One of the most difficult parts of being a freelancer is dealing directly with your clients. If they are disappointed, it’s your fault completely. You don’t have a company or colleagues to fall back on to help you deal with clients. It’s all you.
This perspective can be quite intimidating to say the least. What’s more is that it can be confusing and very demoralizing when you seem to keep falling short when dealing with clients. You are not alone, however. Many freelancers accidentally disappoint their design clients without even knowing why or how. The good news is that most disappointments fall into one or more of the following 12 categories below.
To avoid disappointing your clients, simply take a look at the common ways to do so below. Simply being acutely aware of the dozen most prevalent pitfalls will have clients singing your praises and recommending you to colleagues and friends. And, I suppose, if you ever want to intentionally annoy a client, you’ve got the tools for that task as well!
This brings me to the need of mentioning a disclaimer: In any line of service work, and especially freelancing, you will deal with those clients you simply cannot please. Keep in mind that the following advice does not work for every single design client. Take every client on a case-by-case basis, keeping the following "accidents" in mind, and you’ll build a killer reputation for yourself as a graphic designer who’s not only talented, but personable and professional as well.
Promising the World…
One of the most important rules for dealing with clients is to be honest about what you can do for them. We have all been in those situations in which a client asks something of us that we are not quite sure we can deliver. Either be honest about possible difficulties or make sure you know someone that you can farm out the task to. This is also the reason why it is so important to get everything in writing, either within a formal contract, quotes that describe your services and cost, or even through a series of emails. Just be explicit.
…And Delivering Sub-standard Work
Similar to the mistake of promising the world, make sure you actually deliver what you promise. If you told your client that you would put together a brand identity package, don’t leave out the letterhead design because you ran out of time. This is your fault for underestimating the time required, not the client’s fault. In fact, to truly impress a client, go beyond the quality or quantity of work you agreed upon. If you are unsure that the client will even notice those extra freebies you threw in, add it into your itemized invoice with the rate and a $0 next to it. They’ll notice.
Invoicing Before You’re Finished…
Never invoice a client before you deliver everything you and the client discussed. This includes hearing back from a client on their satisfaction (or lack thereof) of a project. Imagine if you were seeking their services, and they sent you the work back, along with an invoice, but you had several changes you need made. Wouldn’t that be more than a little irritating? Time your invoices tactfully.
…And Not Delivering on Time
If you promise to have a website ready for launch by a certain date, then work around the clock if necessary to deliver on time. If you can tell ahead of time that you will not be able to finish in time, even with an all-nighter, then call in some reinforcements. And at the very least, let a client know (ahead of time if possible) that you will be late, how late you will be, and that you will be providing a discount or some other freebie.
Leaving Clients without Access…
As a freelance designer, you are hired for specific projects, such as creating a brand identity or a brochure for an event. Once your project has ended, it is only customary for you to hand over everything the client needs to add to or make changes to your work in the future if they so desire. For instance, make sure to leave them with the layered design files for a logo, the administrative login credentials for their website, or the font files for their brochure’s typography.
…And Using Old-fashioned Design Techniques
If you haven’t updated your skills in more than a few years, you should — and before you take on any new clients. Not only will using antiquated techniques give a client problems and short-lived design work, but it will also reflect badly on you as a designer. Few industries develop and change more quickly than the web design industry, but it’s part of your responsibility as the designer to evaluate and implement new design techniques and technologies. Complacency can quickly put an end to client referrals and leave you hunting for work instead of sorting through worthy, willing client candidates.
Making Yourself Scarce…
Be as accessible as possible within the hours of your work day. Make sure your client understands your schedule, and provide one way that clients can get a hold of you for emergencies outside of normal working hours. Nothing is worse than breaking a client’s website without knowing, and the problem is only compounded when your client can’t even get get in touch to let you know about it.
…And Complaining of Additional Work
There are clients who request an surprising amount of changes to your work, which you should really charge extra for. (Hopefully you have a clause in your contract for such a scenario.) But there are those clients who keep asking if you can provide quotes for more projects while you finish their first. This is a good thing, and it’s important to make the distinction between the two! Clients interested in more work are favoring you, and you should favor them respectively. If you are too swamped, then politely recommend a fellow freelancer. Never take on the work and then proceed to complain to the client about how swamped you are.
Not Listening to Client Requests…
Creating the right expectations goes hand-in-hand with excellent listening skills. Make sure you know how to interpret client requests accurately. Listen carefully when the client is talking, offer more articulate summaries of the requests if needed, and refer to your past experience to translate subjective client preferences into actionable design work. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and make sure to take meticulous notes. You might even want to provide those notes to the client to secure an alignment of understanding.
…And Responding Defensively to Complaints
We all hate to hear criticism of our work, but it’s very frequent and very necessary. Learn how to acknowledge your frustration, embarrassment, etc. (silently, to yourself), and address each critique. Listen closely to what the client is saying; how you handle the latter waves of changes and requests is what separates you from a plethora of average designers. You may have to prompt or probe with questions (surprised?) to find out precisely what is bothering the client. Sometimes a client will only be able to throw out a vague criticism (It’s just ugly!), and it’s up to you to dissect, elaborate, analyze, and interpret the feedback. Often it may be as simple as changing the color scheme or adjusting the positioning of content.
Lacking Interest in a Client’s Success…
Nothing makes a client feel more neglected than a designer with little to no interest in their vision. A client comes to you to help them put their dream into visual form. Make sure that you show them you are interested in contributing intellectually. One way to do this is to proactively ask them about their goals and vision. Another is to recommend design features (without being prompted) you think would really help them achieve these goals. Listen carefully when they tell you their back story; it’s far more important than it may seem.
…And Never Owning Your Mistakes
We all make mistakes. It happens. And a courteous client will understand this… unless you handle it poorly. Don’t blame your mistake on software, scheduling, or any other external factor; firmly hold yourself accountable. The “blame game” will never work in your favor. apologize, take responsibility, avoid frivolous excuses and do whatever you can to appease the client, namely, to do it again the right way without extra charges.
Have you ever accidentally disappointed a design client? Be sure to share your experience and any lessons learned in the comments below.