Requests from potential clients can vary. Some are detailed and precise, while others are concise and sparse on necessary information.
If we lack information to provide a quote or to confirm our availability, we are not afraid to ask. These can be questions in the illustration: How, where, and how long will the illustration be used? When is the deadline? Color or black and white? What is the print run, or what size is the format?
If in doubt, we ask several times until we have all the necessary details to make a realistic, transparent, and binding statement. Let’s prefer to be a little demanding initially rather than again and again later in the working process.
In general, these questions are a sign of professionalism. However, it can also happen that our counterpart reacts impatiently or even annoyed, and cooperation does not arise. In this case: Congratulations! If it already fails at basic things, we have most likely saved ourselves an energy-sapping, time, money, and nerve-consuming collaboration.
As a creative freelancer, it’s almost impossible to win back clients’ trust once it’s been broken. “This campaign will go through the roof” or “this will be the best illustration you’ve ever seen” is like saying, “I’m the kindest and most generous person.” It’s not up to us to judge such things.
Client: “You are the expert. I’m afraid I’m not creative at all.”
A client can tell a programmer, “I don’t know anything about computers, HTML, and website programming.” However, a client cannot say to a designer that he is not creative and that his opinion is not important.
Every person is creative in their activity every day. It’s because everyone searches for solutions every day. In addition, every person also has a sense of visual aesthetics. Even if they do not work in our professional field and struggle to express why they like or dislike something.
As illustrators and designers, let’s involve the client. We may be the established experts in our field, but nothing beats a fresh look at our work to make it better. After all, that’s what it’s all about. We want to create the best possible outcome for the project, the client, us, and the audience.
Some people may be too engaging in the creative process, trusting us too little and constricting our creative freedom. If the reasons are not destructive, there are always solutions to solve this—more on this in another post.
“We give you all the creative freedom.” If this is the client’s briefing, it sounds tempting at first. The client seems to have blind faith in us. After all, we can do and try whatever we want. We have the license to play. But actually, it means that sooner or later, we will inevitably lose control.
A game in which we can do whatever we want, without a clear goal, is not a game. We need guardrails. Basic rules that limit what we do and think. Only then can we focus our thoughts, dig deep, immerse ourselves in the task at hand and become truly creative. Too much freedom can be intimidating, superficial, and counterproductive.
A tight briefing is like a lighthouse on the open sea at night. How we get there is up to us, but the destination is always there for all to see.
So let’s accept the client’s constraints and rules to reach his goal. They are what ignite creativity.
When a client hires freelancers, be they web designers, art directors, translators, or illustrators, they are looking for anchors for safety hooks. Usually, the client does not know the freelancer personally and wants to work with him for the first time. Of course, this involves risks for him. It’s about quality, reliability, speed, flexibility, openness to criticism, friendliness, and positivity.
Once these values and qualities have been conveyed, the subsequent price negotiation is the most minor step. What good is the most beautiful work of art to the customer if it is not delivered on time for the printing deadline? Leonardo da Vinci regularly infuriated his clients by putting them off for years or never starting or finishing orders.
Contracts or no contracts, especially when international collaboration, where litigation is complicated, building trust is crucial. The portfolio is our digital front door. Our business card. We signal here to potential clients that they are in good hands with us through the following points:
Clarity: What do we offer? How can we be reached?
Professional presentation of our services, e.g., low-resolution pictures on our homepage, does not show our exceptional attention to detail. Illuminated photos of our work, on the other hand, do.
About us-page: A portrait photo, a few words about us, and images of our workspace give the client additional insight and a face to the work, emails, and voice on the phone.
Listing of clients and agencies we have already worked with. One completed client project shows that we can reliably bring projects to completion.
Recognition: Whether internationally won awards, online interviews, or local newspaper reports. Every recognition testifies to our professionalism and seriousness.
Testimonials: Words that are worth their weight in gold. Quotes from customers about a successful collaboration are the ultimate confidence builders.
Other ways to build trust:
A blog or vlog with additional behind-the-scenes insights and creative processes.
