I recently had a rare glimpse of what it’s like to be on the other side of the designer/client relationship while working on a freelance project. I wish I could say I had a wonderful experience and everything went perfectly, but unfortunately that was not the case.
Rather than going on and on about my recent meeting from hell, I’m going to skip straight to the important part. I learned a lot from the meeting, and afterwards decided to compile some tips for working with clients, and what to do if a conflict arises.
Learn about the Client:
Going into any meeting not understanding who you’re meeting with, is bad. If possible, have a phone conversation or email to get an idea of their needs and a general direction for the project in advance. If for whatever reason that isn’t possible, use your first meeting to ask these questions.
You are the expert in your field, but understanding and listening to clients’ needs is the only way to get great results that everyone is happy with.
During my horrible meeting experience, I found myself repeatedly wanting to tell the person “get down off your high horse and help us move the damn wagon!”
I refrained, but I think the attitude of the person was one of the most frustrating parts and I think we should all evaluate our own interactions with clients. If you’re talking down to people you are doing work for, you can’t possibly be forming a good, balanced relationship.
Most clients understand why they hired a professional, and know the job being done isn’t something they could have completed on their own. Speak to them honestly, but leave any condescending comments and confusing, industry specific jargon at the door.
If a problem does arise, it’s your job as the professional to figure it out. That’s what you’re being paid for, and you’re likely to have a better, quicker solution than the client who has less experience in your field.
In my meeting we spent almost an hour, repeatedly discussing the areas where things weren’t working, and we ended up talking in circles. The meeting could have been a lot more productive had we gone over the problems right off the bat, and then immediately started planning how to fix them.
Don’t waste your client’s time, especially if the problem is too complex for them to fully comprehend. If you are presenting them with a long list of complications, you need to also provide solutions that are in their best interest. Let them know exactly what each side needs to do to get the project back on track.
I didn’t expect to be saying this, but I’m glad I was able to experience first hand, some of the frustrations that can arise when the tables are turned. I’m going to keep that meeting in the back of my mind anytime I’m working with my own clients, and hopefully be more professional because of it.
If you ever find yourself struggling to work with a client, try to remember a time you were in their shoes. No one wants to be belittled or scolded, and your clients deserve your respect. They are paying you because you’re the expert, so show how professional and qualified you are by leading them to the best possible outcome.