Freelancing 101 Q&A: I Don’t Actually Know What My Client Wants, What Do I Do?

FIDM Graphic Design Alumna Sara Berkes answers questions about life as a professional creative freelancer.

Q: I’ve started a project with a client, given them a deadline for the first round, and as soon as I started working on it… realized I actually have no idea what my client wants! I don’t want to seem like I’m unprepared or don’t know what I’m doing. What do I do?

A: There are plenty of ways to prevent (or make very rare) the feeling that you really have no idea what you’re supposed to be doing for a client. First, know that it happens to all of us.

Sometimes we think we fully understand something until we start working on it. Sometimes, we think we fully understand our client until we deliver the first round of comps and it’s completely off the mark. It happens.

The best thing to do? Instead of admitting in so many words that you forgot to ask some pretty important questions– ask to clarify the details of the project. Explain why you want to clarify as a benefit to the client (“So I can ensure I deliver exactly what you’re expecting”) and most will appreciate your attention to detail, instead of thinking of you as forgetful.

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When you’re just starting out, it can be hard to keep track of all the information you might need for a project. The more you do the same kinds of projects, the more you learn what questions to ask from the get-go. But every client is unique, and every project is unique. There’s nothing wrong with asking questions along the way. After all, you can only do your job well if you know what that job is. Most people paying you would prefer to pay you for what they actually want, instead of you guessing on what they want because you’re too scared to ask.

And to prevent it from happening in the future?

Make a list of all the questions that come up in your projects, and separate them into “client-specific” and “project-specific” questions. Over time, you’ll develop a curated list of project-specific questions that you know to ask at the outset of every new project to get the information you need, so you can spend less time asking questions, and more time impressing your clients.

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Author: Sara Berkes

Sara Berkes is a graphic designer, writer and maker based in Ottawa, ON, Canada. She has a combined BA in English and Creative Writing from the University of King's College and an AA in Graphic Design, which she earned from FIDM in December 2013 along with the 2013 / 2014 Graphic Design Award. When not designing or blogging at Sara Berkes Creative or writing for the FIDM Digital Arts Blog, Sara can probably be found sewing, knitting, or hiding from Winter. You can find out more about her and her work at www.saraberkescreative.com

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