When you first launch yourself into a career as a freelancer, no matter what industry, you are more than likely full of motivation, enthusiasm and energy. A great way to begin your new career. However, the mission to find great clients isn’t always as easy as you might [naively] think. One thing I’ve learnt (and believe me, it’s been the hard way), is that saying YES to every job is definitely the wrong thing to do.
We have a thing called ‘a gut instinct’, we have this for a reason. It’s something that might get our ‘fight or flight’ mechanism fuelled and ready to kick off – listen to that, try to understand why you have that feeling and don’t ignore it.
This is the one thing that may save you from a lot of stress and financial angst. I know this sounds all very doom and gloom, but believe me, there are clients out there who really don’t have a clue about the number of hours it can take to produce a good design and therefore will question your credibility all the way through a project. Usually because they have Word or Publisher and they could do it so much quicker – that being the case why did they come to you in the first place.
The best way to avoid this difficult and stressful scenario is to be confident in your abilities, be honest about your rates and don’t compromise what you expect from your client. Have a process, a checklist and a routine.Show every potential client the same respect from the start and also ensure that they know you expect the same respect in return. Be professional, they are not your friend, they are your means of making a living. By all means be friendly and maybe even have a laugh to put everyone at ease, but make sure your potential new client sees that you know your stuff and appreciates your expertise. Throw a bit of jargon in there, it may not mean anything to them or it may impress them – either way you are putting yourself in a position of authority on your subject – which is hopefully why they came to you in the first place.
Before you commit to any job from any client here’s a few tips that might help you clinch that all important deal or at the very least ensure you make the right decision:
- When a new client contacts you, arrange a first meeting. Make sure you are very clear that there is no charge for this and that there is no obligation on either party to agree to anything going forward at this stage. This is where you both allow your gut instinct to do it’s magic. Don’t on any account, ignore this!
- Keep your meeting to an hour and be strict about that. From then on, if you take on this client, every hour spent with them should be billed for. (Put it this way, you wouldn’t expect a solicitor to offer a freebie every time you have a meeting with them – your client can’t expect that of you either.)
- During this initial discussion, make sure you have as much information about the job as possible. Set yourself a guideline of questioning that you are comfortable with and allows you to go away with confidence at the end of the meeting, knowing that you are armed with all the information you require to write a comprehensive brief.
- Let them see that you are making a checklist and don’t avoid the issue of budget. Without the knowledge of how much they can spend, you have no idea how much of the job you can achieve.
- Equally, be confident about how much you charge per hour or per day, so that the potential client knows right from the beginning what to expect in terms of costs. I can’t tell you enough how important that information can be for a good working relationship with any client. (If the client is open and honest about how much money they have to spend, you’re hopefully on the right track and you are able to be realistic about what you can achieve for them.)
- With all the information you’ve gathered about the project, go back to your workspace and prepare a design brief for your new client. Include everything in this brief, and I mean everything that you gained from your meeting.The tiny details are the ones that can come back and bite you on the bum if you ignore them. What you think is a minor issue, may actually be very important to your client. The art of listening is an essential skill you need to hone – make sure you consciously remind yourself of this every time you are with a client, whether it be the first time or half way through a project.
- When you prepare a brief, itemise everything. Make it very clear that you understand all the elements of the project that your client requires you to complete. Demonstrate your understanding of the design process by setting out the brief in a logical and organised fashion. This shows your commitment and professionalism. You want your client to read the brief and be amazed by the amount of information you were able to extract from them. If you show them at this stage that you are capable of listening and understanding what they need, then you are starting the relationship in a very positive way.
- The flip side of this initial brief could be that you got something wrong, maybe misinterpreted elements of their needs or missed something entirely. Make sure that you are totally transparent this, that you only human and mistakes can happen. Include a statement to this effect in the brief –
- We are only human, we all make mistakes, don’t be afraid of admitting you got something wrong and stand corrected. Your client will respect you so much more for admitting a misunderstanding. This is what the brief is for, to ensure you are both on the same wavelength. Make sure your client lets you know if you’ve completely missed something. They may have an afterthought or forgot to mention something in your first meeting – remember your client is human too.
