Have you ever noticed that sometimes, you just really jibe with a certain client? Not only are they great to work with, but you find yourself really caring about their business. You’re not just their designer, but also a mentor, a partner, a friend. You pour your heart and soul into their projects, because you truly want them to succeed. Wouldn’t it be great if those were the only clients you worked with?
Turns out, they can be. Just ask Lauren Lund, designer, online brand specialist, and founder of Code Culture. She’s been working exclusively with projects she’s passionate about and the clients she cares most about for almost a year now. Her secret: an application process.
What is a client application?
Before Lund will agree to take on a new client, she wants to learn who they are and what they’re about. Based off of that information, she can tell if she’s the right designer for them. Lund knows the type of person she works best with, so her application aims to sort those clients out from the average Joe.
Her application process includes questions about the individual person, their business, the budget and timing of the project — basically everything you need to know when taking on a new client and project. But instead of blindly agreeing to work for someone, Lund gets this information upfront.
“Too often,” Lund said, “someone will have this company idea, but they expect you to do their entire company plan for them.” Not the kind of client she’s looking for. However, getting information upfront ensures that Lund knows what the client is actually ready for and whether they’ll be able to work well together.
Why bother with an application process?
“In order for me to be able to give my full attention to a project and really, really love it,” Lund said, “I have to know that I’m just as excited about the project as the client is.”
Going through an application process may sound a little tedious, but it’s important. “After the client goes through the whole process,” Lund said, “it shows that they’re committed to you. It shows that we’re a good match for each other.” This helps weed out the clients who aren’t actually ready to hire a designer, or who just don’t have a project that will fit your passion.
What happens if you don’t want to work with someone?
The difficult part of an application process, of course, is that you have to deny people as clients. Especially if you’re in that phase where you’d like to take any work that comes your way, turning people away can be a large shift in how you handle business.
According to Lund, you have to remember that there’s nothing wrong with denying a client. “Your time is valuable,” she said, “I mean, if you don’t think you’re a good match for the client, why not just redirect them to someone else?”
Lund emphasized that just because you decide not to take on a client, that doesn’t mean that you leave them with nothing. If she knows another designer who would be better for that client, she connects them. Or if their business just isn’t ready for a website yet and they need a bit more planning, she’ll give them homework to do. Then in a few months, if they’ve put in the work, she’ll agree to take them on.
This also gives you an opportunity to develop some materials on the side for those people you may not take on as full clients. For example, in 2015, Lund is releasing a six-week course called the Six Figure Brand Academy. This ecourse will emphasize the importance of creating the foundation of a brand so that your company can become bigger than just you. A course like this provides an opportunity for people who aren’t Lund’s main clients to still work with her, just on a different scale.
How do you start using a client application process?
If you’re ready to give a client-application process a try, the first thing you need to do is decide who your ideal client is. “Take a Sunday afternoon, sit uninterrupted, and really, really brainstorm who you want to be working with,” Lund advised. She stressed that it’s okay if you get really specific. “Actually the more specific you are,” she said, “the better.”
Once you have your ideal client in mind, you’re ready to make your application. Keep in mind that you’re creating this in order to sort the clients you’d love to work with from the ones you wouldn’t enjoy as much.
The key then is to actually implement the application process, even if you’re low on work. Lund explained that the application process is like “this exclusive privilege to work with you, instead of just a production line. Those never feel personal.” When you ask a client to go through that process, and they get “hand-selected,” make sure they feel awesome and so pumped to work with you.
Even if you knew you were going to take a particular client on all along, why not give them that same satisfaction of being the chosen one? Not to mention, every client can benefit from being asked to think carefully about the parameters of their next project.
Lund can’t say enough good things about the application process. It gives your clients a chance to work with the best designer for them (whether that’s you, or a colleague of yours) and it also gives you the chance to work with your favorite clients. It’s a win-win for everybody.