As a freelancer, your role can often be that of a customer service professional as much as a designer. If you want to keep clients coming back for more, you must create a competitive advantage for yourself through building strong client relationships.
Below you’ll find ten ways to help you make your clients think of you as their absolute best option for design work.
1. Don’t Be On Time, Be Early
Many of your clients will have absolutely no idea what the design process involves. Normal people (non-designers) will frequently make completely impossible requests such as “I want an amazing and innovative website, but don’t spend more than a couple of hours on it.” Obviously, this tip does not apply to such clients. In fact, if someone ever says that to you, take it as a sign that the job may be more trouble than it’s worth.
However, if you’re working with someone who has actually paid for design work in the past, they’ll have a little more insight into what a realistic time table will look like. In these instances, work with your client to develop a timeline that you’re absolutely sure you can meet. Then, if you have the time, put in a little extra effort to deliver a day early. Odds are, this will make an amazing first impression with your clients as they will be comparing you to designers they have worked with in the past who probably never attempted to beat the due date and might have even struggled just to finish by the agreed upon deadline.
2. Communicate Clearly and Frequently
Communication is perhaps the single most important element in mastering the art of making your clients love you. When someone hires a designer and/or developer, they don’t want to hear a bunch of lofty tech speak. You might think speaking over their heads is a good way to impress them with your knowledge, but ultimately it can result in confusion, miscommunication and dissatisfaction in the overall project.
Always be sure to break things down to layman’s terms. When writing emails, use clear, concise phrasing void of slang and jargon. Any time you have a lot of information to convey or questions to ask, use bulleted lists to make it easy for the reader to comprehend and respond each point.
Also be sure to stay in touch. Clients absolutely hate it when they hire someone for a given project who then drops off the grid until the due date. If the project is significant, send quick status update emails from time to time ensuring that you are making progress and are on track to deliver on time.
3. Over Deliver
Another way to seriously impress your clients is to completely over deliver on what they asked you to do. For instance, if you agreed on delivering a single concept, deliver three and let them choose which they like the best. If you’ve been hired to just design a homepage, thrown in a bonus content page just to be thorough.
This tip comes with a couple warnings. First, make sure to stay within the time/budget limit. Don’t expect your clients to be pleasantly surprised if you charge for extra work that they neither expected nor authorized. Also, don’t shoot for quantity over quality. Put all of your effort into developing exactly what was agreed upon and making it as great as you possibly can. After this, if you’ve got some wiggle room in your timeline, put in some time increasing the wow-factor by throwing in some extra goodies.
This sounds simple right? Unfortunately, many designers and developers are embarrassingly weak in this area. We often jump to conclusions and think ahead on our own without taking the time to make sure we are in fact addressing the client’s primary goals and vision. This tendency inevitably leads to phone calls and emails from clients asking why you didn’t deliver what they asked you for.
The easy way out is to turn it around and blame your client for poor communication without considering that the fault may lie entirely with you. The higher road is to consider the possibility that you may need to spend more time focusing on just what it is your clients are telling you.
Keep a pad and paper handy and take lots of notes when reading through client emails or discussing direction over the phone. Then reiterate your impressions back to the client to make doubly sure you’re on the same page. Realizing that you’re actually “getting it” can relieve a lot of the stress from the client relating to the possibility of paying for work that will be inaccurate. This is a great way to improve your chances of returning customers for future projects.
5. Take an Active Interest in Their Success
One way that I’ve personally discovered to build a strong bond with clients is to think of every client relationship as a partnership where you have a direct interest in the success of the project. If your clients is passionate about their business and product/service, mirror that zeal in both your work and conversations. If it’s genuine, your clients will pick up on this fervor and begin to see as as a valuable asset.
Possible ways to show interest include communicating suggestions and ideas for how to increase success, asking about the results of important events and/or meetings, and simply saying that you really believe in the company’s business model and are excited to be working with them.
6. Appreciate the Work & Stop Griping!
Recently I’ve met quite a few out of work designers that can’t seem to catch a break. This causes me to become enraged with those that have plenty of work to pay the bills but show little to no appreciation for it. When you submit a design to a client, if they come back with significant changes that they are willing to pay for, don’t drag your feet and make them feel like it’s some big inconvenience for you. This is your job! Happily take the extra work and let them know you’re grateful for it.
