5 Communication Tips for Freelancers and Designers

Communication skills are absolutely critical to designers, and really to any type of client work. Regardless of how skilled you are as a designer you will need to be able to communicate effectively with clients in order to do the best job possible with their projects. And if you are a freelancer or an independent designer, communication is of the utmost importance to the success of your business.

In this article we’ll take a look at 5 quick tips that can help in your own communication with clients.

1. Establish a Preferred Method of Communication

There are a lot of different ways that you can communicate with clients, and that also means that there are a lot of different ways for your clients to try to get in touch with you when they need something. In general that is a good thing, but it’s most efficient if clients know the best way to reach you so that they don’t waste time leaving messages in different places and so that you actually get their messages.

Many designers prefer email communication, or maybe an app like Basecamp. There are also a lot of other ways that clients can reach out to you, like phone calls, Twitter, Facebook, and even text messages. And when it comes to email communication, most people have more than one email address, so that can potentially complicate things as well. It’s a good practice to establish one as your preferred method of contact. That way clients know the most effective way to reach you, and you can have all of your communication organized in a way that works for you.

2. Develop a System

Once you have decided on a preferred method of communication you will need to develop a system for managing that communication. This is where project management and CRM apps can come in very handy, as they allow you to easily organize all of your messages with clients. However, you can also set up your own systems just by using something simple like folders for your emails. What system you choose to use is not as important as the fact that you have a system that works for you.

Without a good system you’ll probably find that you waste a lot of time trying to figure out what has been said between you and a client. Systematizing will allow you to maximize efficiency and waste as little time as possible on things that could be avoided with better organization, and you’ll also reduce the risk of making errors in your communication with clients.

3. Establish Policies Involving Communication with Clients

There are a number of issues that could arise involving communication with clients. As a result, it’s best to have a policy on the issues and share that policy with your new clients. This helps to avoid potential issues and it sets expectations both for you and for the client.


Some examples of things that can be addressed in your policies include:

  • How soon should the client expect a response to an email?
  • What method of communication should they use when there is an emergency?
  • Will they be able to contact you on weekends?
  • Will they be able to call you?
  • Will they be charged for time on phone calls?

The basic goal of having a policy is to be clear upfront so that potential problems down the road can be avoided. It helps everyone to be on the same page and to know how the communication can be done in an efficient and effective way.

Issues like the length of time that clients should expect to wait for a response to an email can be especially applicable if you only check email at certain times throughout the day, as many designers do to be able to focus on the task at hand. Things like this can be good to clarify so that clients don’t feel like you’re ignoring their email for hours.

4. Avoid Industry Jargon

One of the worst things that you can do when communicating with clients is to use words and terms that clients don’t understand. If you do use industry jargon, be sure that you at least provide an explanation. Sometimes you may assume a client knows what you are talking about, but if they don’t it can cause problems later, so it’s best to err on the side or caution.

After you’ve worked with a client for a little while you’ll probably get a good feel for their level of experience, and with that knowledge you can know how to communicate with them so that they will understand, without over explaining things that they already understand.

5. Put it in Writing Whenever Possible

Most freelancers and designers work on projects with several different clients at any given point in time, and keeping track of all that communication can be very difficult. Also, clients have a lot more going on in their daily work than just dealing with the design project, so they can have a difficult time remembering everything as well. For these reasons and for your protection it is best to put it in writing whenever possible.

Phone calls me be a good way to communicate with some clients, but the downside is that there is no record of the details of that communication. With email you can go back and look at exactly what was said and when. This is helpful for those times where you just aren’t sure exactly what was said, and also for situations that might arise when a client remembers things differently than you do. If you are going to rely heavily on phone calls for your communication with clients it may be a good practice to write up a quick summary of the call after you get off the phone, and email a copy to the client. This way there is something in writing that can be referred to later if needed.

What is Your Experience?

If you have communication tips of your own please feel free to leave a comment.

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16 Responses

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  • Debby, November 17, 2011

    I agree a written record is the best way to keep track of communications with clients. If I discuss anything on the phone I always send a follow up email recapping what we discussed. I prefer email which has worked very well. In my business, I spend a fair amount of time educating clients unfamiliar with certain aspects of online marketing. I can often copy and paste information, add links or illustrations and send to multiple clients which saves me a lot of time.

  • OrganizedFellow, November 17, 2011

    In my contracts, I state that email is the only method of communication. Everything is flagged, labelled, time stamped, dated, etc.
    At no time should an email have formatting, rich text, nor attachments. No text messages, unless it’s an emergency.
    I guarantee less than 24 hours for responses.

    So far so good!
    :)

  • adumpaul, November 18, 2011

    Great tips.Thank you.

  • Web Hosting, November 19, 2011

    Really great tips

  • tishag, November 20, 2011

    These are some great tips and I think as a freelance graphic designer, it’s super important to be educated on the right way to communicate with your clients. Going to a great graphic design program is very important and a great way to get that backbone. I’ve heard that FIDM in LA has a great graphic design program with tons of connections too. Thanks for the article!

  • Mori, November 20, 2011

    Lucky for us there is one major site here in Israel that actually connect between all freelancers and job managers, causing very much ease in any interaction between the employer and the employee-freelancer.
    Great tips along with that.

  • Bharat KV, November 20, 2011

    Great Tips. Though we as freelancers wud have known many of these tips, I feel its very important to keep reminding ourselves as to whether we follow them on the long run.

    This article really helped me audit my own practices and know where I stand and what I need to improve. Thanks a lot…!!

  • Graham, November 21, 2011

    Good set of tips for a effective business bidding and coordination of business with the client. You have given a guideline from getting a business deal till the step to maintain the relationship with the client….
    Keep it up, will look to see in future more such quality articles…

  • shawn, November 21, 2011

    Lists (bulletted or numbered) are indispensable when firing off a load of questions which need to be answered.
    This also (ideally) encourages clients to respond accordingly, giving you a itemized to do list of changes to incorporate.

  • Åsel, November 22, 2011

    Hello,

    very good advices! System and structure in communications is important, a binding timeline would also be helpful, specially for us working with cms systems, depending on customer producing content. Greeting from Norway!!

  • Intravec Designs, November 27, 2011

    Great article! As a freelance designer, I let my clients know the best oppurtunity to contact me is through email and text message (with text message being preferred)! With designers, time is money in a literal sense. I try and decrease my talk time as much as possible.

    But the ONE thing you have to remember is that, clients want to hear a voice. Hearing that voice helps to ease their fears of dealing with someone that does not want to talk to them. We all hear about how horrible some companies customer service is horrible because they always talk to a machine. You should always find time to talk to your clients, because it is an important part of business and securing a long term working relationship with a business that spends money.

  • astho, November 29, 2011

    very nice tips..

  • Kapa International, December 5, 2011

    In my opinion, industry jargon should be avoided at ALL times!

  • Robert Hacala, April 9, 2013

    Great advice!

    Intravec Designs brings up a great point too: let your clients hear your voice, even if only at the beginning of the project!

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