Fresh, Old Suggestions for Design Professionals

Designer and client

Having been comfortably — and uncomfortably, a few times — on both sides of a professional-client relationship for most of my adult life, I’d like to share a few observations about approaches I’ve found to be useful in creating an optimal connection. It mostly boils down to common sense and courtesy, but these often seem to go out the window with some designers (and other professionals).

Being a brilliant creative doesn’t automatically mean that people will flock to your door looking to hire you for your work. If you blow it with a given client, not only will you likely not see them again, but you may not see anyone they know either. There’s huge power in word-of-mouth referrals, so you’ll want that working positively for you.  Here are my offerings of advice, taken from (at times painful) first-hand experience.

1) Listen far more than you speak

Sure, you know what you’re doing, but unless your psychic, you need to have a full, clear understanding of what your client wants or needs. Listen and ask questions. Don’t be afraid to ask more questions. Rather than looking foolish, it usually shows that you’re paying attention. When you have a clear idea of what your client is looking for, then feel free to — succinctly — inform them of how you’ll help them.

2) Under-promise, over deliver

Most people enjoy a pleasant surprise, but everyone hates being disappointed. One way to increase your chances of ensuring the former is to manage a client’s expectations, making sure that, as far as you’re concerned, everything you say you can do is very possible. Deadlines are usually the point of failure for many designers, so make sure that your deadlines adequately cover the amount of time you’ll need to finish the job, at a sane pace, and still have time to deal with the inevitable unexpected (let’s just say “life happens). If you finish a project ahead of schedule, you’re a hero. If not, well, you’re anything but!

3) A promise is a promise

Avoid the pitfalls of many campaigning politicians by seeing all your promises through. Make sure you fulfil every item in your contract, and check things off on your list as you complete them. Don’t take a chance that your client might not notice something left incomplete or seemingly forgotten. If you can’t live up to a term of your agreement, own up and say so, explaining why with your no-doubt bulletproof reason(s).  If you’ve messed up, as a professional, you need to accept the consequences, whether it’s putting in the additional time you have to work to make up for something missing or even, at times, a monetary loss (as in under-estimating on a job quote). Those are the unwritten rules and I’ve found you gain more respect from your clientèle by taking the hit and making them happy. More respect usually leads to more business.

4) Communicate

Please never, and I mean, never, keep a client in the dark about their project. Make it a point to provide periodic updates on the status of their project. If a project takes more than a week or two, some clients will always assume the worst — that you’ve forgotten them, you’ve slacked off on the work you’ve been contracted to do, you’re wrapped up in your own little magical world, or, most likely,  you’ve absconded with their deposit, etc. It’s so easy to send a friendly little email now and then (or make a quick phone call), just to say that everything’s on track, or, if not, that you’re experiencing some challenges along the way. No one will fault you, and most clients will appreciate your degree of conscientiousness.

5) Help, any way you can

I try to do this with clients who approach my company for a service we don’t provide or for a project whose scope doesn’t fit with our business offerings. I don’t merely say, “Sorry, can’t help you there,” but instead, I make the effort to point them in the right direction, suggest someone you know (or don’t know), give some advice about where to look for what they need, or even educate them on some industry terms they can use that might help them in their quest. In short, don’t leave them empty handed. The same goes for individuals who send me their résumés.  Even if I can’t hire them, I’ll offer them something useful, whether it’s a possible referral to another company, just to say I’ll keep my eyes open for any possibilities for them in the future.

 

By following my suggestions, you not only come across as a consummate professional, but also a decent person, too. You’ll make someone feel important, appreciated, and special, and who doesn’t like that? In the business sense, that’s all hugely beneficial to you and can only work in your favour. You’ll leave your clients with a lasting, favourable impression and that invariably means more business and better business relationships.


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Seven thoughtful tips for newbie design freelancers

Seven thoughtful tips for newbie graphic design freelancers

If you’re starting your own freelance business in graphic design or aspire to become a designer, there is a world of opportunity that awaits you. If you’re talented, have some experience (the more, the better, of course), and have the tools of the trade, you’re all set, right? Well, let’s just say it’s a start.

