All relationships start out with the best intentions at heart. They only become complicated as people rush into business without properly discussing each party’s responsibilities. In the world of visual communications, I really blame designers for the majority of these occurrences. Clients are always going to want things faster and cheaper, and they will always want to be back seat designers if you let them. The responsible thing to do is to have a plan. Don’t just take the money and figure things out as you go. Make sure you know what your business can do, and make sure your clients know how you do it, and what the rules are for having it done. Makes sense? Good.
Now how the hell do you do that? Well, the simplest approach is to have a magical little document called the Client Expectations Packet. Here is what you should have in it:
The client is hiring you to be the professional, and part of the responsibility is knowing how to walk them through a project, and educating them on what it means to successfully navigate it.
The Client Expectations Packet
Part 1: Expectations
Outline the reasons for having a Client Expectations Packet. It sounds simple but never assume your new client understands how the visual communication business works. Set the stage and paint yourself as a professional. I recommend you let them know you are not a simple designer but rather a partner in their success, and that understanding their expectations and their responsibilities in this new found relationship is a key element to this budding partnership.
Part 2: Elect a Single Designated Contact
Nothing is worse than starting a project and getting a certain distance down the road and then finding out someone else on the client’s team is now seeing the work for the first time, and they want changes. It’s a classic move, it happens all the time, and it’s avoidable. Designate a single contact who is responsible for aggregating all feedback. You have the right to a process, and no one will begrudge you for it, just be honest and upfront about your needs, and what it takes to be successful. In the end they will thank you for it.
Part 3: Outline Your Process
You do have a creative process don’t you? Well, if you don’t you should. It’s what makes what you do valuable. It also give you a great way to manage the project in steps, and get proper sign-offs at the right times. This builds confidence and goes a long way in getting the clients on your side when it comes to trusting your solutions to their problems.
Part 4: Approvals
Make sure the client knows what an approval is, and what it means, and the weight it carries for the project. Clients will always assume they can change their mind at any time since they are paying the bill, and they can, but let them understand why you need a proper approval to avoid extra charges down the road, and what effect unscheduled changes can make on the final schedule for the project.
Part 5: Revisions
Just like approvals, revisions are an important aspect of any project. Let the client know how many approvals are built into each stage of the project. Again, being open and honest up front is important here. It also helps back up the importance of the approval process.
Part 6: Timelines and Deadlines
As you can probably tell by now, these sections build on each other. Timelines and Deadlines are the very life blood of any project’s success. Let them know why you have structured the timeline like you have, based on their deadline. Make sure they understand it, and the reasons behind it.
Part 7: Change Orders
Projects change. That’s the one thing you can count on never changing. Look like you know what you’re doing by anticipating them and having a plan already in place. Explain what it takes to make a change order and why.
Part 8: Project Hard Costs
If your contract doesn’t include all costs associated with what could end up being the final project, make sure your Client Expectations Packet outlines how you will handle extra costs as they come up and how it will be billed back to them.
Now, all projects are different, and this outline should not be seen as something that cannot be manipulated as each job sees fit. Just like the creative process you should structure your Client Expectations Packet to be constructed generally enough to encompass all aspects of a project. That way you can add detail as needed.
All this might seem overly simple, but try to see and understand all the complexities of a visual communications project from the client’s perspective. Designers often take it for granted, but the client is hiring you to be the professional, and part of the responsibility is knowing how to walk them through a project, and educating them on what it means to successfully navigate it. If you can do this you have a client for as long as they need a designer. If you don’t, you’re just going to end up as the annoying designer cliché, the one they talk about to the next designer they hire. Think about it.