It pains me to say this but designers are often seen as a flaky bunch. Yep, it’s unfortunate, but a few bad apples have spoiled the whole damn bunch. How do I know, straight from the horses mouth, that’s how.
I was chatting with a client who started reeling off horror stories about previous designers he’d hired. The one phrase that really stuck in my mind was this:
“You think used car salesman have a bad name, that’s nothing compared to the one you designers have.”
I was shocked, really I was. I had no idea we had such a terrible reputation.
I mean, as designers we’re used to hearing client horror stories. (see Clients from Hell) His were the same, only the inverse. He told me about designers taking deposits and vanishing into thin air, projects not being finished, designers asking for more money before handing over finished files and generally all round terrible experiences.
It occurred to me that if the bar was being set so low, how hard could it be for designers like you and me to excel?
The answer is not very.
Client’s want two things from a relationship with their designer.
- They want to trust them.
- They want to leave the relationship better off than when they came in.
Whether you’re working on a web site, a web service or an app, your clients need to be better off for having worked with you. You need to have rocked their world.
Remove the Flakiness
I really, really hate flying, really! It’s only since the birth of my daughter that I can even consider flying without medication. However, for all my fears I have to trust that the pilot is going to do his very best to get me and my family home in one piece.
My clients expect the same (I haven’t killed any yet). It’s assumed I’ll do my very best to get them where they need to be, and in one piece.
So if a client needs to trust you, a total stranger, how can you create this trust?
From the top
Your portfolio says a lot about you. It projects an image of you. When a potential client lands at your portfolio they form an opinion. It doesn’t necessarily have to be positive or negative, but an opinion will be formed. You need to do everything you can to push this opinion towards the positive. There are several ways you can do this.
Let your potential client see the great work you’ve done for past clients. Satisfied clients are usually only too happy to tell the world about you. If your client can mention a particular area where you excelled, get them to talk about it. Be sure to include their full name, company and a headshot if possible. You need to let folks know they’re reading a real testimonial.
Take a look at the testimonials on my landing page for The Designer’s Guide to Freelancing. A potential client only has to Google any one of the authors to find out if they’re the real deal. If your potential client is looking for a long term collaboration then they may ask for contact details of your testimonials. Keep it real folks.
Show only your best work
By displaying every project on your hard drive you’re saying, “I’m indecisive and I can’t make tough decisions”. Selecting only your most representative works can be difficult. Saying no to a loved one is always hard, but sometimes it needs to be done.
If you want to show you’re a designer who takes his profession seriously, then get tough. If you only have two or three college projects, then turn them into case studies, (be honest) really go to town on them.
Communicate in your own voice, not that of some corporate stiff. Drop the buzzwords and forget the jargon, unless that’s you and it’s your market. (Drop it anyway) People want to connect with people they can relate to. If you can give potential clients a glimpse at the real you, then you increase your chances of connecting with the right clients.
Link up your blog
A great way to show potential clients who you really are, and what you’re about, is through your blog. We tend to be more sincere, more ourselves on our blogs. If a client likes what he reads, if he likes the kind of values you project, then you’re another rung up the trust ladder.
Blogs aren’t only for establishing a base of loyal readers, they can genuinely help your freelance business. Even the least effective blog post can do freelance magic given the right circumstances. I recently published a post that to all appearances didn’t do an awful lot. But it did do one thing, it helped me to form a relationship with someone else in the design world, someone who wants to interview me for their blog. How will that help me with clients? What will this do? It will help me to establish more perceived trust and elevate me to the ranks of expert. Clients like experts. You’re one too, so let them know it.
Be professional, every step of the way
From initial contact to the big sign off, you’re given the chance to excel, to be professional. Deliver what you promise, turn up on time, use contracts, use a professional proposal, maintain proper communication, present your progress in a timely manner and your clients will be more than happy.
In the land of the cool, professionalism is a dirty word. The land of the cool is a fantasy land, and like all fantasies, they fade and vanish. You’re here for the long-haul, so be a professional.
One of the things my clients most value about me is my professionalism. I receive regular compliments about the way I conduct my business and the sense of security that gives them.
Here’s a testimonial from my last client. Am I blowing my own trumpet? Absolutely. Does this establish trust on my portfolio? You bet.
“I had the pleasure of working with Nathan on the redesign of our company website. He is a talented designer who works quickly to provide the highest level of customer satisfaction. I was pleased with how easily we were able to collaborate, especially with me based in the U.S. Nathan used excellent tools to allow us to share, comment, and provide feedback on his work. He offered experienced insight and fresh ideas that led to a beautiful, cutting edge end-product that will help elevate our brand.”
Be a professional.
A pretty landing page will be just that if your client doesn’t increase his sales leads, boost his mailing list or sell his product. Whatever your client’s objective, you need to hit it. If you can surpass it, all the better.
Pretty landing pages are the work of pixel pushers, and I don’t want to be a hack. I want to be part of a process. I like to, and try to make informed decisions.
Be a Non-flaky Designer
Separate yourself from the bad apples, separate yourself from the flaky designers. Talk to your clients and find out what their goals are. Work towards surpassing them. Know their expectations and you’ll have something to measure your successes, and your failures against.
Be that non-flaky designer, be the anti-flake. Give a damn and do your brethren proud.