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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.