6 Key Factors to Build Excellent Client Relationships
The infamous conflict between designers and clients is much older than you might think and goes way beyond the era of Photoshop and Illustrator. Even the most recognized Renaissance artists had more in common with present-day corporate designers than free-spirited hippie artists. In the past, artists were getting specific orders such as portraits, sculptures, busts and all the things you can admire at the Louvre or during a walk around Italy. For all this work, they got paid exactly what their patrons asked for. It is said that Leonardo da Vinci himself had a brochure listing thirty six specific services that he could perform for his patrons. And while today no one disagrees with Michelangelo’s talent, at that time his skills were not so obvious to Pope Julius II who was never satisfied with his tomb design on which the artist worked for 40 years. Their rocky cooperation was even illustrated by Monty Python in one of their sketches which you can check out here.
You can be the most versatile designer out there but if you fail to establish a successful and good relationship with your client, you are most likely to perform one-time only projects which in the end is not exactly the right way to do business.
As a graphic designer I’ve experienced the good and the bad during various design projects. Some left a big smile on my face while others a face palm. There are many factors that come into game when dealing with clients, so here are 6 key factors that will definitely earn you good karma when trying to build good relationships with clients.
Sounds easy right? Well, this one fails many times. One of the most important factors of effective and positive cooperation is clear communication. Avoid using jargon at any cost and explain your ideas in the simplest way possible. Sound professional, but try not to intimidate your client and make sure you fully understand each other. Most people find it stressful enough to deal with designers so be open-minded, upfront and attentive. Listen carefully to your client’s needs and align to his demands.
A misconception that occurs frequently is the belief that certain design tasks are a piece of cake – “it’s very simple, just one more change, can you make the logo bigger?” Try your best to explain the quality, time and cost correlation.
Once you and your client have agreed on what’s needed, you will most likely hold several milestone meetings to check on the progress. Make the best out of all communication methods out there: phone calls, e-mails, skype or even apps like WhatsApp or WeChat here in China. With the new technologies and fast internet development, communication is no longer limited to words. If any doubts or misunderstandings arise, you can promptly send over a sketch, some inspirational images as reference or a screenshot of the work being done to explain what is hard to say in words.
In my time at WILDDESIGN, many times I’ve found myself jumping from e-mails, to phone calls and then WeChat. In a high-speed city like Shanghai, chatting to clear small doubts is sometimes more convenient, especially if there is time pressure. Clients many times are stuck in traffic, taking the train or attending another meeting so chatting becomes more convenient – and well appreciated – to clarify quick, but lethal inquiries.
Leave no room for assumptions, until all questions have been answered. You will thank yourself for this later.
Make yourself available. You are there to be one less issue the client needs to worry about. Show your commitment by being available when your client needs you. Some clients are more demanding and time consuming than others, but it is their sacred right to ask and get answers.
Many times I’ve found myself busy on other tasks or might not have the answer to what is being asked, but replying back to their message and letting them know that I will get back to them later has significantly strengthened the engagement between the two. Show to your client that you care, be there as you would with friends or family.
Be you, be honest!
Those who are confident about themselves are the ones who are most likely to succeed when doing business, but note that you shouldn’t let your ego eat your talent either. That being said, be confident about yourself, your creative processes and your capabilities.
Make the connection between you and the client a transparent one where honesty is easily felt on every project.
I’ve bumped many times into situations where the client demanded something within a deadline impossible to reach so it has been my obligation to be honest and propose a solution to meet their needs and deliver what is expected properly. Learn to say “yes” or “no” according to your capabilities and avoid at all costs falling into a “maybe”. The smallest lie – even those we call “white lies” – can serve as triggers to ruin the trust between the two.
Embrace each client and show commitment. Small or big, provide them with the best service as you never really know their potential and who they might know. By creating a strong bond between you and your client, you are increasing your chances to get referred to other people or if the person moves to another place, they might bring new business to you.
Nowadays expressing yourself is even easier thanks to social media. It’s vital to look carefully after every client and your PR! Remember that one bad feedback can idle away all your previous efforts.
Nurture and keep in touch with previous clients after a project has been completed. Show gratitude, but don’t insist. Reward those who have stayed for a long period of time with you.
Thanks to our caring and positive attitude we have clients that have been continuously working with us and others have reached WILDDESIGN thanks to referrals from previous clients. Do well for your clients and good will come to you.
In the design industry we are constantly bombarded with tight deadlines. Cities like Shanghai are becoming design hubs in Asia, making businesses more competitive and demanding. Don’t promise anything you can’t accomplish, neither jeopardize quality over time. Time should go hand in hand with quality. Offer deadlines that you know are within your capabilities in order to deliver what is expected.
When managing time you can also make use of great project management apps out there to help you and your team work effectively in a timely manner.
I’ve learned over the years that over-estimating (when possible) rather than giving short deadlines has result in gratification from the client when receiving the work before its expected deadline. Don’t be afraid to confront your client, which takes us back to being yourself and being honest, help them see clearly the limitations and propose to them a solution to deliver quality under a feasible deadline.
Learn and Teach
Learn who your client is, listen to their needs and help them solve more than just the specific task you were hired for. Normally, clients reach you for a specific product or service, unaware of the rest of services that you offer.
Share with them ideas or skills you know could improve the relationship between you two. By getting to know your client closely, you get to educate them about other business opportunities or solutions, which will guarantee a stronger and longer collaboration. Here in WILDDESIGN we created a handy 24 Design Factors guide to help our clients understand holistically the scope of the project and control its progress.
By providing accurate and professional services combined with honest explanations your clients will be more knowledgeable about the design processes and its challenges (time, cost, etc.). This will make every future cooperation easier and more enjoyable by leaving no room to misunderstandings.
Easier said than done, but nevertheless impossible. Here at WILDDESIGN we cherish our client relationships and try to make what we love – design – an effortless task. The above (of course not exhaustive) catalog of professional to professional tips is not a mere to-do checklist – it’s the way we treat all our clients and a fundamental part of WILDDESIGN culture.
If you have any other tips, please don’t hesitate to share them in the comments.
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Solid believer that the best experiences in life come when you go outside your comfort zone. Always with my feet on the ground and my head somewhere else getting inspired by culture, color and randomness.