Learn How to Communicate Your Design Process
Communication is key in every business. Without it, we’d be nowhere – obviously. But it’s exceptionally important for a freelancer selling design services, because design can’t be touched, felt or held. A intangible asset can be difficult to sell because you have to show the value of the service to the market, and in turn offer a new or existing client the opportunity to see a need in using your services. Then you’ll have to hold them accountable for the work they’ve contacted you to do (this is where a contract come into play). So as a freelancer you’ll need to be learn how to articulate your design process and deliverables with strong communication skills.
Taking care of all communication via email is a good way of this. It acts as a binding contract between you and clients. Document all requests for work and requirements, approval in email works, or in a formal document such as a service order, estimate or quote.
I’ve helped a lot of clients send email newsletters under high pressure deadlines, requiring absolute accuracy in rendering of design, copy, subject lines and mailing list deployment to complicated segmentation on various time zones in Australia, UK and across the US. I relied on email to back me up, because deadlines require earnest attention and precision.
If I deploy a client email I will state in an email confirming the list name, email name, time and time zone. For example, “The (insert newsletter email title here) will be deployed to the full mailing list (or name of segmentation) at 9 AM London UK time.” If any aspect of this is incorrect, the client will have an opportunity to bring up errors or inaccuracies, and if something goes awry, you’ll have your butt covered. You definitely don’t want to be responsible for an error that cannot be changed on a large print run like a six page brochure of 100,000 copies, or an email delivered to 250,000 subscribers.
Never assume. Never leave anything unclear. And don’t be afraid to ask for clarification, especially if there’s a lot at stake.
Preparing and Presenting Contracts
Contracts show that you’re serious and won’t flake out on the client – so if you don’t have one, write one. It shows that you’re holding them accountable, as well as yourself, establishing commitment between you and your clients. With that said, don’t be shy to hand a contract over to a new client. After the estimate or quote has been approved, send over a copy of your contract, loaded with confidence.
Some tips for writing a contract are:
- Eliminate any legal jargon like “shall”, “hereof” and “there to” – make it easy for everyone to understand the terms and conditions.
- Drop the use of “client” and “designer” too. Instead insert the name of your design firm for “designer” and the client’s business name in place of “client”.
- Be sure to know and understand your terms and conditions. Don’t send anything you don’t understand, otherwise it will be difficult for you to explain if the client calls you on it, or act on if things go awry.
Some clients may require special clauses for confidentiality reasons and this will likely mean you’ll sign something provided by them. No need to worry about this though. Simply ask to incorporate all of your conditions into one cohesive agreement. The next step is to set up a meeting to review the final drafted contract together and sign the dotted lines.
Additional Expectations of Contracts
Contracts are straightforward as long as everyone understands the terms. There might however be one client who will challenge your terms and this is when your confidence and assertiveness will kick in. Look the client square in the eye, and let them know that you’re not moving on the condition then proceed to explain your reason. There’s no need to jibber jabber on and on about your explanation – state the reason and wait for their response. If they aren’t willing to see your point of view, and you can’t compromise or negotiate, you might want to reconsider working with them. Let them know there’s no hard feelings, it’s just business, shake hands and leave the meeting knowing you dodged the possibility encountering a design monster down the road.
Contracts aren’t really about protecting us in a courtroom, they’re really about establishing boundaries, guidelines and rules so you don’t end up in court. If the client isn’t willing to see your point of view, don’t be shy to walk away and stand up for yourself. Just like we say in the dating world, there’s lots of fish in the sea, and there’s plenty of other clients out there too.
What’s your thoughts on contracts for freelancing design? Tell us about contracts you’ve used as freelance designer. Leave a comment below!