Today, we’re going to explore those communication “sins” that cause designers so much trouble, and how you can turn them around so that your clients will start rejoicing again.
Alright, freelancers – it’s time to confess! How many of you are guilty of not communicating regularly enough with your clients? Maybe you’re running behind on your deadline, and you’re too embarrassed to let your client know in a timely manner. Or maybe the client has done something to upset you, and you refuse to reply to one or two of their emails.
The truth is, people with poor communication skills often don’t even know they have them. A designer can be technically excellent, but if they fail to communicate with their client, they will not continue to get work.
Let’s face it – being a freelancer is a tough job. Sometimes your clients can aggravate you to the point where you want to scream at them or worse. However, if you’re on a job, it’s still your responsibility to keep the client up to date on your progress. If you don’t, you’re essentially stooping down to whatever level of immaturity you think they’re guilty of.
Remember that you have to earn your client’s trust, and regular communication is often the quickest way to do that. Many clients would much rather work with a so-so freelancer who is reliable and consistent, than a brilliant freelancer who can’t be counted on to communicate regularly. If you’re upset with your client for some reason, the best response is to request some sort of change in the terms of the project. Not getting paid enough? Ask the client if you can transition to a project or position that pays more. Simply want to quit? It’s better to cut your losses early and find a new client rather than suffer through a horrible project that will leave you drained of time, resources, and energy.
2. Making Them Think Too Much
Your client is paying you to think for them. Even if they don’t specifically put it in those terms, your goal as a freelancer should be to make the experience of working with you as painless and simple as possible. For the majority of back-and-forth correspondence with your client, all they should have to do is say “yes” or “no.” People get confused when they have too many options, so don’t make the client pick or choose or decide anything that’s unnecessary.
They can – and will – always let you know if they have any feedback or additional comments. If it’s within your ability and you can use your professional experience to simply make an executive decision, do it for them. This includes things like scheduling meeting, sending reminders, taking notes, following up with members of the team, and anything else you think might make your client’s life easier. Presenting your client with a clear option to approve or deny allows them to maintain control of the project without having to worry about the details.
When you’re doing a job for a client that lasts longer than a week or so, it’s absolutely imperative that you keep them up to date on your progress. I’ve worked with many people over the years, when I emailed them with a status check, told me they hadn’t wanted to “bother” me with too many emails. Nonsense! Over-communication is always, always, always better than under-communication. Your client should never have to check in with you to see where you are and how your work is coming along – that should be your job. You can establish a rhythm of regular updates – an email every Tuesday and Thursday, a weekly update to a Google Doc, or check-in with someone you know reports to your client.
Of course, some clients may not want you to communicate with them so regularly (though I have yet to meet one who didn’t prefer it to weeks of silence). If that’s the case, they will let you know. The absolute worst that can happen if you communicate too much is that the client will simply ask you to cut back. That’s it. They won’t yell at you or deduct from your fee – and if they do, they are a terrible client and should be fired immediately. Quality clients always appreciate your effort to keep them informed of your progress.
4. Not Being A Consultant
As a freelancer who works with many different clients, often in different sectors of an industry, you have an intimate knowledge of the best practices and successful initiatives of multiple clients. Especially as you gain years of experience, you know what works and what doesn’t, and you are in a unique position to offer your expert opinion to any new client you work with. However, many designers ignore this golden opportunity, preferring to keep their ideas to themselves and just complete a project without any feedback.
Being a trusted advisor or consultant for your clients will open doors that you never even knew existed. Your clients will value you not only for your technical skills, but also for the valuable advice that helps them increase their profits or avoid costly mistakes. Always back up your opinion with hard evidence and numbers whenever possible. It makes for a more compelling argument and reinforces for your client that they made a good decision in hiring you.
5. Being Uninspiring
For all you designers out there who made the switch to freelancing from working in an office, think back to when you first decided to become a freelancer. What, specifically, made you want to strike out on your own and never set foot in a cubicle again? Perhaps you wanted to set your own hours or control the flow of your own income. But chances are that you also felt uninspired working for someone else. Your boss and co-workers simply showed up day after day and ground out work that had no passion or emotional drive whatsoever.
If you’re not challenging and inspiring your clients with each project you take on, you’re essentially doing the same thing you attempted to escape in your day job. Don’t just be an employee who shows up and gets paid. Send new ideas your clients’ way – be a constant source of inspiration. Challenge them to consider their own business in new ways. Share your research with them and point out ways they can reach their customers that will make them stand out from their competition. Providing inspiration can be a form of consulting as well, and you can use both in tandem to guarantee your clients will be buzzing about you to anyone within earshot.
6. Not Managing The Project
Even if you’re not an official project manager for your client, it’s still part of your job duties as a freelancer. Let me explain what I mean. Say a client needs you to finish a website design by next week, but still hasn’t provided you with the copy. You’ve asked them repeatedly to send it over, but they simply keep forgetting. Frustrated, you continue to pester them and wait. Eventually, the deadline comes and goes, and, predictably, your client is furious. You show them all the email correspondence you collected over the last several days, which may embarrass them and make them apologize for holding you responsible for their slip up. The client-designer relationship may have been saved but the bottom line is: this scenario is avoidable far more often than many designers think.
Instead of simply waiting around for the client to get back to you with important data, you can often take the approach of simply going forward with your end anyway. Send the client a quick, polite message explaining that you understand they’re busy, but since you know this deadline is important, you’re just going to go ahead and fill in the missing info yourself, contact someone else in the company who might be able to help you, or simply omit it and be ready to fill it in later when the client has more time. It may seem presumptuous, but this technique works wonders in a lot of cases. As they say, it’s often easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, and clients love freelancers who take initiative and help them be more efficient. If something’s not right, the client can always ask you to fix it later, but that’s nearly always preferable to missing deadlines entirely.
7. Not asking for feedback
Every freelancer should be constantly asking for feedback from as many clients as possible, whether past, present, or future. Feedback is what allows you to adjust your approach to design, marketing, and self-promotion, and it is the key factor in growing your career to the heights you desire. It allows you to incorporate new ideas you learn from others, improve something you weren’t aware you were doing wrong, and confidently raise your rates and narrow your client base when the time is right to do so.
Ask for and incorporate as much feedback as possible, from wherever you can get it. Client surveys sent through email, or collected through your website or blog are crucial, as well as simple questions throughout your entire experience with the client. Don’t forget to leave your ego and defensiveness at the door! If you keep getting the same kinds of critiques in a particular area from many clients, that’s a good sign that you need to reevaluate your approach in that area. Lastly, regular feedback allows you to not only track your own progress and growth, but also that of your clients. Always be asking questions that determine your clients’ specific fears and challenges they have with their businesses, and incorporate their answers into your killer problem solving strategy.
What Do You Think?
Guilty of any of these 7 communication sins? What are some ways you can improve your own communication efforts with your clients? Let us know in the comments!