While freelancing, I was solely responsible for managing my business, my clients, and my brand. The independence felt great most of the time, but other times I made hard decisions. Client management was one of the first hard things I had to learn. It was time to grow my business. Yet I learned to help my clients navigate is whether a professional design service is the best fit for their project. I developed this client fit questionnaire to focus on my best designer-client relationships.
Why Consider Client Fit?
I regularly evaluated client fit. Without a company mediating on my behalf, I must hold myself accountable to my professional vision. It’s also up to me to manage any surprising crises. Sometimes “client fit” also means being realistic that the client and I don’t work very well for accomplishing each others’ professional goals.
Client Fit Questionnaire
To help determine client fit, these are some of the questions I ask myself:
- Do I have resources I need to complete this project?
- Is my skill level a good match with the demands of this project?
- How much time do I have available?
- Am I excited about this project?
- Will I learn something new?
- How responsive is the client?
- How much grace room is available?
- Is this relationship mutually respectful?
The dilemma presented in the first question was most apparent when I have the full autonomy of a freelancer. Yet, this match-making factored into my performance as a employed in-house designer as well. For instance, when my assignments consisted of several low-level tasks, I sought an innovation challenge. As a result, I volunteered to tackle higher-level projects. This included successful projects. For example, I branded AFCEA NOVA’s WIN committee. I also converted a static email into a mobile-friendly, Outlook 2003-compatible email for AFCEA NOVA WIN and WHFDC.
As someone who “put the free in freelancing,” I can attest that the majority of cases involving uncompensated work is a BAD IDEA.
Avoiding Uncompensated, Spec Work
The last question might surprise you if you haven’t worked in the creative industry very long. Unfortunately, prevailing attitudes exist surrounding the creative industry which devalue our profession. Firstly, the designer must and should educate clients of the value they’re receiving. Additionally, designers also need to educate clients on the dangers of spec work and uncompensated work. Spec work, which not only threatens the livelihood of designers but also threatens the professional reputation of the client. Finally spec work compromises the quality of creative solutions the designer provides to the client, which isn’t ideal.
As someone who “put the free in freelancing,” I can attest that the majority of cases involving uncompensated work is a BAD IDEA. What little exposure my free work generated resulted in simply word of mouth that I was cheap. This isn’t the value proposition I’m offering! Volunteering is a fantastic way to generously contribute to a cause in which you believe. It also can still be a good way to develop technical and social skills as well as gain experience. However, you can still protect yourself in the process by limiting how much you work for free.
Consider offering a “friends and family” discount. Also think about scaling down projects to match realistic budgets, or enrolling in Continued Education or online webinar courses. Be choosy in your clients, too. You’re not doing any favors for clients with unrealistic expectations when you sell yourself short; worse, you could enable bad habits.
My take-away message is this: have confidence in yourself and don’t allow others to limit you!