How To Work With Clients

10 Best Practices For Building Reputation and Relationships

When you accept a client’s project, you make it your own. You’re not creating for yourself. Even so, you need to approach a project as if it is your money and reputation on the line. Your job is to share your client’s message with the community they intend to target — on behalf of your client. To do that effectively, there are a variety of elements you should incorporate into your approach to every project and client relationship:

1. Understand your client’s vision.

This is where your role begins. If you don’t understand what your client is aiming to accomplish and the reasons that drive them, you cannot communicate visually or verbally. You have nothing to communicate. Getting to know the client’s vision, audience and motives requires conversation and listening skill. You need to look for what is said and also what is but implied. Think of this as the auditory white space between the words and sentences. Wrap up the conversation with, “Okay, this is what I understand your goals are…”

2. Understand your client’s role in their marketplace.

Behind the client’s vision is their position. How does the client live out their vision in their day-to-day internal operations and external relationships with customers? Ask a lot of questions – what are they doing? What are they accomplishing by doing it? How’s it going? What’s missing?

3. Understand the audience – the client’s customers.

Don’t simply look at whether the audience is primarily male or female, Millenial or Boomer – the demographics. Look at the concerns and interests of the target group within the larger culture – the psychographics. For example, Boomers are far more entrepreneurial and technologically connected than they were five years ago. An advantage they have over Millenials other than wisdom and maturity is buying power, and they spend their money carefully. You’re not actually creating for the client but for their customer.

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4. Approach every project not just with getting it done and getting paid, but what you can learn from developing it. 

For each project you accept, evaluate its success once it is out the door, and also what you gained from the experience. Always be learning and working to expand your knowledge and skill. Accept projects that fit within your skill set but also push you to step up your game.

5. Learn to lead your clients.

Leaders are not entitled to followers; they earn them. Be someone your client looks to for information and insight. Be someone open to considering their ideas as well as your own. Be a good listener. Be THE creative resource for your client.

6. Be reliable. 

Respond to emails. Return telephone calls. Communicate with your client throughout every step of the project. If you can’t meet a deadline, let the client know, and talk with them about adjustments. Admit where you’re weak (everyone lacks in some area). Don’t take on projects you can’t handle. Sub out work you don’t do well or don’t want to do.

7. Accept critique.

Clients have opinions and will express them. Many don’t express negative reactions in a constructive manner. Learn to “let things roll off your back”. Instead of taking criticism of your work personally, start asking the client questions: “What is it you don’t think is working? Why not?” Put the focus on the design instead of on your feelings. Critique is useful to you and will benefit you. You can’t improve easily without it.

8. Cultivate creativity.

Start by asking, “What if?” Begin with the obvious answers, but don’t stop there. What will change the game? What will disrupt the status quo? Look for those answers when developing your creative solutions. Seek inspiration, but let it suggest new ideas. Don’t simply reiterate or create a new version.

9. Avoid mediocrity.

Excellence is hard work. Are you really in this to be just good enough? Or do you aim to rise above? Go above and beyond. Don’t short-change your client or yourself. Always do your best work. Talent does not equal expertise. Develop your talent and your skill. Back up both with ethics and character.

10. Build your reputation.

Every day, everything you do either adds to or subtracts from your reputation. Ultimately when it come to clients and projects, it is your reputation on the line. Be the person your client wants to work with and will eagerly recommend to others.

Excellence is hard work. Are you really in this to be just good enough? Or do you aim to rise above? Go above and beyond. Don’t short-change your client or yourself. Always do your best work. Talent does not equal expertise. Develop your talent and your skill. Back up both with ethics and character. Always be learning.

As a creative pro, you can focus on getting projects or on building relationships. Once you are awarded a project, it is your responsibility to build the relationship and create high quality work. The thing is this: It’s your approach to projects and clients that will make you sought-after as a creative. With the right approach, you will not need to worry about competing for either, because you will stand out.

Alvalyn Lundgren

Alvalyn Lundgren is the founder and design director at Alvalyn Creative, an independent practice near Thousand Oaks, California. She creates visual branding, publications and books for business, entrepreneurs and authors. She is the creator of Freelance Road Trip — a business roadmap program for creative freelancers. Contact her for your visual branding, graphic and digital design needs. Join her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and subscribe to her free monthly newsletter.

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