Do you have a solid process when it comes to working with clients?
When it comes to lettering — or any type of creative freelance for that matter, having a rigid client process is perhaps one of the most overlooked aspects of a project.
You might think “Well, I start by sketching, pick the strongest option, execute on the design, then get paid”. If that’s your process, you have a lot of work to do.
A good process does more than just loosely outlining the milestones of a project — it’s the backbone for success. And believe it or not, it starts way before anyone signs a contract.
If you’re starting to question your process, that’s good thing. A process is never truly complete. It constantly evolves. And after each project, you should always apply what you learned to making your process more rigid.
Let’s talk about several crucial aspects to a strong process that will position your future projects for success.
1. Being Client-Ready
A solid process demonstrates professionalism and tells a client exactly what it is like to work with you.
Your work is what attracts a client, which is the first step. But how is a client supposed to know if they’re putting their project in the right hands? Your prospective lead is going to be hesitant, so you need to remove as many doubts as possible before they even contact you.
Show your process.
This can be done through a curated portfolio of case studies. Use real-world examples to demonstrate how thoughtfully objective you are. Explain the challenges you faced on a project and how you overcame them. Prove to them that you’re capable of asking the right questions, defining the right goals, and executing upon those goals.
Document your process.
There are countless portfolios out there with loads of work and a contact form, and no written process. Document your process from beginning to end and put it on your contact page.
Put yourself in a prospective client’s shoes and ask yourself “If I were considering hiring me, what questions would I have?”. Answer these questions in your written process.
- What is your pricing policy?
- What are the timelines for a project?
- How do you go about discovery and goal setting for a project?
- What are the client’s responsibilities? What are yours?
- What are the final deliverables?
These are all questions you should consider answering in your documented process.
Exuding professionalism will prove to your client that this isn’t your first rodeo and that you take what you do very seriously.
2. Considering a Client
As you complete projects and grow your audience and portfolio, you’re also going to have a higher frequency of project requests. This is great — the work is falling right into your lap.
But there’s something very important that you must keep in mind:
Just because a someone wants to hire you for a project does not mean that should take them on as a client.
One of the hardest parts about client work is taking on the right type of client. Here are some key questions you should ask yourself when you consider taking on a client project:
- Is the potential client serious about this project?
- Will the potential client value my work and the effort I put into it?
- Does the potential client understand my professional process and are they willing following it?
If the answer to any of these questions is no, then this project is not a good fit for you. You’re a professional — don’t put yourself in a situation you’ll only regret being in later.
So how do you go about answering these questions? By asking the right questions.
It’s not uncommon to ask a lot of questions during a project discovery. How thoroughly a potential client answers these questions is a big indication of how serious they are about this project.
Likewise, if the potential client tells you exactly what they want, this is a big indication that a they won’t respect your creative or professional process.
A good process should deter certain types of clients and this is a good thing. You shouldn’t be taking on every single client that wants to work with you. Say no to the bad ones so you can say yes to the good ones.
3. The Discovery and Agreement Phase
Finding a serious client who respects your work and is willing to work with your process doesn’t necessarily guarantee a smooth project.
A good process prevents misunderstandings, scope creep, and other bad situations, so you should be extremely thorough during the discovery phase.
What the client needs is often different than what they want.
Again, ask the right questions and get to the bottom of things. This also puts you in a position to upsell. Perhaps the client came to you for a new logo when in reality, all of their brand collateral needs a complete design overhaul.
Uncovering value and distilling that information down to a clear direction of tangible goals that you and the client can agree on is crucial. Not only does it pave a clear path for you to execute upon, it also puts the client at ease knowing that you’ve all done your due diligence.
Once you and the client are on the same page about what needs to be done, it’s time to draft up a contract.
Always have a contract.
In your contract, be clear on what the exact deliverables are, how much they cost, the transfer of ownership, how deposits and payments are broken down (and when they are due), and what the overall project timeline is.
Contracts can be a bit daunting, so review your contract with your client and ensure they understand it. Reviewing your contract personally with your client is a great way to reaffirm your process and deliverables, and to ensure there were no misunderstandings or miscommunications during the project discovery.
Legalese is best left to the experts, so don’t be afraid to consult with a lawyer about your freelance contract. This is money well spent and can certainly save you a lot of headaches down the line.
4. Project Execution
Now it’s time to get your hands dirty, and if you’ve done a thorough job in your project discovery, you’ll have a rigid set of criteria to work with.
During this phase, I personally like to start with quantity over quality. My sketches are rough and plentiful. This helps me get all of my ideas on paper. After a few days of sketching and exploration, I’ll have dozens of ideas to work with even though the majority of them aren’t worth pursuing.
The key here is that you’ve explored all angles and have exhausted yourself of potential ideas.
From this point, it’s time to narrow it down to one. The option you proceed with should satisfy all of the criteria that you have collected throughout the discovery phase.
Study your ideas and make sure that you have solved the design problems at hand. This is an objective decision-making process. It’s not about what you like or what you think your client likes. You’re not designing for your client — you’re designing for your client’s audience.
You’re going to need to sell your client on your decision, so it’s important that you consider every aspect of your design. There should be an objective reason behind every design decision you make.
Be sure to document these creative decisions in detail as you’ll want to share them with your client.
5. The Delivery
Once you’ve finished the execution and you have a final piece, you’re still not quite done yet.
A lot of people will send the final work and await payment… but not a professional.
You’ll want to present the final execution to your client and convey in extensive detail every design decision that you’ve made. Show how those decisions reinforce the goals that you set at the beginning of the project.
Without a doubt, you’ve worked very hard on this project, so show your client all of your sketches and explain why you nixed certain ideas. Giving your client context as to how you arrived at the final decision will demonstrate how closely you stuck to the criteria you’ve been working with this whole time.
After you’ve presented the execution to the client, provide them with a link to pay the final invoice and state that you’ll be sending the final deliverables upon payment of the invoice.
Don’t make it hard for your client to pay you. Set up an automated invoicing system where they can settle up online. I personally use the Wave App, but there are tons of alternatives.
Being a Professional
Having a refined client process that you stick to is what sets a professional apart from an amateur. Getting to a comfortable place with your process isn’t easy, but the journey is worth it.
Treat your client process as a constant work in progress that you should always be looking to strengthen. Review it after every client project and learn from your mistakes.