5 Secrets to Creating a Great Relationship with Your Clients

Published: August 18, 2017

Last week you got a haiku so this week is a little bit longer of a post.

Client and contractor (designer/freelancer) relationships can be a hit or miss. There are some of those clients that you absolutely adore and intend to keep as long as they need your service. Then there are others that seem to have been reincarnated from a previous life as a donkey (stubborn and lazy); one that doesn’t want to pay you for your service because it takes “5 minutes” yet won’t do it themselves.

While being in the industry, I’ve discovered some secrets in maintaining a happy and healthy work relationship between yourself and your clients. These are no guarantees since everyone is different but if you use these tips and still get nothing back — that’s a pretty good sign that you deserve better and you shouldn’t have to work for someone who doesn’t give and only takes.

1. Open Communication
One of the biggest strains on a relationship (whether that be work, spouse, or friendship); is not communicating. We often forget as humans that everybody is different and we all have independent reactions to situations.

For example, if person A spilled a drink on person B; person B has a few options:
- Anger by telling A to watch where they’re going
- Forgiveness by letting A know you understood it was an accident
- Sadness by crying over the drink being spilled on B’s sentimental shirt

We have many expectations and assumptions but as much as we like to think we are, we aren’t always right.

As exhausting as it can be, keeping a client in the loop is always the smarter way to go. I used to hate showing people my work while it was in progress but sometimes all you need is an extra set of eyes on it. Or sometimes even just the approval of the direction you’ve started going. Nothing is worse than spending hours on a design and then receiving feedback from the client that they didn’t clarify and they actually were intending to have something completely different. If you send them a quick draft they might not be able to see your vision completely but they will at least be able to tell you if you’re on the right track.

While open communication is a huge thing, so is respectful communication. Feedback is a main role when it comes to your work and hearing what somebody has to say shouldn’t be taken personally and it shouldn’t be delivered that way. If you are a client that has received a draft that you don’t like, there is no way to benefit from getting angry or taking it out on your designer. Also, choose your words wisely and instead of saying “What you did here is all wrong. Your corners are too round on the frame.” You could phrase it in a logical way, “I think this piece would pop out more with sharper corners.” That way, you aren’t singling out the designer for their personal choices but more directing them into your preferences. After all, we’re creating with YOU and your business in mind. Our ultimate goal is to make your users and brand happy and if you have a different vision, we’re happy to bring that to life for you.

2. Patience
From both ends, patience is mandatory. Clients often contact us after business hours or at prime hours trying to bend deadlines. While there will always be exceptions to this, (if we actually have the ability to fit something in), you need to respect a person’s time. You may need a printed flyer by end of day, but your designer may have a 2 project deadline the same day that was requested a week earlier.

While work is how we make our living, sometimes we deserve a break. So as much as we want to complete your 20-page-booklet, we need to take our weekends or personal days when they’re scheduled. The same goes to the designer. If a client is asking for a social media post for the weekend on Monday, and you give it to them Thursday night, that doesn’t give them enough time to request any adjustments or write a caption. Try to provide a draft early and give them time to decide on any changes.

Similarly, if a designer has started a project and needs content from a client (photos/text), they have to be patient in waiting for those. Typically we can design around them by using placeholder images or “Lorem Ipsum”, but we can’t bombard them with e-mails inquiring about the content. They are aware that their project can’t be complete without it and they will hand it over when they’re ready.

3. Organization
Organization is so important. My e-mail inbox (even embellished with labels and folders to archive them), is still a disaster to search through. I have upwards of 50 e-mails from individual clients and it can often be hard to remember all of the tasks I was asked to do or to reference back to an e-mail that I may need at a later date. Remember to always write subject lines and be SPECIFIC. If you write “Social Media Post” but you manage someone’s account, you will never differentiate your posts from today to your post from last April. You should specify “Tuesday’s Post on ____ Fundraiser”.

When you are a client and you need to send your designer content; it may be easier and more convenient to send photos through a text when you find them; written content through an e-mail after your copywriter wrote it; and logos when you get them from a brand. While you intend for this to be helpful because the designer can start the work earlier until you have all of the assets; this is bad for two reasons. One: the designer may layout the artwork saving room for a specific amount of text and imagery and then find out there are actually 4 new bands playing, a change in date, and one additional logo. Two: they have to surf through 2 e-mails and one text message to find the content with the chance of it getting lost, re-reading an old one and thinking these are the latest changes, or simply being overwhelmed by all of the incoming messages.

Organization is key in completing projects quickly and most importantly correctly.

4.Goal Setting
Whenever I read blogs or articles on clients and designers, it always feels like the two of them butt-heads. Something you have to stop and remember is that you two have the same goal in mind. A designer has your company’s best interest at heart and is putting their work in to reflect your identity, follow your marketing strategy, and generally increase leads or user engagement. This is all that the client is asking for from the designer, and all that the designer wants to deliver. If you are unhappy with a design, don’t compete with the designer and shut down their ideas — but brainstorm and work together. Create a rapport until you’re comfortable enough to start sharing what exactly it is you want. No matter what it is, there is always a solution. After all, Graphic Design is literally defined as “Solving problems using visual communication such as text, photos, and illustration”. So if you have a problem — it’s our job to come up with ways to fix them.

5. Valuing Each Other
This is another topic between client/designer relations that is always in the spotlight. Clients often try to get designers for free because it will:
- Look good in your portfolio
- Their cousin has Photoshop and can make it for them for free
- It will only take 10 minutes

The hardest part of freelancing I’ve encountered so far is “selling” my services. I find it difficult to convince others that my service is worth what I’ve valued it at. A lot of people charge per hour, which is totally fine but I think there is much more to it than that. Yes, we’re spending hours on the project but we also are using a laptop with software that you don’t have, archiving your projects on external/cloud drives, using our knowledge of the industry from the degree we’ve completed, spending time communicating via phone/e-mail to you (or a printer, hosting company, etc.), and making adjustments as requested.

There is a lot of work in design that goes unseen. From sketches/concepts/wireframes, to mind maps, to mood boards, to working on an old laptop that loads slowly, to formatting for the medium it will eventually be produced on. Sometimes it feels like clients think we’re robots that make things look pretty, work at the speed of light, and never have creative block. But, we’re still humans. We may take a little bit longer on projects that you think should only be in a days work. We may also be balancing more than 1, 5, or 10+ projects at once.

Designers have to value clients in the same respect. Clients generally are the majority of your networking and links to future projects. Word of mouth is HUGE in the design/freelance world. People like to recommend and people like to take recommendations from friends or family they trust. So when you have a client, make sure to treat them with respect and value them. You never know who they may introduce you to or who your work with them will get noticed by.

My perspectives are clearly from a designer’s bias but all of the secrets here go both ways. You get what you give. All-in-all we’re all human and deserve respect in our employment. It’s so much easier to be positive and nice to clients and build a relationship that keeps you trusting one another and continuously coming back. Let’s break the stereotype of “bad clients” and realize it takes two to tango. As long as you follow these secrets, you should be pretty comfortable and reliant on each other. Once you have that, there’s nothing stopping you from achieving all of your professional goals, together!



A creative who dips her toes in an assortment of mediums. (Usually a medium hot chocolate, but this will do).

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Ashley Robertson

A creative who dips her toes in an assortment of mediums. (Usually a medium hot chocolate, but this will do).