One of the easiest mistakes to make early in your freelance career is underestimating just how important it is for be on the same page as your client. We see the money come in and we try to get the project done as quickly as possible, saying yes to anything and everything our clients ask of us so we can get that final payday.
At the beginning of my freelance career, I made this exact mistake. I'd get a project and start right away, sending sketches to my client asking if it was what they were looking for, only to be told that they wanted something else—or that it missed the mark.
Sometimes I'd go through over five revisions before we'd hit the right mark and move on to creating the designs they were ultimately looking for.
It wasn’t until I was out of college that I finally understood the importance of due diligence and aligning with my clients early on.
Below you'll find five principles that I've learned over the last ten years of freelancing to get on the same page as your clients.
The best way to be on the same page with your client: Get them involved in the project. Some creatives will ask for a creative brief or they'll send a quick questionnaire and think they're ready. Or, worse, some freelancers don’t even jump on a call with their clients.
When you start a project, always have a kickoff call with your client. The start of a project is the perfect time to get them involved, share ideas, and for you to go over any briefs or documents you may have had them fill out.
Side Note: If a client doesn’t want to jump on a call with you, especially to kick off a project, then you don’t want to work with that client—that's a big red flag.
One thing I like to do to get my clients involved in the creative process is have them sketch out their ideas in addition to filling out any discovery documents. It allows them to flex their creativity—and even if it's only stick figures, it's still great. Drawing out ideas helps you express things easier than just saying them out loud or writing them down.
You also want clients to stay involved, so having calls and meetings to review work is important. Keep a continuous dialogue going so that if problems do arise, you hear it sooner rather than later—or at the tail end of the project.
Communication is something that I’m still working on. In the past, I’ve had meetings with clients and then after the call, I jump right into doing design work, cranking away before I have my next meeting with the client to review the progress.
Sometimes everything goes smoothly. And other times I’ve found myself in a situation where the client has forgotten what they said or agreed to, or there was some misunderstanding.
Since then, I’ve tried to incorporate follow-ups after most, if not all, of my calls with clients. This way, I can go over what we discussed, next steps, and I can make sure that I understand what they’re looking for with the project.
You'd be surprised how much pain, suffering, and money is saved on both sides when you not only talk to your client but follow up with them.
You can’t follow up with your clients if you don’t take notes during your meetings. Don’t try to say that you can remember everything you discuss in a call. Because you can’t.
I always carry a sketchbook, bullet journal, and field notebook with me to take notes on the fly. I make it a habit to sit back after meetings or calls and write down everything that’s in my head about the project and anything I may have forgotten to jot down during the call.
I’ve found that since I’ve started taking notes during calls, I’m able to recall a lot more even without reviewing my notes. There’s something about the act of physically writing something down that helps you retain the information.
When you document information about your projects, you’re able to review what went right or wrong with the project later. There have even been moments when I’ve thought that a client is wrong, and it turns out I was the wrong one.
It always helps to document a project all the way through.
One of the worst things you can be to your client is a “Yes” person. You don’t have to, and you shouldn’t always say yes to them or anyone.
When you continuously say yes to everything, you’re breaking down any boundaries or respect that you may have developed with them.
One thing that we’ve been led to believe is that the customer is always right, but it's not true. As freelancers, we're working with them as partners and we're using our creative expertise to help solve a specific problem.
If you say yes to everything your client asks, you're focusing on making them happy—not solving their problem.
It’s better to take charge of your relationship with your client.
You are not your client’s employee. You are their partner in the project or projects that you work on with them.
One of the reasons I decided to work for myself instead of finding another job was that I prefer to be my own boss. I don’t look at my clients as a series of bosses—I see them as partners. It’s my goal to help tell their stories, solve their problems, and make their brands successful.
When a client is looking for someone to say yes to all of their ideas and just do whatever they say, they're not going to value your expertise. If you have a feeling this is what your client is looking for, then you might want to say no to partnering with them.
I tend to push back when clients want something that goes against what research, data, or even my experiences tells me. Sometimes they agree, other times they don’t, but we work through those instances together because we see each other as equals.
My clients know that I’m here to help them succeed and that there might be some rocky moments—pun intended—along the way, but they know that I’ll be there with them every step.
Just remember that the moment you feel your client doesn’t see you as a partner for their success and view you more as an employee, then it’s time for the partnership to end.
These principles flow together nicely because they're a roadmap for successful communication and understanding between you and your client. Getting on the same page with your client can be easy, but most times it's a bit difficult at first.
If, however, you take the time to build a relationship with your client and a steady stream of communication, then you’re more likely to have your clients refer you to others—or, even better, hire you for more work.
If you have a moment and would like to hear a bit more on the five principles, be sure to check out this YouTube video I created in tandem with the blog post. There are a few additional insights within the video that you might find helpful.
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