Whenever another designer reads or hears about my 2-week design process, one question inevitably pops up.
How do you get your clients to finish their homework or provide feedback in time?
It all boils down to communication.
Poor communication can ruin client timelines, client relationships, and the overall client experience. But great communication keeps your process running like a well-oiled machine and keeps everyone happy.
And this is true for any service-based business; not just graphic designers.
So today I’m not only going into more detail on how I get my clients to return their homework in time; I’m sharing 5 helpful tips for how you can improve your client communication on all fronts.
1 | Provide plenty of time
If you have homework for your client to finish at the outset of a project or you need thoughtful feedback on a draft or revision, you have to give them adequate time.
I book clients far in advance from their project’s start date, so they have months and months to work on their branding and website questionnaires ahead of time.
But even if you aren’t booking far in advance, consider creating buffer room in between bookings and start dates. Not only will this give them time to work through homework at the outset of the project, but it will create a little anticipation and excitement on the client’s end when your start date rolls around.
If you’re struggling to get clients to get back to you in a timely manner, you might also add buffer room in your client process to account for response times on drafts and revisions.
2 | Provide reasons
Sometimes we get so accustomed to our own process that we forget how new and unfamiliar it is to our clients.
In order for your clients to respect and follow the steps in your process, they have to understand them. And that’s where great communication can make all the difference.
Often times the most seemingly simple and straightforward item is usually foreign to your clients, so go in depth and patiently walk through each step.
Take the time at the outset of a project to explain the importance of client homework, honest feedback, revisions, inspiration boards, etc.
Not only will this help clients understand you and take you more seriously, but it will increase their trust because they’ll see that you’ve thoughtfully streamlined your process and have taken each step into consideration.
3 | Provide incentives and accountability
We’re more likely to get stuff done and stay on task if there’s an incentive.
So last year I started sending my clients a $25 Starbucks e-giftcard a week or two after they booked a spot in my design queue with the note, “‘Branding homework’ can sound kind of daunting, can’t it? Here’s a little something to make the process more enjoyable. Happy brainstorming!”
Not only is it unexpected, but it reminds them of their client homework and gives them an incentive to set aside time and work on it.
So consider ways that you can incentivise your client process, whether it’s through a Starbucks gift card, a printed notebook, or something creative you come up with on your own. Think about the steps of your process your clients seem to struggle with the most and think of ways that you can create more excitement around them.
We also work a little faster and more diligently if we know there’s someone looking over our shoulder.
I set all of my client homework up in a Google Doc so that both my client and I have access.
This not only allows my clients to continue to make tweaks up until the project begins, but it allows me to peek in a week or two beforehand to make sure that it’s getting done. If they’re falling behind, I’ll send them a friendly reminder in an email.
4 | Provide expectations
If communication is lacking or poor, it’s your fault; not your client’s. And it usually boils down to failing to set expectations at the outset of a project.
Along with providing reasons for what you do and why you do it, it’s also important to set parameters for what you expect from your client and when you expect it.
Remember that they probably haven’t worked with someone like you before or if they have, the process may have been different.
So give them timelines and due dates. Tell them when you expect feedback and client homework.
I make it a practice to not only go over expectations and timelines before the project begins, but to remind my clients of the next step after each part of the process is checked off.
If my client just approved their inspiration board, I remind them that I’ll be working on logo concepts over the next 2 days and they can expect to see 3 distinct logo options by the end of the second day. When I email them those 3 logo options, I ask them to look them over and give me in-depth feedback about what they like and don’t like about each one by the next morning.
If you’re having trouble getting clients to respond to you in a timely manner, expectations might be lacking. Be sure to set clear expectations not only at the outset of the project, but throughout the entire process. Explain the importance of each step and educate them along the way.
5 | Provide encouragement
Because many of your clients haven’t worked with you before, they might feel a little uneasy and unsure about the whole process. They don’t know what’s normal and what isn’t normal.
So encourage them.
Reassure them that they aren’t crazy for writing you an extra email with more feedback or they aren’t the only one that’s struggled to decide between 2 concepts. Bear with them and walk them through each step.
Because while your job may be to create a beautiful website or capture their wedding day, you have a great opportunity to build relationships and make a lasting difference that extends beyond your services. The way you treat others can go a long way.
And when you mess up some part of your process - because we’re human and it happens from time to time - your clients will be much more likely to give you grace if you’ve been patient with them and encouraged them along the way.
Remember, client communication is your responsibility.
Take the steps necessary to make sure you give your client the best experience possible by providing time, reasons, incentives, accountability, expectations, and encouragement.
How do you ensure that your clients get homework and feedback to you in a timely manner? What tips have helped you improve your client communication?