“The customer only cares about money and earnings, while the designer only cares about being able to publish a good job on Dribble or Behance.”
This is a concept that I saw represented in a viral video, produced by Pixelo showing the differences between the designer and the client. Things like “the customer wants bright colors at random, the designer chooses a well-considered palette”, etc.
As soon as I saw this part about money, though, I said to myself: is that really true?
Are there really so many designers who only think about their image return and not about improving their customers’ business?
Absolutely yes. Full.
And this led me to write this article in which I talk about what I think is the biggest mistake a freelancer designer can make when dealing with a client.
Why the biggest mistake?
Because if you ignore the side of the business in your work as a graphic designer, web designer and designer in general, you are ignoring half of your work.
Let’s start by first understanding what design is:
What is design?
But wait, are you serious? I’m a designer / studio design! Do you expect me not to know what design is?
Of course, we all know what design is.
True, design is planning. But what is missing in this definition is that design is planning… on commission.
Design is not art as an end in itself. Design, as well as graphics and communication, serves to sell! Excuse me if I write it so directly, but it helps those who have a business to make more money. Communicating better and therefore selling better.
I know this can be a “blow” for all those with the romantic idea of design as something artistic, abstract and maybe even a bit poetic.
Design = Business.
Design = Marketing
If you don’t understand this, or pretend you don’t understand it, you’ll always be a half designer. Or rather, you will be a designer who will not be able to help your client 100%.
Design = Business. Why is this so important to understand?
It is important to understand this if you want to succeed as a freelance designer. Because customers are always people or groups of people who relate to their company and only pay for the things that interest them.
The customer doesn’t care if the project comes out cool enough to be published on Behance.
The customer is only interested in how and how much you can help them improve their business. To make more money.
And rightly so.
This is an aspect that many designers do not understand. They don’t understand it when they ask for a €1000 logo for a local non-profit association, they don’t understand it when they create a project that is cool for them but doesn’t consider the client’s business needs and they don’t understand it when they complain because it does relate to the customers.
Want to be one of those freelancers?
If you’re reading this article up to this point, I’d say it’s not what you want to do, is it?
The solution to the problem: change your mentality
The best way to solve this problem of approach with the customer by the freelancer designer is to have a sudden change of mentality.
Such as? Try following these 2 practical tips:
1. Stop considering customers as piggy banks
Stop considering the customer as someone to get as much money as possible and then adios! Start looking at it as a resource. Start thinking long term about how you can extend your working relationship over time to help both.
Start thinking about how you can help your client in every aspect that competes for you in terms of communication or design. Even if they are small consultancies that go slightly beyond the contract you signed.
When I am commissioned to do a job (and accept it) I find myself very often talking to the client about future prospects and ideas that I’ve come up with. Even if they choose not to hire me in the future, at least I’ve shown that I’m willing to continue working with them, and it’s not just about the paycheck. It’s about helping them succeed.
I believe it is part of my job to help my client’s business in every possible way.
And this attitude has led me to have customers who come to me for all the jobs after the first one, creating a constant revenue stream and a solid working relationship.
2. Start thinking of yourself as a company and not as a freelancer
And by this I don’t mean that you go to interviews with customers and pretend to be the head of a company with 50 employees.
But it is certainly true that your freelancer business is not like an employee’s. Your business is actually a business.
You have to think about accounting, income, expenses, taxes, bills to pay and salaries (yours). All aspects that make you a business.
So why not have the same kind of attitude?
Why not develop long-term working relationships that allow your company to support itself? Why not develop products and activities for customers? Why not introduce yourself as the manager of your own company instead of as the freelancer who “you tell me what I have to do and I do it”?
In short: you too are a company, act as such!
Take care of your personal brand, build your bomb-proof portfolio, create your own blog with the most effective case studies you’ve worked on, networking at events and meetings, proposing yourself as the manager and not as the executor.
At the end of this article I hope I made you change your mind at least a little about the kind of attitude with which to approach the world of freelancer work and maybe give you some interesting and useful ideas for your career.
In summary: design is a business, the customer has a business and thinks only of that and how you can help them make more money. You are in business as a freelancer, which means you should take every opportunity to help your customer succeed.
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