Working with clients, and protecting yourself
Working with a client can be a smooth process, or a minefield, and the difference will depend largely on your approach and management. As designers, we can’t be too hard on clients, as without them, there would be no work. There will always be wonderful and terrible clients, but you need to make sure you give all of these equal efforts. Sometimes the worst client will push you to create the best work.
This may sound like an obvious point, but the best way to ensure you have a good working relationship is to keep in touch with the client!
Communication is key to success, and the first rule of good communication is: keep it simple. Work out a good way of communicating with the client and stick to it. Remember you are providing a service and they are customers; so treat them with the same courtesy you’d expect from a person in any other profession. Remember you are working for the client and providing a service, and good customer care will get you more work moving forwards. For example, if you are going to take a client website offline to make changes, then tell them first: you would appreciate the same courtesy.
However easy or hard the process might be you need to make sure you have done everything possible to make it go well and that you have covered yourself in case it all goes wrong. Clear contracts are the best way to make sure that you are protected, and these should be drawn up for even the smallest projects.
Creating good work is of equal worth as your levels of service as far as a client is concerned you’re your service and quality of outcomes are consistently high, then this will lead to recommendations and offers of work. Clear communication, working to deadlines and delivering good work is the best way to impress: if you meet these three targets, then you shouldn’t run into too many problems. However, as with all human relationships, things can go sour. If a project goes wrong and you find you can no longer work with the client, there are still ways you can end things positively.
Knowing when and how to end the relationship with a client is difficult. If they are expecting too much, or if the communication gets out of control then you need to make sure that you are recording this and can show that they are not acting in the spirit of the agreement you both settled on. Without proof of an initial agreement and subsequent breach, you may leave yourself open to legal action.
However, even if a relationship deteriorates to the extent that you cannot work with them, this does not need to reflect poorly on either party. The evidence you’ve collected does not need to be used negatively but could be presented to show that you have different expectations and that perhaps these are not compatible. You could go as far as recommending other designers that may be happy to take the project on and see it through.