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How to Treat Your Design Clients Professionally

Etiquette For Designers

Enhancing the relationships that you have with your clients doesn’t really take a lot. However, it doesn’t take a lot to damage it as well, so make sure you are deliberate and careful with the way your clients. Be sure to treat your clients how you would like to be treated, and act like the rock star designer you would want to work with if you were the client. Whether it is your very first one or your hundredth, it is very exciting to have new clients. With some guidance, this excitement can be kept alive through staying focused on the designer/client relationship prior to the actual design work taking place. Here are five long-term strategies for keeping clients happy with your work and with you.

Keep Your Client Involved

When your client is kept heavily involved with the project, it not only prevents you from straying too far away from the preferences of the client and reduces your workload, but it also helps the client gain a better understanding of your design work’s challenges and complexities.  When the client is able to see the design process up close – including scrapped ideas that normally they wouldn’t see – it helps them to better appreciate your efforts as well as understand all that has gone into your final, ideal design. 

Not every client is going to want to lend a hand or sit right next to you.  However, some do enjoy participating in the process. So if you have a client ask you if they can help in any way, don’t just automatically say “no.”  Find out how involved they want to be and then determine what they actually can accomplish without compromising your quality or speed.  Some of the most effective ways of getting a client involved including layout prototyping, creating the color scheme and sketching. If you client really isn’t an artist, then sketching may not be a great option but most people can create color schemes with any problems.  The quality of the work your client does isn’t as important as understanding the process and what they would like you to do. 

Really Listen To Your Client

Several things can cause you to lose a client very quickly, and not listening is definitely one of them.  Nobody likes being ignored since it can make you appear like they really don’t matter and what they are saying is considered to be trivial compared with everything else going on.  When you are designing for a client, it is important to carefully and actively listen to them and what they are saying to you.  Really listen to what they have to say because if you don’t do this, you could end up missing something that could end up saving you lots of time or significantly boost your work’s quality.  

When I say careful, active listening here is what I mean: There are certain things that we can discern from the tone of voice someone uses and, if you are sitting with your client face to face, you can make an evaluation of their body language as more information about them.  If you don’t really listen to your client, then there are certain things you might not catch like their sarcastic tone when they say “the new black is electric yellow.”  If you show up and give them a design that has their least favorite elements in it, that won’t reflect very well on either your design work or your listening skills.  

When you really listen to your client, you more than merely what their personal preferences are.  Whenever your client is talking, there is a good chance they will tell you things about their brand, their competition, and their business.  You might also learn about what their future plans are for the business, which will most likely require more design work in the future.  Don’t you want to head their list or any design projects in the future?

Stay In Contact

At times we end up so wrapped up in our own work that we have a tendency to forget about doing the most basic tasks: eating, sleeping and getting back with clients.  Falling off the face of the earth does happen from time to time, whether it is due to external factors or personal reasons.  Unfortunately, if you are right in the middle of working with a client when that happens, that can be a really bad thing, and you may discover that your design work isn’t part of your schedule once you return finally. 

I recently started to create some visual for a famous UK-based singer.  For several months their producer went missing.  Despite trying several times she wasn’t able to get in touch with him, and I still don’t believe she has heard from him.  In that situation, they both lost out on many opportunities.  The point is that it is very important to stay in close contact with your client.  If you need to go away, then you need to inform your client ahead of time so that they are not left t wonder whether you still are their designer or not.

Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to feel obligated to take phone calls at 3 a.m. unless it is a real emergency (Although I can’t think of any design emergency that would justify a phone call at 3 a.m.)  It is beneficial to provide your client with checkups and updates on a regular basis since it informs your client of your progress.  When it comes to these updates you need to be the one who takes the initiative, don’t want to be asked by your client. 

Once a project is complete, everybody has a tendency to continue on with their business, both the designer and client.  Consider sending some type of tangible “thank you” to your client, and if their project is making a debut someplace, send them some type of “good luck” message. Just putting a few minutes worth of thought into something like this can help to accelerate your design career to new heights. 

Be Personable

I don’t suggest that you start to plan social outings with a client or become Facebook friends, but showing your client some personality can, in the long run, be quite beneficial.  If you act like an uptight CEO and nothing but business, you might come off as being unapproachable and mechanical, and within the creative industry that can be jarring and unexpected.  Showing some enthusiasm and energy can really g a long way in any industry.  People tend to respond in a positive way to kind words and smiling faces.  You don’t have to stop at just being friendly when it comes to being personable with clients.      

It can be a big plus to find something in common with your client, particularly if you are going to working together on a long term basis.  Use your active listening skills to see if you have a shared enthusiasm.  It can be a good stress reliever to take a break to discuss the ‘little things’, but it also gives you the chance to get a better gauge on your client.  That way you will be better prepared once business talks have started up again.  

I recommend that your client discussions take place away from the office.  It can be a great idea to meet over coffee or lunch and give a nice change of scenery as well.  It gives both the client and designer the chance to be more at ease.  (It also gives you the chance to get something to eat.  Just don’t talk with a full mouth!).  People have a tendency to remember others who are particularly nice as well as those who are really rude to them.  Of course, you know which end of that spectrum you want to be on.

Don't Be Afraid Of Saying "No"

You have most likely heard the saying of “the customer is always right.”  However, that doesn’t mean you should have to take anything a client dishes out.  There are times when it is to both parties benefit for there to be an honest “no.”  It is much better to give a principled “no” that has a defensible rationale behind it than for your client and yourself to give a reactionary, knee-jerk “yes” to every demand and idea from a client.  The client needs to understand they “why” behind your “no,” so be sure to provide a mutually beneficial and clear explanation. 

The very last thing that you want to end up agreeing to is a business proposal or idea that you shouldn’t or can’t do.  When you get roped into a project because you weren’t brave enough to say “no” it can frequently lead to substandard design work, unhappy designers, unhappy clients, frustration and resentment.   

If you find that you need to say “no,” make sure you do in such a way that it doesn’t appear to be too forceful.  Make sure to explain why you have to say “no,” and provide other solutions or alternatives to the issue.  

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