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How to start your own design agency: Lesson 5 - Learn to say no

How to start your own design agency: Lesson 5 - Learn to say no

25 June 2015 Written by By Danny Brooks and Natasha Zlobec Co-founders, Phage

Danny Brooks and Natasha Zlobec are the names behind Phage, a two-person design agency based just down the road from Design Council in Clerkenwell. They specialise in print, corporate identity and digital design for clients in the creative and luxury sectors. They spoke to us about some of the lessons they’ve learned since setting up their studio 13 years ago.

Stay enthusiastic! After all, if you’re not enjoying it and creating good work, then why are you doing it

Danny Brooks and Natasha Zlobec, directors and co-founders, Phage

Lesson 5: Learn to say no

One really important lesson we’ve learned over the years is that it’s sometimes better to say no than to risk our reputation, our client relationships or our sanity! Consider saying no when:

You don’t have the time

Don’t spread yourself too thin. If you’re already very busy with other projects, you’ll end up letting clients down by taking on even more work.

Remember, too, that you can always ask a client if they are willing to wait. If they don’t have an urgent deadline and are keen to work with you, you could end up lining up work in advance, which is an enviable position to be in!

You don’t have the skills

Be honest with yourself about what you can achieve on your own. If you don’t have the necessary skills for a job and no means of obtaining them or bringing somebody else on board, then the professional thing to do is to say no and let the client find someone more suitable to fulfil their brief.

The client’s expectations are unrealistic

When a potential client has unrealistic expectations of what is achievable within their budget or their timeframe or has outlined unrealistic results and outcomes for a project, you’re going to have an uphill struggle to meet their expectations. If you can’t iron out and agree on exactly what is achievable before you start work, it’s probably better not to start!

Something is unethical

Your business is you, so maintain your integrity. We won’t work with clients who have unethical business practices, and we don’t work with anyone who asks us to breach someone else’s copyright!

The chemistry isn’t there

As in any relationship, chemistry is crucial. Being able to work with and manage a wide range of people and personality types is a valuable skill. But if you really don’t gel with a potential client, sometimes it’s best just to walk away…

For more advice and inspiration:



  • How to be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul by Adrian Shaughnessy
  • The Business Side of Creativity: The Comprehensive Guide to Starting and Running a Small Graphic Design or Communications Business by Cameron S. Foote
  • How to Run a Successful Design Business by Shan Preddy
  • How to Market Design Consultancy Services by Shan Preddy
  • Rework: Change the Way You Work Forever by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson

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