White Kite Studio | The Freelance Files
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TFF: Prepping your client for a successful working relationship

I get a lot of questions from my design community on how to crisis manage a client relationship that has gone sour, and to that I can only say that prevention is better than cure. I’ve been at the freelance game for some time now, and I’ve surely had my share of “difficult clients”, but I’ve also realised that most of those cases resulted from miscommunication and could have been avoided if I had proper systems in place. So, these are my top 5 tips on planting the seeds for successful client relationships, no matter which creative service industry you’re in.

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1. Communication

AKA a clear and friendly contract. I remember my “T&Cs” as a short little paragraph at the bottom of my quote back in 2014, and it’s probably the reason why I ran into trouble a few times. It’s all about setting firm boundaries, and laying out solutions and responsibility for every possible point of conflict. How would you like your clients to communicate with you (I would recommend always sticking to written communication, so you can refer back to it later)? Where are potential hidden costs? How will you handle delayed feedback? Don’t let there be any surprises, and communicate every important thing to your client before your do anything else. Nobody likes to read lengthy and boring contracts, so make it beautiful through clever design and easy to understand through simple language.

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2. Timelines

Always give your client a detailed project timeline, outlining your process and the different steps that you follow. I worked without set timelines for the first two years, and that was a massive mistake. It’s literally like leaving the backdoor open, and projects can go on forever! It’s essential for your studio’s success to have a consistent flow of projects, and old projects need to be wrapped up in time for new ones to come in. Without this crucial step your clients will take advantage of your availability, and feedback and reverts will get delayed by weeks and months, leaving both parties unhappy. You’ll also end up running 20 projects at the same time, leaving you feeling overwhelmed, distracted and unable to give each client your best. So, figure out beforehand how many projects you can handle in a set amount of time, and set your prices accordingly. For instance, I pre-book 3-4 projects for every 3 months, and run those projects on the same timeline. It helps me to plan financially and give each of my clients enough of my time to do my best work. If your client doesn’t adhere to your timeline, then you’ll always have a contract to fall back on.

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3. Add value

Everybody wants to feel welcome and appreciated, so treat you clients to something special before your kick off your project! It’s basically about leaving a positive impression on your client’s memory, before you start working together. Send them a friendly welcome gift in the post or a simple PDF with nuggets of info and tips about your process. You always want to let your clients feel like they are getting a little more than they paid for, and this will certainly set you off on the right foot. This is also a great opportunity to educate your client on certain things, so don’t see it as an emotional bribe.

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4. Speak face-to-face

I work with clients from all over the world, and I hardly every get to meet any of them in person. That said, I believe it’s super important to at least speak to them once on Skype or FaceTime. Setting up a little digital meet-up will give you a better idea of the type of personality that you’re working with, and it will also give your client the opportunity to see a more human side of you. If you feel like things are going south, set up another Skype call to chat through the problem. It’s a lot harder to misunderstand someone when you’re talking face-to-face, and there’s no chance that an email could be read in the wrong tone of voice. If you make any choices based off a Skype call, always put that information in writing so you can refer back to it.

5. Pre-project homework

This is the last step I follow with my clients before we begin on a project. I let each of my clients write their own comprehensive brief (based off a template I give them), plus, I give them a Pinterest mood board assignment. Very often clients are not sure of what they want, until they need to do some research or write things down themselves. This will make it easier for you to figure out what they are looking for, and you’ll have less of a chance to miss the mark in a concept presentation. Another bonus is that you can always refer back to the brief that your client wrote, incase they feel like you’re not hitting the mark.

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And there you have it, 5 pointers to help you prep your clients for a successful working relationship. Please let me know if you found this helpful, or if there is anything that you can add from your own experience. It’s really just about removing the obstacles so your projects can run smoothly and without any misunderstandings.

