It’s heartbreaking to go on social media and see fellow designers have a hard time dealing with difficult clients. I hear about problems they had either with clients not paying or clients not communicating well. They struggle with finding their ideal clients.
Usually, this is cause for a lot of dread in the designer community. And there are a lot of entrepreneurs who are talking all about phasing out clients and trying to make it look like products and courses are the only way to have a successful business.
Luckily there are a lot of us, including myself, who love design enough to want to have clients and keep clients. There was a time I was also dreading clients before I was really getting that much work.
Once I got my processes in place, I realized that client work was actually a delight and now I never want to give that up as long as I’m in this business. Client work brings connections and challenges me to design things based on a certain industry, target market, and preferences. It also gives me stunning portfolio pieces that I would have never been able to design if I just thought about it myself.
The point is, client work is really wonderful if you know how to take control of the business. And I think this is where a lot of people struggle when they’re first working with clients.
Sometimes you find clients on Facebook groups, job listings, or referrals from friends and family. It may be a quick “yes” without really thinking about if it’s the right fit for you. Once you start getting more work, it’s time to really start narrowing down your process.
I understand that there are seasons of life when people are in survival mode and absolutely need to take on any client. And this is why it would be a good idea to find a few jobs that allowed consistency, like retainer work, that way you have some steady monthly income. After that, it’s time to start a vetting process to see whether or not you will work on a certain project.
Being very confident in your processes and having the power to say no when it’s not a great fit is not only going to give you a boost in confidence, but it will give you peace of mind anytime you take on a project. There are many different ways to do this and I’m going to show you how you can avoid these “nightmare” clients early on.
One way to make sure people aren’t scamming you is through phone calls or video calls. I prefer video but not everybody can do them–so usually a phone call will do. If someone is very resistant and can only communicate with you through an email, maybe it’s time to think about why they can’t.
One thing you should definitely avoid (because I have seen a lot of people do this) is conducting business and doing all the transactions through social media messengers. I’ve heard a lot of horror stories come from people who had clients hire them through Facebook Messenger.
First of all, this is not professional and this will also not protect you if or when there’s a problem. Everything needs to be official and there needs to be a system for how you go about these transactions.
One of the first things I do is get an email address and then find a time to hop on the phone. I’ve had a few clients who have hired me through email, so this isn’t a black-and-white scenario, but they ended up being ideal clients because I knew how to look up and research their businesses before really diving in.
If you don’t have one already, set up a scheduling software like Calendly or Acuity Scheduling. That way, they can find a time and schedule a call with you all in one conversation.
Scheduling a call and talking to a person is not always enough to know whether or not they’re going to be a good fit for you. Try looking for some warning signs during the call. If they are only concerned about cost and how much money they are spending, then don’t be surprised if they have sticker shock when you give them a fair price. You know, the ones who compare your services to Fiverr prices… Many times, people who are all in it for the cost are looking for very cheap and very fast designers.
Do not position yourself like this. Take your time on projects, and charge based on your experience, time, and deliverables. There are also some other factors that I can get into with another post.
You want to see if this client is serious about hiring a professional designer, someone who values design or values delegating, and realizes that your expertise is better than doing it themselves. Asking these important questions will really help you to see what they’re thinking.
On the call, use your intuition to see if you feel like you could get along with this person. I’ve had times where I didn’t think it would be a great fit based on their attitude. The last thing you want is to hire someone who is immediately dominating, disrespectful, or unprofessional during a conversation.
These are things to think about. And ideally, if you wouldn’t be in survival mode while making these decisions.
Last, make sure you make your processes very clear to the client. It’s important to explain how you work and why you do it. And when everyone is on the same page, it’ll be a lot easier for you to do your job.
If they have totally taken over the process, it will be difficult for you to deliver quality design. Having thorough processes, contracts, and a timeline of how you will work/communicate will ease any of their fears.
Leave nothing to the imagination. Let them know exactly how you do things and lay it all down. Make sure your boundaries are in place. That’s what the contract is for. Which means you should always have a contract.
A lot of people who’ve had these nightmare clients tell me that they’ve never sent a contract before. And then they wonder why they have a hard time getting that person to pay!
Protect yourself by having official documentation of everything. Doing this will send a message to that (hopefully) ideal client that you’re a professional and should be treated like one. It’s about mutual respect and you need to make sure that it is absolutely like that from the beginning.
Many times, these problems come from deeper issues. Like knowing how to be assertive, professional, confident, and kind. It’s possible to be all of these things and come out with glowing testimonials.
An ideal client will love that you know your way around design so well that they can just sit back and relax. It really is beneficial for everyone to keep things organized, and to honor what you’ve laid on the table
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