How to manage demanding design clients: 5 pro tips

Whether you’re a freelance designer or run your own creative agency, we’ve all had our fair share of “critical feedback.” When I started I was unprepared for the diverse visions you will find when working with graphic design clients and I found myself in some challenging situations.

After navigating this artistic industry for over ten years, I’ve picked up some tips and tricks for avoiding and dealing with negative customer feedback. This is especially important for designers who want to start their own creative agency, as not only do you face harsher penalties in the form of Google reviews, but you’re responsible for the work of all the designers in your agency. Read on for the advice I wish I had when I started (then check out Creative Bloq’s picks for the best design portfolios and graphic design software for inspiration, too).

01. Raise the right expectations at first contact

(Image: © We are via Getty Images)

This seems like an unusual thing as the customer is contacting you about it her project, however, a lack of knowledge around your services can cause easily avoidable complaints. It is important to clarify exactly what your services entail and whether they match the customer’s requirements.

For freelancers using Upwork or Fiverr, this could mean using that first meeting to gather additional information that the client left out in their job posting. For creative agencies, this could mean educating clients about the exact colors or file types that are better suited to print.

One of my first experiences, which I quickly learned from, was when I was responding to a job posting from a client looking for branding guidelines. When we first met, the client mentioned that they wanted social media templates, but I failed to enlighten them on the difference between brand guidelines and social media templates. As a result, what I delivered was not what the customer expected. If I had enlightened the client on using brand guidelines as a source of creative direction with some examples for print and digital applications, the whole situation could have been avoided.

On initial contact, it’s also important to address your turnaround time. While you may be excited to embark on a new project, it’s important not to over-promise and not under-deliver. It’s better to be honest and realistic about your deadlines, and your client will appreciate that. This can be a common source of dissatisfaction, and when dealing with multiple rounds of revisions, you need to set clear expectations for each iteration.

02. Use a design briefing questionnaire

Most clients already have an idea of ​​their logo design or website design before they contact you. Translating this vision into a real design can be difficult for some people. Using a design briefing questionnaire (see BrandVillage sample questionnaire (opens in new tab) here) can make sure you don’t miss any ideas or inspiration that might help kickstart your design process in the concept phase. Breaking this down into several smaller questions will bring all the pieces of the puzzle together and prevent over-editing or dissatisfaction.

You might want to consider creating a design brief to send to your clients before starting the project, especially if they’re having a hard time explaining what they want. These are some of the questions I always ask my logo design clients:

  • Type of logo (typography only, icon only, both)
  • logo wording
  • Logo slogan (if applicable)
  • color scheme
  • About your company
  • your competition
  • Offer inspiration, designs or sketches

(Image: © Katherine Manks)

Within the design brief, I also provide clients with an easy-to-understand moving tool to describe their brand personality (see BrandVillage sample questionnaire here). As a logo designer based in Melbourne, most of my clients enjoy using this tool and I can gain some insight into their vision.

03. Advertise your services clearly

(Image: © Konstantin Voronov via Getty Images)

This is akin to setting the right expectations at first contact; However, it will support you if negative feedback has already been received. Especially when you use a website to showcase your services, it’s important to list what the customer gets when they buy a particular package or undertake a new project.

I’ve found in my experience that listing a few different packages for customers to purchase helped separate different needs, including revisions and turnaround times. For example, my cheapest design package included a turnaround time of 10 business days and three rounds of revisions. My most expensive package included a five business day turnaround and unlimited revisions. I have also ensured that this information is clearly stated on the original invoice sent to the customer.

This structure helped customers to decide for themselves what requirements they need and created a shared responsibility between both parties. It also raised the right questions if clients were asking for fewer revisions within a shorter timeline.

04. Don’t forget customer service

From the time you receive critical feedback to the time you receive a negative Google review, there are many ways to salvage a declining customer relationship. Ultimately, we are all trying to run a successful business, whether you are a freelance graphic designer or you run a graphic design agency. While we may have niche competencies, it’s important not to neglect quality customer service.

When faced with a disappointed customer, the first thing you need to do is remain calm. While we take offense to negative feedback, as we see our designs as a direct reflection of our abilities, it’s important to compartmentalize our thoughts and not take it personally. The customer is usually the one with the strict deadline, so their stressful feedback may not necessarily reflect their actual opinion in other circumstances.

The next step is active listening. Make a list with the customer of the exact changes they want to see and read it out to them so they feel confident you heard their request. Having that clear, confirmed direction will help them calm down and won’t have to be faced with the “blame game.” Again, a detailed design briefing questionnaire can avoid many misunderstandings. If you have conflicting feedback, you can also refer to the design briefing.

05. Proceed to the next project

(Image: © Caia Image via Getty Images)

We have all experienced challenging projects during our careers caused by a number of factors. Once the mistake is made or the negative feedback is received, you must make the most of this opportunity to learn from it. This is not to indulge in self-doubt, but should be met with positivity as the experience will make you a better communicator and overall entrepreneur in the future.

Now that you had a challenging encounter, it’s time to move on to the next project and implement those changes to prevent it from happening again.

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