 

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TFF: When you’ve fallen out of love with your business

So it finally happened to me, even when I never thought it could. 4 Years ago I set myself out on a journey of big dreams and expectation. Needless to say, I operated on a completely different level! I was hungry for success and the idea of ‘being famous’ (eye-roll). It was a one-woman show until year 3 when I hired Fiona, and we hustled our way into 2017 with all engines going at 150%. I had clients waiting out the door, a booming online shop, a new e-course on the cards after 3 fully booked workshops and things were up-up-up! I couldn’t possibly be happier with the marvellous machine that was WKS, but then…. (enter screeching brakes). I totally and completely lost my grip.

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Burnout is a b*tch. She confused the hell out of me and made me question the entire vessel that is my livelihood. One of the things that was most precious to me, my business, became almost worthless in a matter of months. I just felt completely disconnected with what I had build, and the reasons why I was still going.

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So let me just be honest with you. At that point I was only in it for the money. I’d lost touch with the people that were my loyal and enthusiastic fans. I stopped giving, and truly believed that I didn’t have anything worthy of giving. I stopped innovating. I couldn’t understand my place anymore in the big bad freelance designer world, and I simply didn’t want to deal with people anymore. I didn’t want to deal with the Internet anymore. I didn’t want to put myself out there and create anymore. I fell out of love with my business, and I had no idea how to reignite the spark. It was a restless, apathetic and dry feeling, and all I wanted was to run away from it all and give up.

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So guess what happened next? I did.

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I packed my bags, took all the money I’d saved and left for 3 months. It all happened rather quickly and spontaneously, and before I knew it I was floating on the Mediterranean sea, looking up at the sky and slowly-slowly I started to sink back into the world and what really mattered.

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Now if you’re wondering how I ended up back here without giving myself up to becoming a hippie selling matcha ice-creams on a beach of Vietnam, then read on…

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It all started with a change of scenery

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We can get really stuck in one place if we always stay in one place, and changing the scenery was really the first cleansing thing to happen. I got out of the mental confinements of South Africa and the many negative things that surround us every day. I had some time again to immerse myself in the things that make our world interesting and beautiful, instead of just heart breaking. The best thing about our travels is that it forced me to open up my mind and heart again. I realised that our problems are so trivial, and that our level of happiness could expand far wider and deeper than anything that we are used to. I was shaken, and I started to wake up.

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I stopped looking at what everybody else was doing

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Seriously, the internet can be such a downer. While we were travelling through Italy, I was still pretty much glued to my phone, posting Insta stories of our trip, and scrolling my feed regularly. But with all other distractions gone, I quickly realized that the moment I dove into my phone, was also the moment when my mood changed. I could go from full and happy, to empty and irritated in seconds. Firstly, it made me feel bad to see how I’ve neglected my business image over the last months, and secondly I was constantly feeling shitty about how not-neglected everyone else’s business image was.

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I first went on a random unfollow spree, and then I banned myself from all social media for the whole month that we were in Vietnam. It worked wonders! Being unconnected was quite possibly the most connected that I’ve felt in a long time!

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The moment I stopped leaking my energy into the wormhole that is social media, was also the moment I started to feel good about things again. I started to fill up with motivation and inspiration, and I realised once and for all that I didn’t need to be like everybody else in order to be liked or respected (check out next week’s blog post for more on this…).

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Do one thing at a time, and finish it

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And this is the number one realisation I’ve had in 3 months. By July I was trying to juggle 3 different businesses at once, and one person alone simply couldn’t handle it all. I fell out of love by trying to divide my affections and attention between three things, and everything was left feeling lukewarm. I can still have it all, but not right now, and I need to give myself a little more time to figure it all out.

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And there you have it. My rise from the slump! I can honestly admit that I’m in love again, and I’m deeply sorry to those of you that I’ve left disappointed or neglected along the way. My trusted industry friends, my loyal followers and fans, my precious clients, I have missed you. I’m so happy to be back in the driver’s seat with both hands on the wheel, and eternally grateful for an incredibly privileged experience. And if you’re feeling like you’ve fallen out of love with your business too, then perhaps it’s time to take a massive step back. Leave, ignore it, ignore everybody else and take the time to investigate your true feelings. In my case, absence really did make the heart grow fonder.