How to train your client

We work in a visual medium. Accordingly, you probably pay the most attention to advertising the visual side of your work. And why not? It seems like the first thing prospective clients ask to see and often the reason they hire you. But no matter how stunning your portfolio, it’s only a sliver of the client expectations you have to meet during the course of a project. As I’m sure you have learned, a great portfolio does not equal a great project.

Put yourself in the place of the client. They don’t arrive graduates of Your Process University. Quite to the contrary. Clients need you to train them on your process. Most clients I’ve worked with have never gone through a digital project before or if they have, it’s been with someone that had a distinctively different or often unprofessional type of project leadership. In other words, rarely has a client had a professional working relationship with an agency. It’s up to you and I to lead.

How to train your client

Now, there’s no such thing as a perfect project. And we well know there’s no such thing as a perfect client. But neither are clients from a place of eternal damnation. If you want to be able to charge more money, to set the rules, to determine the best possible course, you have to have firm grasp of your boundaries, your process, and even the things that just plain drive you crazy. There’s nothing too granular if it impacts the client.

So how do you approach training your client? Explicitly. Without every step of how your client engages with your process in full cinematic display, there will be misunderstandings. It only takes a few of those and you have a trainwreck on your hands.

Ok, enough theory. Here’s a few ways I’ve trained clients that saved my practice. A few might save yours:

  • All meetings must be scheduled in advance
  • All meetings must have an agenda
  • Basecamp is where we communicate about the project
  • I’m never available by IM
  • I’m never available by text
  • I’m not available before 9am or after 6pm or any weekend.
  • There’s very little that qualifies as an emergency
  • I treat you as a friend
  • I’ll answer my phone if I’m not working on something else or call back as soon as I have time
  • Meetings are an hour or less
  • I don’t bill by the hour nor will I disclose the amount of time I spent on the project.
  • I’m scarce. I don’t meet the same day or many times, the same week.
  • Clients get to be the expert on their business, not design.
  • My analogies usually involve food, football, or Seinfeld scenes.
  • I stick to my deadlines and clients must stick to theirs.
  • Corporate bureaucracy is not my issue.
  • The client must have a project lead.
  • I don’t negotiate pricing.
  • I don’t give advice or offer solutions before there’s a contract
  • Clients know they hire me to uncover the real problem as much as build a solution
  • I go over every detail of my proposals and contracts with my clients in person or over the phone to make sure there is absolute agreement.

Note to those in Austin. I’ll be expanding on this topic at my talk on Tuesday, September 10. I'd love if you could make it.

Matt Riopelle