Monday, 26 March 2012

5 Questions to Ask Potential Clients.

As designers, we are interviewed by potential clients each day, hoping that we pass the test and get awarded the job. But something that is rather uncommon really shouldn't be. Do we interview the clients? Do we take the time to ensure that they are the type of client that we want to (or even can) work with?

In the current economy, many designers feel that they do not have the luxury of turning down jobs, or simply dont know how - see: Saying No to Clients - Part 1: Taking the Job. But  working with the wrong client could cost you more in the long run than not working with them at all.

I have 5 basic questions that each designer should ask potential clients to make the decision whether or not to work with them.

1: What is your budget?

This should be the very first question asked. Many designers are afraid to talk about money so early on in the relationship, but why waste everyones time. After all you are in business, and the bottom line is business is about making money. If the clients budget isn't consistent with the services that you supply, then you may just have to let them go.

2: What is the deadline?

This is a tricky one. You have to fit the clients expectations into your schedule. Some clients may want the job overnight, while others are willing to wait. Some companies charge extra for rush-jobs, it requires a rather delicate balance and I will discuss how to deal with timeframes in a later post (it will be a pretty long one). But at the end of the day, I can offer this: Make sure that you aren't over-promising with regard to time. It will set you up for a very stressful time and a very unhappy client.

3: Have you worked with a designer / agency before?

If the client answers "yes" this can raise some additional questions (or alarm bells). you may be comforted in the knowledge that the client is not a complete novice when dealing with designers, but you need to ask Why is the client changing designers? If the client has alot of bad things to say about a previous designer, it is quite likely that they will soon have other issues with you (unless the other designer was exceptionally unprofessional and basically ruined his reputation in the industry). Be aware of these red flags while you can still walk away from the job.

4: Who is the decision maker on the project?

It can get very confusiong (and really annoying) when there are too many cooks in the kitchen. Knowing who the ultimate decision lies with will save you alot of time on revisions or stop you from doing unnecessary work, and will help the project move faster and more smoothly in the long run.

5: How did you hear about me / our agency?

This is a kind of selfish question. It will help you know what marketing channels are and aren't working, but it will also let you know if the client is just testing the waters and fishing for a quote. Referrals are typically best, it lets you know that the potential client has seen some of your worked and enquired about it, but second best is an online portfolio or your website, it means that the client has researched your work and is some what familiar with what you do and who you have worked for previously.

In conclusion, knowing a clients expectations and budget will go a long way into helping you decide whether or not you want to enter into a business relationship with them. If it is not mutually beneficial or realistic, it may be best to walk away early, rather than having to deal with the implications of a rash decision later.

Money won’t create success, the freedom to make it will. - Nelson Mandela

Do you have any questions that help you decide if you are going to take the job?

Friday, 23 March 2012

Saying No to Clients - Part 2: Client Requests.

The well known phrase ‘the customer is always right’ may work well in the retail sector (to a degree), but it is far from the truth in the design world.

As a designer, you know what does and doesn’t work. You know what will look good and what will look horrid. Unfortunately, your clients don’t always understand the intricacies involved in putting a design together – that is why they hired you after all.

A designer’s job is to find the happy medium between the client’s vision and their own. Learning the art of  saying “No” can make this a whole lot easier, and if you have your client’s best interests at heart, a little explanation will often go a long way when the two of you disagree.

How to Say No to Your Clients Design Requests

Be Professional.
Firstly, ensure that you’re saying no for a professional reason and not a personal one. Having a dislike for a certain colour, font (shudder at the thought of Comic Sans) or design element is not sufficient grounds to deny a clients request. It is perfectly acceptable to say “No” if you believe the request is against the client’s best interest.

Have Good Reasons.
It can be difficult to justify why you are saying “No”, and turning down a client’s request is even harder. The key is to have done the research before hand. Discuss the implications of how the changes may affect customer’s perceptions, the budget, deadlines and anything you feel the requests could have a negative impact on.

Build Good Relationships.
If the client has being doing business with you for a long time, and trusts your professional opinion, then discussing any issues will be easier than if they were a new client. However, if you still disagree, think carefully before completely refusing them. If you can’t find a compromise, are you willing to lose a long standing client over a design disagreement?

