to put it into words. Especially in creative businesses, it’s important to honor what makes your heart pump faster, because you’ll be able to do better work for the client that way. And I’m glad you called it like it is – sometimes you take jobs to pay the bills, but you should charge what you’re worth. Thanks for this post!

  19. Meredith

    I am LOVING this. Definitely applying it to a lot of the things that I will be doing in this new year. Thanks for sharing some of your wisdom with us!

  20. Emma Hayes

    I am also curious as to how you handle friends and family… And their desire for your work at discounted prices. I’m currently drafting pricing for my newly established business and (thankfully) have inquiries from a TON of people, but they are asking ‘how much will you charge me?’ and wanting multiple sessions… How do I respectfully explain that I have to make a living too and can’t be taking so many photos for an extremely low price when I could be booking paying customers??

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    [...] Pricing is trial and error for me. And I think for a lot of people. More than having a strict pricing guide.. i think its important to know what projects you should say no to and what projects you should say yes to… and why. I recently wrote a blog post on that topic. You can check it out HERE.  [...]


    [...] we all wish we could take on every inquiry…it’s just not a reality. We need to create a balance between good opportunities, inspiring opportunities, & money making opportuniti… But sometimes we get too far into a conversation or design lead… just to realize it’s not [...]

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