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7 Tips to Get the Most Out of Your Relationship with Your Web or Graphic Designer



If you’re a small business owner or solo entrepreneur, you’ve probably heard the horror stories about web designers who hold their clients’ sites hostage, or clients who expect unlimited revisions and add-ons, even though their project scope and agreement clearly states that only 3 are included at the quoted rate.  There are a gazillion anecdotes – I won’t bore you, but I think you know the sort of thing I’m referring to.

Both scenarios are uncomfortable for everyone involved, and if not handled correctly, can create a lot of nasty feelings and frustration.  Oh, and wasted time.  No one needs that.  But here’s the bottom line – they should never happen in the first place.

Let me kick this off by coming clean – I’ve always been one of those designers who gives more than is actually agreed to initially when it comes to web or graphic design projects.  Call it customer service, marketing, or just treating my long term clients well, but I’m always throwing in freebies, or not charging for tasks that only take me 5 minutes (but that I know others charge a full hour for).  Call me crazy, but I enjoy treating people well.  So you can see how this might apply to me (ahem).  That said, I’ve learned – the hard way – to ensure that expectations are clear at the beginning of the project, so any ‘bonuses’ are exactly that, and the client knows that’s the case.  As you’ve probably figured by now, it wasn’t always that way.

There was a time, not all that long ago, when I wasn’t so clear about expectations, or what services I would provide for the agreed-to price.  So I often ended up doing a bunch of extras I wasn’t being compensated for, and as they ate up my time and kept me from other projects – and my family – I created a whole lot of frustration for myself, and sometimes, for the client.  It wasn’t fun.  At all.

But there was only one person I could point a finger at in those situations – me, myself and I.

I’ve also been on the other end of the relationship, as a client.  I remember a company I worked for paying $1500 for a series of logo mock-ups that were woefully inadequate, to put it mildly. We didn’t end up using any of them, and never got past the first round, but we still had to pay.  And who’s fault was that?  Ours, for not getting clear on the terms ahead of time.  It was an agency we’d worked with a lot and spent a considerable amount of money with over the years – I could never have imagined they’d charge us that sort of coin for that quality of work.  Half that, maybe, but not $1500.  But charge they did.  Ouch.

I’ve since learned to make sure everything is explained in writing up front, and while I’m still perfecting the fine art of negotiating ‘extras’, it’s working a whole lot better for everyone.  The key has been to put a few systems of process in place that make things very clear from the outset.

So, based on all that experience, working with a whole bunch of great people from all over the world, and having been a design client myself, here are seven things you can do to ensure your experience with your next web or graphic designer is one that will serve your business well – and that you’ll enjoy.

  1. Do Your Research – The more work you can do ahead of time, the easier the whole process will be.  Have an idea of what sort of colors you’d like to see, examples of other web graphics, logos, etc. you like, and when you’d like the project delivered.  Also, spend some time going through your prospective designer’s portfolio and make sure they do the sort of work you’re expecting for the price you’re willing to pay.  Expecting a high-end, custom drawn $1500 logo when you’re only paying $197 will only frustrate you (and the designer).  For example, most logo designs from an experienced, reasonably talented designer at an agency start at about $500.  If you’re paying less than that with a freelance designer, expect to have a few less edits included in the base price, less research on the part of the designer, or other compensations.  More is possible –  you’ll just need to pay for it.  You may find designers willing to create high quality graphics for cheap, but it shouldn’t be the norm.
  2. Have an Idea of What You Want – As mentioned above, having a bit of an idea of what you’re looking for will save you money, time and frustration.  The more versions a designer has to create, the more expensive it will be.  Know that the options in web and graphic design are pretty much endless, which is why most designers have limits on how many rounds of edits are included in the base price.  The better idea you have about what you want at the outset, or the more flexible you are about the end product, the happier you – and your designer – will be.
  3. Ask for a Project Scope – If it’s not clear already, ask exactly what’s included in the price, including the number of edits (for graphic projects).  Know what the delivery dates will be, who is responsible for what parts of the project, and what will happen if you’re unable to provide approvals on time, etc.  You’ll also want to know the payment terms, how communications will occur and what sort of turnaround time can be expected.  In short, get all the details you can!  A vague agreement over the phone is just asking for trouble.  Get it in writing.
  4. Commit to a Timeline – Here’s a secret: most quality designers are busy, and their work queue is booked at least a week or two in advance, if not longer.  When you’re unable to provide, say, approvals on a color palette or first round of a website header by the agreed-to time, you’ll either throw off your designer’s whole schedule OR you’ll find yourself moved to the back of the queue as they work to honor their commitments to their other clients.  Knowing that ahead of time, you can either be sure you get the designer what she needs when she needs it OR you can be OK with the fact that you might have to wait a little longer for your product.
  5. If You Change Your Mind Part Way Through, Expect to Pay More – This sort of goes without saying, but if you get part way down a design process on a header, logo or other element, and then you change your mind and decide you want to go in a completely different direction, you can expect to pay for the work that has already been completed, even though you may not use it.  The designer has invested time and energy into the project, and should be compensated.
  6. Pay On Time – I’ve been very fortunate in this respect, but I know a lot of others who aren’t so lucky.  This should go without saying, but if you are happy with the work your designer has done for you, especially if they did it on time, make sure they get paid on time.  And if you aren’t happy, make sure to tell them so so they have the change to make changes to the design elements, or adjust the invoice accordingly.  Don’t just leave them hanging!
  7. If You’re Happy with the Work, Share Your Experience – I can’t tell you how much it means when clients share how happy they are with their new header, logo, business cards or web design or support services.  Warm fuzzies all over!  And it’s not just the fuzzies – it’s important feedback, so they can continue to improve their business to serve you and their other clients better.  Make sure to tell them if there’s something you found frustrating as well, so they have the opportunity to address it in future.  Most designers want you to be happy, and will be more than amenable to getting your constructive feedback.

So there you go.  Keeping these tips in mind when you’re hiring a new designer will increase the likelihood you’ll have a great experience, and that you’ll have a designer for life who will bend over backwards to keep you happy.  The client/designer relationship is truly a two-way street, and can be SO beneficial for all involved.  After all, it’s your business we’re talking about – you want it to be well represented by your website and graphics, and you want it to all  happen in an enjoyable, dare I say even ‘fun’, way.

Do you have any tips to share about creating a mutually beneficial relationship with a web or graphic designer?  If so, share them in the comments below!