I never yelled at a client. It has never been part of my intentions when I first started my business. Yet, when that day came it was such a relief! As a young entrepreneur, the amount of passion, energy you put in your craft and how you care about your first clients is amazing. I dreamed big, -I still am- thinking about how I’d cater to my customers the best I could, making it the stepping stone of my company. At first, bad days were just about me being sad not making enough money to pay bills; then the reputation starts growing and you attract different type of clients. How you’re going to deal with them is important. A clear strategy is needed. Creative professionals always charge their services in two parts: the caution, to make sure everything will run well, keep the boat floating; and the final delivery payment. What happen between these two parts is sometimes drama. This is like Moïse opened the sea up and closed it at the wrong time, usually when you have the final payment invoice in your hands. Sadly our activity is more about figuring what will be the next silly idea that will pop up in our client’s mind, than the actual work on our plate. “The client is king” they say, “Long live the king” they chant… yes whatever?
//* Don’t read if you’re sensitive to spoilers // I knew a king that pissed me off so much for an entire season -or two-, and this got me wondering why somebody hadn’t kill him already. You know him well…
When you deal with complicated clients you are always on the verge. You feel it coming. This little voice inside your head will say “You fool! What’s going wrong with you? The amount of money on the table was not worth it. Why you took it?” Wish you left it to somebody who’d be able to handle all the pressure you’re in right now. I remember reading an article about Steve Jobs, it narrated how Paul Rand – famous designer of NEXT logo- , pissed off, banged his fist on the table saying “This is my job! I know how to do it!”. I almost stood up and gave to my computer screen a round of applause. Strange to say, clients will respect you for that. Don’t be afraid, nothing wrong will happen to you – feel the salt of the sea in your mouth already?- 😉
Here’s what clients don’t know: the process of creativity is long, tedious and hair pulling. Strategic choices -painful ones- have to be made, time is limited. Deadlines are dreadful. We -creative professionals- are suffering, because we care about every single details that will render the big picture well. They don’t see that, let me tell you why: because cheap, careless, do-it-for-the-money graphic designers came along way before you. They serenaded awful songs to them and they liked it, thy did this awful job you are now in charge to fix!
I will write about these “design slaughters” in another article; for now let’s refocus on the designer-client love and hate relationships. This is the client’s job: lower your pricing, they are in for the “more bang for their buck”. They want cheap prices with unlimited changes, unlimited feedback’s and unlimited calls. The question to ask yourself is can you deal with all that? Here’s, in my experience, what they’ll throw at you:
“Let’s see how you do that, give us free samples to show to x, y, z decision maker in our office, then we’ll ball”
Dear client, the ball is in our portfolio. What you are calling free samples is “spec work”. We are not new to this business and if we crafted our website carefully with all our previous work in it. You should check it. Are you entering a nice restaurant and asking the chef to “get over your table in a hurry” and let you taste his/her special meal with this special sauce on it. You’d “buy if you like it. Deal?”. Not in this world. All you need to know about the menu is displayed at the front door. You know exactly what’s cooking there and you have testimonials all over internet to make a buying decision.
“We will advertise your business if you do this or that, we have an amazing network of new clients for you!”
If I could get a penny every time I hear this…
Dear client, this is not charity: I’m a creative professional. My agency is helping companies in advertising and communication fields! No one is better at self promoting than me and my business. This is what you hired us for, isn’t it? You are just saying this because you are hoping for a good rebate. Plus nothing will guarantee me that you’ll stick to your words, because nothing force you to do this in the future.
It takes time networking and promoting a business. If I’m in front of you it’s because you don’t have the time nor the expertise to conduct these tasks effectively. Here’s what will happen 90% of time: you will forget it! Few days later, I’ll be asking you “have you spread the word about my business lately?” I’ll get a vibrant no or a lie. Clients don’t have time! They are busy! If you really want to help me, dear client, here are my business cards with my agency’s website address on it. Please do share and bring me referrals I’ll appreciate it. I’m already advertising your business on my website and at every meetings. Freely.
“Hey you owe me money remember few months ago we did so and so”
Dear client, where were you “few months ago” when we were awaiting your final payment? This is why we set up a caution. To allow us to work safely. Because we know that the business life is full of surprises. Bad ones. Just because you left a caution don’t mean we owe you money. Have you ever left a nightclub with your bottles at the bar and came few months later asking “where are my drinks? I left money here”
“This wasn’t considered as a modification to me”
Dear client, you know that in this craft we charge you for every modifications done after delivery. Why? Because we know perfection doesn’t exist. And, like us, you love perfection. We could still be on it at Christmas. Every time my stylus touch the tablet to change something for you, my time is involved. I could spend this time doing something else. Modifications are becoming downward spirals so easily when they are not restrained. We don’t want them to happen; that’s why during the process of creation we submit mockups, directions, sketches for YOU to choose. If you don’t know what you want in life it will cost you. The same goes in design and marketing.
“Could you submit other propositions for this work?”
Dear client, we are down for whatever, whenever you provide us the fuel to do so. We are running a business like you and our time -like yours- is valuable. It took us weeks to come up with a solution for you. Now that we are close to the delivery and the deadline is near, don’t ask us to work more. If you want more propositions, an additional invoice will be submitted. Fair enough?
“Are you down for the money or your client’s satisfaction?”
“Take no prisoners” type of question here. Dear client, you are playing with my feelings here. You didn’t hire me to be nice to you. I don’t ask you to like me because my work is NOT me. My ability is to build something out of the clay you gave me-client’s brief-. If I asked you the right questions, if my job has been done properly: the result is YOU.
