Everyone wants a great relationship with their design clients. After all retaining customers and acquiring potential allies who will speak for us and our work, and bring us more clients is the ultimate goal for any agency or freelancer designer who wants to succeed.
Yet sometimes this doesn’t happen. Your creative vision is turned to something ugly because your client doesn’t seem to understand anything about design or visual communication; you are not getting paid on time; the client comes up with a gazillion of last moments changes making your life miserable and in the end you wish they would just pay you and leave you alone. Well a bit of exaggerated scenarios but ones you’ll probably hear discussed in your designer cycles nevertheless.
Let’s see some things you need to know to avoid the pitfalls most junior designers fall in and get to blame the universe and the clients for their cosmic misfortune.
1 – There is not such a thing as a bad client
Also there is not any cosmic misfortune that chases explicitly the junior designers and ruining their projects and relationships with their clients.
2 – The cause of a bad relationship with a client is conflicted interests
If the relationship with your client goes wrong it means that something went wrong in the project flow and you or the client became displeased with the other. You simply didn’t meet each other’s expectations. And most of that can be in fact your fault! Or at least there many things you can do to avoid it.
3 – Explain your design process
While you are interviewing your client for the project explain to them your design process and the involved stages. This includes things you expect of them. For instance providing you the content on time, being active in the process and give you feedback at certain stages etc. and any other actions that are required from their part.
4 – Don’t promise if you can’t deliver
You should never promise more than you can deliver to get the project. If it requires technology or features you are not familiar about, tell them you will have to research on it or get in touch with the proper associate first before telling them it’s doable. If you know that a suggested functionality is widely unsupported or not required for this project, point it to them. Be honest with what you can do and what you can’t.
5 – There are many bad designers. Don’t be one!
Design and web design are fields that require and need expert knowledge in many principles. It’s important for your client to know that you are the expert and they can trust you. Writing in your LinkedIn profile that you are a Web Design Ninja won’t work. Saying you are an expert or guru won’t work either or make any difference; other than risking of sounding ridiculous. Your expertise can only be demonstrated with your actions and words. Every decision you make on the project must have a reason underneath and you must be able to explain it if asked. If all you know is how to use Photoshop and write a few lines of code you are by no means a web designer. Take the time to learn the assorted principles and expand your skillsets. And never stop learning and growing.
6 – Take control of the design process from the very beginning
Some clients might not really know what they want from their website or maybe they simply have misconceptions about what will work and what not. Make sure you explain to them with efficient arguments where and why you disagree with them. They came to you because they need your expertise to solve a problem.
7 – Involve your clients in the process
Always listen to your clients’ feedback and suggestions with an open mind. Their suggestion might be brilliant or something you haven’t thought before and it’s not a shame to admit you are wrong if you are. Also by involving your clients early in the process you will most likely avoid the huge list of last minutes changes. The most common cause of those is getting caught up in a creativity spree and end up solving wrong problems or refining design ideas your client hasn’t even approve yet.
8 – Don’t solve the wrong problem!
Designers love to solve problems. So much in fact they have a tendency of solving the wrong ones! Make sure you read the briefing and the requirements you must fulfill as many times you need to understand it correctly. If your client doesn’t have a briefing you can guide them with strategic questions to establish one. If you disagree for any reason with the briefing i.e. it’s contradictory with the intended message or company’s values etc. then explain that to your client and suggest your own solution.
9 – Good relationships are based in equality
The best and only way to work effectively with clients is to base your partnership in equality, and get early out of the way some potentially problematic stereotypes. You are not a software operator to do blindly as told but a creative professional. You have the absolute authority on design matters exactly the same as a doctor has on medical matters and a lawyer on legal ones.
The client on the other hand is not someone who just pays and gives you the opportunity to unleash your artistic talent in the world. They hire you to solve them a specific problem. And that’s the problem you need to solve exactly.
10 – Don’t act like a bad salesman
When you meet a client for the first time you might feel the eagerness to make your presence felt or impose your creative ideas or start talking about your skills and try to impress them to close the deal.
There is no need to talk about you. A project meeting is not about you, and they didn’t come to talk about that anyway. It’s neither an interview to get a job.
They came to you so you already got half the job. Now your goal is to understand your client’s problem and offer the best possible solution. Your expertise will speak for yourself.
11 – Be human
It’s nowadays widely accepted that despite your professionalism and skills, the majority of clients will choose to work with designers they get along with. You don’t have to be a rock star and definitely not add that to your website or bio to achieve that. You just have to be yourself and treat your clients with warmth and respect as anyone would expect for a human being and as you would expect for others to treat you. Smiling once a while never hurt anyone!
12 – Short reckonings make long friends
Always sign a contract. The contract binds both you and your client and is crucial for ensuring a professional and healthy relationship between you. So don’t let them sign it before they even read it. Read it together if you must and make sure you clarify anything that needs further explanation.
Carefully guide your client through the contract paragraphs explaining your obligations, what you will deliver and when, the number of changes or alternative designs you are willing to make for this fee, how and when they will have to pay you, at what stages you require their feedback and next actions etc.
13 – Don’t miss your deadline
Project management is a crucial skill in our line of work. While you are planning for the project take into account variables like the time you will spend on feedback meetings and communications, the stages where you would require a client action to proceed like approval or payment etc. or even contingency time for unexpected emergencies. This plan will help you estimate the required time as accurately as possible and at the very least avoid missing your deadline. Most likely you will finish long before the deadline and have plenty of time to ponder if under-promise and over-deliver is a good business practice or not.
As I mentioned at the first part of the article the ultimate cause for a bad ‘client – web designer’ relationship is colliding expectations. Stop blaming others and look inwards. Clarify and define your expectations from the beginning and most (if not all your projects) will run smoothly. Make certain your client knows what to expect from you and you will ensure good and lasting relationships with them.
Looking forward to hear about your experiences and opinions so feel free to comment below!
(Featured Image: Licensed Stock Photo from Deposit Photos)