By Murphy Felton

7 Ways To Be Their Best Client

Before I ran my own Visual Design business, I was a client. Admittedly, a horrible client. I spent years being frustrated with firms, designers, contractors, etc. because I felt they never understood what I wanted. And much to their chagrin, I had just enough design skills to be “dangerous.” When I would get frustrated, I would just do it myself with pretty devastating results: files weren’t set up correctly, vendors had to spend more time fixing what I thought was perfect, and the end result just looked amateur.

As I grew in my professional and personal development, I began to take a step back on every project. I began to ask questions of the designers, the vendors, the contractors to find out what they needed, not just want I wanted. This was a pivotal change in our production results. After each project, I started to ask the vendors from their perspective what went well, how we did as a client, and how we could be better. Leaning on people who are experts in your field, putting your pride aside, only proved to be beneficial.

Not only was I able to get the results at the excellence I was looking for, but I was also building solid relationships with outside vendors. Let me tell you, relationships are the secret to success.

I wanted to share with you 7 ways I learned to be someone’s best client. This is hopefully useful not just in design and production, but I have also used these when working with contractors working in our home, creative projects for personal use, and with anyone who is talented in areas that I am not.

7 Ways to be their best client:

1. Pay early, pay fast.

In a recent article by the Global News Wire the #paytoday initiative was launched by several small business organizations. It notes that on any given day small businesses are owed $900 Billion for work that has already been completed.

This is a significant stat in our current national situation more than ever. For a number of small businesses, they extend a net 30 pay period. A lot can happen in 30 days of a small business. We are not supported by large amounts of capital. Every penny is accounted for in every section of the budget. Some vendors in trying to compete with the big companies, will front money on supplies, material, and labor because that’s “what’s expected.”

When a client pays before the net 30 for a delivered product is does more than allow a small business owner to sleep at night. It builds trust. It builds relationships. It builds customer service. When we know that a client pays us quickly for a product that has already been delivered, there’s more motivation to do whatever you can for that client because you’ve proven you’re good for it. This only leads to faster turnarounds and better results for both you (the client) and the vendor.

2. Be clear on expectations, objectives, deadlines, and budget

Although we are professionals, we’re not jedi mind readers. It’s a great practice for every client to think through their project and their objectives and results, when they need it, and how much money they have allotted for the project. Having objectives does not mean you are micromanaging. What it does is puts the ball back into the experts court to show you why they are the experts.

For instance, I recently had an idea for a massive tattoo piece I wanted and that I’ve been thinking about for years. I sat down and created a document of why I was getting the tattoo, what I was hoping to achieve, what I was sure I didn’t want it to look like, and included a few inspirational pieces and references.

You may be thinking… uh, that’s a bit much. But is it? This is something that will be on my body for a lifetime and will have significant financial implications. I know nothing about the artistry or mechanics of tattoos, so there was no way I was going into a shop and telling them, “just do this.” They (the experts) will have insight on what will look good 10 years from now, the mechanics of a good tattoo, and overall aesthetics of how it will look on my body.

I took my creative brief to three different tattoo artists that I had researched and presented my ideas to each of them. I prefaced every conversation with, “I know nothing about the mechanics of a good tattoo. I’m leaning on your experience to tell me if this will work or if it just can’t be done.” Humility in a client is priceless. Two of the artists that I took my idea to very graciously said, “This can be done, but is beyond my skill level or comfort zone.” I can’t tell you how much I appreciated their honesty. Honesty in a vendor is priceless. The third artist (the one I was hoping would pick up the project) said, “This is a great challenge and I can already see in my head how it can be done.” When I went back for my art consultation, I got a little emotional. He had taken my brief, listened to me, and delivered an amazing proof. It was better than I had imagined it could be.

Side note: We’re halfway through the tattoo. It’s not done yet (because of the pandemic, but I will post pictures when it’s finished)

I was able to communicate my objectives, my loose deadline, and what I was hoping to spend on that tattoo. He delivered.

