Best Practices

4 Ways Designers Can Maximize the Initial Client Meeting

John Lehman
January 21, 2021

How often have you heard this story—a potential client has an grandiose idea for a project that is far beyond the scope of their budget. Or a client who is disappointed in the work because their expectations were widely disconnected from that of the designer. While there are certainly clients who will simply be difficult to work with, there are also steps a designer can take to help their potential clients understand exactly what they can bring to the table, as well as make themselves stand out when bidding on projects. Here, we’ll discuss four strategies to help designers not only effectively inform potential clients, but exceed their expectations, as well.

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Pre-screen potential clients

When it comes to design projects, a surefire way to disaster is when you and your client are simply not on the same page. When your expectations are not aligned with that of your client, you can be sure there will be problems with executing plans, scheduling milestones, and especially rendering payments—in fact, it’s entirely possible that the prospect of payment may simply go out the window if your client is surprised/unhappy with the way the project is going.

Sometimes, much of this can be chalked up to a client who simply doesn’t know precisely what they’re getting into when they come to you with a project. Perhaps this is their first time designing a project and they lack the experience to know where to begin and what to expect.

One surefire way to avoid losing common ground with a client is to implement a screening process to evaluate a project before it gets off the ground. Consider sending all potential clients a screening questionnaire so they can share with you their knowledge and experience working with a designer. You might include questions such as “Have you ever worked with an architect or designer before?” or “What is your deadline for the project?” or “How would you describe your aesthetic for the project?”

The more questions you can put forwards to them, the better equipped you will be to determine whether or not their project is worth the efforts. Furthermore, screening may also present opportunities where the two of you can fine tune the idea, come up with compromises, or rule out ideas all together.

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Be transparent about your process

The more your client understands how you intend to accomplish your project, the happier they’ll be with your work overall. To that end, it helps your case significantly by clearly outlining your overall process with your clients. This includes drafting a roadmap of your process (bonus points for a graphical visualization of this), the fees for each phase, and any specific steps that will need to be taken for this client’s particular project.

You should also make it abundantly clear that this roadmap is not set in stone—unexpected events or conditions can (and often will) occur that can set things off course, or require new steps and actions before the project can proceed. When these events do occur, it’s on you to inform your client and how they may impact the overall project.

All of these outlines and discussions should be documented, whether within the contract you draft for the project, or in a separate document. This ensures that you and your client have an agreed upon document that outlines the plan of the project, and can be referred to later if any issues arise during the course of the project.

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Ensure your website sells your credentials

Your website, and general web presence, will likely be your client’s first impression of your business. That’s why it is absolutely essential to make sure your website is conveying your accomplishments and talents in a way that is flattering, but more importantly, honest and realistic.

For example, it may be tempting to fill your website or social media with pictures of the projects you’ve designed. The pictures themselves are not the issue. But, by themselves, they only demonstrate a small part of what you can do for a potential client. Ideally, you want to supplement your pictures with stories about the project itself. What were you setting out to do for this client? What were their primary pain points, and what did your business do to address them?

By sharing a bit of context along with the pictures, potential clients can understand the journey from ideation to completion. You of course want to inspire your potential clients and show them your full potential, but you also want to ensure their expectations are grounded.

Another item on your website to keep fresh is your Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ). If you aren’t already including this on your website, now is the time to get it up and running. This shows your potential clients that you have a finger on the pulse of what today’s clients are looking for in a design project, as well as the concerns they have. More importantly, it gives you an opportunity to address those concerns and demonstrate your ability to not only resolve them, but get ahead of them.

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Show you care about providing a convenient experience

Modern technologies have allowed businesses to better serve their customers and clients, such as being able to order products and services online from the comfort of their devices. These services have proliferated to the point where modern clients expect businesses to operate online. This holds especially true in the midst of a global pandemic, where many customers would prefer to avoid face-to-face interactions. As such, it’s imperative that you meet your clients expectations by adopting these technologies into your practice.

For example, you could take advantage of organizational tools such as Trello to keep a living outline of your project for all parties to reference at their convenience. You could also take advantage of modern communication tools such as Slack to discuss the project with your clients and schedule check-ins to communicate in real time. This can also help keep a record of your conversations with your clients to ensure you are all on the same page.

You can also take advantage of online payment solutions. These give your clients a convenient option to pay your fees by credit card, debit card, or even eChecks—all from the comfort of their home. This option can also help make your billing more efficient, by giving you the power to process payments significantly faster than traditional means. Rather than wait for a check to arrive in the mail (which often takes days), an online payment can begin processing within 24 hours. The best online payment solutions also offer features such as scheduled payments, which allows you to automate your billing process and charge your clients at designated intervals.

The stronger your relationship with your clients are, the better your projects will be overall. You’ll be better equipped to avoid headaches, quickly address issues, and streamline your business. In turn, your clients will appreciate your attention to detail and willingness to make the process as smooth as possible.