6 Qualities of Good Clients
As a freelancer it is inevitable that you will encounter all kinds of clients to work with. To me it’s one of the best things about being a freelancer, getting to know people and helping them solve their problems is a very rewarding experience. While most of the time the end of a project results in two happy parties it is inevitable that sooner or later every freelancer will run into a client that makes a project feel like pulling teeth.
You may not always have the luxury of picking and choosing the clients you work with. In a dry spell you may be happy to have work in general regardless of the client it comes from. But in those times where you debate picking up a job or not there are some things to look for in a client that can dictate how the project will go.
As with pretty much every project of any sort that involves more than 1 person communication is the biggest factor in success. Poor communication will without a doubt cripple your project and it most often comes in one of two different forms.
First there is slow communication. When clients take weeks to get back to you on simple updates projects drag and you don’t get paid. Additionally your motivation for the project will probably drop significantly causing you to take shortcuts when you finally do hear back on changes or approval or make assumptions when you don’t hear back. While your mindset may be that you just want to get this project out the door it could result in sub par work and a poor reflection of your capabilities.
Second there is miscommunication. While your client may get back to you in a timely manner there is just something off between the two parties. This road can go both ways, as a designer working with clients its up to you to find out what their comfort level may be when communicating ‘techy’ things. Some clients are plenty familiar with the technology and best practices that go into web design while others will need to be walked through the process more. In the worst-case scenario you have a client who simply cannot make up their mind. Every new e-mail you get seems to be taking the project in a different direction.
The positive side of this problem is that it is very avoidable. Communication issues are often glaringly obvious before a project ever gets under way. If you are looking for a project and not a headache you will likely be better off passing on projects that appear to be ridden with communication issues from the get go.
In my experience this is the one quality that is most often lacking from a client. When a client trusts you as a designer they take your opinion seriously, especially when you make a suggestion that contradicts how they feel about the subject. Sometimes it can be hard to disagree with a client; after all it is their project right?
Your client needs to understand that they hired you for a reason. While it is important to have their feedback on the project in order to ensure that their new web site meets their goals and expectations you have the expert opinion in the field. Avoid clients that disregard your opinion on the design aspects of their web site.
If you find yourself running into this project frequently then it may be a sign that its time to raise your rates. When a project has been undervalued your skill set has been as well. When a client invests the proper amount into a project they are more likely to respect the opinion of the person they hired much like we respect what our doctors have to say because we are paying a lot of money to hear it.
3) Proper Valuation
Following the same train of thought it is important that the client places the proper value on a web site, logo, or graphic design project. While everyone is looking for a good value on a project it is important to weed out clients that are simply looking for the lowest bidder.
Not only are you unlikely to ever make any money from these clients but you are also going to get worked harder. Nothing is worse than a client who gets a great deal on work and knows it. Expect to work hard for these people, as they tend to milk you for all that you are worth. On a lighter side, getting milked for all you are worth probably means you are worth more and it’s time to raise your rates.
4) Project Attachment
Look for clients who are attached to the project at hand. If a project has a high personal or financial value to a client it can help solve a lot of the problems on this list. Working for a client who doesn’t care about the project at hand can be a demoralizing experience.
While it might be counter-intuitive try to avoid clients that ‘need’ to have a project done. While you may think it would make more sense to work on a project that someone ‘needs’ instead of ‘wants’ I find the opposite to be true. All too often a client will ‘need’ a project done because someone told them to do it or because the competition has a web site. Clients who ‘want’ a web site will have more motivation to work with you and make a great project.
Not only does enthusiasm for a project keep the timeline moving but it also makes it a lot more fun! Which is hugely important after you have been in the game for a little while. By now you should have realized that you are doing something that you enjoy for a living so there is nothing wrong with working for clients that are fun and having a good time working with you.
5) Understands Project Finish
Feature creep is something that we are all familiar with. We have all had to stop ourselves at times from adding function x and application y to a web project. Web sites should communicate a clear message to the reader and project add-ons almost always make things cloudy.
Some clients just don’t know when to quit on a project. Once they see their ideas coming to life they want to start incorporating every ‘good’ idea they have ever had into the project. Try to find the client that understands when a web site communicates a core message to its users and can be considered finished.
A great way to avoid feature creep at the end of a project is to implement a design blueprint from the early stages. Setting up a timeline that includes project milestones and a tangible finish line is the best way to ensure that your client understands what the most effective end result will be for their new web site.
6) Additional Work
It’s a little bit of a bonus but also one of the best characteristics about any client. A client that refers their friends to you or has multiple projects to tackle is a huge value to any designer. Be sure to reward your loyal customers with discounts and your best work. After all these clients are saving you a huge amount of time and the effort of finding additional work, time that would otherwise go unpaid.
If you like a client that you work with and had a project that went well don’t hesitate to ask them for a testimonial and suggest that they share your contact information with anyone they know who needs a web site as well. Chances are that when a clients friends and colleagues see that they have a fresh new web design they are going to want to know how they can get one themselves.
Working with different people can be both one of the best and worst things about operating as a freelancer. Take advantage of the good relationships you build with clients and shy away from those who lack some of the characteristics on this list. In the long run it will make your experience as a freelancer a more rewarding and profitable one.
What experiences have you had with some of your best/worst clients? What traits led to these experiences?