Client Relationships

I gave a talk to design students at Rocky Mountain College of Art & Design a few months ago. The topic was “The Business of Design”. This is an excerpt from that talk and something I feel very strongly about.

Out of everything I’ll say, this is the most important.

Without good working relationships with your clients, your business will fail. With good client relationships, communication, and solid work ethic, you’ll be turning away projects.

Many clients with good budgets are nervous about working with independent designers because they’ve had less-than-awesome experiences working with others in the past. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard a prospective client talk about how their previous designer didn’t follow through or bailed on them. It’s very rarely about the quality of the work; it’s about the relationship. And as with any relationship, it’s all about the communication.

If you’re going to miss a deadline, the client shouldn’t be hearing about it for the first time on that day. Communicate. If changes to a project scope require more time and money, the client shouldn’t find out about when they get the invoice. Communicate. A client that likes you is more likely to recommend you to other prospective clients. It’s simple. And a referral is the best and easiest way to grow your business.

These things don’t mean you should bend over backwards to every request or that you shouldn’t be professional. Setting clear expectations of what your role is as the designer and what they as the client are responsible for can do wonders in setting the stage for the working relationship. I very rarely reply to client emails in the evenings or on weekends. I don’t want to set the precedent that I’m available at all times. They respect my time because I’ve set standards. If some kind of emergency comes through and I’m able to, I’ll respond or make a quick change on something, but that is the exception, not the rule.