Behavior on social media: how and what do we write under our posts? How do we formulate comments and answer questions?
The first part was that the fear of the blank page can indicate being on the right path. It is important to us, so we should pursue it even more. Now we are talking about procrastination as a tool for quality.
Leonardo da Vinci was a genius in his art but a lousy freelancer. He was known for not meeting deadlines on commissioned work and even failing to complete much of it. It got to the point where his father had to do the condition negotiating, knowing how unreliable his son was at work.
But of course, he was never lazy. Doing nothing was as much a part of his creative process as the act of painting itself:
“Men of lofty genius sometimes accomplish the most when they work less, for their minds are occupied with their ideas and the perfection of their conceptions, to which they afterward give form.”
Leonardo da Vinci
One day Leonardo da Vinci was discussing creativity with a dissatisfied client. He demanded that Leonardo stop taking breaks. But Leonardo replied that “sometimes it requires going slowly, pausing, even procrastinating. That allows ideas to marinate. Intuition needs nurturing.”
So doing nothing does not literally mean doing nothing. Ideas need time to take hold and mature. That’s why solutions or ideas often come to us during activities that have little to do with the task. The classic “aha” moment is while taking a shower or driving a car.
So we don’t always need to feel guilty when our bodies aren’t working. Our subconscious mind continues to do it. Without our action, however, it will never exist. We must be aware of this.
A tip when working with clients. Let’s not complicate the client’s life and our own unnecessarily. We need a buffer for schedule and fee for just this “doing nothing.”
Book Tip: Leonardo da Vinci – The Biography by Walter Isaacson
From my experience as an illustrator, most communication with clients is via email. And that’s a good thing. The written record, starting with the inquiry, the individual process steps, and the data transfer, gives both sides the necessary security for smooth cooperation.
It forces us to think in a structured way and quickly shows which points are still open or incorrect. Especially at the beginning, all basic conditions must be clearly formulated, such as illustration style, scope, rights of use, and deadline. Even before it goes into pricing, establishing these points is crucial for the client and us. They are our location coordinates to keep track of where we are and where we are going during our journey together.
Emails are our joint diary on this trip. A documentation of our collaboration. The client and the freelancer keep each other updated and agree on our next steps.
Phone calls and Zoom meetings are great for quickly exchanging information or discussing more complex issues. However, most misunderstandings and mistakes hide here. Discussed points are forgotten, and things are understood differently. That is simply human. Therefore, we take notes during every call and announce that we will send the customer a short email with the discussed points after the conversation. In it, we ask for a quick confirmation that everything has been recorded correctly.
We secure ourselves and our work steps. At the same time, we also give the customer security. This is so important for cooperation. He feels transparently kept up to date and can devote himself to other tasks with complete peace of mind.
This doesn’t mean that we take clients’ decisions and feedback personally. We know that criticism of our work is part of our passionate profession. Not taking it personally is what makes us a professional.
We are experts in what we do because we are experienced in our field. The more we do, the more original our work becomes and the faster we get results. In short, we are getting better and better.
Therefore, we can’t calculate our fee by the hour. Our expertise makes us valuable to the client – not our time.
Five years ago, I developed about 4 to 5 conceptual illustration ideas in four days. Today, I draw up to 20 in two days. If I calculated per hour, I would be penalized for getting better.
The client hires our service because he has a problem he needs us to solve (illustrative or otherwise). If we present him a solution in two days instead of four, that’s added value. Apart from the higher quality and number of alternatives, we give him something much more precious: time.
The art of email communication can easily be underestimated. Ideally, reading and writing feel like a pleasant face-to-face conversation. We remain friendly at all times. We keep our sentences short and simple by avoiding filler words and refraining from using unnecessary technical terms. Since we lack gestures and facial expressions, we avoid potentially misunderstandable language. Irony, sarcasm, and sometimes even a joking comment can quickly be taken the wrong way. Unlike in verbal conversation, we can change, adapt or delete what we just wrote. We use this advantage.