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6 questions to save yourself from that nightmarish client.

SUMMARY

1. Why are they looking for a designer?
2. Who is involved in this project?
3. What projects of yours were they interested in?
4. What is your budget?
5. When are the project start and end date?
6. Who have they spoken to?

The sound of new work is always tantalising. Opportunity to publish designs and getting paid for it. We understand the excitement in signing a contract but don’t forget, there will be that nightmarish client where they either makes 1001 changes or refuse to pay. When we discover them, it’s usually too late, and we’re half way through the project. We question ourselves whether to terminate the contract, but our perseverance stops us. But when is enough enough? How do we prevent ourselves from engaging with the wrong clients from the start?

Interview them.

It sounds crazy, but I mean it. Engaging a new project requires our heart and soul. Starting a new project is like a starting a new relationship. Both of you must be right for each other. After they have asked all their questions, ask them the following questions.

1. Why are they looking for a designer?

This gives you clues to the project context. The more specific they are, the more informed you are to determine if they are the right fit for you. Below are some typical responses you’ll get and what they mean (these are just a possibility and not a definite)

I’m looking for some design ideas for an upcoming project
This suggests they are in ideation phase. Check with them if they are prioritising quantity over quality. This may indicate they do not have a project start and end date, which may also result in slow response rate or sudden termination. The upside to engaging them is you have the ability to contribute your experience to the project and not just the design output.

We have a project brief and need to execute it
The design service they require is straightforward. They are looking for designers that can deliver what they need. Read the project details carefully before agreeing to the job. A client with a project brief is a good start. It may be less of a creative endeavour and more of efficient execution, but it means you are less likely to face indecisiveness from the clients.

However, managing expectations is a major factor in maintaining the relationship with these types of clients. What they write or say about deliverables does not always convey the quality of deliverables they are after clearly.

Make sure you discuss with them thoroughly the expectations of the delivered project. If they are unsure themselves, you can ask them for design projects they were inspired by so you can check the quality and determine if you can deliver similar standards. Otherwise, you can refer them to your previous projects and set the expectations yourself.

The previous designer bailed, and we are looking for a new one
If possible also ask them why the designer was let go. Was it communication issues, unexpected project circumstances or perhaps she/he was an irresponsible designer? If the conversation is going well, discuss with them what they would have done differently to prevent it from happening again. This demonstrates that you listen to your clients. This situation may be tricky as you may have to work with some previous limitations or existing materials.

2. Who is involved in this project?

Find out if you’re speaking directly to the person who needs the design or someone else just doing the job. If it was the big boss herself/himself, they value design and want to engage with one personally. Bonus points for them. If it was her/his assistant, invest your time and pitch as much as you see fit. Also, that may be a reason why her/his responses may sound inadequate.

This question also allows you to find out who and how many people you’ll be working with. If it’s a small group, decision-making will be quick and specific. If it’s a big group, that’s a warning sign. If you feel that the conversation is comfortable to go a bit deeper into the project, you can ask the following questions as well.

Who is the final decision maker?
When communications and directions are unclear, this is the person to seek out directly. If there isn’t one, you’ll need to readdress this later.

Who are the viewers/users of your work?
This allows you to design work as required by your client and specifically for what it will be used for.

Who controls the budget?
The truth is budget has a significant impact on your work. If the person who manages the budget is not in the group, it would be wise to record your activities meticulously. This includes on design, production and administrative duties. This will serve you well if the client asks for a detailed breakdown of your cost before paying you.

3. What projects of yours were they interested in?

I love all of your work, especially your web designs.
If they gave a general answer, they probably didn’t do much research into finding a designer fit for them. Invest your time and effort accordingly.

I am attracted to the web design project you did 2 years ago for company X.
This question will help you figure out if their design sense for the project. If the client gives a vague description of their design sense e.g. clean, minimal and relaxing, follow it up by asking them what aspect of the project they liked and why.

At this stage, you can make a decision whether this project will help you advance as a designer or is just another bread and butter work.

4. What is your budget?

This is a dummy question. 9 out of 10 won’t tell you what the budget is. But it gives you the opening to introduce your pricing. Are you delivering the work as a project package? Or perhaps work for them by the hour?

If they are in Ideation Phase (exploring designs for an upcoming project), it is best to suggest an hourly rate pricing. This pricing model is befitting as it puts both parties in a non-committal stage and to test if you are a good fit for them and vice versa. If they are in Define Phase (have a project brief), you can offer your project package rates. When you sense hesitancy in the voice, explain to them what they can expect and use your previous project as a case study.

If the client gives you a ballpark budget, and it’s not to your standard, turn them down kindly and offer to refer them to another designer.

5. When are the project start and end date?

Knowing when the project begins and ends allows you to determine 1) if the plan is right, 2) if you can deliver the project in time and 3) schedule your work efficiently. If they are unsure, ask them for more details. When is the team available for a face to face discussion? Are there upcoming events that this project will need to be shown at?

If you’re feeling confident, suggest a timeframe. I will be able to focus on this project in 2 weeks for a duration of a month. Will this time frame work for you?

If they need time ask them to get their dates and reply your email (follow up with the client with an email summary of the discussion). You can also suggest a suitable time for them and let them know this is what works best for you and that you’re able to give greater/full focus on this project.

Remember, a project without a deadline can become a nightmare as they can drag on forever.

6. Who have they spoken to?

This is a question they will most likely not respond to. Assure the client that this is to see if they are looking at the similar designers. If they mention designers with similar design sense to you, they are searching for a designer. If they looked at any and every designer, they are browsing for options. Invest your time in this relationship as you see fit. If you are confident the client is not a good fit, point her/him to the another designer.

SUMMARY

1. Why are they looking for a designer?
2. Who is involved in this project?
3. What projects of yours were they interested in?
4. What is your budget?
5. When are the project start and end date?
6. Who have they spoken to?