I often receive emails from blog readers and fellow freelancers who vent about clients from hell and am asked for advice on what boils down to how to manage freelance clients.
I come from an advertising background where I had the luxury of account executives who would act as a buffer between the creatives and the clients - clients who often had a dedicated marketing team. Now as a freelancer I am often working with small businesses (and formerly brides) who have never worked with a designer - so now it is not only my job to execute a kickass design it is my job to educate and guide them through the design and branding process.
So today I want to discuss how I manage my clients.
1. First you have to manage yourself.
I've talked a lot about how I manage myself - from project management and to-do lists and estimating & billing. Being organized allows you to direct you focus to your clients needs without getting all flustered.
2. Communication is key.
Figure out how your client likes to communicate. Is it by email? Face-to-face? By phone? The goal is to create a meaningful connection and trust through these mediums while being respectful and efficient with everyone's time. Maybe an email is appropriate to touch base or send files for proofing. But maybe a phone call or Skype session is more appropriate if you have a lot of brainstorming and direction to hammer out.
3. Manage your meetings.
Meetings can be a time-suck but sometimes they are a necessary evil. I will have very brief meetings with a potential client to see if we're a good fit for each other, but otherwise I wait until a contract has been signed to invest a lengthy amount of time talking about art direction and goals. Our time is valuable!
Some tips I've picked up from productive and unproductive meetings are:
• Have a meeting agenda. Prep your client beforehand with your expectations of the meeting. Think of specific questions you need answers to. Write them down.
• If you start to veer from the agenda gently guide the meeting back to the topics on hand.
• Always end the meeting with next steps. Each meeting should produce action steps for you to take.
• Follow up by email. Consider following up with your client. Thank her (or him) for her time and briefly bullet your conference notes and outline next steps. This way you have in writing what was discussed should it come up for question down the road.
9 times out of 10 a client from hell situation is the designers fault (there! I said it!) for not listening to the client in the first place. If you listen to your client you will efficiently be able to uncover the solution easier than if you just want to design something rad with banners and birds.
4B. Then Guide.
I always try to present myself as a friendly authority to my clients. I am not an order taker - I'm an expert. I always communicate with my client what I think they're saying they need and then my recommendation based on what I heard him (or her) say. I also walk the client step-by-step through the process (with a timeline attached) so they know what to expect and when. I may have done this a million times but I have to remember it's my client's first time so it's important to shine some light on the process. Your client will thank you for your confidence and direction - afterall, that's what you were hired for.
5. Be Nice.
Always remind yourself that your client is not the enemy. They chose you because they need your help and oftentimes, that is a vulnerable position to be in - especially for my clients who are usually DIY and do-it-all small business owners. I always treat them and their project with the respect, attention and genuine enthusiasm it deserves.
6. Get Paid What You're Worth
If you don't value your services neither will your client. And if you're not getting paid what you're worth you're going to become resentful. It's a toxic combination, but it's your own fault for agreeing to anything less. If you're not worth a lot yet (because you're a new designer or fresh out of school) remember that you are investing in either a portfolio piece or experience - so be grateful.
Do you all have any tips for managing your clients? Do you have any other freelance questions you would like me to address? I would love to hear some of your ideas or experiences on this matter in the comment section.
• Estimating & Billing
• Project Management
• To Do Matters
J & K started this blog project to document the remodel of their 1929 historical home in the heart of Oklahoma City. It has now turned into a documentation of life, food, fashion, freelance, inspiration, design, adventures and details around the J & K house.
Kathleen works as an award-winning brand consultant and designer specializing in small business branding at Braid Creative & Consulting. Jeremy is a software engineer and is the left-brain to Kathleen’s right.
You can contact Kathleen at
jeremyandkathleen (at) gmail (dot) com.
All photos and graphics by Kathleen unless otherwise stated. Feel free to use them with permission or credit.
Anatomy of an Outfit
Sometimes I like to get dressed and take pictures of myself. For all of my outfit posts click here.
Freelance Matters: A series about how I tackle freelance issues such as estimating, billing, to-do lists and how to fire a client.
Trekking to Everest
In October 2010 Jeremy and I trekked through the Himalayas to Mt. Everest Base Camp. It completely changed my life. Read about the entire adventure, day-by-day, here.
Braid is a creative & consulting business I own with my sister. We do branding and business visioning for creative entrepreneurs. On the Braid blog I share branding adventures, how-to articles and advice on the creative process. If you need a little brand therapy of your own visit Braid or subscribe to the Braid blog RSS feed here.
What We Eat
We like to eat really good food - at least 3 times a day. Sometimes I blog about it - click here for recipes and yummy ideas.
J & K: Blog Archive
- ► 2012 (182)
- Huevos Veggies
- A Press Check for Jason Hudson
- Anatomy of an Outfit: Boots and A Skirt Up to Ther...
- The Lake
- Vintage Typewriter Wedding Invitations
- The Blinking Game
- Vegetarian Empanadas
- Langston's Western Wear + Justin Boot WINNER!
- Cheers to Friday
- Freelance Matters | Managing Your Client
- Glory Days
- Identity: Photographers Skeen
- Anatomy of an Outfit: These Boots (+ A Giveaway) [...
- Marriage Equality Tote Giveaway - WINNER!
- Life Lately
- More Michigan
- Cow + Girl
- For the House
- Marriage Equality (+ a giveaway) [closed]
- Cookbook Inspiration
- Watching: Documentaries
- ▼ August (24)
- ► 2010 (387)
- ► 2009 (406)
- Eva Black | Spaces
- Emma Dime
- Life as an Artistpreneur
- Jane Reaction
- Ink & Letters
- Meg Biram | The Edit
- Sarah Von Bargen's Small Biz Blog
- Design Crush
- The Equals Record
- Emmarie Designs
- Rory Gordon
- Yellow Brick Home
- The Creatives Project
- Silly Grrl
- Photographers Skeen
- The Clothes Make the Girl
- Bringing Design Home
- Pip & Estella
- A Practical Wedding
- Kind of a Sideshow
- Sandra Juto
- Old Sweet Song
- Rambling Renovators
- Brooklyn Bride
- Design Crush
- Experiment in Poverty
- The Jealous Curator
- Making it Lovely
- Dressing on the Side
- The Oklahoman
- Young House Love
- Oh So Beautiful Paper
- A Cup of Jo
- Brooklyn Limestone
- Glamour Weddings