Creating Good Client Relationships
In recent months maoStudios has acquired a handful of clients who have been scorched by other graphic design companies. We have heard more than our share of horror stories about relationships that fail. For example, one design firm developed reports for a client, containing information the client already had, and then charged an arm and a leg for it. Another graphics firm never actually worked on a client’s project, but instead made the client do all the image sourcing, creative direction, and design implementation.
Of course we are ashamed of design companies who do this type of thing and we wouldn’t say it is fun to be the one fixing the last firm’s mistakes. The fact of the matter is, there are a great many so-called design businesses that should not be offering graphic or web design. It’s an ambitious undertaking to start a creative firm of any sort and we see it happen all the time: the service offering grows, but the owner does not expand the staff or knowledge base to accommodate the growth. It’s downright misleading and creates a lot of problems.
We believe this is a huge disservice to the design industry. After all, there are many graphic design companies out there who are very well trained, are able to manage their accounts, and effectively help a business achieve their design/marketing goals. Is it any wonder we have to work so hard to convince potential clients that we are experienced and capable?
More importantly, beyond having experienced and well-trained designers, a graphic design company’s team must employ adequate customer service professionals to handle client relationships. We call these people project or account managers. They act as the liaison between the client and the designer. The account manager is the main contact who keeps timelines in check, content in order, and communicates to both sides. In many cases, the graphic designer or web designer will handle the design presentations so he/she can explain the inspiration and thought process behind the piece. But we digress, client relationships can be challenging and even with adequate account managers, the pseudo design companies who tarnished a client’s design experience makes our uphill battle a little steeper.
We have never taken advantage of any client, and we have been taken advantage of. Lucky enough for us, we are smart and can recognize what type of person or company may attempt to do this. It’s the lay of the land. Aside from charging a client zillions of dollars for a simple analysis, there are other problems that exist in a normal, capable graphics firm in regards to client relationships:
It’s a killer. This to date is a huge problem for many design firms. Some design companies are set up on a payment schedule that require half up front and half on delivery. Big mistake. Even with an excellent account manager, some clients are impossible to reach and projects aren’t completed until a year later. This is suicide for a design firm who needs to get paid for their work. Our suggestion is requiring half upfront and then collecting the remaining payments monthly in accordance with the projected timeline. For example, if the timeline is scheduled for 2 months, collect two payments that total the sum of rest of the project fees. The final payment in the timeline can then be collected upon completion, of course.
Client Payment Schedules.
As referenced above, collecting payment upfront and then on completion brings a graphic design firm one step closer to bankruptcy. It is important that clients pay on a schedule, specifically the project timeline. This is the best way for the firm to complete projects in a timely manner and for clients to not default on payment. It’s also a great incentive to keep a client moving with their input.
If a design firm is not clear about exactly what it is they are promising to provide their client, communication fails and wires cross. Not only that, many clients do not read nor remember the contract that detailed everything provided when they first signed on with a company. Be clear in initial verbal and email communications about the project; anything that falls outside the detailed scope will be an extra cost.
Proposals eat up a lot of time for design firms and it is often that a potential client does not understand the work that goes into drawing up a bid. First, the information collected needs to be as accurate as possible for the design firm to give a correct quote. This involves asking a lot of questions and receiving realistic answers. Second, the design firm needs to be clear that they are only agreeing to what is in the quote and not anything beyond. Lastly, proposals are important for design firms to set their boundaries legally and by project – if a client refuses to sign the working agreement they may not be the best fit.
Ultimately, there is much more that goes into managing successful accounts, but it is possible for any design firm to create an ideal working client relationship. To reference a statement we heard some time long ago, everything requires patience and care. We can leverage anything if we approach it with compassion and understanding.
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