Lost In Translation: 9 Questions To Ask A Potential Client

Before working with anyone new, it’s important to ask questions to get a better feel of not only the project you will be undertaking, but also to reveal what kind of person your potential client is. There are many types of clients out there, from the overly demanding to the completely clueless and while not all these sorts of clients are essentially bad, it’s better to ready yourself for whatever they may throw at you than to unintentionally make yourself look bad.

1. Have you ever worked with a graphic designer before?

This gets your client to open up with their experience with the field. Odds are if this isn’t their first rodeo, they know what to expect of a graphic designer and what you can do for them. They probably will have more knowledge on the lingo and how to best communicate their wishes to you. This question also allows them to speak of the actual experience they had with past designers; did they completely bad mouth all their past designers? Are they clearly hostile towards people in your field? Or are they more appreciative and professional about their relationship with the past designer? It’s a great insight into how they might perceive the work you do.

If they’ve never worked with a designer before, that doesn’t necessarily mean they will be a pain to work with but do realize that you might need to very clear with your correspondences moving forward and might have to hold their hand through the process. Make sure you’re ready to answer many questions and have the patience to do so.

2. What is the project’s deadline?

This question is super important not only because it’s part of your project and will signal the end, but it will also allow you to know how long your client thinks your job takes. Those who are not so knowledgeable about our field might under time the project and it’s up to you the designer to figure out if whether they just don’t know how long certain projects take or if this will be the person who calls you at 5 pm to ask if you could design an event flyer and have it ready for print in an hour. Yes, with some sweat, tears and perseverance maybe you can get it done in an hour but is it really worth it? Is it really worth that spike of anxiety, the dropping of whatever project you were in the middle of doing for the sake of pleasing them?

3. What is your current budget/expected budget?

Another huge question in figuring out what type of people you’ll be dealing with. Now, how you decide to price your services is your own business. How often you take on low budget jobs or pro bono work is completely up to you; I, on the other hand, have learned that it’s super useful in asking this question right off the bat as not only does it explain how much they can pay you now but also, if you continue to work together, if they can keep up with that fee. If the company is going down quick, it might not be a smart idea to get invested and signed into a contract if your last couple of projects end up being (unwillingly) free work.

4. Who do I report to?

Nothing makes what could be a very simple job more difficult than being sent from department to department, your emails being forwarded here and there, or your phone calls being transferred to the void. It’s best you learn who the point person (or people) is and ensure that your new employers do not expect you to be sending rough drafts to more than two people. Any more than that and you will be receiving lots of contradictory feedback and no doubt, even more headaches.

5. What is your availability moving forward?

One never knows what sort of problems or questions can arise once you get started on a project, especially questions of personal choice, confirmations of final drafts or inquiries outside the realm of design such as invoices. Make sure your client has at least some wiggle room for phone calls or video meetings in case something comes up and their input is needed. Working with a client who you need to schedule time with weeks at a time can really slow down a design project, mess with the impending deadline or even delay your payment. This is also a good time to get as many forms of contact with your client as you can in case of these sorts of emergencies (at the very least a valid phone number and email).

6. Can you tell me, in your own words, what your business is about?

Anyone can come up with a generic description for their business; there are a million templates and examples online, after all. People who are enthusiastic about their brand and know their side of the business like the back of their hand will be able to tell you pretty in depth all about their business. Most likely, they’ll have many ideas and different concepts in their head. While all this information can be overwhelming at first, it’s much easier to chip away through a mountain of plausible ideas to get one final concept that you both can be excited about then one half-baked idea and a shrug.

A lot of what we do involves encouragement and design expertise for our clients and it’s really up to you whether you would be alright with working with someone who says I don’t know to most of your questions, especially when they are meant to have expertise in whatever business it is they’re in.

7. What design trends do you absolutely hate?

As consumers, we know what sparks our interest. Good design makes the product feel and look expensive or great or useful when in reality it may not be and on the opposite spectrum, bad design can leave a product overlooked. With that in mind, it’s harder for someone who doesn’t know design what they like about it; it’s always easier to explain what we already know we hate. Whether it be certain colors, typefaces or illustration styles, people can be passionate about things they dislike. It’s best to let the client let you know what sort of things to avoid moving forward so you can focus your efforts on treatments and designs that are within the realm of good design according to the client.

This question of course can be followed up with specific questions about what they do like but do try to take that information with a grain of salt. I feel that sort of information can sometimes narrow your vision to do exactly what the client wants without actually putting much of your own input into the project— remember, you are the design expert here! You can put forth ideas as well!

8. Can the work I produce be used in my portfolio?

While this might seem like a no-brainer, it’s always good to ask your client’s consent before posting about a project. Some businesses may have specific guidelines as to what they can share to the public due to the nature of their goods (i.e. a business where the images you design are used for online subscribed products and thus putting these designs online would be like giving away their product for free). It’s better to ensure your confidentiality and integrity to the client even if it is alright to post their final project while also making you out to be very professional and considerate of your client outside the realm of their design needs.

9. Do you feel this is going to be an ongoing project?

Not every client will become a permanent client, some may only last the length of a logo redesign but it’s always good to see how open they are to future work. Odds are if they’re looking to redesign their logo, they’ll need the print materials and web presence to go along with it. Do they realize that as well? Or will that be handled internally? Can you possibly work with them on these future projects? The only way you’ll know and really get to explain what else you could potentially do for them is by asking.

And, again, the client doesn’t always know exactly what they want or need thus it’s always good for business to explain to them why an ongoing partnership could be beneficial while also securing you with a new business relationship; that relationship is basically your end goal for any new client interaction. Despite the creative nature behind freelancing, it’s still a business and should be taken with as much seriousness as fun and creativity.