Be Prompt, Clear and Succinct

 

Working Successfully with Clients: A Class for Illustrators and Designers

 

Lesson Info

Be Prompt, Clear and Succinct

First of all, you are prompt. And I think this is especially important in the first initial contact you have with somebody who wants to work with you. You wanna get back to folks within 24 hours if possible, that's my rule. And like let's say you're on vacation or it's the weekend, weekends, I would say during the week is especially important, and most of the time people won't reach out to you on the weekend, but you always wanna get back to folks within 24 hours. And that might look something like this, hello, thanks for your interest in working with me. I've very excited about the potential collaboration. And then you'll go on to ask some questions, which we'll get to soon. But if you can't write a response that asks the right questions of the person who's interested in working with you immediately you always still wanna write back within 24 hours. And that might look like something like this, hello, thanks for your interest in working with me. I'm traveling and I'll get back to you ...

by tomorrow with my questions about the project. Pro tip, I'm gonna be giving you lots of pro tips in this class, out of town and off email for a few days, put an auto response on your email with the details of your absence and return. And that way if you're off the grid or you can't get back to somebody or you're gonna be on an airplane they know. Because there's nothing like reaching out to somebody with an exciting opportunity and then not hearing anything back. We've all been there, we don't wanna put our clients through that, or potential clients. So next you communicate clearly and succinctly. So we're gonna be covering this a lot in this class, this idea of when you write an email to a client you wanna make sure that you've got all the right information in there, you're listing your questions in an organized way, you're always proofing for redundancy and typos and run on sentences, because some people are sticklers for those things. Keep your communication to the point. You're friendly, positive, enthusiastic, and collegial. So you want the person who's reading your email to imagine that you're smiling. Even if you have to decline, even if you know immediately that you're not gonna be able to work with the client, because of the timeline or something, you always wanna be friendly, enthusiastic, and collegial. So you might start your email by saying, I'm really excited to learn more about this project, or I'm looking forward to getting started. But, and this is a big but, you also want to respect the boundaries of formality. So we're gonna be looking at some really great examples of what to do and not to do in email communication. Here's a big no. And this would especially be true if you didn't know the person, if this is an old college buddy of yours who writes to you and wants to collaborate with you on a project this might work, but if it's somebody you don't know you would never say, hey dude, what's up? So cool to here from you. But you'd be surprised how many people will respond to an email in that way. What you do wanna say is hello Dave, thanks so much for reaching out to me. I'm excited to learn more about this potential collaboration. And that's because we need to understand that different generations and different cultures treat formality differently, right? So I will often be in a situation where somebody's communicating with me and I feel like they're treating me, they're not treating me with the amount of respect that I feel like I deserve. And I think we've all been in that situation before. And some of that might be because I'm from a generation that's older than the person who's talking to me or communicating with me in a certain way. And so because we don't always know what generation or culture, and culture's also really important. Some cultures are very formal. Because we don't always know how old the person is, or what culture they're from, if they're writing to us we always wanna err on the side of formality just to be safe, and then you follow the client's lead from there. You're also consistent. So that means you respond in a timely manner each time the client reaches out to you, not just the first time they reach out, but every time you wanna use the 24 hour rule. And of course, respond more quickly if you're in the middle of a working relationship, especially if they have an urgent question. You're consistently polite and professional. And you ask thoughtful questions as they arise in the creative process. Here's a big one, you are patient. So oftentimes, and maybe you've had this experience before, I know I have, I still do it, we imagine that if we're working with an art director, publisher, editor, whoever we're working with, whoever the client is, we imagine that their world revolves around us. That we are the only person in the world they're working with, because that's all we can see is that we have our communication with them on our project. But it's important to realize that the art director, editor, whoever you're working with, producer, they're working on multiple projects. Like probably with 10 different illustrators or writers or whoever. So if you're waiting on feedback it's important to be patient and knowing that the person you're working with is likely very