How to Score a Successful Designer-Client Relationship

5 tips for a homerun design project

If you’ve kept up with our latest blog posts, you probably know that we are big on collaboration. But if we take a step back, we know that the foundation of collaboration is a strong relationship, and that’s exactly what we’re focusing on today. Up to bat, how to score a successful designer-client relationship. Let’s play ball!

First Base: Why is a Good Client Relationship Important?

When it comes down to it, developing a strong relationship with your client is important to grow and maintain your business. In fact, Peter Drucker states that “the true purpose of a business is to create and keep customers.” If your client had a good experience with you, they are likely to pay for your services again or recommend you to colleagues and friends, both contributing to your success.

This is how fostering a healthy designer-client relationship can help you:

  • “After building a relationship, customer spend grows alongside trust. Eventually, loyal customers spend 67% more than new ones” (Get Feedback).
  • 70% of purchase experiences are based on how valued the customer feels (Datumize).
  • “After having a positive experience with a company, 77% of customers would recommend it to a friend” (Get Feedback).

And here are the hard facts regarding poor client relationships:

  • 86% of customers stop doing business with a company because of poor client relations (Datumize).
  • 91% of unhappy customers will not do business with you again (Datumize).
  • It takes 12 positive experiences to make up for 1 unresolved negative experience (Forbes).

Okay, okay we get the point. Happy customers are important for business growth. But how do we support a positive designer-client relationship?

Second Base: How to Build a Positive Working Environment

If you’ve worked in design long enough, you’ve probably experienced ‘difficult’ clients. There are even special platforms where designers post their most aggravating experiences with clients, resulting in a plethora of memes, gifs, and social media channels catered to design hardships. So you, more than anyone, know that choosing your clients wisely can get you far.

With all things considered, a relationship is a give-and-take situation. In order for you to land a ‘good’ client, you have to cultivate a working environment where the client feels belonging. This comes with:

Trust - Make your client feel assured. They should believe that even if they ask simple questions or propose bad ideas, that you will make them feel comfortable and work with their suggestions.

Transparency - Be upfront and candid with your cleint! We’ll get into more detail later, but open and honest communication is crucial for your client relationship.

Organization - Come into the relationship organized and motivated. Make your client feel like you are excited to work with them and that their project is a priority to you.

If you take into consideration these three points, you will surely hit it off with your client!

Third Base: How to Create a Good Relationship

1. Show Your Client How to Work With You

Remember that everyone has a different way of organizing and completing work. Even within your own company there can be many types of workers; the logical, the detail-oriented, the supportive, the idea-oriented, etc. If you discover your own approach to working, you can become a better designer, teammate, and collaborator.

Finding your own working style is important to maintaining a positive designer-client relationship because it manages expectations from the beginning. You can be clear on your creative process and how you foresee the project to go. This way, the client knows exactly what to expect from you.

Also, you can show your client the tools you use to be productive, which might vary depending on working style. Do you use online tools (like Collato!) to organize your project? Do you utilize timelines and milestones? What communication outlets do you prefer? If you initially set a precedent with your client, you are both more likely to sustain a positive relationship with one another.

2. Make Sure Everyone Knows Their Responsibilities

So you’ve gotten past the first project phase, the briefing. You know about your client’s expectations, goals, competition, deadlines, etc. Now the project is really on it’s way.

Many times clients aren’t prepared to be so involved during a design project. Or sometimes they are too involved. Either way, it results in project delays. According to Leverage, the primary issues for clients lie in:

  • Clients are overwhelmed with their daily roles and tasks.
  • Externals aren’t on the same page and end up giving contradictory feedback.
  • Stakeholders are not aware of the project progress, leading to a late change of direction later.
  • Clients cannot give feedback in one collective space.
  • Externals underestimate the time and effort it takes to create content.

As the project head, you are not only the designer, but also the collaborator. It’s your responsibility to make sure your client knows what to do and when. There are many ways you can accomplish this, like making timelines and calendars, sending reminder emails, or verbally communicating it.

The problem is that this information gets easily lost in floods of emails and numerous tasks. That’s why we suggest using a tool to help you get organized, like Collato.

At Collato, we put an emphasis on both the designer and the client. That’s why you can invite clients to collaborate on a project by assigning them tasks, scheduling due dates, and asking them to provide feedback, suggestions, and sign offs. This cures all of the common client ailments listed above and helps you stay productive.

When everyone knows what is expected of them, your relationship with your client is easy and collaborative.

3. Communicate Effectively

Another factor of a strong designer-client relationship is communication. Touching bases with your client, whether it’s during your project kickoff or in the final stages is super important.

As a designer, you are a master of visual communication, but sometimes communicating your design ideas or creative process is challenging. Remember that your clients most likely aren’t trained in design, and they might need a little extra support. This could include explaining design concepts or terms, or taking the time to clarify certain procedures with them.

Communication with a client is more than just discussing design, it’s about sharing concerns, presenting challenges, and exchanging ideas, by both parties. Don’t be afraid of challenging your client to rethink decisions and concepts, but make sure you tell them in a gentle way, you’re on the same team afterall! Cultivating an environment of open and transparent communication helps your client trust you and your work, solidifying your professional relationship.

Here are a few ways to encourage open communication with your clients;

  • Simplify your language when it comes to design tools and methods. Like we said, they probably don’t know as much about design.
  • Ask your clients questions to make sure they feel included in the project, this can be done more formally in a creative brief, or more casually in a conversation or phone call.
  • Handle feedback in a professional manner. This means clarifying vague or confusing comments or requests. This makes sure the client knows you are listening to them.
  • Discuss when and how you will primarily communicate. If you respond to client emails on the weekend or after working hours, you are setting precedent for the rest of the project. Let your client know when you are available (and stick to it!), as well as how you will communicate; on the phone, with a tool, over email, etc.

4. Be Patient With One Another

Like we said, you are the design expert. Odds are that your client doesn’t have a favorite color scheme or font. They might have an idea in their head, but are having a difficult time putting it into words. Be patient, they don’t mean to play hardball! Let them ask silly questions and suggest terrible ideas. Allow your client to feel comfortable to make mistakes and be vulnerable with you. This is the best way to develop a solid relationship.

5. Get on Top of Your Work

At any stage of your project development, make sure to do your homework. Go into meetings prepared and know what you want to accomplish, so that you save everyone’s time. No one likes sitting through a directionless meeting.

If it’s the first meeting, go in knowing the clients brand, website, competition, everything. If you are requesting feedback later in the project, ask specific questions and be clear what you need them to do. Your preparation makes your client feel like their project is your priority, developing an organized, yet strong, relationship.

Reaching Home Plate

Now that we’ve touched all the bases, from the statistics behind keeping a client happy to 5 tips to kindle a long-lasting positive relationship, you should have everything you need to try it out yourself.

If you’re interested in reading more about this topic, check out our blog here!

Catch ya later!

Made with 🍦 in Berlin.