There are so many things to think about when branding a client, and choosing among the best practices and processes to have in place can be confusing. Managing the client’s initial onboarding process and what they expect from you as a graphic designer can be tricky. And if you’re a freelancer, you ‘re your own CEO, accounting department, marketing director, and website developer – among many other roles, too. A full-time graphic designer faces many challenges every day. You can read my article “5 Common Problems All Graphic Designers Face,” to learn more about them. In this article, however, I want to discuss six things I believe are essential for branding a client.
The client-designer contract is probably the least fun part of running your own freelance business. It’s also the most important! Make sure you itemize everything you agree to deliver and how much the client should expect to pay. Most designers require 50 percent of their fee up front and the other 50 percent upon completion. Depending on who your client is, you can use other payment ratios or schedules, but no matter what, always make sure you don’t deliver everything until you’ve received your final payment! There are many great apps out there for invoicing, and you can use PayPal, FreshBooks or even Venmo to send a bill.
GETTING TO KNOW YOUR CLIENT
One of the first things I do when onboarding a client is to have them fill out a survey. I love to making initial discovery calls at the outset of a new client relationship – if they answer some of the survey questions thoughtfully beforehand, it really makes a big difference in your call. You want to get to know them and help them understand your vision for their brand you’ll create for them. Ask them questions like, “What three personality traits would you use to describe this brand?” Or, “Which colors and imagery do you want to avoid when it comes to the brand’s design and aesthetic?”
If you can hone things down and focus on what the client loves and cherishes most about their brand, you can deliver an exceptional product without killing yourself. To be clear – this is a crucial step in the process. You want to make sure the client’s aesthetic is in line with what you can do if you want to make sure you’re a good match for your client.
Next, ask the client to start delivering assets to you (imagery, content, etc.) immediately to see what they’ve already collected.
One of the biggest components of running a business is being able to manage your clients’ expectations. There are tools that can help you manage client expectations that you can use over and over. I always like to use a timeline to show the client what the process looks like and what the expected delivery date for each round. I also include feedback deadlines in the timeline to help the client be aware of their timing, too! I usually start with their deadline and work my way backward to make sure everything fits. Whenever possible, I prefer to add an extra week to a client’s requested deadline, to have a cushion in case something goes wrong. It’s always better to deliver early rather than late.
STYLE & COMPETITIVE RESEARCH
When I’m starting out with a new client, I always ask them to list their stop-three competitors. If they can’t identify any, I ask them to send me the names of three people or companies who have a brand or website they like. These visuals offer great insight into what draws clients in and what elements they like. I then like to do my own competitive research to determine which trends and unique elements the client’s competition is using to gain some inspiration.
BUDGET & TIME MANAGEMENT
This seems like an obvious one …. But it’s not always easy to determine how to manage your time. When you’re branding a new client, there are many levels of intensity you can choose for the project. Be very clear about stating what you think the client wants from this branding. Sometimes clients just want a basic brand guide, a new logo, a website mock-up and some basic elements – but others may want an entire brand guide book that can take you many hours to put together. Make sure you assess how many hours each revision and round will take. It’s always more than you think!
Once your project is complete, it’s a good idea to package all your deliverables together for the closeout. I like to deliver everything via Dropbox or Google drive. I include all the raw logo files, icons, and the element brand guide (as a PDF), and any other assets that the client may need in the future. I also give new clients logo variations and some social media profile-sized logo versions, so they can be set up and ready to go in the near future.
Once you’ve delivered everything, it’s time to ask your client for a review. This will help you understand and acquire future business, and you can use it on your website as a testimonial (if it’s positive, of course). Never let a client get away without feedback!
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Jacqueline Ball is author of “The Graphic Designers Guide to Branding Clients” and owns The Digital Design Co. She can be reached at Jacqueline@thedigitaldesignco.com