No matter what sort of business you’re in, there’s always a sales and marketing component to consider. Bummer, huh? Well, no, it’s actually not such a bad thing. There are a few things that you can learn and some skills to hone before you start trying to drum up business. These, along with your natural talent and training, will likely take you a long way.

  1. Try to see things from your client’s perspective. Remember that it’s all about them, after all. They hire you, they’re willing to pay for the work, and they allow you to work in your field, so it’s a good idea to listen carefully to what they want. Sure, offer an informed opinion to help them, but, ultimately, they’re the boss and what they want is what you need to provide. If you feel really strongly negative about their product, service, attitude, or direction, then you need to consider whether you should proceed at all, rather than become antagonistic in the course of your business relationship. At the beginning of your career, it’s usually a case of simply being grateful for the work and just toughing it out, but use your discretion and best judgement. If it doesn’t feel good to do this job, think it through before you pass it up.
  2. Be responsive. If a client phones or emails you with questions or requests, make sure you reply as quickly as you can. This leaves them with a very favourable impression and makes you stand out as being reliable. Referring back to point #1, you need to see yourself through your client’s eyes. Wouldn’’t you want someone to be paying attention to you, especially when it’s someone you’ve hired? I’m always amazed to hear stories from my clients about how they’re still waiting for a call back or an email from a service provider, even after a week or two!
  3. Don’t be afraid to offer advice or suggestions. You are the expert, right? Be careful, however, not to seem pedantic and use your best diplomatic approach to address potentially difficult topics. Again, your client is depending on you to help them arrive at the design solution they need, and often, they only think they know what they want (some admittedly have no clue), so they need you to guide them.
  4. Make all your requirements clear and make them up front. It’s common practice for people in our industry to request a deposit before beginning a project, so make that known. Also, what will you need from them, and when? Informing your client makes you look more credible and authoritative, and it helps remove some of the apprehension associated in dealing with someone they may not know very well.
  5. Be proactive. The world, being a far from perfect place, often wreaks havoc on schedules and the best laid plans. That being known, take the initiative to contact your client, sooner rather than later, and let them know the status of their project. Ideally, you are making every human effort to meet the deadline, but if something has gone awry in your work queue, typically something over which you have no control, let them know as early as possible that there may be a delay. Then, offer at least a rough estimate of how much longer the work or project milestone may require.
  6. Be punctual in your delivery. I’m tempted to suggest the old “under promise and over deliver,” but, in a sense, you should be doing that to a great extent anyway. Remember, people love pleasant surprises, and you’ll be hailed as a hero, worshipped, and your deeds will live on in the songs of troubadours. Okay, maybe a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the drift.
  7. Always, always, always charge what a job will cost. You need to live, after all, and you won’t be doing anyone a favour (least of all yourself) if you undercharge. Charging too little also has a negative effect on other professionals in the field who are trying to earn a living, so be considerate to others as well as yourself.

 

From my own humble experience, I hope this helps you. If you have some other suggestions for newbie design freelancers, please share. Thanks for reading!


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Working with a Graphic Designer

Working with a designer
Working with a designer can be very smooth and efficient, with just a modicum of cooperation.

Here are some important things to consider in choosing to work with a graphic designer.

 

Look at their portfolio to see if you like their style, direction, and flexibility.

Size them up. Do you know anyone who has dealt with this individual or firm?  If so, find out what their experience have been like.  If not, try to determine if your intended designer has the personality, professionalism, commitment and/or sense of ownership that will work for this project.

Check your budget and timeline.  The best graphic designers are typically (and understandably) very busy people.  They will want to do their utmost to meet your deadlines, and so they will need to assess how your project can fit into an existing work queue.  For this reason, you’ll need to be realistic in discussing a feasible target date for completion.  Keeping projects moving and clients satisfied requires a great deal of project management skill on the part of the designer, so working with them in this regard will help them manage your project’s time and resource allocation most effectively.  This translates to making sure your project is done as well and as quickly as possible.  Also, most designers will accommodate an urgent project in return for a premium payment.  If you allow for a reasonable time for completion of this project, you may not need to pay the premium.

