The business of brand styling: How to deal with a client who just wants you to copy something


We've all been there haven't we? The client who emails through an image of a brand identity and says "I just love this, can you do something like this?". And goodness, let's not limit ourselves to brand styling, surely most of us who are in the design industry have had a client that just wants us to copy something a colleague has created? I've even had several clients who have asked me to copy my own work! So what to do? Copying anyones' work isn't good for business. It's not good for your creativity, your confidence or your bottom line. Copying something you've seen leaves a nasty feeling in your stomach and it feeds that grinch on your shoulder telling you you're not good enough. It also has you constantly looking over your shoulder in case you're 'found out'.

What can you do? Creating something 'similar' isn't always the answer. You know me, I'm a girl who loves a process, and for me, there's a process that you can use to handle this sort of situation.

how to handle a client asking you to copy someone elses work

Understand why

First of all, let's understand why. Why is your client asking you to copy something they've seen? If it's your own work, it could be a good sign. They love your style and there's probably going to be a good fit between you and them. That could be great news - as long as you handle the briefing well.

But how about the client that sends you an image of someone else's work and asks you to recreate what you see? For me, this demonstrates a serious lack of respect for your creativity. It's a sign that they don't feel you can come up with your own ideas. That sounds a bit damning I know, but is it fair?

See this as an opportunity to make what you do better. If a prospective client can't see your creative process and your ability to generate brilliant creative ideas then either they haven't bothered to look, or you haven't shown them.

Look for the opportunity

If we're talking about the former, think about where your enquiries come from.

Are you winning business from people who value great design and who love your portfolio, your creative process and the work you've done for your clients? Or are they friends of friends who have been strong armed into talking to you thanks to your connections at a high pressure breakfast networking club?

Do you get the feeling they've been following you for a while on social media and understand your creative style? Or did they just happen upon you from a google search and are going for the cheapest, easiest option?

You really want clients who are trembling with excitement at the prospect of working with you. Clients who can't wait to see what you're going to come up with. And to do that, you need to show them what you're capable of, what you've done for others and why.

Demonstrate your creativity

Build value in your creative process, both in terms of what you show your clients (I have another post on that coming up very soon) and also what you show on your social channels. Don't just show the end result, show the process you go through and most importantly, why you've made the decisions that you have.

Take a step back and ask your client why they love what they're showing you. What are they hoping to achieve? Ask all the good questions you'd ask in a normal briefing process and you'll build their trust. You do, of course, need to be able to intelligently interpret those questions and deliver great design, but at this stage, it's all about finding out why.

Why does your client want what they want? And see a better way of doing things?

Show your client why what they want you to copy isn't the right solution and talk to them about what you'd like to do. I don't suggest you design anything in front of them - ever! But you can explain the sort of mood you want to convey, the style that you feel might work better.

Show them other examples of work in a similar vein and explain why each one works for each individual business and why. Show them the sorts of subtleties you think about when you're creating a design. They'll start to see the level of thought you put into your work and they'll be fully on board with doing things your way.

If they're not? Perhaps it's time to walk away. What do you think?