Being a freelance web designer certainly has its perks. You get to make your own hours, set your own rates, and control your own professional destiny. I’d add that designing for the web, like any freelance field, is a craft that most of us are truly passionate about. There’s something about the merging of beautiful design and cutting edge technology that keeps our creative juices flowing and keeps us endlessly engaged in our work.
But as any freelancer or small business owner knows, sketching diagrams, arranging pixels and constructing code make up only a small part of this profession. At the beginning and the end of the day, it’s still a business, which brings it’s own inherent challenges. At the top of the list is something we all must deal with every day: managing client expectations.
In this article, I intend to cover several aspects of working with clients as a freelance web designer (but these tips apply to any freelance profession, really). These are all based on my own experiences and lessons learned the hard way.
The tips I offer here will benefit not only the health and stability of your business, but your own personal health and well-being as well. Stress is a killer. When you’re running your own business, stress often goes unnoticed to outsiders as and sometimes yourself. By effectively managing your client relationships, you’re also keeping your own stress level in check. When you’re feeling good, you do good work and prosper. It’s as simple as that. So let’s get into it.
A potential client’s first contact with me is usually via the contact form on one of my websites or a direct email. These initial email inquiries tend to fall all over the map in terms of how much info they provide, level of “seriousness,” urgency, etc. Everybody is different.
The first thing I try to control here is my response time. I want my first response to be in a timely manner in order to show that I’m a good communicator and readily available for consultation. However, I also want to be careful not to fire off my response minutes after their email lands in my inbox. First of all, that’s kind of creepy. But more importantly, I don’t want to set the wrong precedent. If I come back with a super-fast reply the first time, they may expect this level of responsiveness every time moving forward. That’s a recipe for trouble. If their email arrives in the morning, I try to answer it by end of the day. If it comes in around 5:00 pm or later, I’ll respond the next day. I rarely answer work emails during weekends as I try to set very clear boundaries on when my normal business hours are.