Along with wedding photography in Boise, I also work as a freelancer in design and development. I’ve done everything: product labels, posters, brochures, logos, mockups, infographics, UI design, buttons, websites, etc. I even designed a reusable bag for Walmart. But freelancing online offers some unique challenges.
In real life, I’ve met freelance clients a total of twice. The vast majority of communication happens online, most of the time through email or chat. This has, at times, been very successful, and then sometimes we slip up over each other and fail. So, learning from my best projects, these are some tips I’ve picked up over the years.
Over-communication is better than under-communication.
One-word responses, one-sentence project descriptions, and waiting a week for any sort of response is writing a death warrant for your project. These usually happen in two different scenarios:
- The client doesn’t really know what they want. Maybe they think they’ll know it when they see it or they just don’t know the words to say.
- The client doesn’t have time for this project or doesn’t really want to do it.
Both of these scenarios mean that the freelancer either has to drag some sort of direction out of you, or they have to take shots in the dark until they hit something. Both of things things take a lot of extra time, which delays the project and frustrates both of you.
How to fix it.
Most freelancers are used to working with various degrees of experience, from the amateur startup owner to international CEOs. We will not laugh at you if you say you want to be just like Nike (okay, we might laugh, but it’s good-natured and we’ll at least know what you mean). I also love it when clients admit they honestly don’t know what they’re doing and ask for my best judgement on designs.
If you’re inexperienced, just get a good, experienced designer. They’ll usually steer you the right way. For example, I’ve worked with dozens of startups over the years. My favorite words to hear are: “I’m going to let you use your creative judgement for this one.” That means I can do what I think is best, based on the brand and intended target audience. Some of my favorite designs ever have come out of a client letting me use my best judgement.
If you really do have something in mind, communicating that is VITAL to getting a good result. Sketch it out, send examples of similar things with notes, ANYTHING. Put together a mess of words that describe what you want it to feel like. ANYTHING. I will not laugh at your messy sketches, I will not say you’re plagiarizing (unless you tell me you want something duplicated EXACTLY and it’s not yours, haha).
Another thing that leads to project death is slow responses (on both ends). Both of us have lives outside of the project. We both have other projects on our plates. So when we’re waiting for days with no response to a simple question, the silence can be deathly.
How to fix it.
I used to laugh at fellow freelancers who were neurotic about responding to emails, chats, and texts. Now I’m one of them. During business hours, I always have notifications on for clients, and I do my best to respond within a couple of hours. This makes projects go much quicker and smoother.
Honest, Kind communication.
Most people today could benefit from remembering this. Honest, gentle communication is key to a finished product that you both like. I take my work very seriously, it’s an art form for me. Although I’ve developed a thick skin for criticism, I absolutely melt when clients take the time and effort to give honest, sensitive feedback. Mostly, it’s taking the time to tell me what they like AND what they don’t like about a particular design. “I love the curve of that line and the font, but I don’t like this color.” I think the rule is two compliments for every criticism? Something like that.
If you want to throw a good, caring designer into a heart attack, just tell them you hate it all. The only time I’ve ever walked away from a project was when a client told me that. We were almost done with the project, he hadn’t said anything along the way. I had done what he asked (although his product sucked) and thought he was joking when he said he hated it all and I had to start over. So I quit. I didn’t want to deal with that type of attitude, and I was already booked for other projects in the next week.
For more advice on client/freelancer communication, there’s this great article on Toptal, a high-quality freelancing website.
Feel free to comment!