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How to keep design clients coming back for more

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comingbackA little while ago, Graphic Design Blender explored the phenomena of clients returning after a serious lapse in time. The article brought up various circumstances and offered solid advice that everyone should take into consideration. But what about those designers who rely on return clients in order to stay in business? How do you keep them coming back and how do you keep all parties involved satisfied?

A little background

Along with my freelance business, I work at Fox Chase Cancer Center as senior designer in the Multimedia and Creative Services department, I also spent 4 years at ARAMARK, a Fortune 500 company with over 250,000 employees as a graphic designer and communications specialist in the Communications Department.
My experience with these two organizations that helped me build skills to effectively work with repeat clients. I deal with the same departments and people quite frequently, so it’s important that I create a healthy collaboration. Here are three tips that help me work with clients on a regular basis and keep them coming back for more.

1. Organize your work

Drafting a design brief is an excellent way to establish a common source of information for a project. When a client requests work from my department, I gather any supplied information, whether it’s from emails, meetings or phone calls, and write up the design brief.

The design brief is a simple document with general information about the project. The brief usually documents things like primary contacts, project overview, audience, tone and imagery, and any other direction giving by the client.

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Before any work is done on the project I share the design brief with my client to make sure they agree with the information. This ensures that the project starts off on the right foot and if there is a problem down the line, you can always refer to the brief to back up your work.

2. Communicate with clients

I physically work with most of my clients, they are located on campus or in the surrounding satellite buildings so it’s easy for me to meet with them. But still some clients will want to communicate strictly through emails or over the phone. If this is the case, make sure you clearly explain the project and how you came about your solution.

When I am working with a client this way I don’t just send them PDFs or JPEGs of designs, I draft explanations for my work. Creating a document with detailed notes of your design process and how you reached the solution may be tedious work, but it will help the client see your intentions. I always call the client after I email the work and try to better explain what they are seeing.

I find that the more I am at their disposal; the more clients want to work with me. This can’t be 24/7, and you will always need to prioritize but following up with clients or returning calls or emails diligently will earn you points.

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3. Reflect a professional attitude

We all know that clients can be very demanding and sometimes overly annoying, but they are still your financial livelihood. While you aren’t required to be best friends with these people outside of the office, you need to maintain a professional relationship during the course of a project.

If a client is being very demanding there are simple tricks to keep them happy. I often compliment them right off the bat, something like ‘That is a very good idea, I think we can use that in some way’ often keeps the client happy and gives them a sense of contributing. When you next meet, be sure to bring up their idea and how you elaborated on it.

If you disagree over work, it’s not professional to argue over a conference call or storm off during a meeting. Try to remember that they are paying you for your services and that while you should try to influence them with your design advice, they may not be open to it. If you handle these conflicts in a professional manner, you will ultimately gain their respect. If you are acting like an amateur, why should you be treated like anything else?

What else can you do?

These are just three quick tips that I use everyday. They help be work with repeat customers and my client retention is steadily growing every month. These aren’t the only keys to bringing clients back, but they are a good foundation for any professional. What do you think? I am sure there are tips you can share and I would love to hear them.

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About Joe Gillespie

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  1. I really like this article. There are many ways to keep a client happy. Communication is the key to good customer service. Keeping the communication channel open during a project and at times providing that little extra service will keep them happy. Also not to act on emotion but rethink and access the situation and then respond. Take some time viewing the situation from all angles, mostly from the clients side.

    • @behzad, I am glad you enjoyed the article. I definitely agree that communication is key to a good relationship with any consumer. I also like your idea of viewing the situation from another perspective, other than a designer.

      Often times, we as designers know our thought progression and take for granted the client’s trust. It is definitely beneficial to think like them to understand their concerns. We have to remember they probably don’t have the same design expertise and knowledge as we do, so it important to keep open all lines of communication.

  2. I find it really useful to send thank you notes, the real kind on nice stationary with your logo etc. Ask them how they’re completed project is doning and if they need any related (if applicable) work done.
    Thanks for the great post!

    • @Waila Skinner, I am glad you like the article.

      I think thank you notes are a great idea. Actually, I just got one from a client and it was nice because we really worked hard to get the project wrapped up on a tight deadline. I think these types of things show that you don’t just look at projects or clients as $$$. A simple email or a little note might be the difference between you and another designer that doesn’t bother.

  3. Nice article. As already mentioned above, good comms and a simple thankyou when the project is completed is good. Also, if you have a good close relationship with the client, I have found going for a coffee or a beer to reflect/recap on the work produced in a neutral environment helps a lot.

    • @Anil Thanks, I am glad you liked the article.

      Meeting up with a client for a dinner or lunch is a good idea. If you have the time and enjoy collaborating with the client, chances are you will have an easy get-together. This can be a good opportunity to share some things about yourself that don’t often come up in a business relationship. Common, or even different, interests often spur new projects that aren’t on either person’s radar and allow different perspectives to be explored.

      • @Joe Gillespie, Joe, thanks for the reply.
        It is quite amazing what can be achieved when in a neutral/comfortable environment whilst still remaining professional. I find that comfort and being relaxed is the key to good productivity.

        Agree, not all of us have time to do this but I would highly recommend giving it a go if you are really stuck on a brief.

        • @Anil, going to your client is another way to show you value them. Even if it’s out of the way, a client may appreciate the effort. But sometimes it’s just good to get away from the desk. I spend most of my day in the basement of our building and when I get stuck on a project it’s nice to step out for a while to see if the change of atmosphere will spark creativity.


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