3. The more you empower an outsourcer, the more likely they can achieve the excellence you are seeking.

Good designers are not design monkeys. Good design firms are not design sweatshops. They are creatives that have spent years honing their craft. They’ve experimented, researched, and done the work to know what works and why. They are strategists. They know why they are placing photos in locations. They know why they’re using the fonts they’re using. They know why they are telling the story the way they are.

If you want to tell someone exactly what you want and that’s all they do, there are designers (and tattoo artists) that will do exactly that. But you as a client miss out on the chance to see your idea go to the next level and be better than you imagined.

4. Develop relationships, not transactions.

I cannot stress this enough. People, all people, at their core want to feel valued, seen, and appreciated. By building relationships, not only do I know that I will get better work from a vendor, but also someone I can call when I’m up against a wall. More than once in my previous employment, we had a few “emergencies” that needed a quick turnaround. I was laboring over contacting my vendors because I knew the stress this could cause their business to make it happen. To my surprise, they were more than willing to help us out, because we were a good client. If there’s nothing else you take away from this it’s this: there is significant value in treating people as humans, finding out what motivates them, and treating them with respect. This has saved me on many occasions.

5. Be honest about the product.

In our society, sometimes it feels rude to tell someone that their work isn’t what you expected. Obviously, there is a right way to do it, so you’re not being a jerk, and that’s where clear objectives come in. If you have established your objectives and it’s agreed upon by both parties, you as the client will have something to reference and a talking point to call back to. Then, it’s not about the designer’s work, it’s about not meeting the objectives. This makes it far less personal. Remember, creatives and vendors are people, too. They put their heart and soul into designs and labor over what’s best for you. For the most part, people are not going to do a poor job just to make a buck. If they do, they won’t be in business very long. Customer Service is key for every sector. A happy client is the best client.

Even in my current role as we work with some outside vendors, I’ve had to have the hard conversations about how a product didn’t meet our expectations or objectives. I am often impressed by the response. In fact, one of our companies sent me a follow up email thanking them for the thoughtful, yet hard conversation and it led to better quality control within their company. I find that honest communication yields the best results. Remember, there’s a reason why it’s better to work with people not just click buttons on the internet. By developing relationships, you actually help companies be better and do better, not just for you, but for their future clients.

6. Take responsibility for your part in a miscommunication.

Vendors, designers, video production friends are all working on multiple projects simultaneously. More than likely, you’ve been tasked with a project with that vendor and that’s your one project with them. Make sure that you are communicating clearly and in a timely manner.

If for some reason, there was a dropped ball somewhere along the way, follow up with the vendor and take responsibility for any miscommunication you may have had. When I was a client, more than once, I needed to call a vendor and apologize for a key piece of information that I didn’t communicate. This was almost always met with grace and understanding, and I even offered to cover the cost for my mistake. By owning my mistake, the frustration was placed right where it should be, with me.

They will remember that the next time you work with them.

7. Say “Thank you” by showing a designer / merchant / vendor their work in action.

Small businesses don’t have massive marketing budgets. They thrive and survive on reviews and examples. There is no greater joy than seeing our work “in the wild.” In fact, it validates the time and effort we put in to making a great product for you. Take a picture, post it on your social media and tag them. Leave a review on their page. Send them a thank you card. (Snail mail is delightful.) Again, this is a chance to further the development of a relationship, not just a transaction. So many of our projects get passed off and we wonder (even if we send follow up emails) if they’re happy and did we meet their objectives? By seeing our work in action builds motivation and excitement for their next project.

When you set out to find your next expert to work with, I hope you will keep these in mind. Great clients are a joy for us to partner with in their projects.

Are you a vendor? What are things that you think make a great client? Are you a consumer? What are things that you look for in a vendor?

If you’re looking for strategic visuals for your innovative company, we would love to do a free consult with you. Set up an appointment today and let’s chat about your project and the possibilities!