Did you know: my background is in design, web and strategy, and I have worked in digital design agencies as an account manager for quite some time now. Over the years I’ve experienced the client + designer relationship first hand– I’ve seen what works, what doesn’t work, and where frustrations lie. Good news is, almost all of these frustrations and issues are avoidable. They magic key? Great communication.

Whether you’re straight out of college or your freelance design business has been established for some time, it’s important that you have processes in place when it comes to doing design work for new clients. Here’s a few for you to consider:

Before the Project Commences

Explain Your Process and the Deliverables

Clear communication with the client starts as soon as they make contact with you. Be sure to be very clear about the journey they will take with you, what’s included in the price, what their involvement will be and how long the project will take to complete. Some key points to make in this early discussion are:

What the exploration process is: Explain to the client what groundwork you will do before you start designing. For example, will you research their competitors, will they create a Pinterest board for you, do you need them to complete a survey, will you have a moodboard discussion, etc.

How involved the client will be in the process: Briefly touch on how many meetings there will be, what “homework” (if any) they will need to do for the project, and what feedback you will need during the design process. Giving the client fair warning on what their involvement will be allows them to schedule time for you in their calendars, and ensures the project timeline keeps on track.

What the price includes: Outlining exactly what’s included in your price is a sure-fire way to avoid any awkward conversations later down the track. Be sure to also cover how many concepts the client will receive and how many modifications are included in the scope of the project. For a standard branding project most designers tend to present 2-3 different brand concepts, and once one is chosen, there are 2 rounds of modifications included.

Ownership of Files: Once the project is completed, what files do you provide? EPS, JPEG, PDF and PNG files are standard, but what about the editable Illustrator, InDesign or Photoshop files? Are they included in the price, additional, or simply not for sale? Every designer has a different stance on this, but be sure to touch on this in your early client discussions, plus include details in your contract.

Be Clear On What’s Not Included

The price of additional design work: I myself have been caught when working with a designer in the past– the price of a new brand was in my budget, but when it came to all of the extras I needed (email signature, Pinterest templates, and more) these were simply too expensive for me to afford. Be sure your client knows the price of any optional extras they may want to tack on later in the project. A fun way of doing this is creating a separate section in your contact called “You May Also Be Interested In” where you list other promotional material relevant to their project.

What the process is if the project goes out of scope: As a designer, you never want the project to get off track, but what are your processes if it does? Ensure your contract covers you if the client exhausts their allocated rounds of modifications, or if the project’s direction changes.

Once the Client Comes on Board

Exciting stuff! The client has said “hell yes!” to working with you, and you’ve scheduled them into start. Here’s what to do next:

Cross Your T’s and Dot Your I’s

Always Write a Contact (and have it signed!): Having your terms and conditions in writing and signed by the client is an all-important, booty-covering step that you cannot skip.

Never Start Work Without a Deposit: Now this can make some clients nervous. They might even say something like “but what if I don’t like it?“. Though most clients will do right by you, every so often comes along someone who flatly refuses to pay at the completion of the job. Of course as a designer it’s your job to create something your client loves and is proud of, but what if, after you put in 100 hours of work, the client just does’t pay? A deposit of at least 25% of the project cost should always be received before you commence any design work, no exceptions.

Copyright: Be sure to include your conditions for copyright in your contract. Smashing Magazine has curated a great resource for designers of all shapes and sizes here.

At the Completion of the PROJECT

Collect final payment before you supply any files: In another exercise in ass-covering, I always recommend sending your final invoice (along with a “thank you for the opportunity to work with you” note) before you supply any artwork files to your client. You may choose to ditch this practise with long-standing clients, but for any new clients it’s a worthwhile practice to get into.

Use of Final Work: Before you go ahead and promote the project on your website and social media channels, be sure to ask for the client’s permission. The project may be part of a secret launch, or perhaps they don’t want their competitors to know who their designer is. A quick email to the client before you start publishing their designs could save you a red-faced moment.

Are there any t&c’s or processes you have in place? As always, I love hearing from you so be sire to share your thoughts in the comments below!