As a freelancer, creating a great client relationship is essential to creating great work. We all want great clients: a great client trusts the design work that you do, comes back for more, and refers you to other clients. It’s important to start building this relationship from the very beginning, even before you meet any potential clients.
Be authentic in all your communications
This should be easy. Be yourself at all times, in your branding and in any communications that you have while you’re out networking in person or online. As a designer, I can create an elegant look or a popular look as the situation requires, but my personality is geeky and irreverent. I don’t want to hide that because I want to attract clients that have that understand that. After all, we’re going to be working together for a while.
Get to know your clients before you start the design work
The first time you sit down with a client, take some time to get to know them. Pay attention to what they like, what they don’t like and what their needs are. Make sure that you can meet their needs; if not, provide a recommendation of someone else that might be a better fit. I had one client that I never met in person (during the days of dial-up) and when I delivered comps (via fax… this was a while ago), she didn’t like anything I’d done. I think if I’d gotten to know her better and sat down with her in person, I would have provided a better solution for her company.
Set expectations for the design work from the start
This is where freelancers need to be project managers. Have a contract ready (yes, I said the icky “contract” word) and attach a description of work. Make sure you indicate what work you will be doing, what the client needs to provide and a timeline of when those deliverables are due. Include how much you will be charging and collect a deposit before you start. It can feel artificial; as freelance designers, we’d like to just jump into designing and not worry about collecting bills, but you need to be paid for your work.
Communicate with your client throughout the job
I have one client that told me before we started that one of the reasons she was looking for a new designer was because her previous designer would disappear on her. She had no idea where in the process this freelancer was, and she wanted to know what was going on. It’s important to let your client know when to expect comps, when to expect revisions and when they can expect their final product to be live or available.
Let your client know that you value the relationship
If you value your client, let them know! Tell them they’re a great client, that you appreciate their timely feedback or prompt payment. Refer clients to them and speak positively about them whenever you can.