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4 Comments // Filed in Business / Design

Fighting the Good Fight

During my Future of Web Design stint, a few individuals approached me with specific questions in handling clients on how to get them to invest in a branding strategy. Of course, we all know the value of such an endeavor but not every client you work with understands what we understand. Sometimes, these stand-offs get really tense, because you are passionate about what you do, and the client may be equally as passionate in their assertions.

So, now what? Do you just do what the client says? Do you keep arguing to the point where you may lose the project? Is it worth that risk?

Fight the Good Fight

Here’s the thing: sometimes you need to remind clients you were hired for a specific reason for your specific expertise. Not all of us are lucky with clients who understand our lingo, or even want to listen. Be firm in asserting what you feel the project needs. I think one major problem that occurs with a lot of designers and projects is that they capitulate too much over a client’s whims. Remind them that you are partners in this project: they hired you because you bring something to the table, which means they need you. Also remind them that you only have their best interests at heart and in order to do that, if you have metrics to back things up or can translate things to monetary gain, then even better.

Compromise

One of my workshop peeps came up to me and told me a typical in-house designer scenario: the giant company is in the middle of a re-branding, but the logo that they’ve decided to choose is next to ghastly or, it’s good but they feel it’s inappropriate for what the company stands for. She mentioned also, that the main decision-maker really likes this logo. I told her to “fight the good fight” until it gets to the point where the head honcho really puts his foot down and goes ahead with the less-than-stellar logo. If/when that happens, I would suggest trying to bargain or compromise. The brand is more than just a logo, and if the applications of the rest of the brand (through the marketing materials, website, packaging, etc) reflects the true nature of the company, then the crappy logo fades to the background to let the rest of the items shine.

I’ve had to create websites for places where I found their logo personally atrocious, but if you continually focus on the failings and forget the positive aspects (future projects, perhaps the client is nice but just stubborn, etc), you’ve essentially not only lost the battle, you’ve lost the war.

Quitting While You’re Ahead, Ain’t the Same as Quitting

Or, if it really got down to it, say no and be prepared to walk away from the project. This is by far the hardest to do, and this is where things end up sketchy. Especially if you’ve just starting freelancing, or are new to the company… hell, this gets hard no matter how long you’ve been in the biz. However, if a project or client becomes abusive or morally reprehensible, then definitely just walk away.

Thoughts?

This is often a touchy subject with people. How do you usually get clients to understand you or when do you know to quit?


4 blabs to Fighting the Good Fight

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Picture of Drew

Name Drew

Date Nov 18
10:54 PM

Hey Lea,

Great post!

I’ve just had a recent experience where the client’s goals were a proverbial moving target throughout the life of the project. Each stage they nit-picked the design to a dismal death. It finally got to the point where we had to say “We’ll try one more time and then that’s it.”

Like you said it was hard to do but we discovered that showing the client we’re serious about “firing” them motivated them to make more conclusive decisions.

Also, the manner with which we relayed our ultimatum, allowed for there to be no hard feelings. Kind of like breaking up with a significant other, we phrased it as “WE’RE obviously not meeting YOUR needs, so in YOUR best interest WE should remove ourselves…” instead of saying “You obviously have no taste… You’re Fired!”

Picture of Lea

Name Lea

Date Nov 20
01:10 PM

Thanks for commenting Drew! And you are absolutely right about how you word things is the difference between a huge fight and an amicable conclusion. Nice comparison with the mature way of breaking up with a significant other. ;-)

Picture of Reese

Name Reese

Date Nov 21
11:34 AM

My method may not help those who are just beginning freelancing, or who are in-house designers, but I try to vet clients for this kind of thing ahead of time.

This isn’t to say I seek out pushover clients, but I try to attract and take on clients who seek our expertise and value the partnership of the relationship. I use some questions in the beginning to get an idea of how the client views his/her role in the design process. Clients who know their business well, but clearly indicate they need professional, objective assistance on taking their business to the next level, tend to be ideal clients.

Even then, some then involve themselves a bit rigidly in the design process. I’ve learned what fights are worth fighting, and which to let go. Sometimes a client has a personal preference that I don’t subjectively like, but I’m able to see this preference won’t dilute their brand, so I let it go. When it’s important to stand my ground for the sake of the client’s brand or image, I politely mention that I wouldn’t be a good designer if I didn’t raise a red flag to their preference or request. I try to specifically cite why I think the request is a problem—for example, a client recently wanted all external links to open in a new window, and I let her know that the end user experience could be negative, and that negativity could be associated with her/her site. SHe agreed, and we moved on.

It’s not always that easy. Earlier this year, I fought with a ‘marketing director’ who thought his advertising 101 course from college made him an expert on the of sans-serif fonts. sigh. Some fights you can’t win. We don’t work with that client anymore…the guy just couldn’t let go on a huge number of ridiculous issues, and we weren’t getting anywhere, so it was best for both parties to sever the relationship.

Picture of Lea

Name Lea

Date Nov 22
04:49 PM

Reese, you make a good point about screening potential clients in the first place. The best course about “fighting the good fight” is to avoid it all together by attracting and retaining your ideal clients, who is willing to communicate and collaborate.


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