Web Design: Working With Clients

So I’m not going to pretend that I’m an expert at freelancing, because I’m certainly not. However, I do have some experience, and I think after your first few times doing freelance work, you learn a whole lot. So I figured I’d offer up some advice to those of you who may be getting into the freelance web design or graphic design business.

1. The most important thing you can do for a freelance job is write a contract! A simple one page contract can go a long way in encouraging both you and your client to abide by specified timelines, payment dates, etc. In all likelihood you’ll never even need to threaten your client with breach of contract, but it is nice just to have the comfort. You should write you contract in a way that indicates a timeline for the project. This will encourage you to keep on top of your work, as well as make sure your client provides any materials that you need in a timely manner. It also makes sure you can’t get screwed over if they “aren’t happy” in the end (you’d be surprised how much people will try to reduce the price after you’ve already agreed on something). Clients also have the tendency to ask for something, agree on a price, and then ask for more without wanting to pay more. For these reasons specifically, ALWAYS get a contract written up and signed before you begin any work. (For sample contracts, check this out (make sure to edit this to apply to YOUR situation!), or if you’d like, shoot me an email and I can give you some advice).

2. Make sure your client is aware of their responsibilities (because even though you are the freelancer, they almost always need to provide you with something). The best way of doing this is to include deadlines for the client as well as yourself in the contract. These deadlines are often dates that you need content by to finish the website, or logo materials to work on the designs. Timeliness of your client’s deliverables will affect the timeliness of yours.

3. Ask your client for a list of websites that they like, with details of why they like them. Getting this information will help you understand the design aesthetic that your client appreciates, and give you an idea of how they might want their users to work through their website. It might also be helpful to sit down with them as they discuss this, and even ask them to visit their competitor’s websites if you are working with a business.

4. Make mock-ups before you start coding anything. When presenting mock-ups to your clients make sure to do four things. First, always make multiple options. Presenting one looks cocky and stingy. When you present multiple designs, ask for critiques (both positive and negative) on all of the design possibilities, but have them pick one. Then incorporate those critiques into the final design. Second, present your mock-ups in PDF format. PDFs are by far the most professional way to send documents. Sending Photoshop or Illustrator files is unprofessional, and they can rarely be opened by clients. Sending jpegs/gifs is lame because then your client is opening up your design in random programs. Keep it consistent with PDFs. Third, use “lorem ipsum” dummy text. It fills the page realistically without requiring actual content from your client or you. It isn’t worth wasting your time coming up with realistic content, just make it look good while you are working on the mock-ups. Fourth, it helps to present your mock-ups in a browser window skin. This will help your client imagine what the website will really look like live to their users. Looking at the design outside of a skin is like looking at a photograph outside of a frame. Sure there is information there, and sure it might look good, but it sends a much different message in the frame.

5. Figure out ahead of time how your client will be updating their content. There are many possibilities including you updating your client’s content, the client using a content management system, or if the client using Dreamweaver or plain markup after you tutor them. These three options will most likely impact how your code the website.

6. Find out what other things you can do for your client on top of their website! There is no better place for more business than the people you already do business with. Many clients just getting into the web also need help with other graphic design needs (such as logos, letter heads, business cards, etc.) or will want you to do updates on their site, or SEO work for their site. This extra work leads to extra cash. Just make sure to include it all in the contract from the start.

7. Get a feel for your client’s expected website users. If you have a good feel for the people that will be using the website you design and/or create, then you’ll be able to do an infinitely better job at creating the website.

Got any other questions? Let me know!

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