Want to be a successful freelance graphic designer for a long time? Want to build long-term client relationships who give you repeat business? Want to establish a name for yourself as the go-to freelance designer in your field? Then do not make the following five surprisingly common mistakes that can cost you your freelance design job.
This is a major point of contention within the freelance design industry: a client wants one thing, the designer “knows better,” and neither gets what they want. The customer is always right, except when they’re wrong, right? Wrong. I don’t care if you know better. I don’t care if you know that their marketing message will have more impact with less text, or if you know their competitor has a similar logo they should differentiate from.
Few things aggravate me more than an egotistical designer who refuses to deliver what the client has specifically asked for, because it violates some sort of “design principle.” It’s certainly OK to explain your point of view, and in most cases, clients will trust your expertise. But if they don’t, at the end of the day, the customer is always right. Always. If you want to get paid, that is. Deviate from this standard business truth, and you’ll not only lose your client, you’ll risk negative word-of-mouth.
Deliver poor work
It may seem obvious, but the fact of the matter is that it happens more than you think. When designers have to meet deadlines, work can be rushed. When designers get comfortable with a client who has steady work, they can rush their work because they’re trying to grow their business with new clients. While sub-standard work might be forgiven from time-to-time (though it is still unacceptable), repetition will certainly land you out of a job.
If you’re having a bad day, a hard time concentrating or just need more time, you’re far better off calling your client and explaining the situation to extend the deadline. In the vast majority of cases, an extra day won’t break a project, and it will result in a better product. Everyone runs into time trouble, and most clients understand.
Yes, I’m sure you make it a point to never be rude to the people paying your bills. Yet rudeness is a very common issue in the freelance design world. Freelance designers (and many others) are rude to clients at an alarming rate, though the vast majority of the time the rudeness is wholly unintentional. And it’s usually via email. Here’s an example:
Client: Hey Bob, I’m just wondering where we’re at on that logo design.
Designer: I’ll get it to you later today.
On the surface, this email dialogue might not seem rude; but from the client’s perspective the designer didn’t: a) explain why the design has been held up; b) give a specific time when the client could expect the design; or c) apologize for the delay or thank the client for patience. The designer also did not respect the client by using the client’s name in a salutation. In short, it seems as though the designer is brushing the client off. Trust me, email dialogues such as this kill a lot of potential repeat business. As a graphic designer, you will do well to review rules of email etiquette and apply them liberally.
Don’t ask for a down payment
Some clients might balk at paying 25 percent to 50 percent upfront, but you have to ask for a down payment to protect you. If you don’t ask for a down payment, your client has no skin in the project; and can jump ship at any time. Thus, you could waste hours on a project you won’t be compensated for. And if you think a signed contract is going to protect you, think again. If you have to take legal action, you will likely wait months or even years for that $2,500 logo design, if you ever see it at all, and you’ll have to pay all legal fees in the interim. Get a non-refundable down payment, and at the very least you can pay your bills and put food on the table if a client backs out.
Clients’ needs evolve, and you have to evolve with him in order to maintain long-term customer relationships. Let’s say, for example, you have a client who pays you to design graphics for their monthly email newsletter blasts. The client is under contract for six more months, but wants to back out to focus on social media instead. You could enforce the contract, which is your right; but in doing so you will face a lengthy legal battle, a disgruntled client, and/or loss of revenue and time. Or, you could offer to alter the contract to provide design services for social media for the same or similar fee. The latter would be a win-win for both client and designer.