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5 tips to help your clients (and you) have an awesome project

Adam Fout's Layout avatar

You and I both know a simple truth — the success of a project depends heavily on the client. Problematic projects often result not from personality clashes, but rather from poor communication.

Simply put, most people have no idea how this design stuff is supposed to work. And why would they? They have other jobs, other specialties.

Part of our job is to help our clients understand the how and why of their project, the reasons why we do what we do. It’s also our job (not the client’s job) to set expectations from the beginning.

Often, the difference between a successful project and an awful project is rooted in unrealistic expectations — but it’s our job to help our clients set those expectations. They’re not the experts, we are; they’re working off their best guesses, so it’s up to us to help them understand exactly how the process works.

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When we help them understand the process, help them set realistic expectations, both parties benefit — clients don’t feel like their time is being wasted, and you don’t leave a project feeling like you failed, even if the final product was good.

It’s as simple as this: A four-week project that was supposed to take six weeks equals a happy client. A four-week project that was supposed to take three weeks equals an unhappy client.

What’s the difference between the two? Expectations.

So how do you successfully set these expectations? Just follow these tips to help your clients understand how the process works, how to communicate expectations, and how to get the most out of their project.

Five tips to share with your clients

Without our clients, we don’t get to do what we do — they’re a precious resource, and it’s easy to forget that, especially when dealing with a difficult or ill-informed client.

We want nothing more than to make sure they walk away with an awesome product, and these tips will help you do exactly that.

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Most clients just need a helping hand, and a little work on the front-end can save you a lot of heartache mid-project.

Most clients have never done anything like this before — part of our job is to show them how to be a good client and how to appreciate the skills you bring to the table as the designer.

Web design isn’t cheap — it’s valued highly for a good reason. What it takes to excel at web design goes far beyond technical skill (or even artistic intuition).

A great designer combines art and technical skill with an inborn sense of a business’ needs, all to ultimately create something that fulfills a business and marketing purpose (instead of just sitting around and looking pretty).

Thinking creatively, creating a concept out of thin air, bringing it to life in a timely manner, and making all of that work for your client’s business is absolutely possible — as long as you and your client are on the same page.

Because if you aren’t, their project is going to suffer.

But it doesn’t have to!

Here are a few tips that can make your next project go more smoothly, making for an easier, more efficient project, and more successful project (and a happier client!)

  1. Help them define their audience and brand.
  2. Ask for visual examples.
  3. Communicate your expectations clearly (and ask them for theirs!).
  4. Ask for specific feedback.
  5. Emphasize the importance of creative freedom.

1. Help them define their audience and brand

You know as well as I do that before you can begin any project, the client needs to have a very clear idea of what their brand is and who their audience is.

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Thousands and thousands of beautifully designed websites, posters, brochures, advertisements (really, the list goes on), have failed utterly because they didn’t target the right audience.

A gorgeous website that doesn’t resonate with a client’s audience (or address their needs) is a failed website — no matter how pretty it is — but clients often don’t know this.

It’s your job to tell them, and you might even get some extra work by helping them build out their brand and nail down their audience.

Download Blue Steel Solutions’ Customer Persona Template and Brand Persona Template here to help your clients map out their audience and their brand. Protip: Create multiple customer personas for all the different groups of people the client is targeting with their product or service.

Impress upon your clients the importance of getting this stuff done first — before any designing takes place. And if you’re serious about this step, you could even take this a step further. At Blue Steele Solutions, we don’t work with clients who haven’t figured this stuff out yet and aren’t willing to do it first.

It’s critical — and it saves them money (and you a headache) in the long run.

2. Ask for visual examples

There’s nothing quite like beginning a project with almost nothing to go on.

You rely on your creative abilities, show the client something amazing, and they tear it apart.

There’s a way to avoid that.

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By asking your client to collect visual examples of completed projects similar to theirs (a website, for example, or a brochure or logo), you are helping them help you.

Even asking for examples of colors, layouts, or ideas that they don’t like can help significantly.

This helps to clear up any confusion or misunderstanding between designer and client, ensuring everyone is on the same page about the overall look and feel of the project.

Try asking your client to pin images via Pinterest or create a list of website URLs directed to certain landing pages for reference. Ask your client about their aesthetic tastes — find out what they need.

Fortunately (or unfortunately), a great deal of design is a matter of taste. Forcing your client to explain their tastes BEFORE you begin working saves you time and them frustration.

3. Communicate your expectations clearly (and ask them for theirs!)

“It’s hard to reach perfection if you don’t know what perfection means to your client. ” A lack of clarity (especially with your expectations for a project) can really hamper the process. We all want to wow our customers,  to give them exactly what they’re looking for, and then some.

But we can’t do that if we don’t know what wow means to them.

So, we need to ask! Find out your client’s expectations (and set your own in the meantime to avoid scope creep).

You both want to get it right the first time — communicating your expectations for the project is crucial to doing just that. You can do a lot of magical things, but you can’t read minds, and neither can your client.

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The more specifics you can dig out of your client, especially concerning what success looks like to them, what their dreams and goals are, and how this project fits into their overarching plan for their business, the more likely you are to get it right the first time (and to avoid expensive and time-consuming rounds of revision).

Ask your clients a lot of questions at the beginning of your project, and don’t accept vague answers! Communicate your expectations freely, and encourage your client to communicate theirs — it will save you both a headache down the road.

4. Ask for specific feedback

Getting precise, actionable feedback can lead to a better final product — and a happier client.

How many times have we heard generalized feedback like “I don’t like that” or “it’s just not working”? It’s not much to go off, and it often means additional rounds of revision (or unhappy clients).

Asking for specifics helps you better cater your design work to their business needs. The more precise the criticism you draw out of your clients, the easier it will be for you to make improvements.

This is again where visual examples play a key role in the design process — a picture is worth 1000 words, and even a hand-drawn sketch can help immeasurably. Encourage your clients to get creative, and reassure them that you’re not judging their design skills.

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Without a direction, we’re making things up as we go based on instinct, experience, and best practices — and that doesn’t always work.

5. Emphasize the importance of creative freedom

I think this is the tip that clients struggle with the most, and I get it — their business is their baby, and they want their project to be perfect.

They want it to look exactly how they visualized in their head, but sometimes, it’s just not possible to fit in everything they want. And that can be a good thing.

Which I’m sure you know — the difficulty is in communicating this to your client.

Give yourself the permission to say “NO!” Educate your clients on the importance of letting the creative process proceed unimpeded. Help them understand how their project can benefit from a hands-off approach.

The alternative is often a failed project, a document that doesn’t fit with the client’s brand, an advertisement that doesn’t speak to their audience, or a brochure that speaks to the wrong audience.

It’s your job to help your client understand why this is so dangerous and why, if nothing else, it results in a waste of money.

It’s about establishing trust — helping your clients to see that, actually, you do know what you’re doing. Social proof and previous successful projects can help with this immensely. Show them examples of times creative freedom has led to a superior product.

But remember, it all starts with their brand and audience — and if they don’t have that solidly in place, you suddenly have an opportunity to add some serious value (and prove to them that you know what you’re doing).

And may your next project be a smooth one!

This post is only really useful if you have clients — if you’re short on clients and just feeling stuck in your business, download this Getting Unstuck checklist from Blue Steele SolutionsIt’s filled with tactics you can apply today to get back in the game and get your sales pipeline full again. It might be just what you need to get back on track.

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