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How to communicate with intimidating design clients (without going nuts)

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Freelancing can be a challenging field. While it is a source of income, and a way for you to showcase your talent, it also comes with difficulties.

One major difficulty is our clients.

Not all clients who hire you will be difficult, but to a new freelancer, they can be intimidating. They control your money, the project outcome, and your creativity.

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To make them less intimidating, follow these steps at your next client meeting: (and if you have any rebuttals, additions, or questions, I want to hear them in the comments!)

Step One: Ask Questions

Having the right information is crucial to a successful client project. Knowing about their business, their customers, their competitors, and more will help you along the process. Step one to talking with your client is to ask questions.

Whether it is a website design project, or a logo design project, asking questions can give you insight on what is the best solution for your client. Great starter questions are:

  • How does your business help people?
  • Who is your target audience?
  • Who are your competitors?

Step Two: Listen

Once you have asked questions about your client’s business and etc., the next step is to listen. Clients hire freelance designers because they want somebody who can listen to their needs and use their knowledge to create something they like. When your client responds to your questions, listen carefully. Jot down specific information in a notepad such as:

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  • Details about their business
  • Information on how their competitors run their business
  • Descriptions of their target audience
  • Preferences of the client

Step Three: Reiterate

Step three is to reiterate. To a freelancer, it may be annoying to repeat what you heard, but to a client, it makes all the difference. It tells the client you were listening carefully, and will apply this information to the project.

When the client hears this, they will trust you more, and be easier to work with throughout the project. It also prevents misinterpretations and miscommunications of goals/strategies which can severely hinder a project. Reiterate what the client said, and have the right information before going onto the next step.

Step Four: Lead the Way

Lastly, it’s time for you to lead the way. Now that you have asked questions, listened to their response, and reiterated their answers, it’s your turn to tell them what’s next in the project.

It’s critical you do this step before ending the meeting because it shows your client your expertise on the subject, and your leadership skills. Tell them the following:

  • What you will be doing next
  • How they are involved
  • Why you are doing the next step

How do you communicate with intimidating design clients?

Do you have any tips to talking with clients? Do you have any client success stories you would like to share? Clients are scary to new freelancers, so insights from experienced freelancers are welcomed in the comments section.

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About Nicole Foster

Nicole Foster is a professional website designer from New York that loves meeting new people. At Nicole Foster Designs, she offers website, wordpress, and ecommerce services to unique businesses. In her free time, she enjoys meditating and chatting with other designers.

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  1. I think you’re right on the money here. These steps will go a long way in smoothing out your client interactions. I can’t stress enough the importance of reiterating everything. It’s a lot like your relationships with your “significant other”. Communication is key; define your expectations. When you’re both on the same page it works so much easier.

    One thing that plagues me as a web designer is self-confidence. I always remind myself that if they had any idea how to do what they’ve hired you to do, then they wouldn’t need to pay you. You’re the expert and deep down they know it, that’s why you’re working with them. Never forget that.

    • @Brandon Freund,
      That’s a great addition, Brandon. I totally agree. But be careful that you don’t let that expertise make your head too big. That’s where most of client-complaining comes from in the design community: thinking that we’re better than our clients because we know more about design.

      But I agree. Remember they hired you because of your skillset and knowledge.

      Thanks for contributing!

  2. Yes, communication is key! Be an active listener and a clear communicator. Takes notes. Follow up your phone meetings with an email that details what you just talked about. Keep all your emails so you have back-up in case something goes amiss.

    I second what Brandon says: know your worth. Our profession has a lot of desktop wannabes. It’s up to you to establish a professional career and maintain a sense of integrity.

    • @Brian Shively,
      I think proving you listened to your client (through all the ways you’ve mentioned here) is key in making sure you have a smooth project. Thanks for adding your tip!

  3. you mentioned good things in this article about how to communicate with intimidate client. its very important.

  4. Well..

    There ARE “impossible” clients, Preston! It’s a relativity but it’s real to any level. No matter how bright your communication skill is. Also, internet’s communication is very vulnerable. People can get so sensitive to some of our responds.

    Maybe it’s got something to do to what Brian & Brandon mentioned:
    You gotta have balls to communicate the “Know Your Worth” thing with full self-confidence!

    Even when you have to say, “OK, here’s the thing: I can’t work with your point of view. Nothing personal. Good luck!”

    And, let’s face it.. we CAN’T have them all 😉

    • @Nate,
      I agree that there are impossible clients. But you can’t just write off every client as “impossible” just because you lack the people-skills to communicate effectively with them, right?

      • @Preston D Lee, I agree, Preston! Maybe that “impossible” client is a reflection of a lack of communication skills. It’s very easy to blame the client for problems that may be able to be changed with a shift in perspective.

        //Beth @ the Phoenix Marketing Agency

  5. One thing that has been VERY helpful for me is that usually we have hashed out a few details – specifically how I work and how the project will go according to my process – via email prior to our decision to work together. I’ve heard enough about them to decide I’d like to take on their project(s), and they’ve heard enough about me to choose me.

    So I always go into a relationship with the confidence that I am a professional with solid credentials and an excellent reputation, which is why they’ve hired me in the first place.

    From the get-go I take the role of “Here I am to guide you through this design process” because I have experience with it while they probably have little to none. In the initial discussion/meeting, I try to be the leader of the discussion, asking many questions and making notes for my design brief.

    Some people are just difficult, or personalities clash. I have a job right now that I feel like I receive a cold (not unappreciative, just very terse or irritated) response from my contact. I don’t think I’d like to work with them again unless I had to, and therefore when the job is done, I’ll be happy to go my way and leave them to theirs.

    • @April,
      I think you bring up a great point: make sure you get along BEFORE jumping into a project together. If you have a steady enough client flow, you can afford to pass by the ones that you know won’t jive with your personality.

      Thanks for contributing a great comment as usual, April. Have I ever asked you to guest blog here at Millo? I think you would do phenomenally at it! Drop me an email if you’re interested.

  6. I think this touched on a lot of good principles. In my short lived career as a freelance designer is that communication is key. Without good communication skills things can get a little messy way too quick.

  7. Besides some of the methods above, we also make sure we highlight clauses in our contracts and thoroughly explain to the client before having them sign on the dotted line. That way they ought to know where their boundaries are without being a pain.

  8. These are nice tips for designers. But we must also realize, that you cannot forge a viable working relationship with every client you meet , there will be clients with unreasonable expectations, will claim that they don’t have time for discussions or questionnaires and will act if they know more than you. Its better to avoid them.

    If client is ready to talk, discuss and patient enough to listen to your suggestions and tips rather than pushing their own half-baked knowledge about web design, your work is half done. Following the above tips should give them a good start.

  9. I’m so glad you mentioned reiterating what the client said! Repeating back is such an important tool, especially since our interpretation of something could be completely different from what they said. I just see it as a way for us to be on the same page

  10. But you certainly sometimes get the exception to the norm when some client is so bossy and incapable of making up their minds they will have it their way or else. Its a pain in the bum when you are repeatedly asked to change a image size up and down an increment ,left right middle sideways ,every single colour of the palette, to see if they preferred it better to the last five hundred times you changed it.


  1. […] a great overview of an effective way to handle this communication, check out this article on communicating with intimidating design clients.  The tips in this article can help no matter what field you're in (and it was what […]


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