Communication and Expectations

A few years ago, when my now wife and I were engaged, we decided to go through premarital counseling. On the first night of our sessions I remember discussing a topic that not only changed the way I view my relationship with my wife, but all my relationships.

Our counselor explained that relationships are built on two fundamentals, communication and expectations.

It doesn’t matter if it’s a friend, boss, or spouse, we all have things we expect from these people and vice versa. This is especially true when it comes to clients.

Let’s say you have someone who reaches out to you for a logo design. They agree to pay your upfront fee and want you to get started as soon as you can.

At this point you’re probably thinking “Awesome! Someone likes my work enough that they are actually giving me money to create something!”

You then get busy working on the logo. A few days later after spending hours working on concepts and revisions you’re feeling great and are ready to present to the client.

Except that great feeling probably won’t last for long. The client returns with a list of revisions and complaints about how you didn’t successfully meet their audience or business needs. You then have to spend the next few days trying to salvage not only the design but the relationship as well.

The Problem

The problem with this relationship is that there was never clear communication or expectations set for the project. What are the goals of the project?  What is the timetable? What if this client isn’t even a good fit for you? Nothing is clear.

The Solution

The solution is simple but one many designers overlook or ignore. Have an onboarding process and make sure it’s clearly shared with the client. This ensures that each party knows exactly what is expected during the project.

If you and the client aren’t perfectly clear about the project responsibilities, deliverables, and timeline, before there’s an exchange of money, you’re basically setting the project up to fail from the beginning.

My Onboarding Process

Below is the general process I use when deciding which clients and projects to take on.

Gathering information
After initial contact, I direct any potential client to my project questionnaire, which does two things to help get the project started on the right foot. First, it gathers specific information about the project and its goals.

Secondly, it helps me weed out any potential bad clients/projects. My questionnaire is pretty hefty, which is by design, and is used to see whether a potential client cares enough about their project to clearly answer my questions.

Generally speaking, if someone isn’t willing to answer a few questions before the project even starts they probably aren’t going to be any better once you’re in the middle of it. Once I receive the completed questionnaire, I contact the client to discuss the project in detail.

This allows me to get a better feel for the client and project as well as give a project specific contract and quote.

Get it in writing
It is important to make sure you get everything in writing. Doing this will not only protect you legally if something were to happen but also further communicates what is expected of each party during the process. Note that the contract and quote should be very transparent.

Make sure to include everything from the price, deliverables, and timetable to even things like your availability and what happens if you get sick or your computer suddenly crashes. All of this will help make it clear what will be expected, and accepted during the project.

Go with your gut
If at any point in the onboarding process you feel uneasy about taking on a client there’s probably a reason. Even with dollar signs floating around your head, it’s usually best practice to trust your instincts.

I know as a designer it’s easy to get caught up in a new project, especially when someone says they’re ready to pay you, but I hope I’ve shown why it’s so important to set clear expectations and a standard of communication before the project begins.

Matt Simon