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6 Ways to Charm the Heck out of Your Clients (and Still Get Your Way)


It’s not all about you.

Sorry, I take that back.

Most of your life IS about you, but when it comes to your work, your creative work, it’s about your CLIENTS.

That’s because design is a service. Along with your incredible talent and insight, your design business always needs to include your ability to listen and digest what is being asked of you by the client.

That last bit may be a bit difficult to swallow when your client says, “Just make it blue, because my wife really likes blue”, tells you to make it “pop” (which drives designers bonkers), and certainly when he/she tells you they want the design to look like Apple or airbnb. Or Uber.

That’s the point when most of our designer hearts scream, “What gives, Mr. Client!? I have dreams and aspirations! I’m not here to copycat the fanciest brands. I want, no DEMAND, that my talent and intelligence shine through all my projects!”

Take a deep breath. All these seemingly silly things clients request are not a dig at you or your amazing talent. A client’s design project could be the highlight of their entire work week. Everybody has an inner artist, blue or not. Believe it or not, this could be a lot of fun for them. Especially if they’ve been trying to work on the numbers of the Annual Report while you have been concentrating on the design.

After 11 years of experience as a designer and art director and 7 years servicing clients as a design recruiter, I know a thing or two about clients. And I LOVE my clients. I even like blue (PMS 2728 is my fave).

So let’s go over some fundamentals on the client-designer relationship, then I’ll share 6 tips to make your clients LOVE you.

First up, the key difference between clients and designers:

Designers like to make things look awesome. Clients like to sell things.

Even if a design looks amazing, functions well, and fits in the space, if it doesn’t sell, your client will consider that design a failure.

For your client relationships to achieve ultimate trust and happiness (that’s the goal, right?), you need to think about what your client needs—put yourself  in their shoes. While creating amazing things, designers must keep this top of mind: “How do I make my client look awesome and help them make money?” I’ll say it again: Design is a service.

Let’s not just please our clients, but blow away their expectations!

6 Tips to Deliver Stellar Work to Your Clients

1. Know the #1 reason you are designing an ad/site/product.

What business problem is it solving? What are they selling? If you don’t know the answers to these questions before starting on a project, go back and ask them. Remember, you have to help sell the product/service.

2. Accept that you will not hit the mark immediately.

Until you’ve worked with your client for a while, there will most likely be a lot of revisions. That’s okay! You might feel like a servant, which can be difficult, but you need to tell your ego to take a back seat and stick with it. One, because it’s too early to tell how your client works or exactly what they want. Two, because they don’t trust youyet. Which brings us to number 3...

3. Build trust.

Listen to what your client needs and take notes on paper. Why paper? Because there’s nothing more annoying than the sound of typing when someone in a meeting wants to be heard. And your client deserves and needs to be heard. Afterwards, repeat exactly what they asked of you without inserting your opinion.

4. Deliver exactly what they asked.

That’s right, even if you don’t particularly like it. But also bring another design idea that combines their original idea with your ideas. Then toss in one more that is uniquely yours. This tells the client, “I heard you and, look, I can deliver on it!” It also tells them, “Check this out, I have a creative thought process, so I went the extra mile to incorporate my ideas, too.” They will see you as both a good collaborator and communicator. It will show them that you care. This is key to building trust, which is gold in the eyes of clients. Once you gain trust, you’ll have more flexibility.

5. Revise, revise, revise.

Make the exact revisions they asked for. Don’t be surprised if they play Design Mix & Match and want you to combine a piece of THIS design with a piece of THAT design. When you create it, be prepared for it to look like junk (they aren’t designers, you are). That’s okay. Create it anyway, because this is a journey. So, along with their revisions, bring a couple of options that are better solutions. Don’t TELL them those are better solutions, let them arrive at that on their own or offer a piece of light advice like, “This is my favorite design for these reasons.” If you TELL them which one to pick, you leave them out of the process which is no fun for them.

6. Reap the rewards of your hard work.

Only after you’ve gone through these steps, repeatedly in many cases, will the client start to love you. They will see what you’ve been able to create while building upon their foundation.

To sum up, here is a summary of my favorite client-wowing mantras:

  • Design is a service.
  • Show them that you care.
  • Work hard to find a solution.
  • Let them play too.
  • Revise with a smile on your face.
  • High fives all around to a job well done.

When clients and designers can love each other—work is better, the day is better, and life is better.

And what’s better than that?

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