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Mar 1st

Don’t be Afraid of your Client

Anything worth doing is scary, and putting yourself out there for people to judge is one of the most terrifying things in the world, but there’s only one way to get over the fear, and that’s to get on with it...

Anything worth doing is scary, and putting yourself out there for people to judge is one of the most terrifying things in the world, but there’s only one way to get over the fear, and that’s to get on with it…

When starting out in freelance illustration it can seem completely overwhelming: you’ve got an enormous amount of competition (that you probably spend hours looking at online); you are facing it alone; and whatever skills you have learned at college haven’t prepared you for talking to clients, but don’t be afraid, it’s all too easy to worry yourself into a corner, lose confidence and give up.

Good vs bad clients

As a beginner, you have no idea what to expect from a client. You get scared talking to them, you worry they will think you don’t know what you’re doing, you worry about asking stupid questions. From a beginners perspective, the client has all the power; they are the key to your future after all, but clients are just regular people. If you hit your deadlines and respect them, 90% of them are going to be great to work with. Unfortunately, some are just straight up awful. They don’t know what the hell they are doing, they will send you a terrible brief and expect they can treat the job as trial and error until they get what they want. As you get more experience you will learn to spot the red flags for a bad client, but often you don’t find out until it’s too late.

Clients are like a box of chocolates: Some are sweet, some are nuts, some are alcoholic and some are just plain nasty. Your client could start out nice and turn evil half way through.

Don’t let a bad client get you down. It’s valuable experience. To protect yourself against bad clients, you need to get all the information about the job upfront so there are no surprises half way through. You also need to learn to be firm with them. If you agree to 3 feedback reviews through a job, stick to it. I suggest you don’t get too argumentative over small adjustments, but if the client is asking for big changes near the end of a job, you need to ask if there’s any more money in the budget to cover your time. A professional would. If there isn’t, maybe you can negotiate the amount of changes instead.

There are no stupid questions

There are no stupid questions. The stupid thing is not to ask. If you need to know something to be able to complete the job, then ask. You will naturally get better at reading briefs and understanding them. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, they can be roughly thought out concepts or a 20 page pdf presentation, but even the best ones can need some additional explanation. The client may be so close to a project that they leave out key information without even realising it. If you’re afraid to ask the client for an explanation because you are worried they will think you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re dead wrong, the alternative; delivering a bad job is far worse.

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for more information – If you don’t ‘get it’, don’t guess.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for more money – If you know the budget is too low, ask if it can be improved. The worst that can happen is they say no. Most of the time it’s not the person that you are speaking to that makes that decision anyway, so there’s no reason to be scared of asking.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for more time – You know how long your work takes, if you need an extra couple of days, ask. There’s nearly always a bit of flexibility.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for an opinion – Art directors are there to direct you and offer guidance. Keep communication open and they will love you for it.
  • Don’t be afraid to give your opinion – You’re the artist, give your opinion. Show the client you know what you are talking about.

What do you need to know?

What do you need to know to complete the job? Here are some of the things you need to consider:

  • Do you understand the article/ material/ data?
  • What is the purpose of the illustration? Is it to highlight a particular point in the article?
  • Who’s going to be looking at the illustration? Who is the client’s target audience?
  • Do you know the technical specs? Dimensions, format, resolution, etc.
  • Has the client sent you a style reference or a mood-board?

Save yourself the headache of trying to guess what a client wants by asking great questions. Asking questions is a key indicator of a professional. If you think it makes you seem less professional, the opposite is true.

See more of Peter O’Toole’s work here and follow him @peterotooleart

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