Knowing when to kill your projects

Sometimes a project is not how you imagined it to be

Jonnel Mamauag
4 min readJul 31, 2021


Photo by Morgan Basham on Unsplash

For a while now, I have been doing moonlight work to supplement my income. I work in the AEC (Architecture, engineering, construction) in the Architecture aspect of the industry and five years into it; I find the money attached to it laughable.

I will repeat it. Laughable.

Don’t get me wrong; I find my profession perpetually exciting and challenging. However, it is not the boredom that will take me out of it: it’s the burnout and the lack of fair pay.

Freelance work was a low hanging fruit, although I see the irony of pursuing more work of the exact nature on the side. But I know the ins and outs of the process of Architecture. I studied and am currently practising professional, and I also believe I can do it more efficiently as there are fewer gatekeepers to get on with the job. The exception of which is the Client sign-off and the local Council, of course.

Sounds like a plan, right? Up to a point.

Much like the day job, it will have the same issue. In the same instance, these issues are what makes a job exciting and why a project dies. They are a few ones that stand out in this.

The money

Several things can contribute to the death of a project, but the main item that always pops up is finance.

A critical characteristic of an ideal freelance (or moonlight) project is that it needs to be something of a manageable size. Something small enough that it will not consume you as the freelancer in the same sense as your day job. This also means that most potential Clients with these projects will have limited budgets.

Do you really think you can have that Italian marble at that price?

I always start the conversation with the Client about finances and asking them to be honest with themselves. For example, do you think you can have that Italian marble along with a full kitchen remodel? Is that the best value for money? Most Clients will think they know what they are doing, but they rarely do. As the professional in the conversation, you are ethically obligated to advise the Client of this lack of knowledge in the most polite way.

No design work has been done at this point. I am simply gauging if the project has some legs to go with and if I need to reel in the Client’s expectations. Or if they are nuts, immediately pop that bubble and dodge that bullet that is the pain in the ass project.

The Client

Sometimes, it’s simply the Client.

This industry (the AEC) is heavily reliant on relationships. Primarily professional relationships with other consultants involved in the industry. Engineer, surveyors, planners, suppliers and manufacturers. They are the colleagues who lend their expertise to a project to make informed and deliberate decisions for our proposals as a lead designer.

Clients are technically at the top of the totem pole, as they are the ones with the initial brief. Often this initial brief is muddy and fogged up. Designers and Architects provide clarity in that blur.

But now and then, some Clients are simply … well, rude. Not realistic, pushy and needy.

Starting in the freelance aspect of my career, most Clients seem to imply or even say that they are the ones doing me a favour. So this is going to be suitable for your portfolio. It’s a good stepping stone for you.

There is some level of truth to this. But rightly or wrongly, it is simply condescending. Regardless of how innocent that comment is, I think it is merely tone-deaf. I also merely think it is not necessary to mention. I am here to provide a service. That is all.

This is where it usually ends for that potential Client and me.

And when it all comes together …

And at the end of it, it simply just culminates into a crap project.

Rude and condescending Client, with a minimal budget for a flamboyant brief. This is all so easy to spot in the first ten minutes of a conversation or a poorly worded email.

Sometimes, things just hit the pan at a later date. Perhaps at the middle where we find out more information about the previously unknown building for renovations. It either counters the intent of the projects or increases its scope. Therefore, increasing the cost of the construction and additional fees for the consultants. Designers and the rest of the professional team.

Some colleagues that are also engaging in freelance work that this is simply part of the job. I think yes, but I also think I have the choice of saying no to incompatible projects and people. The work is hard enough, and I am on the notion that since this is freelance work, I have the choice to say no.

It is one perk of being the one drumming up the work.



Jonnel Mamauag

I draw and design often. I write sometimes. Both for Architecture. See my work on