The Key to Having a Great Client Designer Relationship

By October 17, 2013Freelance

What is the key to being a great freelancer? I think not only being good at what you do but the experience the client and you have when working on a project.

What most people say about the client designer relationship is that you must:

  1. Set a timeline for the project
  2. Respect the deadlines
  3. Think outside the box
  4. Communicate effiectively
  5. Understand your client

These are very crucial aspects of the relationship. But when you think twice about it, you realize that there are other key aspects that will improve your understanding of how your working relationship should work for maximum satisfaction, financial succes and future refferals.  I often talk to people and they tell me how some clients treat them or their design poorly, ending up with projects sitting there on the harddrive waiting to be finished.

When this happens it is very clear there is a problem between you and your client, something you or he/she did caused the relationship to ruin or break and the project ended up being dumped. But worry no more! There are some key aspects you must follow if you want to have a great relationship with your clients and be able to get referred by them. In fact who doesn’t want to be referred by a client?

Even though I don’t agree with the statement saying: ” the first impression is what matters the most”, I’ve learned that clients tend to rely on it and have chosen me to work for them based on it. There are few people that don’t “judge a book by it’s covers”. Next time you talk to a client via email or phone or face to face remember this:

“The first impression is what matters the most.”

Earn their trust

Earning someones trust is hard. Very hard! However when everybody, you and the client, understand their role in the project, then the success is guaranteed. The trust is mostly earned through an effective communication. In the beginning I didn’t know the importance of this, believing the client should already know I’m good based on the work I’ve done for other clients. They have contacted you to work for them because they have seen how you solved other people’s problems. Clients need to be told what you can do for them. Earning someone’s trust is the starting point to having a job that won’t give you a headache. In our business, if we are tagged as trustworthy means more work in the future.  The way the clients label you depends entirely of you. Either you are the doctor with the solution or the servant that follows orders. Earning a client’s trust isn’t rocket science. You just have to make him see you are perfectly capable of solving his problem: having a new identity created, a new website etc.

Establish the working rules

When we get paid to make a design, clients start getting involved and start making decisions we should make and when we look at the finished project, comparing it to what we as experts in the field thought was best, we hate it. I hated it when it happened. To prevent it you need to find the courage and set some rules before starting.

You may say: ok! But I just started as a freelancer and I don’t have what it takes to be sure what I’ll do will be the right decision. You think you are the first one to do this? On my first project I just followed the feedback of the client and finished the project. I was lucky I didn’t get a “client from hell” to ruin my desire for design.  It doesn’t matter if you are a starting freelancer or an advanced one. If you want to have a headache less working relationship with your client you need to step up and act now.

Tell them when they need to intervene and when to let you do your job

When I started out as a freelancer, I wasn’t employed  before or something like that, I didn’t know what I’m  about to tell you. I had both clients that have let me do my job and clients who just liked to be in control until they ruined my concept. To get rid of the second category of clients I had to take action. Tell them that if they want you to work with them they need to respect you for what you can do. How would a doctor feel if you would go to him telling him you are in pain and also tell him what is the best drug they need to give you? Have you done something like this? I don’t think so. Or when you go to have a certain car part changed, you don’t tell the mechanic how to change it. You pay him to know that. That is exactly what your client needs to understand. If this happens, I don’t wish it to anyone, ask this:” Why would you come and ask me to help you, if you end up solving it all by yourself ?”

Make the client understand that based on the questions from the briefing you will come with the best solution.  Actually when you start working for someone this is the first thing you must do. You must send them a file with the questions you need answered in order to complete the project. If you don’t do that, clients end up telling you what font to use or what shapes or colors. Of course, you mustn’t mute your client. I mean you must hear his feedback regarding a certain color or font. A statement like: ” the font isn’t bold enough” or “the color expresses too much joy and we make coffins” is perfectly eligible. You know the client has crossed the line when he starts asking you to “darken the X-color and use the Y-font”, which leads us to the next point.

Get rid of the personal feelings

Ok! Sounds easy, you might say. Well it is not. This means even if your favorite color is blue you have to accept that it doesn’t suit the company  you are working for. You work for them not for yourself. But hey, this point is valid for both the client and the designer. An over involved client will tend to make you make changes based on his own personal feelings. When this happens remind your client that you are the expert, he answered the briefing questions and you base your decisions on it and on the research you’ve made in order to get what is best for his company.

Make the client understand that it isn’t in the company’s interest to make this kind of decisions based on what we “think” is good or not. You must not tell him that as your judgement is absolute. There is an entire psychology about presenting the design you made to the client.

Some say and strongly encourage to get to know the client better to provide a piece of work he/she will enjoy. But ask yourself: “who are you designing for?” Of course, for the client. “But why?” To please the client or the audience he is targeting?” Actually both, but the balance isn’t 50-50, it is somewhere around 10% client, 90% audience. In fact how much will it help the business if you incline the balance in favor of the client? You will get some special thanks from them for the good looking end product, but after some time, if the audience doesn’t like it, the client will return and complain and tell you aren’t as good as you claim too.

Convince your clients you are capable of doing your job and even if you will argue with them on some small arguments based on different opinions, make them see why you have chosen to do what you did. But remember you must always keep an open mind.

And now to give the answer to: ” Why does my project ended up sitting there on the harddrive?” I believe you already found the answer, but i will still tell you. It is probably because you didn’t follow one of the three things we just discussed. ” Now what should i do with all the info?” you might ask me. I believe that if you have read till here you had or have a situation similar to what i described in the beginning. On your next project, along side with the 5 key aspects everybody talks about, implement those 3 i told you about.

Have you learned something new? Have I reminded you something you forgot?

I invite you to leave a comment bellow and tell us your opinion. If I missed something please tell me and I’ll add it. I am also looking to solve some of your current problems so if you have trouble with a client just send me an email or a comment. I’m looking forward to hearing your stories and how you managed “client-designer relationship issues”.


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