busy, because they are working with a bunch of other people. Being patient also means taking a breath anytime in the course of your working relationship the client or a customer, anyone you're working with, says something that is maybe a stupid question or gives you feedback that you don't think is helpful or says something in a way that doesn't feel productive. Oftentimes our response is to wanna email back right away and say something out of anger or sarcasm. But 99% of the time the people you work with are going to be excellent communicators, they're going to give you feedback in a really thoughtful way and you won't have to deal with this, but in the few situations where you have stickiness with a client or a customer, or somebody's rude to you, you always want to sort of rise above the fray. Take a breath and if that means you have to wait to respond 'til you've calmed down or you can figure out a professional way to respond, you always wanna do that. So always be kind even if somebody hasn't been kind to you, that's my rule of thumb. You also wanna be careful about communicating after hours. So if you're sending emails after six p.m. it might send the message that you have loose boundaries around your work and that you don't keep regular work hours. Now, it's also true that we all have to work sometimes on the weekend and at night, correct? We've all been there. And sometimes we need to send the email at night, because it's due at seven o'clock the next morning and we're just now finishing at 11 at night or whatever. So we wanna make sure that we don't make the person we're emailing feel pressured to respond. How many of you have ever sort of checked your email before bed and saw an email there that made you feel pressured to respond? Like it's very common. And part of that's our responsibility not to be checking our email right before bed, but we do it. So you always wanna say, in case the person sees it, acknowledge and let the client know you don't expect an immediate response. Hey, just getting you this now, I know it's bedtime, I just finished, I'm super excited to have finished. If you happen to see this now, great, if not, I'd love to hear from you in the morning. This is a big one. You take responsibility after a mistake or an error. So mistakes happen, misunderstandings happen, sometimes even when you're doing your best work you overlook a detail. The most important thing when this happens is not to pretend it didn't happen, not to get defensive, but to take responsibility. And so one thing you might say is I apologize that I overlooked that detail, I'll fix it right away. Just acknowledging and taking responsibility for a mistake will often erase that mistake in the mind of the person who hired you. Apologies go a long way. I'm so sorry I made that mistake. Let's talk about the best way for me to fix it. You express gratitude. Has the client offered you a compliment on your work? Giving you an extension on the assignment? Or introduced you to somebody important at the company? Expressing appreciation may not seem like that big of a deal, but for many people it is a really big deal, so you wanna show always that you're paying attention to their generosity. I'm gonna talk about saying thank you a lot in this class, and you'll see examples of it for sure. All right, any questions so far before we get into some examples of some good and bad email communication? So a lot of my customers come from more like friends and word of mouth kind of thing, and so a lot of our communication ends up on social media, just because it's more casual. So what would be, aside from like formality and manners, what would be the benefit from switching from a social media communication to email? That's a great question and I think in your case where you're talking to people that you have a more casual friendship or they're friends of friends, you wanna have a central place for the communication so that you're keeping track of all of your agreements and all of the things that are sort of like weighing on your working relationship or what you agree to do together. And we'll talk more about that later. I'm really talking here mostly about more formal business relationships where a corporate client or a publisher or somebody that you're gonna have a more formal relationship is reaching out to you, those cases you definitely wanna take them over to email, so it's sort of centralized. But I do think in some situations, especially if that's working for you and you're able to track it, it's totally fine. Yeah. We have a question, of course, we have people who are watching from all over the world, so the question is, how do you think about if you're working with people internationally in terms of this like timing and boundaries of putting that around yourself? Do you make exceptions or how do you think about that? That's a great question. I do think that it's really important to establish when you're working with somebody, even who's on the other side of the country in a different time zone, just be very clear about what time zone you're in. So I mostly work with clients in the U.S., but a lot of them are in the eastern time zone and I'm in the western time zone, so I will always start a relationship, I love this question, 'cause it's not something I was gonna talk about, but I do think it's really important, by saying, I'm in Pacific Standard Time. 