10 things freelance designers wish every client knew

Just like the relationship between romantic partners or family members, the relationship between client and freelancer is important, enriching, but also full of little annoyances.

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Much of that is due to miscommunication and a lack of understanding of where the other side is coming from. But while a good freelancer will always make an effort to research their client and empathise with their needs, it's not always the case that the client will reciprocate.

As this year's National Freelancers Day approaches (8 June 2017), we’ve gathered together ten crucial things that clients often fail to grasp. If you know someone who employs a freelance designer, maybe you could find a subtle way to place these words in front of them.

1. We can’t make a design without content

We’ve all had the same conversation with you, many of us more times than we can bear to think about.

Client: “We don’t have any images or text yet. But could you design us a website/brochure/poster anyway so that we can put them in later?”

Designer: “It doesn’t really work like that…”

2. We can’t “find some pictures on Google Images”

When you’re printing a leaflet to hand out at the church fete, yes, you can probably get away with infringing copyright by scraping images off the internet. But when you’re working in a commercial sphere, you simply cannot.

Also, when we explain this to you, please don’t say: “Well, in that case, could you nip out with your camera and take a few snaps?”

Just because someone is a professional designer doesn’t mean they’re a professional photographer too. And even if they are, remember:

3. Every extra “little thing” you ask costs money

Any designer worth their salt should draw up a written agreement clearly outlining the scope of the project, and what they are and are not expected to do. But unfortunately, many clients continuously try to push back on this, and twist our arms to do “just one little extra thing”.

If you were having your hair cut and suddenly decided you wanted highlights as well, you’d have to pay. If you asked your window cleaner to wash your car as well, you’d have to pay. So treat us with the same respect.

Our time is money too, because although we don’t like to mention it.

4. We have other clients besides you

We get it: there’s nothing more annoying when a designer you’ve hired tells you they’re too busy to work on your project today. No one wants to feel like they’re sloppy seconds to other clients.

And indeed, a decent designer should deflect you from thinking about that, and create the illusion that you’re their primary or only concern.

But diplomacy only works if it’s a two-way thing. It’s nice to pretend your designer is spending every waking hour thinking of ways to please you. But unless you’re paying them a ridiculously huge sum of money, that’s unlikely to be the case.

So bear in mind that we do have other clients. Especially when you ask us to suddenly drop everything and fulfil a request you’ve just thought of, right now.

5. If you don’t know what you’re doing, we know

There are many things a designer will never say out loud to you, such as -

“You’ve given me a brief that doesn’t make a lot of sense. You don’t know what you’re talking about or have a clear idea what you want.

“You’ve read a post on a marketing blog or heard a talk at a conference that sounded impressive, but haven’t got your head around the concept involved. You’re using a lot of jargon and buzzwords, but you don’t understand what they mean either.

“Frankly, none of this is going to end well. I’m going to eventually deliver something that isn’t what you want because you don’t know what you want. But you’re so wrapped up in your marketing BS; I’m not even sure you know that either.”

But maybe, sometimes, we should.

6. We don’t spend every second in our email client hitting refresh

Don’t get tetchy with us because we don’t respond to your every email whim within five minutes. Sometimes we need to take our attention away from our inboxes purposely. So we can do the actual work you’re paying us for.

7. We need money to pay rent and buy food

You probably have a salary that goes into your bank account without fail, every month. But we’re not sure you know what it’s like to survive, week to week, without that.

Even when we freelance for big companies with huge pockets, the way we get paid is often random, unpredictable and held up by endless bureaucracy.

Yes, we know you personally don’t make the rules. But we’d appreciate you doing your absolute best to make sure we don’t spend months waiting for payment.

8. We have costs

If you’re in a salaried position at a company, you can print out a letter, grab a new pen, send a fax or make some photocopies without having to put your hand in your pocket. But remember, every single thing we do in the course of our work, we have to pay for. Software, hardware, phone bills, WiFi, stationery, light, heat, rent - none of it is free.

This means that when we quote for a job, we’re not just including the cost of our labour, but a contribution to all of these associated costs too. So please don’t try to lowball us, or say things like, “How can it cost so much to do something so simple?”

9. We want more work

Although we don’t say it, we’d like you to give us more work. Preferably regular work that pays a steady income, so we can stop worrying about whether we’ll have enough to pay our landlords at the end of each month.

Regular work also makes it more likely to build up a mutual understanding of each other’s needs and develop a better working relationship.

We don’t necessarily tell you this, because we don’t want to seem needy (never a good negotiating position). But most of us really would like more work, please.

10. You can’t take us for granted

We won’t say this out loud either. But most of us feel that you don’t pay us enough or appreciate how much value our design work is adding to your company.

We know that in the long run, we’re going to want more money, and that probably means moving up to work for higher-end clients.

Don’t worry; we’re not going to walk out on you mid-project (designers don’t do that). But if you’ve been paying us the same rate for several years, bear in mind that we will eventually ask for more, or move on.


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