Bad clients don’t exist, only bad designers

By March 28, 2016design, process

The role of a designer is to solve problems. One problem that can inhibit even the most talented designer is how to manage client relations. Technical skill level and project outcomes are important, but the difference between being remembered as a “great” designer over a “good” designer is more to do with people and communication skills.

As well as solving design problems for their client, a great designer will prevent or fix project management issues.

Here are six common issues and how you can avoid them:

1. It’s Not a Match

Sometimes a client and a provider (the designer in this case) aren’t a match. In cases where you can’t meet the project requirements, it isn’t your specialty, or you just don’t gel with their work ethic or values – don’t be afraid to say no!

It is hard to say no, especially when there is money involved. But worse than landing that lucrative contract is taking on a project you can’t deliver on. A bad reputation will last longer than any sum of money.

Know your strengths, know where you succeed and to which clients you provide most value – and work with them! Never provide a quote or proposal without talking through the clients’ needs and ensuring there is a match.

If you aren’t taking the time to fully assess whether there is a mutual fit then you are not setting yourself up to be successful.

2. Sales Process

The first stage in your design process should be to gain a more thorough understanding of the project requirements. You have to understand the problem, the clients’ needs, and the amount of time it will take you to provide a solution.

A powerful question I have found when trying to gauge what a new clients’ work style is: “How have you worked through a creative process in the past, and were there any challenges?” Make sure you get a detailed answer. Don’t be afraid to probe for further information.

The answer will give you valuable insights into the client’s process, style of collaboration, and level of expectation. It also helps you learn from the mistakes of their previous experiences.

3. Quote and Contract

Provide details of what the client can expect from you by outlining the number of hours, what the deliverables are and what the outcome will be. Outline what can be done in this time and touch on what type of work would be considered out of scope and result in additional costs (for example custom illustration, photography, stock photo downloads and video).

When a specific timeline is involved the client should be made aware and agree to their requirements in order to meet the deadline (such as supplying brand assets, content and providing prompt feedback).

If you are outsourcing any work, I suggest being open and transparent about it. If possible, have those contractors bill the client directly – it keeps you out of fire (and cost) if that contractor doesn’t deliver.

Include an out clause in your contract. Even with the best intentions and sales process – things change. An out clause is beneficial to both yourself and the client – allowing either party to get out of the contract in a mutually favourable way. Your client will appreciate it too!

4. Expect the (Un)Expected

Clients are going to ask you for more: more work, added features, another element. After all there is no harm in asking – right?

You have to expect a client to try and stretch more work out of you (they are on a budget too). Don’t get upset or frustrated. This isn’t a bad thing. Be prepared and address the requests, it opens the door to discussing additional scope.

Instead of just doing the work (or worse pushing-back or complaining), outline the additional requirements they are asking for and the time it will take you. Include an additional cost for the work.

Address it with finesse but be direct. If possible, offer an alternative (such as removing one element to allow another to be included). Show the client you aren’t just looking for more money, but the best solution for them.

(Circling back to my earlier point, if you didn’t provide a detailed quote detailing of what is included, you might not have anything to fall back on.)

5. Communication

I am a big believer in transparency. Communicate early and often. Your clients will greatly appreciate it and be able to empathize with any situations the earlier they know.

Sometimes things go wrong. You made a mistake, overbooked yourself or you have a family emergency. We are only human after all. Rather than leaving the client in the dark, be honest and upfront.

6. Listening

Your role in communication as a designer is heavily based on listening. Our job as designers is to understand needs and solve problems. It requires a lot of compassion, both for the end-user and the client. The best way to gain that compassion is by listening.

Listening to their insights and feedback will make you a better designer, provide better solutions and be more understanding of their needs.

I hope I’ve provided some insight into improving your client experience. If you’re a designer constantly struggling with ‘bad’ clients – perhaps the problem isn’t with them. Take a look at your processes and see how these tips will improve your work, and your clients.

I’d love to hear what you think, and any of your tips – let me know @damianjo on Twitter. Ready to talk with a great designer? Contact Damian Jolley.