- When you send the brief to your client, also send your *Terms and Conditions document. This is so important. You need to ensure you have yourself covered for any difficulties that might arise along the way. If you are upfront and honest about what is required by your client as much as what they require of you, you are both in a position to make the decision that allows you both to move forward with this project, or maybe reconsider. With all your T’s an C’s on the table for them to clearly see and understand, there should be no repercussions down the line.
- Once your brief and T’s and C’s have been sent to your client, you wait. Allow them time to digest it, question it and hopefully, in the end, be happy with it. Give them a week, don’t be too impatient or look too needy of their business. If after a week you haven’t heard anything, a polite email or phone call to check they received it is not out of the question. After all, this is your livelihood, you need to ensure you have the work lined up in order for you to set your own budgets, organise your schedule and sustain a healthy cash flow.
- If there are any issues with the brief or they have any questions about your T’s & C’s, address these straight away so you can hopefully move forward quickly. If they are happy with the brief as it is, ensure you get your part-payment (**not deposit – it’s all about semantics), before you start the project. All going well, once that payment hits your account, it’s all systems go. Pat yourself on the back for getting through this first and sometimes most difficult part of the project and enjoy the creative journey ahead.
Another bit of advice I would like to offer, treat every client the same. Don’t get sucked into ‘mates rates’ or charities that have no money. Charities do have money otherwise they couldn’t exist and a true mate wouldn’t expect you to go hungry for their benefit.
By all means offer a discount if you think it’s appropriate, but never do anything for nothing.
You have skills that other people don’t have, that’s why they come to you in the first place. You worked hard to gain the knowledge you have, don’t ever underestimate that or allow yourself to feel belittled by any client. It’s up to you to make sure you are totally clear about what it is you can do for them and don’t be afraid to admit if there are skills you don’t have – we all have to use other contractors ocasionally. Insist they don’t keep any worries or issues, questions or dilemmas to themselves – if they know they can be totally honest with you, then your working relationship should be a breeze. You may aslo have to be very thick skinned when it comes to criticism. If they don’t like something, accept it and go back to the drawing board. You won’t get it right first time in most instances – relish those rare moments that you do.
Every mistake is an opportunity!
(Not sure if I just made that up or someone else did, good advice though.)
There will always be the client who thinks they know everything about what your work, if that was the case they wouldn’t need you in the first place. There will also be the ones that tell you that ‘so-and-so’ down the road said he’d do a website/logo/poster for them for £50. That’s fine, let them. If that’s the quality they are looking for, you can’t compete with that and don’t beat yourself up for not trying to. You know what expertise you have and what you can offer your client, and if they’ve seen examples of your work then it’s up to them to decide which direction they want to go. Sometimes losing a client to the bloke down the road is the best thing that can happen – the stress of dealing with such a client is never worth the financial gain (which can sometimes be very little anyway). Don’t just be driven by how much you are going to gain financially, determine what you can also gain professionally and emotionally. Creative projects should be enjoyable and rewarding. If your client understands that too, you’re potentially on a good thing.
Be clear, be honest and be patient – there is no such thing as the perfect job or the perfect client – you just have to remember to listen to your gut, let your head make the right decisions and your heart will enjoy the outcomes.
Good luck! Feel free to pick my brains about anything in this article. Only happy to share my experiences with other freelancers and sole traders.
(Keep an eye out for my new look website lauching soon.)
Download an example of my initial design brief here and feel free to amend it for your own persoanl use. Design-Brief-Example-2017
* Feel free to amend my Terms and Conditions document to use for your own business. Another very kind designer shared this with me (who I embarrassingly can’t remember who he was) Design-Brief-Example-2017, for which I am very grateful – Sharing is caring!
** A part-payment is not refundable, however, as I recently learned from another self employed creative, a deposit is. Using the correct terminology can save you a lot of grief.