I’m okay with client’s satisfaction. I’m always providing free tips, writing articles, interacting in forums and discussions. You could ask me questions anytime about your issues I’d be glad to answer them in my free time.
You have my number right? Let’s schedule a call anytime!
“Change the color: turn it green”
Here I go “what type of green do you want? Do you have the specific code for that green?”
“Don’t know, but we know it should be green, it’s not the same green coming out of our Hp printer” they say.
“Have you calibrate your screen…? Have you consult your printer? Do you know what will be the effects of that green to your audience? ” I reply.
“We have no clue” they snap back.
Dear client, designers are masters of colors. They know exactly how strong visual emotions go. If I chose this color charter for you, I really knew what I was doing.
“Can you make the character / logo / design / illustration bigger?”
How big? Let me tell you more about everything going on that canvas. In Design, elements works in harmony, they are “designed” like this. It’s how they work. When you ask something to be bigger or smaller, you are provoking the entire system to bug.
“It’s 11 pm and I wanted to call you”
Dear client, you simply can’t. Like you, I have a life. If you reach me out of business hours, you give me the incentive to regret our collaboration -and hang up-. It shows me that you are selfish and self-centered. May be you think the money you engaged allows you to act like the Egyptian pharaohs?
Can you come to our office regularly?
Dear client, I came alone to this meeting but I’m not alone. I’m just the account executive and CEO as well. I’m working with a team. When you see me in your office it’s because we made our respective schedules work for that day. When I come, if you have a meeting, I’ll patiently wait in the lobby.
“Can you work with our interns on this?”
Duuuuhhhh…No! We are only dealing with you because we know that your interns are not the decisions maker here. If you could spare us these useless back and forths, we’ll appreciate it very much. Thank you!
“Can I interrupt you during your presentation?”
Dear client, if you do so, my speech will be troubled. This PowerPoint presentation was gently nailed for you. We rehearsed it. Please, listen to what we are saying, it’s important. You can put your phone in silent mode, nothing is more urgent than this work we are presenting in front of you right now.
“We had your budget but it was used for another urgent matter.”
Dear client, what you are telling me here is that the work you hired us for wasn’t important. We spent time together on calls, briefs, feedbacks, and now the project’s start is rescheduled to a date you really don’t know. Next time you hire us the cost will be higher. Why? Because If we had to wait for you to be ready and in the mean time over clients came in and pay the right price for the right service.
“We could get it cheaper on Fiver or 99designs or whatever cheap sites out there”
Dear client, you don’t know enough cheap places you can go to :). It’s our business, we know very well our competition. If you want commodities, we can point you -gladly- to the right places -persons- for the job. Unfortunately, Epson, Adobe, Apple, Wacom, Western Digital, Dropbox, Internet providers and every technologies we work with on a daily bases don’t offer us cheaper products. Our employees need a pay, they have also mouths to feed.
“You are too expensive!”
Dear client, few months ago I was on the market for a new laptop. My aging laptop was bugging and that slowed my workflow and my ability to deliver. I wanted a laptop that last longer, more reliable and fast. I then made my researches online and I came to the conclusion that only Macbook Pros could give me that solution. Hell! These cats are expensive! But I know what I want. I know that I can’t sacrifice the quality for the price, I know that if I go for the cheap solutions I’ll be happy for few days / months, but when my laptop will start bugging again or I’ll change its battery regularly, I’ll surely regret my investment. What’s the point of paying the double or triple down the road, when I can pay big now? I want peace. I want sustainable solutions for my business. I want a great support. I want experts to provide me the best of their works. I’m ready to pay the price for this. No shortcuts. Are you?
“We’d like you to give us native files / codes for that project”
Dear client, you are asking for the blueprints. They worth money. We are the guardians of these blueprints. In case if something goes wrong you can fall back on us for guidance and help. Don’t ask us to give you these files because we know that you will give them to the competition or your interns, who will do -90% of time- an awful job, and after that you’ll come and blame us. As designers and creative we are responsible for every little things we put out in this world. Leave this power to us.
“We work without contract”
Dear client, a contract is not a punishment. It’s not a trick destined to trap you! It will protect you and us from those non sense conversations we will have in the future. I know that painful conversations are good and necessary. But they don’t have to be total non sense! We both agree to do the work based on common terms. The contract make sure everybody will respect his words. Please, sign this contract.
“Come on, be flexible!”
Dear client, we know where flexibility lead. You want us to work the magic out for you, that’s what we’ll do. But what about you? Are you flexible?
The path I took is not an easy one. I decided to bring my expertise to Africa few years ago. A continent where design has left -some are wondering if it has ever existed-, where all need to be done, where we are tired of non-development clichés like famine and diseases, where people go overseas to buy great stuff they can craft locally and make it their own. Many have left, exhausted trying, some are still here because the love goes strong whenever difficulties and challenges arise. I’m bringing changes. It’s not because we are in Africa, that the sun is brighter, that we should do low level business, or flawed one. Look where it led us? Change is hard! It doesn’t happen overnight. We have stopped communicating to each others decades ago, now we are paying the price and can’t even recognize bad work when it happens. I love my clients, I really do. As a father loves his children and sometimes needs to find solutions to make them change when they go wrong. I’m not here to “play nice”, to “be nice”, may be my competition is. I go by the rule that you expect me to be real with you. This my business policy.