Don’t Reject the Little Guy Out-Of-Hand.
Many designers look at new clients as an entirely different entity. If there isn’t much potential for more work, they may dismiss them out-of-hand. If the new client is a large company, many designers will swallow their pride and let the client get their way for the prospect of new work.

While there is nothing wrong with this approach, it isn’t always the best idea to presume that ‘small’ clients won’t bring in new business. Small clients have the potential to grow, and with that growth, comes new business opportunities. So don’t dismiss the little guy. If you go out of your way to help these smaller clients, whilst still politely making them aware of why you don’t like an idea, then they will give you great free marketing by word of mouth. Unless you can afford to take on only the big, less frequent clients, make sure you don’t treat your smaller clients badly.

Final Thoughts:

Remember - you are an expert in your field, and that’s why your client employed you. However, they are the expert in their field, so it pays to listen to them before you completely write off their ideas.

Next time a client suggests something you don’t agree with, try saying “No”. By agreeing with your clients all the time, you’re not doing justice to yourself, your work or your client.

For you to truly understand what your client is asking for, and why they want it, talk to them! Once again, communication is the key to success.

What have your experiences been with saying “No” to clients?
Have you gotten over the fear of saying "No" or do you still say "Yes" to everyone and then regret it over and over and over again?

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Saying No to Clients - Part 1: Taking the Job.

Image from Getty Images ( #108310235), slightly adjusted.

We all have those clients with unrealistic expectations, whether it's the scope of the job, the timeframe or the cost involved, and for some (if not most) designers, it is especially hard to say "No" to clients.

There are many situations where it is appropriate to say "No", but for the purpose of this post,  we will focus on whether or not to accept the job.

Most designers are fortunate, in that they are surrounded by clients, colleagues and suppliers who respect their boundaries. However there’s always one or two of them are likely to try and push their luck.

Instead of simply agreeing to 'put out' for your client when they ask (expect) you to go the extra mile, take a few minutes to think about the impact of taking on the project. When making this decision, consider how taking on the project will affect you / your business / your other clients / your schedule.

The problem is you may decide the job’s not right but still find it hard to say "No". This is a really common issue, especially for freelancers / start up businesses, many of whom agree to unreasonable requests because they worry their clients will think badly of them if they turn them down.

In reality, most client’s reaction is more likely to be “this designer has really got their act together” rather than “it’s unprofessional of him/her to turn down work" or "I'll never use your services again”. Most clients who know how good you are as a designer would really insist that you do the work for them. But you cannot be available all the time.

You really have to learn the art of saying "No" to do away with so much work. Having too many commitments will make you less productive and could leave a bad impression of you as a designer. You should not accept projects when you are still occupied doing many others. You should also know the important and urgent things that you need to do and be aware of the deadlines (especially when it involves print).

If you are finding it hard to say no to clients, here are some tips to help you.

Know your priorities.
Design is a process, so knowing where your time is committed will help with the decision to say "No" when something comes in out of the blue, but also with the actual turning down of the job.

Always be courteous and polite.
If the thought of saying a harsh-sounding "No" distresses you, surround it with a comforting phrase, like "Unfortunately I do not have any time available to tend to your request as I'm double booked already, but please ask me again" or "I would love to help, but I have to many projects at the moment to give yours the attention it deserves". You'll find that you can still sound positive or open to new work, even when declining someone's request.

Don't say "Sorry"
Usually, people would say sorry to begin saying no. But you don't have to do that. It would sound as if you are not comfortable with or that it is somehow wrong to say "No". So, avoid apologizing. Just be firm.

Defer requests
You can also tell your clients that instead of doing the work now, you can do it some other time. But if they won’t agree with it, then let it go. You really don’t need to accept everything that comes to you. Nothing is wrong with rejecting some of them and deferring it for some other time.

Talk to your clients
The key to saying no is in the discussion and explanation, and this should be a large part of your client communication already. If saying no is something you struggle with, take a look at your communication in general with clients, and make sure that you’re conversing enough with them in general.

Final thoughts:

Saying no isn’t always a bad thing if it helps you and your clients in the long run! Having effective client communication skills and the confidence to say "No" is a real asset, so take control, be clear headed about your policies, know your limits and when you need to… just say no!

Read Part 2