Keep an open mind.  Remember this trained professional is going to do their best for your business or organization.  After all, your success is their success.  You’ve hired them, and they will want to make you happy by bringing their talent, experience, and skills to bear fully on your project.  Just as you would expect them to listen, give them an opportunity to explain their approach or rationale.

Attitude check.  If you know you have a tendency to micromanage, you may find it challenging (if not impossible!) to work with a professional designer.  Most people are at their best when they have the room they need to get things done.

Communicate.  This is especially important when you’re dealing with marketing concepts and abstractions!  Although a seasoned designer will actively seek out the information they need  through a design brief, it’s important for you to try meeting them halfway.  Tell them as clearly and honestly as you can what your requirements are, and provide constructive input when it’s requested.  Often, it helps immensely to present examples of designs you’d like and/or would like to avoid.

Assign a contact person.  It’s incredibly frustrating for a designer (or perhaps for anyone!) to take conflicting directives from two or more people (think “too many chiefs…”), who may not be in sync with each other, or worse yet, be at odds.  Have your meetings and discussions with all parties concerned within your organization and come to a consensus.  Your contact person should uniquely communicate the resulting decisions and input.

Provide what is needed.  Most designers will require all the necessary details and information from you ahead of starting a project.  Any textual components to be incorporated should be proofread and finalized.  Delays in providing these materials will nearly always translate to delays in the project’s completion.

Have you had some interesting or useful interactions with graphic designers?  I invite you to share them here.  Thank you for reading!


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Sowing and growing… relationships

A harvest of sweet, ripe relationships.

We all have relationships. That’s a special, wonderful part of being social creatures. Most of us have parents, siblings, cousins,  uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, grandparents, and/or children. We have spouses, partners, friends, colleagues, mentors, protegés, employees, bosses, clients, patrons, rivals, enemies, admirers, followers, and guides. That’s just a sampling of the relationships that we experience as humans. So what?

“No man is an island,” John Donne wrote four centuries ago. Clearly, we need the interaction, the companionship, and the support of those who surround us. In business, we often take for granted the complexity of our daily interactions with people and entities within and outside our commercial dealings. How crucial it is to have clients, of course, first and foremost: someone needs to pay for our precious products and services. But we also need our suppliers and service providers. We need support from our family. Our co-workers help us define our working culture. Our friends affect our psyches. We even need the government, without which we’d have no laws to regulate business, competition, and society in general. Just thinking about all the connections we maintain day to day, it’s incredible how intricate our existence becomes!

What do we do with all these connections? Some true capitalists among us would likely say (or at least think) “exploit them, of course.” Hmm. Despite the sound of that, it’s actually what we do, more or less. Instead of the negativity associated with the term “exploit,” though, how about if we say, “make the best of?” I like the sound of that much better, personally. Okay, so what do I suggest?

Think of a relationship as an organism. Like any living thing, it works best when nourished and maintained. If you can get it to thrive, I believe you’ll work wonders. Whatever the relationship is, if it can yield something positive for you, give it whatever it needs to grow! So, what steps to take?

First, I suggest acknowledgement. Recognize that the relationship exists and has a life. Make it clear that you like it and value its effect on your business, or, more broadly, your life. Next, empower it. Take some time to touch base with your contacts and tell them that you appreciate what they do for you. You should let them know that you’ll do what you can to reciprocate their positive contribution to your world. Lastly, show respect. Don’t take a relationship for granted — ever. Live up to your commitments and when you promise something, make it happen to the best of your ability.

I’ve always believed that something worth having is something worth maintaining, and relationships are definitely among these. I’ve mentioned to friends and family that I feel blessed because there are so many times in my business life that I start out with a client and wind up with a friend. I realize now that it doesn’t just happen randomly: it’s because I’ve nurtured the relationship and allowed it to bud, blossom, and bear fruit. Who doesn’t like fruit?


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