In the design world, your relationship with clients is one of the easiest ways you could find to market yourself. No cost, no special effort, just making sure you treat the people who pay for your services more than walking work projects.
This is common knowledge to some extent. But, as freelancers will note, sometimes you just can’t get your head above water long enough to pay some extra attention to the people behind your incoming projects. Of course, this is a problem you’ll have to manage for yourself, but we’re here to remind you what to keep in mind as a permanent side goal, regardless of specifics (projects and people).
Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Well, it’s a little more complicated because as you may have noticed how in the previous paragraph we’re assuming your clients already have chosen you to work for them. If you haven’t actually got to optimizing your presentation so as to attract prospective clients’ business, we’ve covered that in the following article.
What message would you like to convey through your portfolio? Often, designers feel the need to indirectly “boast” in their portfolios, focusing on their highest accomplishments in terms of well-known projects they might have handled or technically difficult designs. This is called “playing it safe”. Unfortunately, safe somewhat implies unremarkable.
Why do you think your clients choose you? What separates you from the crowd? Your involvement in certain projects do show you were trusted in the past. But do they say anything about who you are?
We are all different people, with different ideas. Being remarkable means nothing else than showcasing your own ideas, telling the story of who you are and why you do what you do. Quality work does speak for itself, but it only goes so far as to pull in attention and interest. Your potential clients have more than likely done their research. You need to leave an imprint in their minds.
So, what are we trying to say? Think of your portfolio less as a business card and more as a ‘creativity profile’. Include personal projects in your portfolio, include the works you used to do when you weren’t so focused on technique, but excited about the artistic side of things. Every passionate designer has some past and present projects of his or her own, encompassing their personal vision. Show that vision to your clients and you’ll start getting discovered by the right people.
Wait! First thing’s first. Before you get to be chosen by potential clients, you need to make yourself known to them. When this doesn’t happen because they’ve found your work online – or perhaps you’ve been referred to them by someone else, it usually means that you’re going to have to forward an application. Some designers feel the need to go overboard by composing a motivation letter as to why they should be chosen for the job. This isn’t the best way to do it, though. Some people won’t even care about who you are or what you’ve done; more importantly, they’ll focus on what your actual work looks and feels like. Keep it short, simple, make sure to link to your portfolio.
After they’ve agreed to meet with you, you’ll have to convince them that you can handle their project with eyes closed and hands behind your back. Confidence in your concept while pitching it is a must. Many designers hate this part of the job, which is pretty mandatory if freelancing.
While you need to stay sincere – and if you’re the introverted type we certainly won’t tell you to act differently – feeling like you can handle the project is what made you apply in the first place, isn’t it? This isn’t about “selling yourself”, it’s simply about showing who you are to your client/investor. Your ideas, your work, these also make up who you are as a person when you’re professionally creative.
So, on to the point. Know your audience: do your research on the client and see if he or she makes a good fit for your style or future goals. When you decide this is the case, do even more research on them and whatever product/concept you’re supposed to work around. Create your pitch starting from the essential 2 or 3 ideas you have for the project. It’s been known to happen for some investors to be in a rush, so be prepared to express the main points hastily, but naturally. Go further into detail when writing your pitch, but don’t get hung up on little things. These are likely to matter only after you’ve received the job. Lastly, make sure you tell the client what advantages he or she will be enjoying if they decide to go with you.
Congratulations, you got the job! Next you’ll get to doing what you do best and probably need no more guidance. But it’s time to come full circle with this article, so here we are back to what great relationships with clients should be like.
Being considerate towards your clients’ needs and wants is still the most valuable advice we can give you. This means taking the time to get to know them. Some may appreciate if you take them through the whole process, explaining everything in between concept and realization. Others may not want to know anything about it, but even if they don’t, they’ll appreciate the offer. It shows that you care about what you’re involved in, seeing it as more than just an income boost.
You don’t have to be a people person to pay attention and empathize with your client. Think of it this way – what would you want out of a designer? How would you like to be handled, what would you like to be told and in what way. Generally, attention to detail and interest in people go a long way. This is how recurring clients get made and how referrals to friends or business associates start circulating. But don’t, by any means, do it only for show. You need to be sincere. Contrary to what some may think, hypocrisy isn’t quite so hard to detect.
To sum up, the key is being yourself all the way. Doing what comes natural to you, what you enjoy usually ensures you do the best work you’re capable of both in terms of substance and form.
We encourage you to share your successful pitch experiences. Or, better yet, tell us about your presentation mistakes. You could help other designers avoid the same mistakes you did. We’d also be interested to know how you address your relationships with clients. Do you approach them more as a friendly acquaintance rather than thinking of them as just a “boss”?Photo credit to baggyjumper
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