How to keep your design clients happy
Being an independent graphic designer is a daily grind and although I would not trade my profession for any other, it sometimes feels like an uphill struggle. To be great at freelance design, you need to face a many-headed monster – you have to not only perfect your craft but also manage finances, learn marketing, take care of client acquisition and, above all, handle clients in such a way that they come back for more work and refer you to their connections. Keeping your clients happy is an art form in itself and it is right up there with your talent as a designer for long-term success as an independent designer. Here are six winning strategies for handling clients that I have cultivated during my decade in the field.
1. Set the right expectations
Make it your responsibility to bring up the scope, budget, and turnaround time early on before signing anything. That way, you prevent unpleasant surprises and potential headache for both your client and yourself. In the early days of being a designer, I would often forget to be upfront about the exact deliverables that were covered by the budget. Let me tell you, suddenly asking your client for a budget top-up after a certain amount of revisions does not leave a good impression. I would also not think to ask about potential deadlines, only to learn that the logo I’m working on is due in 48 hours – not a situation you would want to be in as a designer.
2. Keep your clients up to date
Most clients vet designers for their reliability, above all other qualities. There is nothing more nerve-racking for a client than to have the designer that they have just hired for the first time disappear for weeks… Only to turn up at the last minute with the deliverables. To set the frame as a true professional and make the client trust you, you need to send them regular and detailed updates throughout the project. Be specific about where you are at with the design process and how long it would take you. Over the last decades, Graphic Artists have developed a bad rep for themselves as being erratic and untrustworthy – we need to repair that image by demonstrating good project management and communication skills. And this goes without saying – be available and responsive during working hours. Make it easier for your clients to reach you and talk to you!
3. Underpromise and overdeliver
I cannot stress this enough – if you deliver exactly the same amount of value that you advertise to your clients, they will view you as merely a good designer. To be great in the client’s eye, you always need to always give a little extra.
You think you will need five days to finish that milestone? Promise you will get it done in ten days and send it out to the client way ahead of time. Not only do you give yourself an extra cushion of time in case of an emergency, but also your speed and commitment pleasantly surprise your client. Do this every single time with each new deadline!
Give out freebies! I would often throw in a complementary business card or a quick social media kit at the end of a big rebranding project for a new client. And I generally try to do better at each new project that I start – clients will always come back for more work and refer you to their connections when they feel that you are going the extra. A little gift can go a long way and even compensate for a mistake in communication or broken deadline – if you do this consistently, feedback from clients will look like this: