In truth, I'm no George Lois. I don't have bravado, or swagger, or whatever it is that allows some designers to walk into a room with a steely-eyed stare and sell their work with only their epic presence. Nope. I'm a little less intimidating. A little more flexible. And for years, much less likely to get my designs through the client feedback loop unscathed.
I didn't show the kind of confidence needed to make people believe in my solutions. On top of that, conflict made me break out in hives. So I caved to every client request, even ones that made no sense and hurt the work. I grieved for my trashed designs and worried I'd never become a 'badass ninja rockstar guru'.
It took time and experience for me to learn two things. First, I was right in thinking that I couldn't pull off a rockstar designer persona. It's just not my thing. And second, that shouldn't hold me back. Bravado is one way to sell, but it's certainly not the only way.
The myth that all designers are uncompromising egoists is hard to avoid. But that's not where my strengths lie, and I'm OK with that. Instead, I focus on a softer sell. I lean on research, education, empathy and a good understanding of human psychology and irrationality. Because, once the glitter of the dog and pony show wears off, clients start to get real and ask serious questions. And here, in those moments of deeper questioning, is where my strengths can shine.
Selling your work starts long before your first design deliverable. We're asking for a big leap of faith from clients. To get on board, they have to believe in our expertise and talent. So, start by laying the groundwork for easier approvals by doing everything you can to build trust, avoid quagmires, and exude confidence.
Here are a few of my favourite tricks for winning clients over without bluster.
01. Stalk them
Get to know the project, the team, and the client's goals. Do it before the kick-off so you go in feeling prepared. Dig up sales docs, RFPs, past campaigns, interviews, LinkedIn profiles, basically everything you can get your hands on. Treat it like a blind date, and do some Googling! A few hours spent researching will make that first meeting much less intimidating.
02. Know their lens
Clients are not all alike; each comes to the project with a particular view or lens on the work you'll be doing. Sometimes that lens is 'easy maintenance'. Sometimes it's 'make the boss happy'. Sometimes it's a 'mind-blowing new idea'. Whatever the client's view is, presenting your work through the context of this lens, and anticipating and answering questions before they're asked, will smooth your path.
03. Go with your gut
Often, our clients give us input along the way that seems to steer us in a direction that doesn't feel right. They may really stress maintenance and have you thinking it has to be ultra simple. Or they may push a concept or colour palette that seems way off. When I let feedback steer me too heavily in a direction that I don't feel good about, I almost always pay for it with disappointed clients. Therefore, it's important to be mindful of early feedback, but avoid being boxed in by it. Don't let it outweigh your instincts.
04. Give a soap opera recap
Once you're in the feedback loop, pretend your clients weren't even at the last meeting when you start a new meeting or presentation. Start every presentation with a rundown of what happened last time. Outline the deliverables you previously covered and the decisions that were made. That way, you won't be revisiting the same issues over and over again. You'll also notice that you receive less conflicting feedback.
05. This, or that?
This is a common technique for avoiding power struggles with toddlers, but it works just as magically with grownups. For a point of contention, offer up two choices, and only two to avoid paralysis. Make sure these are both solutions that you can live with. You'd be surprised how small the differences need to be, and how much this helps clients feel in control.
So don't worry if you can't pull off 'badass ninja rockstar guru'. Let that myth go. Instead, figure out what type of selling style you are good at, play to those strengths, and bring something even better to the table.
Words: Mindy Wagner (opens in new tab)
Mindy Wagner is a senior designer at Viget, where she gets to make cool things with cool people. This article originally appeared in net magazine issue 250.