Freelancers: How to Work Better with Your Clients

Working with clients all day long may sometimes lead to stress in a freelance schedule. Long working hours, impending project deadlines, and constant criticism from clients can really bring down one’s enthusiastic spirit. Thus, building a compromise with your client is imperative to the success of any project.

As the provider, you have to be honest, sincere, and above all respectful of each of your clients’ opinions. Without their project needs, you wouldn’t be creating any work in the first place. And don’t get me wrong but a compromise doesn’t have to feel restrictive to either party.

Official Business meeting space - featured image

(Image source: Fotolia)

In this guide I would like to share a few tips for assembling open communication between freelancers and their clients. Learn how to pitch your ideas in a creative and thoughtful manner to capture attention. You’ll find that projects move a lot smoother and both you and your clients will feel more accomplishment with the completed work.

on the Same Page

There are plenty of times where we misunderstand the goals of a specific project. This can lead to disaster, especially when your client is expecting one idea and you present something totally different.

To avoid such an embarrassing scenario keep your communication channels open. In the first couple of discussions make sure you clear up any and all questions ahead of time, and encourage your client to do the same. This gets everything out on the table so issues can be dealt with upfront. Web designers (especially) need to understand what the client is looking for in a layout mockup (color scheme, page elements, navigation, etc).

To stay on the same page keep a list of all project ideas and changes over the project timeline. You can always look back at these notes to solidify your understanding of what the client needs. It’s a professional way of handling creative ideas, especially when working on multiple projects for the same client or for multiple clients, simultaneously.

Always be Open to Changes

A common habit of many designers is to limit the changes that can be made to the project after the first meeting. I feel that it’s best to keep the project fluid so new ideas can always be introduced to the final result. Don’t be too rigid when sitting down to do the actual design work. Not only will you most likely make changes that are different from the first draft, clients will be very fickle with their ideas.

In general, they will be more inclined to check out a few different concepts than to decide on whether or not they want or don’t want a single offered design. Try to keep a schedule of constant contact to keep them in the loop. You can try sending out a quick e-mail once every few days to update them with any new changes or feedback.

How to Pitch your Ideas

In any good compromise both parties want to feel like their ideas are being heard. Before brainstorming for new concepts, make sure to give a thought to what your client is thinking or seeking in the final outcome. They know what they’re looking for.

But on your side, with your professional background in design/coding, you may think that your own ideas are much more beneficial to the project. It’s important to learn how to express these ideas without nullifying the client’s wishes. Pitch your ideas as a possible alternative suggestions, and create 2 or 3 additional sketches or mockups that illustrate your ideas to show to the client.

(Image source: Fotolia)

If you have examples of similar websites or designs on the web at hand, use them as a visual guide to explain what exactly you’re trying to accomplish with your idea. And if your idea is totally off-center from what your client is looking for then you’ve both dodged a bullet.

If you treat the views of your client with respect, they’ll be more willing to hear your point of view. Even outside the scope of web design there are similar creative fields including logo designs, branding, marketing, and print work. Unless your client has specific knowledge in these fields they should understand your expertise and take heed of your advice and guidance. So it’s really a matter of converting their amorphous "final project" concept into reality.

Accepting Rejection

You will have plenty of your great ideas shot down right away. Learn to not take this criticism personally as it’s most likely that your skills aren’t under scrutiny in these situations. Clients may have come with a strict final image of what they need in their mind which sometimes cannot mesh with your ideas. This doesn’t imply that your ideas are rejected because they are bad or wouldn’t work.

Rejection is simply a part of compromise. It shouldn’t make you feel incompetent and you definitely should not give up on pitching new ideas. At the end of the day it’s about what your client wants, but if you really like your idea, you can try building them on another project just to get a satisfaction from putting the idea to fruition.

Inking the Rules

If legal writing is more in your favor then consider crafting a contract before starting each new project. This contract represents a single set of rules and regulations that must be followed during the production of the project. It can include specific design ideas, timelines, what will be presented and by whom, or anything else that is essential and relevant to the project.

This gives you a chance to sit down with each client and sort out some of the heavy materials first i.e. figuring out how much you’ll be compensated and how long you have to complete each part of the project. Your client will also gain a sense f security knowing clearly what you’ll be working on and what course the project will take at each point of the timeline. As time goes by you could each submit edits and changes to the contract as you see fit. Having a contract will keep everybody on a level playing field

Let the Ends Justify the Means

Even though you are building a portfolio on the side during each project timeline, you need to keep yourself focused on completing the project swiftly and professionally. Don’t get too invested on one particular design, or you may find yourself delayed in completeing smaller parts of the project.

Designers often take a lot of pride in their work, and with good reason. You should be proud of the work you do both within your portfolio and in the smaller side-projects. The end goal in any case is to finish the project and don’t let yourself get distracted. When you over-analyze smaller elements or is too engrossed in pitching new ideas, then you might start failing to meet the set deadlines. Stay productive when on the job and only use your spare time to work on creative side projects.

Not every project you work on will give you a chance to show off exuberant new designs or your sketching talent. Sometimes you just need to build what the client requires then move forward. There isn’t always room for compromise, even on fun projects, so don’t get discouraged if some ideas fall through. The bigger picture requires work that can be completed within the required time frame and providing support to the client when help is needed.

Stand Your Ground

The worst way to lose a client’s trust is by revealing to them that you don’t really understand as much as you say. There will always be new things to learn while you work, even in freelancing. The job is fast-paced and requires knowledge in a wide range of areas including the business side of things, and in negotiating your needs and wants, not just the clients’. This applies to beginners and professionals alike.

I understand that not everybody likes to deal with the business side of freelancing. But it is an important area which frequently requires discussions between you and your clients. Beyond the scope of design work you’ll also need to discuss budgets, time frames, and possible future maintenance, fr example, will you be available for web hosting support, and would this cost extra money?

Know your worth and know how much your time will cost. When you sell yourself short, there isn’t much room to negotiate what you deserve later; 1-2 weeks after, you may regret this and start dragging your feet since your self-worth has been shortchanged due to your lack of ability to negotiate. When in doubt stick to your guns and prove to your client that you mean business. Always hold a courteous and tolerant attitude towards their ideas. Build a sense of mutual trust, as this can lead to repeat project work in the future.

Helpful References


I hope these ideas are beneficial to freelancers who are looking for better client relationships. It’s a two-way street that requires both parties to work together towards a common goal. Compromise is a part of a freelancer’s life. When you can stay objective about the work you’ll feel less emotionally attached and more willing to push forward for immediate results.

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