When it comes to attracting and retaining clients, it's not enough to merely be a great designer. There's a lot of competition for work out there these days, so you have to push the envelope.
To keep your clients happy, you'll need to work on your social and networking skills (opens in new tab), improve your business acumen, streamline your workflow, and more. That might sound scary, but don't worry: as long you take heed of the following advice, you'll be well on the way to becoming your clients' go-to designer...
01. Give free advice
This doesn’t mean going out and do spec work for everyone; it means talking to clients properly when they call you, without counting the minutes and how much you’ll bill them. If they ask you a question which leads into an hour-long call, who cares? Be happy they called you for your suggestion. Never deliver a sales pitch, just provide a consultation and try to help in any way you can.
02. Make introductions
If a client mentions in passing they are working on a new strategy or is looking to learn about a topic, think of an expert or someone within your network to introduce your client to who can help shed some light or bounce ideas off of. Any time they have a question or are looking for advice, they’ll call you to see if you know anyone. Soon, they’ll believe that you only mingle with the best minds in the industry. Ever hear of the phrase 'you are the company you keep'?
03. Always be open
A potential client comes to you after going through a terrible experience with a previous design firm. He is facing losing hundreds of thousands of dollars if his tight timeline is not met. You should take a good hard look at your workload to see what you can do to help. Of course, don’t get yourself in a bind by making unrealistic promises; otherwise you’re no better than the previous firm. If it can be done, take it on as a challenge and do whatever needed to make it happen. When the project is complete, the client will be eternally loyal.
04. Be flexible
When the scope says 'not to exceed seven unique wireframes', think about doing an eighth or ninth if it will bring value to the project without saying 'this is out of scope, we’ll need to draft an addendum'.
Likewise, when a client is in a bind do what you can to be helpful and flexible without mentioning payment or the number of billable hours. It’s important that you don’t get taken advantage of, but making the conscious decision to not nickel and dime your client for that extra few hundred dollars you should have billed them for will come back to you tenfold.
05. Become an ambassador for their brand
Clients love it when you believe in their brand as much as they do. So be enthusiastic about the work that you're doing and spread the word through your own contacts via social media. Put the work you've done for them into your design portfolio (opens in new tab) and shout about it. Then show your client how you're helping to boost their brand image.
06. Ask a lot of questions
Some clients won't be used to dealing with designers and often won't know exactly what they want. So question the client thoroughly. Make sure you know what they want to achieve and who the work is targeting, rather than just what they think they want to see.
07. Show them examples
If a design client doesn't know quite what they want, it can be difficult to get started. So try to show them some design examples, either your own or from other graphic designers, in the hope of nailing down a concept.
08. Give regular updates
It's hard to overstate the importance of good communications. This doesn't (usually) mean answering calls at 4am, but it does mean being prompt in replying to emails and making time for meetings and conference calls.
Aim to give regular updates. Keep your clients in the loop and make them aware of any delays in the project. How often you update them often depends how involved a client wants to be and whether they want to see early conceptual stages or just the finished design.
09. Quote honestly for work
Give a clear quote, in writing, and list out what you will deliver, by when, and any fees for revisions or edits. Setting everything out in black and white makes your clients' life easier as much as yours.
10. Respect your deadlines
Although some clients may have agreed to give you deadlines extensions in the past, that doesn't mean they were happy about it. And others may flat-out refuse. And they're quite entitled to: deadlines are deadlines are deadlines. If you are absolutely unable to deliver your work on time, make clients aware of this well in advance, not the day before you are due to submit work.
11. Play nice
It's amazing how many professionals forget that straightforward civility goes a long way. If you're a pleasure to deal with, energetic and polite, you'll get repeat business. Behave like a teething toddler or a hard-nosed corporate caricature, and you'll quickly get under your client's skin.
12. Accept blame when necessary
Don't cede responsibility for any mistakes or errors you make. Acknowledge them, and then tell your client how you'll fix them. Ignoring problems only makes them worse. Refusing to accept liability for them makes you look untrustworthy, and you'll be much less likely to be employed again.
13. Don't take on too much
Don't take on more work than you can handle. You won't end up doing a great job if you can't fully devote your time to a single project. Multi-tasking is overrated, and martyrdom won't win you any fans.
The number one priority for clients in choosing designers is an ability to listen closely and carefully to what they have to say. Clients love it when you make their jobs easier, so returning a week into the project to clarify the brief because you switched off in the meeting is not recommended.
Next page: 14 more ways to keep your clients cheerful...