The key to any successful design project isn’t just the quality of your design work—it’s also how well you communicate with your client.
This week, we hosted a webinar with Paul Jarvis, freelance designer and best-selling author, on how to understand your clients’ needs, pitch your mockups, and finish each project with a results-based case study.
Watch the full recording below, or read on for our short recap.
Lead the charge
The most important thing to remember: clients don’t know how to be good clients unless they’re taught. It’s your job to teach them. It might be your client’s first time working with a designer, so it’s your job to lead them through the process and instruct them on what you need from them along the way.
Paul told a story about a client who came to him after being impressed by his other work. She was so eager to start her project that she paid him half of the cost upfront to skip the formalities and get right down to designing.
“Designers: it’s your job to teach your clients how to be good clients.”
It was like a dream—someone liked him so much that they wanted to give him money and start immediately.
That dream started to fade away pretty quickly—Paul, flattered, didn’t set expectations, define project goals, or determine if the work was even a good fit for him.
When he presented the client with the first mockup, she said that he hadn’t done his best work. She hated everything about the design and complained it didn’t match her or her business, that he didn’t do as good of a job as he did for other clients, and that he’d phoned it in.
“Good communication with clients is just as valuable as the quality of work you deliver.”
Ultimately, the project took about 5 times longer than his usual projects—and his client still wasn’t completely satisfied in the end. The experience taught Paul that good communication with clients is just as valuable as the quality of work you deliver.
— Onyx Creative Studio (@experienceonyx) August 11, 2015
4 stages in client communication
In any design project, there are 4 times where communication is critical:
- Finding the right clients
- Before someone gives you money
- While you’re doing the project
- Once a project is finished
The most obvious is number 3: while you’re working on the project. But by increasing your efforts in all 4 areas, you’ll set yourself up for a higher level of success.
We’re going to focus on number 2: before someone gives you money. Make sure to watch the recap for the other 3.
Before someone gives you money
This is exactly where Paul went wrong in the story before. His advice? Get everyone on the same page about timeline, budget, deliverables, and process. Do that by having specific, direct conversations with clients before any money changes hands.
“Have specific, direct conversations with clients before any money changes hands.”
What to ask potential design clients
- Tell me about your business
- What is and isn’t working currently?
- What made you realize that you need to hire a designer?
- What would success look like?
What to say when pitching clients
Re-use their own language from the questions above and explain the problems you’ll solve rather than talking about your skillset.
Think of success stories that you can share from your previous projects. Stories solidify in someone’s mind that you’re the person for the job, not someone else.
Finally, explain why other clients hire you, and feel confident to share what clients say about your work once it’s finished. (Note: these are things to ask clients at the end of projects so you can use them for future clients).
“Stories with tangible results are more important than skills—they show you’re worth spending money on.”
Communication is key
Remember that stories with tangible results are more important than skills, because they allow clients to make the connection that you’re worth spending money on. Establish that you’re in a unique position to help solve their design problems with your specific skills.
We like how David summed it all up:
— David Higgs (@thelittlegyro) August 11, 2015
Margaret Kelsey leads content marketing at <a href="http://appcues.com/">Appcues</a>. Before Appcues, she built content programs for InVision’s design community for 3.5 years and has roots in painting and PR. She’s a big fan of puns, Blackbird Donuts, and Oxford commas—probably in that order.