Caution: You’re Making Me Look Good

Designers, if you’re not working with your clients, then what are you doing? Look, I’m not complaining. Every time you . . .

  • do a poor job of communicating, or
  • drag a single project out for more than a year, or
  • lock your clients into a contract you don’t end up fulfilling,

I look like an all-star. But since your clients are the life’s blood of your business, and since not all these people could possibly be that difficult to work with, I’m mystified as to what it is you’re spending your time doing.

In my introductory meeting with potential clients with existing websites, my first question is: “Tell me what has and hasn’t worked with your current website.” While I’m trying to focus the client on the site itself, invariably, he or she will launch into a diatribe about the relationship with the past designer.

Why? Because it’s that relationship that tells clients whether or not their websites will be successful right out of the gate, especially if it’s the first website they’ve ever contributed toward developing. And if the client doesn’t hear from the firm, then he doesn’t trust the team he’s hired because it seems they aren’t committed to the project. The client won’t feel tied to the site, and then you can guarantee that he’ll quickly realize how much time and money has been wasted.

While my ego swells from listening to the abuse being heaped on one of my competitors, I feel put in a position to defend the industry while clearly indicating that we don’t operate like that. What seems to give the client some solace is my standard response: “Many designers don’t work that way, but I’m always surprised to hear of one that does.” That is, right before I go into the benefits of working with us.

It makes me wonder how many designers out there have given up on client relations altogether. In any given week, probably 65% of what I do involves:

  • bringing in new business,
  • communicating with existing clients,
  • developing proposals and agreements, and
  • bookkeeping and other administrative tasks.

Now, 816 is a small design studio, so we have to wear about 87 hats to make this thing work. But if all you want to do is make pretty pictures, and you spend a large part of your week dodging your clients, then perhaps it’s time to reassess what’s happened to your business. In other words, have you lost your purpose?

Even the smallest client, the guy who reluctantly allowed you to do his website for $500 just because he’d known your father since he was a kid, helped you get to where you are today. When was the last time you checked in on him? Is the white board hanging in your office cluttered with dozens of projects that should have been completed months ago? Do you find yourself minimizing other projects when a more exciting one comes down the pike? What you’re essentially communicating to your clients is that you don’t care, which doesn’t bode well for your long-term relationships – or for the longevity and reputation of your business.

My competitors’ negligence directly benefits me, so again, no complaints here. What I worry about more is the impact it’s having on the reputation of the industry at large.

Management consultant and brand strategist for small teams. Fan of dark tea, thick books, peace, and unity.

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13 years ago

I couldn’t agree more. While I work in a different field -the basis of my business is client relations as well. What a lot of industries don’t realize is that the work doesn’t just end when you make the sale or sign the contract. You have to build and cultivate those relationships. If you aren’t building those relationships, you can kiss any future business and perhaps even more importantly – client referrals – goodbye. One of the best and quickest ways to build your business is through client referrals, but if you don’t intend on servicing your clients after you get your initial payout, you’ll never see one. This has to be one of my biggest complaints about the industry I am in and it is refreshing to see someone else point it out. Thank you Sarah for another insightful blog!

13 years ago
Reply to  Sarah Williams

I couldn’t have said that any better. Unfortunately I have witness first hand a lot recently. Speaking as one of your clients – I can’t thank you enough for your dedication to work, your clients and for doing business the right way!