Good Clients

I’ve been doing some form of customer service work my whole life.

My first job in high school was at the public library. It was a very cushy job in many respects. One of the best parts was the people. People who come to the public library want to be there. They are getting a free service and so are usually nice about that fact. In the three plus years I worked there, I can only remember a couple of annoying/crazy people and at least one of those worked behind the counter with me.

In college I worked several fast food jobs in the summers, one of them Sonic. Seriously, people, tip your car hops. Their job sucks and it’s about 110° out there. I went home exhausted from the heat, smelling of grease, and disappointed I’d only made $10-12 in tips for a six hour shift, all of it in quarters and dimes.

When I worked for Apple, I worked out of a CompUSA. A CompUSA. Yes, all the stories you can imagine are probably true, and frankly, I’ve been doing my best to forget that very creepy guy who would not leave me alone. I told him I’d already married one creepy guy who wouldn’t leave me alone.

Now I work freelance as a graphic designer. The up side of freelance work is that you can pick and choose who you work with. The down side is that sometimes you choose incorrectly and end up with a client that makes you want to take them by the ear and give them lessons on how to work with another adult. But those people are not who this post is about.

I have two excellent clients right now. The fact that they are recurring clients is only one facet of why they are excellent. Here’s my list about what makes these two people such good clients. Some of the things on my list pertain only to creative work and some of them apply to any client situation.

Understanding the Way the Process Works.
I don’t know any creative person who is a mind reader. Since none of us can actually read our clients’ minds, we are going to have to create a set of drafts, talk about what works and what doesn’t with our client, and then go back to the drawing board and do it again. We repeat this process until the client is happy. Sometimes it takes two revisions. Sometimes it takes twelve. Regardless, it’s going to take at least a little bit of time.

I like to work from the macro to the micro. At the beginning, I want to get an idea of what my client’s vision is and what they’d like the finished product to look like. If they have definite ideas of what they want, then I start showing them those ideas worked up in a rudimentary form. If they have no idea what they want, then I try to suggest avenues of where to go. If this is the case, I like to present them with a few very different ideas and try to zero in at the first proofing discussion. I’ve had some really nice products turn out from both starting points.

Ultimately, the goal is the best possible finished product for my client. Contrary to the way it looks in the movies, that doesn’t happen with a wave of a magic wand or with a rockin’ montage (although I am known to rock out pretty radically while I am slaving away on the above-mentioned drafts). Believe me when I say I want you to look good. If you are happy, then you are going to tell all of your friends, relatives and business associates that you like my work. Hopefully that translates into more good clients for me sometime down the road.

A small side note to understanding how the process works: since it is a creative endeavor, I might not be the best possible choice for your project. If you don’t like the style of the pieces in my portfolio then it’s best to shake hands and part ways now rather than being mad later because I’m not creating the thing that you need. Designers have their specialties just like doctors, so part of being a good client is shopping around for the right person to do the job you need done.

Trust me to know my job and do it. Don’t art direct over my shoulder. There’s a huge difference between, “Hey, I’d like to see these three pieces of art worked up this way and if you think of anything else, I’d love to see that too!” and “Can you use Univers instead of Helvetica? And make it bigger? Then slide it over 3mm to the left…” I don’t work well when all I hear is another chorus of “make the logo bigger”.

A lot of this stems from the fact that everybody has a computer. “I have a computer, so, really, how hard can it be to slap a few sentences of text on the page and run a border around it?” or “My nephew is making my business cards!” If your nephew has taken some commercial art or design classes or possibly graduated from RISD, go for it (and also, introduce me to him so I can pick his brain about RISD). Otherwise, you might want to call a professional.

Pay the Bill on Time.
Do I really need to say this? Unfortunately, yeah, I do. Not paying your designer is a good way to rack up bad karma. We are creative people and we can think of insults like you wouldn’t believe. Also, we’ll put ugly mustaches on all of the photos you’ve given us to work with. Paying the bill ensures prompt service from us. I promise, it works.

I am glad that I have the two good clients. I just finished a lengthy project for one of them and am a bit sad that it’s over. The best of all compliments from me as a designer is that I want to work with you again on a different project.

4 thoughts on “Good Clients

  1. Sweetheart, the laborer is worth his hire. Don’t settle for less. When I’m in need (two to three years on my personal time-line), I’m gonna dicker with you, but I’m going to recognize your value, as you recognize mine. Well done!

  2. A lot of what you said also goes into the realm of what I do. Not much drives me crazier than my NASA customer micromanaging me through the prime contractor. It stops being fun and starts being work at that point. [Usually when this happens, though, we’ve done something to deserve it. The value proposition here, then, is to be good enough that you never get that level of scrutiny.]

  3. Wow… thanks for this insight into what it is you’re doing. I knew you were creative since you share an interest with my mom (quilting). I hadn’t heard that you were doing it full-time now. Here’s to hoping for more better clients and less of the deadbeats.

  4. Camron: Bring it!

    Geof: I knew there were similarities, just because their are clients involved.

    Limax: I’m actually not doing full-time, only when a someone calls me about a job. Which lately has been sort of regularly.

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