Clients live very busy lives so sometimes they may forget to provide feedback or hand in files on time. This can seriously delay your projects and have you pulling out your hair. Thankfully, freelance designer and hand letterer Gillian Tracey is here today to teach you 4 ways you can keep your clients on schedule!
Clients. They’re the lifeblood of our businesses and give purpose to our passion. But no matter how dreamy the client is, it’s a rare occurrence for a project to stay perfectly on-track from start to finish. This common problem can cause all kinds of frustrations, stress, and project overlap for freelancers and designers, so let’s get some systems in place that will help dramatically improve keeping clients on schedule!
Getting well-structured processes and procedures in place before you get loaded up with client work is definitely key. You may find that you tweak your process here and there as you learn from trial and error, but in the meantime there are some things you can do to build a strong foundation for your business.
Here are 4 straightforward tips to help get you and your clients to stay on-track from the moment the contract is signed to the final delivery of files!
01. A Solid Contract
Getting a contract signed is one of the very first steps of getting a client on-boarded and a project underway. Having a document with clearly outlined but easy-to-understand expectations will help draw appropriate and healthy boundaries right out of the gate. Your client should know what you expect from them, and what they can expect from you.
In some instances, designers will build clauses into their contract about the consequences for the project timeline not being respected, extra fees for late payment, etc. Taking this type of preventative measure is helpful, especially if you’ve had a past experience with clients running behind on deadlines and payments.
I’ve also found it incredibly beneficial to have a clearly stated cap on rounds of revisions, but the number varies from designer to designer. Find a number that prevents revisions from getting out of hand, but still gives your client ample opportunity to give feedback and finetune the vision you’re helping them create.
When clients agree to your terms, they’re agreeing to make each round of revision thoughtful and concise. Going over the cap of revisions means extra expenses and potentially extra time being added to the project deadline.
Nesha here. If you're looking for a legit contract template, Annette Stepanian's Contract For Designers if my favourite. She also sells contract templates for coaches, photographers and more!
02. An Organized & Thorough Process
Before you ever get started with a client, have a process in place that is going to set you up for success. I can’t recommend this highly enough! You don’t want to get a client booked, and then have a minor freakout about what to do next. Know the steps you need to take with a client to get the project from start to finish in the least stressful, most professional way.
I’ve found that projects move a lot more quickly and efficiently in the design phase if I’ve taken the time to do my homework, or rather, have my client do their homework. Knowing exactly what their needs are, what they’re working toward, what gives them heart eyes, and who they’re trying to attract will help make the process of getting approval much more swift and enjoyable for everyone involved. So, ask yourself these questions:
- What are the essential, bare minimum steps that need to happen in my design process?
- What can be added to make this process easier/more efficient for me?
- What would make this easier/less stressful for my client?
- Is there anything I can include that would add value to the experience?
- Is there anything unique I can incorporate that would set me apart from competitors?
Pssst! Nesha here. My course, Organize & Automate, teaches designers how to streamline and document their step-by-step design process! Click here to learn more and enroll.
These questions will help you create an outline of the exact steps you need to go through with a client to make the process as organized, efficient, and simple as possible for everyone involved.
Once you have this step-by-step process nailed down, I highly recommend putting those steps into a project management system like Asana, Basecamp, or ToDoist. Using this kind of system will help you assign deadlines, keep communication concise and in one place (instead of 20 different email threads), and you’ll have a documented process ready to go for each project.
By being organized from the very start, you’re not only alleviating stress in your life, but in your client’s life. That in itself is value to the client! With each step of the process, have a clear deadline and give plenty of time for them to complete each task. In some instances, I’ve built in a couple extra days to the schedule in case something happens to throw off a deadline.
There’s my deadline that I know has to be met, and then there’s the client deadline where they think it absolutely has to be done. It’s kind of like building a safety net–you’ll be happy to have it if you need it, and if everything runs according to plan you delight your client by being ahead of schedule!
03. A Welcome Packet
Having a welcome packet for your clients not only creates a memorable experience, it ensures you and your client are on the same page about each phase of the process. Here are some great ideas of what to include in a welcome packet to help the project stay on track:
Reiterate expectations for both parties.
As important as contracts are, unfortunately some people will skim through the document and forget the precise details of what they agreed to. For this reason (and because a little repetition can go a long way), provide an overview of expectations and other project parameters.
