If you run any sort of freelance business – one which requires payment in kind for your creative or technical services, you may be very familiar with the common sticking points of a project. Things like:
- A client not making the full payment once a project is complete.
- Additional requirements and requests somehow making their way into the project.
- A project running on and on, with endless requests for tweaks and revisions and no end in sight.
When you run this type of business purely online, those sticking points can be exacerbated by the lack of face-to-face contact and the fact that things can get very easily be mis-communicated, misinterpreted and misunderstood with online communication channels.
Here – gleaned from several years of running our own service-providing business (of graphic design, web design & development and illustration services) – are the key stages of the basic end-to-end project process where you might come unstuck and how to prevent this from happening in the first place…
It’s right here where you can set the stage to avoid most of the sticky points you’re likely to encounter during a project. The primary aspects to ensure you cover at this stage are:
1. Payment & Deposits – Get one. In fact, if possible, get payment upfront. And whatever your policy stick to it; do not begin a project until this condition has been met by your client, no matter how tempting.
Aside from some of Jonathan’s illustration clients – old school publishers and the like who have their own quirks in payment processes (and even then, he’ll push back and ask) – we have always asked for and received payment upfront.
2. Client Requirements – Ask for them. In order to ensure full delivery of the project, you as the service provider *must* know what you’re delivering, as clearly as possible. Ensure you know exactly which deliverables you’re being paid to deliver – how many, the final format and any other non-standard requests.
Nail down the specifications and a detailed brief as tightly as possible – when it comes to something as subjective as design & creativity, it’s always tough to satisfy personal tastes & preferences, but a well-constructed and completed brief can help you prove (should you need to) that you’ve delivered what was requested, irrespective of whether a client might personally like it or not.
Design (or Draft) Stage
3. Tweaks, Revisions & Concepts – Be clear upfront (in your terms & conditions at the Pre-Project stage ideally), how many concepts a client can expect to receive. And how many rounds of revisions/tweaks they’re allowed before being charged a supplement.
If you don’t do this, a project can get stuck here in an endless round of the client requesting new concepts until they finally find one they like (Red Flag: If a client ever says to you, “I’m not sure what I’m looking for, but I’ll know it when I see it” be very wary!).
It’s also important to add a gating step at this stage – that is, an ‘official’ signing off of the design which allows you to lock it down and move to the next stage (whether that’s build or project complete).
Once this is received from a client – it can be as simple as an email confirmation from them ‘signing off’ the design – you have something to fall back on should any major changes be mooted later in the process (or the dreaded, “We don’t really like it” comment once the project is complete).
4. Scope Creep & Additional Requests – If you’re building a site or something based upon your design for the client, this is another area which can very quickly get out of control. Additional requests which weren’t in their original brief or set of requirements can be easily slipped into emails, phrases such as “Oh, could you just add X, Y and Z? I know it won’t take long…” can become commonplace and before you know it, that 5-page website has turned into a 12-page monster, with you taking on the additional work for no additional fee.
Once you’ve received a client’s requirements at the start of the project, it’s worth re-stating exactly what you’ll be delivering – a Statement of Work – which details all the parameters, features and options you will or won’t be delivering. If you’re in any doubt, be explicit – state your exclusions and inclusions and never make any assumptions that a client is on the same page as you when it comes to what is and isn’t included.
5. Project Sign-off – Defining what constitutes the official end of a project ensures it won’t drag on and on with endless requests for amendments, tweaks or additions. Typically this is the ‘official’ handing over of the final deliverables – files, passwords, login details or whatever – but whatever it is, be sure to define and communicate this to the client. Ensure they know that this constitutes the official end of the project and that any further work will be subject to further fees.
All of the above should be incorporated into your Terms & Conditions – something which is given to a client at the start of a project – to ensure that they know *exactly* what they’re paying for.
And more than that, it is even worth highlighting some of the more pertinent items to them, so there are no nasty surprises or difficult moments during the project because they hadn’t read or understood what you meant.
The bottom line is this: Never assume that a client knows how you work nor what the process is (or should be). It’s your job to communicate this to them, it’s not theirs to simply know.