Good business relationships rarely just happen. Like a romantic relationship, a client and designer partnership takes time and work to evolve into something strong and successful.
If you arrange yourself the right way – position yourself as an expert, adviser, friend, and reliable, long-term business partner – from the beginning of a new project, you’re bound to get the best results and strengthen your design client relationship.
While every project is different and each client has their own needs, here are a few tips that’ll help to build a strong and enjoyable working relationship.
1. Take the time to understand who your client is and what they expect from you
Unless you’re a mind reader who intuitively understands the needs of other people (which we’re guessing you’re not), you need to do your homework and ask questions to understand what your client’s needs, wants and expectations are.
No matter how skilled or experienced you are, never assume that you know what your client wants or needs, or that you know what’s better or what’ll make them happy. That only leads to conflicts, unnecessary revisions and wasted time.
So, at the beginning of every project, talk to your client and ask lots of questions, even if you think some answers you’ll get are obvious. If you want everything to run smoothly, then there’s no room for uncertainties and “I know better”.
At a minimum, here are few questions you need to ask as you begin a new design project:
- What is the purpose of this design?
- Who are you trying to reach with the design?
- How will this design be used (flyer, website, billboard, social media posts, email newsletter etc.)?
- What is your budget?
- How soon do you need it?
Don’t skip this part as the key to any successful project is first taking the time to understand who your client is, what they need and how and when you can make that happen.
Also, make sure to write down all the details involving your project together so you both agree on the terms. This helps to avoid any potential conflicts or misunderstanding since you have everything in writing and it’s clear to both parties.
2. Educate them so they make better decisions
Don’t assume your clients know about web design, or what terms like responsive design, colour scheme, white space or negative space mean. In fact, it’s likely that web design is an unknown territory for many of your clients.
Make sure to take the time to explain these design terms to your clients. Why? Because a confused client can make poor decisions since they simply don’t know any better. And if the project doesn’t turn out as they expected it to or as you hoped it would, not only will the relationship end, but you also won’t be able to add it to your portfolio or get a great testimonial.
But when you educate your clients, it makes them feel empowered and wiser. Not only that, but you also demonstrate expertise on a subject you’re passionate about, which reinforces your value and why they hired you in the first place.
Another benefit is that the next time they’ll need design work, they’ll know better in terms of which designer to hire or what a quality design looks like. And since you’re the one who empowered them, the chances are they’ll come back to you with their next design project.
For more tips and advice, read our posts on how to talk to clients about complex things and the strategies you can use to gain their understanding and win them over.
3. Walk them through your creative and work process
If you want to build a strong relationship with your design clients, you need to be open and transparent when it comes to your creative process and how you work.
In other words, you need to make a plan where you organise and prioritise all tasks involving the project. This not only helps the client to visualise and understand how you work and when they can expect you to check in and finalise the project, but it’ll also make you accountable.
So here’s a quick checklist of what you should do once you get the go-ahead from a client:
- Confirm project details in writing – scope, budget, due date(s)
- Create a detailed plan with all the tasks for the project.
- Create and send three first drafts for the client to review and choose
- Ask for feedback from the client
- Make any necessary adjustments based on their feedback (Repeat steps 4 and 5 as per your contract or as needed)
- Bill the client
- Ask for a testimonial
- Check back in a few months to see whether they need your help with any other design projects.
Now, while you don’t need to share everything on this checklist with your design client, you should however share your work process with them (meaning steps 1 to 6). Your client will appreciate it since they’ll know what the tasks are, where you are in the project, and when they can expect the final design. In addition, they’ll be less likely to constantly call or email you to ask for status updates which will save you both time and energy.
4. Put your ego aside
No matter how skilled or experienced you are, the chances are your clients won’t go for your first design. The truth is they rarely do, and that’s ok.
The worst thing you can do is to view that critique as a personal attack on you and your skills as a web designer, and become defensive.
If there’s one thing you need to remember is that your work is never about you, but about what your client needs and their vision for that design.
So don’t take it personally. Instead, take the time to listen and understand their feedback and suggestions. Don’t be afraid to make some recommendations of your own to ensure they make an informed decision. Then, implement the necessary changes to get your design closer to your client’s vision.
5. Be timely and keep them updated
These may seem obvious and simple, but there’s nothing that peeves a client like missing set deadlines or not knowing what’s going on with their project.
The key to building a strong relationship with your design clients is being timely and keeping them in the loop with where you are in the project.
If you’ve set deadlines for specific deliverables, stick to them. If, for some reason, you can’t deliver on time, make sure to update them as soon as possible to let them know what’s going on.
Don’t wait until the last hour or minute before the project is due to let them know you can’t deliver on time. That’s not only unprofessional but it’ll also make you seem unreliable, which will decrease your chances of getting hired for a future design project.
Here’s the thing: clients are more understanding than you might think, provided you’re honest about the reason for the delay. So inform them as quickly as possible and provide a new (realistic) deadline for when you’re able to deliver (and make sure to stick to it this time).
Building a strong relationship with design clients is no rocket science. But you need to be patient and understanding when it comes to their needs and expectations.
Listen to what they want and need, ask the right questions and give them the knowledge and guidance they need to make the best decisions. Then walk them through your process, get their honest feedback and deliver on time. That’s all there is to it.
Over to you: how do you build strong relationships with your design clients? Any other tips that have worked for you?