Include instructions on how to give productive feedback.
How many designers have you heard complain about their clients giving really vague, unconstructive, and just plain unhelpful feedback? My guess is a lot. Most designers have dealt with clients who know what they like and what they don’t like, but they don’t know how to put it into words.
Nine times out of ten, your client isn’t going to speak design language. They probably don’t know the difference between a serif, a sans serif, and a slab serif. By providing a brief “design dictionary” and some tips for how they can provide constructive and actionable feedback, you’re helping them feel more confident and educated, plus your project will have a better chance of staying on track when you're not getting caught up in unmet design expectations, vague ideas, and poor communication.
Clearly outline your step-by-step process so they know exactly what to expect.
If I’m investing in an experience, I want to know exactly what to expect and when. I want to feel prepared and professional. With this in mind, treat your clients how you would want to be treated.
Design is a big investment for small business owners, and for some clients it may be their first time working with a professional designer. Having a clearly outlined schedule of events and checkpoints for the project will help ease any anxiety they may be having, it’ll help them see how the project deadlines break down, and it’ll help you work better as a team. Another big bonus is that you’re crafting an enjoyable experience for them, and you won’t have to do quite as much hand-holding.
Give instructions on how to use your project management system.
If you use a project management system like Asana, Basecamp, ToDoist, etc., then providing a brief training for your client is a great idea! You can include a link to a video, show screenshots, or provide detailed instructions—either way, help them get signed up, give them a good feel for how the backend of the application works, and how they can see deadlines, share files, etc.
04. Excellent Communication
As a designer, yes, you definitely need to be able to communicate ideas through visuals, but you also need to excel at communicating with your client. Keeping an open and active line of conversation with clients has as much to do with a successful project as the client liking the design. Your clients are busy, just like you, so make it as easy as possible for them to succeed at staying on task.
If your projects are booked far in advance...
...don’t just pop into their inbox a couple days before their project is going to be starting. Check in a couple weeks ahead of time to make sure all their questions are answered, their homework is prepped, and to tell them you’re excited to get to work!
Set expectations and boundaries for communication during your project. For example:
- Specify how you want your clients to contact you. Do you prefer emails to phone calls? Maybe you like to text with your client. Or, perhaps you want to stick to keeping conversations within your project management tool so you don’t lose track of email threads. Keeping conversations all together will help make sure you don’t overlook a set of changes they send you.
- Creatives as a group can have the reputation for being flaky or taking forever to respond to emails. Email is definitely tough for me to stay on top of, but clients appreciate when you’re prompt in your replies. Consider including response time in your contract or under the expectations section of your welcome packet (for example: clients can expect a response within 24 hrs during the business week).
This will help keep you accountable! Your clients should be able to count on you for timely replies, and likewise you should be able to count on them. Make this teamwork approach clear, and you’ll definitely have an easier time staying on track!
- Include your office hours in your welcome packet or email signature. This point is more about keeping your sanity than keeping your client on task, but it’s still important! Just because you’re a freelancer doesn’t mean you work on your client’s project at all hours of the day. Setting specific working hours draws a healthy boundary and lets your client know when they can expect to be in touch with you.
Speak simply, not in designer lingo.
Like I mentioned earlier, most clients aren’t fluent in design language, so when you’re asking them questions or explaining design decisions, be sure to speak as plainly and simply as possible.
And lastly, make sure you’re staying on schedule too!
When a project is coming up, make sure you’ve not only been touching base with your client, but make sure you’ve carved out all the necessary time you need to meet the deadlines you and your client have set ahead of time.
So, there you have it! Four straightforward tips to help keep your client on schedule as you work on their project. While timelines don’t always work out exactly as planned, having a solid set of expectations, an organized and thorough process, an informative welcome packet, and stellar communication skills definitely help!
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Written By Gillian Tracey
Gillian is the designer, hand letterer, blogger, and small business cheerleader behind Gillian Tracey Design. She loves partnering with creative entrepreneurs to create one-of-a-kind handcrafted and heartfelt brand identities and Squarespace sites!
Outside of the design world, you can find Gillian snuggling with Griffin, her scruffy terrier mutt, dabbling in all kinds of art from painting to sewing, or daydreaming about exploring the U.S. in a VW bus.