If you make a client feel bad about giving you more work, trust me, they’ll stop doing it. And with so many out of work designers they’ll have no problem replacing you. Regardless of how many times you’ve been told you’re irreplaceable, never let your head grow to such a size that you actually start believing it’s true. The best thing you can do to keep your client believing in your value is to stay humble and work hard.
7. Answer Your Phone
If you’ve read my previous articles, you’ve probably heard me say this before. Making yourself available when a client wants to reach you is a great way to impress them with your work ethic. So many designers are prone to just let their voicemail do the talking but this leaves clients with a poor impression of your availability and work ethic.
This applies to not only phone calls but emails as well. Odds are, you are geeky enough that you have email access from just about anywhere via smartphone. No matter how your client is trying to get ahold of you, try making it a habit to respond quickly. If you don’t have time, be honest. Let them know you’re in the middle of something and will get back to them as soon as possible.
8. Present Your Work
One easy way to blow your clients away is to stop emailing them simple jpgs of whatever you’ve created. Instead, throw the jpgs on a nice background, toss in their company logo and spend a few minutes creating a quick writeup for each concept. Present your thought process and logic behind everything you create. You’d be surprised how few designers put in this extra effort and how impressed many clients will be with it.
Beyond simply making a good impression, this technique helps you sell your ideas to your clients. A simple static thumbnail leaves a lot of interpretation hanging in the balance. This could result in a complete misunderstanding of what you were trying to accomplish and ultimately an unchangeable dislike for your design. However, if they see that you’ve thought through the concept, they’re more likely to accept the design or at least make suggestions without destroying the integrity of the idea.
9. Learn to Take Criticism
This ties closely in with tip 6. One reason many designers gripe so much about requested changes is that they can’t handle the criticism. As designers, we have to walk a fine line between producing quality work that we can be proud of and actually giving clients what they want. Ultimately they want something that will be effective but often want to steer the design in a direction that you are certain will be ineffective. Your job is to analyze the client direction in an honest manner to determine if it results in an improvement, a decrease in quality, or has little influence on the effectiveness of the design.
Each circumstance requires a unique response. If the client gives you suggestions that will in fact make the end product better, commend them for the great idea. If what they want will have little effect on the overall design, happily provide it for them, even if you think it’s pointless. However, if you truly believe that the suggested changes will decrease the quality of the design, be honest and let them know. Remember to be conversational, not confrontational. Your goal should be to lead the client in such a manner that together you turn bad direction into good direction. Don’t simply tell them their suggestions won’t work, try to discover what underlying goal is driving the suggestions and present alternatives for how to meet that goal.
10. Come Through in a Bind
My final suggestion for how to make clients absolutely love you is to come through when they need you the most. If you work for a single client for long enough, you’re bound to receive a call sooner or later on Friday at 5pm regarding a project that needs to be done by Monday morning. If your client is nice enough they’ll probably say something like “let me know if this is impossible.” Everything in you will want to list a thousand excuses for why you can’t do it, but give some serious consideration to giving up your weekend to make it happen. As a freelancer or employee, you can decide how valuable you want to be. If the client knows that you are comfortable with the occasional fire drill, your value will increase significantly.
Now that we’ve discussed ten ways to make your clients see you as the best designer on the planet, I want to be sure to say that most of these should be extremely selectively applied. There is absolutely no shortage of people out there who will take advantage of your dedication. Further, the danger of surpassing expectations is that you may increase expectations for next time.
Beating deadlines, over delivering, answering calls and emails at all hours of the day and night, and coming through in a bind are things that your client should know are optional actions you perform to make sure they’re completely satisfied with your service. These methods should be noticed and appreciated, not abused. Make this known to your client if complaints begin to arise about you taking a single weekend off or not delivering more while billing for less. Abusive clients are absolutely toxic and can ruin both your home and work life. My best advice is to prevent this at all costs. If you have a client that doesn’t fully appreciate the extra measures that you take for them, cease taking them and begin searching for replacement work if they become dissatisfied.
Now that I’ve shared my methods for retaining clients, use the comment section below to share what you do to build successful and lasting client relationships. Also be sure to tell us which of the above methods you think has the best chance of improving your standing with clients.