5 Things Every Freelance Designer Should Know About Client Servicing
So you're an art director at a big name creative agency, but you've grown tired of climbing the corporate ladder and decided to explore opportunities as a freelance designer. The idea sounds sweet as your mind runs through a check list of self-employment benefits:
- Freedom to express your own unique style and aesthetic
- Choose your own clients in industries that you like
- Work to your own schedule
- No longer need to deal with technically inept creative managers
- And yes, you finally will not need to argument with the account team aka "suits" anymore …
But, are you really ready to take on the role of a suit and negotiate costs with clients, sell your work convincingly, and take criticism without going on a tirade about how the logo is already frickin 'big enough? Well, if you're not then here's a list to get you started of the 5 things every freelance designers should know about client servicing.
1) Never provide a price list
I always advocate not providing standardized price lists to any potential clients. I'm not saying you should not have a price list, though. It's fine to have set hourly rates for retouching and it's great as a benchmark for your fees, but they should never be applied to full projects. Couple of the reasons being:
- Your goal should always be to secure a face-to-face meeting with the potential client. Sending them a price list is very hit-or-miss simply because the client is basing their decision on numbers / facts alone. The slight advantage you gain by building rapport is well-worth the time. A face-to-face meeting is where you can really demonstrate your abilities, personality, and learn more about the client and project.
- Our economy is in a constant state of flux so pricing has to change with the times, but if you present your client with a price list they'll throw all those variables out the window. If you do not want to be married to a set price list, do not supply one cause clients can and will hold you to it!
- Your competition can attain your price list and low-ball you. It's very easy for a competitive studio to inquire as a potential client and get all your pricing information for comparison and market research. Bad business ethics, but happens all the time.
- You want each project to seem individualized. Stating that your fees are based on a custom project scope gives the impression that each project is unique and special. Price lists are fine for standard production jobs, but by quoting for each unique project you give the client the sense that you are building custom designs and tools based on their specific requirements. Show them some love and they'll return the favor.
2) Always challenge the client
Being nice to clients certainly helps to build rapport, but you do not want to be a sycophant. Simply saying yes to all of your client's requests / demands will not earn you the trust and reputation you're looking for. This is because the client is hiring you for your expertise and ideas as a designer, not to simple do what they ask. Being the devil's advocate may seem counter-productive, but in the long-run the client will respect you more because you're not simply designing for them, but also looking out for their best business interests.
Client's also do not always know what they want so it's your responsibility to take initiative, be convincing, and lead them down the path you feel is most appropriate. Most of the time you'll be working with someone who needs your advice so do not be afraid to give it. Your honesty, when expressed tactfully, will lead to trust which means more return customers for future projects.
3) Plan, plan, plan
Ample planning allows you to research more about current affairs and trends in your client's industry. It's always a good sign when you can display knowledge about their industry and provide references and other relevant fun fact that they can understand and relate to.
A lot of people think too much planning is a waste of time and taking action is more important. I disagree because a lack of planning could have great detrimental effects down the road if problems and disagreements arise over the project scope. Planning and agreeing on a project brief with the client before concluding design work reduces the amount of miscommunication during the project and other surprises along the way. If the client decides to add elements later, you can legitimately charge them more because the well-thought out, well-planned project brief was approved at the very beginning of the project. The potential trouble you save yourself from is worth the extra time spent on planning.
4) Presentation and personality do matter
It's important to demonstrate that you have good written and spoken interpersonal communication skills. If you can not have a productive brainstorming / problem solving session with the client, how do you expect them to have confidence in your ideas and creativity?
Also, hate to state the obvious but appearances do matter! Creatives / designers have a reputation for having an eclectic fashion sense but that does not mean you can show up to a client meeting wearing a colorful tank top, skinny tie, 80s short-shorts, flip-flops, and a fedora. Working relationships are built on trust and the more you look the part, the more clients will believe you will play the part. Do not get my wrong – showing your personality is great, but do not do it at the expense of losing clients. It's a cruel world, but the Halo Effect does come into play when trying to attract new business.
5) The bottom line When all is said and done, the only thing that really matters is delivering quality work on budget and on time. Your clients will forgive you for almost everything as long as you meet or exceed the expectations on these three critical factors. Good luck!