'Cause sometimes I'll say, I'll get you that, whatever, by tomorrow. And I know to me tomorrow means four o'clock in the afternoon, but that's seven o'clock in the evening, they've already gone home. So I'll make sure to acknowledge it by saying I'm gonna get you this, I know I can finish this for you and get it to you by four o'clock my time. I know you will have already gone home, so you'll see it Friday morning or whatever, just so that they're clear you're not being lazy, because sometimes I think clients are working with so many artists that they don't necessarily remember what time zone you're in. So you wanna just be clear about that. Most of the time it's that big of a deal. I do think international work is interesting in that way. That's a great question. I recently had a client in Japan, I worked for this jazz festival out of Tokyo doing some identity work for them. And first of all, this sort of idea of the formality of communication was very important. The woman I worked with would call me Lisa San when she addressed me out of respect for me. And I had never communicated directly with a Japanese client before, so I had to do a little research about how to do that in a way that was going to be respectful to her. So that alone was an interesting thing. And then we just sort of established this kind of working relationship where it might take more than 24 hours for her to respond or for me to respond, because we were literally working on different days sometimes. And I think once you establish that, make clear with your client, especially if they're super far away, that you're timing's gonna be a little off, you can make it work. But talking about it in the beginning is probably a really good idea. Yeah? We have several more questions coming in if we keep, okay, great. Yeah, of course. So we have Jane who says, and I can imagine, especially in the creative field that this could be kind of a common scenario, who says, she has a client who keeps calling her a friend and she kind of keeps pushing back gently and reminding that this is a business relationship, but now it feels like that this woman, or this friend is expecting more from her as a friend versus a client. Have you experienced that or any advice on that? Yeah, you know, I haven't experienced that personally, however, later in this class we're going to be talking about defining roles and defining, really being clear about what the work is and getting that in writing. And I actually think it's the most important to do that when you are working with a friend in some cases. Oftentimes a friend or a friend of a friend will say, oh, can you do this illustration for me? Or can you do this small project? And I say yes, and I might not even charge as much money or whatever, but I still have a written contract. And that's because things will tend to get more messy in some cases with friends, because they might expect you to do more for them or slide the rules for them. I'm not saying this is always the case, but in the case of this person asking the question this has become sticky. Like maybe they didn't start out as friends, but the client is trying to act like a friend and now is asking more of the person, and so we'll get into that more later in the class when we talk about setting up a formal agreement or a contract for your working relationship. And I highly recommend that you do that. And that way if the person starts asking for more you have to be, like I was just saying to somebody the other day that I feel like being a freelancer is a constant exercise in being assertive and standing up for yourself and actually having to have some uncomfortable conversations with people. Like that's out of, we didn't talk about that, that might cost a little bit more money. And having to constantly do that, because unfortunately, a lot of times people will try to take advantage of you, especially if they know you or whatever. So that's really important.

Class Description

Establishing yourself as a professional illustrator or designer requires a lot of dedication to building skill, brand and visibility. Equally important, yet often underestimated, is the development of client interaction skills. Working with clients takes practice! It’s not easy and it’s not always intuitive. Knowing how to communicate with clients clearly and effectively is a skill that will ultimately set you apart as a professional illustrator.

Fine artist, illustrator and author Lisa Congdon has worked with over 75 clients around the world, including MoMA, REI Co-op, Harvard University, Martha Stewart Living, Chronicle Books, and Random House Publishing, among many others. In this class she will share the knowledge she has acquired during her successful career, highlighting time-proven strategies for working effectively with clients. She will also discuss common mistakes to avoid when dealing with clients.

Lisa will teach you the skills you need to enter into client relationships with clarity and confidence.

In this class you will learn:

  • How to communicate effectively and professionally with potential clients.
  • What questions to ask when being approached by a potential client
  • What to look for in a creative brief
  • How to consider phases and deliverables of a project
  • How to consider fee negotiation.
  • How to read through a contract.
  • How to address change of project scope with a client.
  • And so much more...