LearnTips for Great Client Relationships


writes on July 5, 2011

In this article Allison walks you through six vital tips for maintaining wonderful client relationships.

Be transparent about your process.

Far too often we’re reluctant to show clients half-finished work. Throw those insecurities out the door! Don’t be afraid to show your sketches, comps and semi-functional prototypes during the early stages.  The last thing you want is for them to think that what you do is magic, or that an “easy button” really does exist. They’ll respect you more for being transparent about your process for getting from point A to B.

As Jason Fried said in his book REWORK, “Let people behind the curtain, they’ll feel a bond with you and see you as human beings instead of a faceless company.”

Don’t over-promise and under-deliver; deliver what you promise.

It can be tempting to promise more and charge less in order to land that killer portfolio project or win over a coveted account.  While it’s exciting to see the potential client impressed, it’s only smoke and mirrors if the goal isn’t realistic to begin with.

Only promise what you can actually carry through with – not the first page of Google or more “likes” on Facebook. Those are variables you can’t control, much less guarentee. Be up-front and honest about what you can and will deliver to your clients, and they’ll happily come back for more work.

Often times to keep myself from over-promising and under-delivering, I’ll refer to the project triangle and choose two.

  1. Design something quickly and cheap, the quality will suffer.
  2. Design something awesome and cheap, well, you get the point (that might take awhile!). This prevents me from promising all three.

I also love Trent Walton’s interpretation of Maslow’s hirearchy of needs pyramid which can be helpful in assuring that you’re embarking on a “healthy, well-rounded project.”

Make them feel as invested as you are.

Involve the client. It only helps both parties to get their buy-in throughout the whole process (this brings us back to transparency). By leaving them out you’ll likely be met with much more resistance when it comes time to present your work. Don’t depend on weekly status meetings – call or send something their way when you want their feedback. By the end of the project, they’ll feel just as invested and proud of the final product as you are.

Stay respectful but in control.

While it’s important to be flexible and respectful of your clients and their work – don’t forget that you’re the professional when it comes to designing for cyberspace, and they came to you for a reason. Take control and stand up for what you know is right. (Ex: No, the primary navigation cannot go at the bottom of the page!) The web is your turf, and you’ve got the home team advantage.

This goes for contracts, too. Establish expectations and specific deliverables to meet business objectives and user needs. Agree upon them and stick to them to keep everyone on the same page.

Remember never to ask “What do you think?” or “Do you like this?” without backing it up. Remind them that just because they (and their neighbor down the street) don’t like the color purple, doesn’t meet the users won’t. Keep them on track and remind them of their objectives and user personas.

Don’t underestimate human interaction!

Just because you’re talented and efficient at what you do, doesn’t mean you should forget about what simple human interaction can achieve. Go out of your way for that extra “Hello!” or friendly “How was your weekend?” Learn more about their industry and take an interest in them as a person. You don’t want to come off like you’re in it for the check.

Marry their industry knowledge with your expertise and people skills, and together you’ll have an overall more successful, polished product – and it’ll be enjoyable along the way!

Just because the project’s over, doesn’t mean your relationship has to be, too.

Maintaining contact is key to a healthy relationship with clients. While the project has come to an end, that doesn’t mean the work is done.

Blogs and newsletters with valuable content and advice are a great way to remind clients of your expertise and encourage return business.

Pick up the phone and give them a call. Go out of your way to send them a tweet, direct message or personal email with information about useful tools, tips, and suggestions. Be their go-to advisor when it comes to anything and everything web.

For more tips and advice on web startups and business, check out Ryan’s free hour long web business video course.


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19 Responses to “Tips for Great Client Relationships”

  1. Sharrinr103 on July 21, 2011 at 6:35 am said:

    In this article Allison walks your through  is right but this is very importance six vital tips for maintaining wonderful client relationships. so how can maintain this?

  2. It a great sharing.


  3. Anonymous on July 12, 2011 at 5:22 am said:

    It’s cool, but somewhat hard to practice.

  4. Anonymous on July 11, 2011 at 5:41 am said:

     there are many tips about how to set the good relationship with client?

  5. During business it is difficult to maintain the relationship between the client. Because it an easy task ti full fill the demand of him/her.  The idea sharing by you. It’s really interesting. I love it.


  6. Excellent point about human interaction, Allison. I think it is easy as designers to forget that part…which is ironic considering that we are so focused on ui/ux. 

  7. I think you got it right with your “Don’t underestimate human interaction!” comment. Many of us tend to focus on the relationship triad — price, time and quality — and end up forgetting the human relationship. Its amazing how being a bit more social with clients tend to help close fantastic deals. Excellent point! Thanks for sharing!

  8. Great advice, Allison! To improve transparency, my marketing agency recently released a Client Bill of Rights. Our goal is that everyone should know what to expect: http://www.coalmarch.com/client-bill-of-rights.php

  9. “Don’t over-promise and under-deliver” -> I believe that delivery is the most important part of client relationship. Without the delivery we don’t solve our client’s problem.

    Regarding maintaining contact I have many examples of agencies that don’t call and just use email for months of co-operation. It doesn’t work well for building relationship with your business partners. Getting in touch or even meeting once/two times for a few month is the key too. 

  10. Yvan Vande Velde on July 6, 2011 at 7:46 am said:

    Read “Rework.” “Change The Way You Work Forever”, from Jason Fried & David Heinemeier!  The guys from 37signals.  Plenty advice. Like this one: We’ve all seen job ads that say,”Five years of experience required.”That may give you a number, but it tells you nothing.  How long someone’s been doing it is overrated.  What matters is how well they’ve been doing it.

  11. Great sharing.Thank you for sharing such. It must be a great idea to maintain the relationship between the Client.
    It must need to survive a company or a business.


  12. Anonymous on July 5, 2011 at 9:09 pm said:

    Awesome article.

    Especially love the last little bit. Reaching out & being pro-active is such an important aspect of building a successful business (on or offline). 

    You’ll often find customers have been thinking about you/your product/their project and haven’t had the time to call or email. It provides the perfect opportunity to get that feedback/request/question out of their head and given to the right person to handle.

  13. Anonymous on July 5, 2011 at 4:04 pm said:

    Very nice article. 
    I find it very hard sometimes to Stay Respectful but in Control. It’s hard to really stop the client from adding more cluttered elements to the design during the rough cut process. 

    Me and my client always ended up meeting half way, where I remove certain elements they want, and leave the ones that goes well with the design.

    All in all, these are all very good insights.

  14. Very good article! It is much easier to do this with a small organization. With a larger organization you run the risk of the customer seeing the gaps in your organization. It is important for a large organization to establish clear lines of communication to avoid giving the customer mixed signals. You really do not need one of your employees telling them something that is at odds with what the project manager told them. I always found it good to clearly specify the communication matrix for a large project so we do not get a lot of triangulation (where the customer gets a concession from someone that is not authorized to offer it). Thanks again for the article.

  15. I can say that it’s difficult to keep a client involved (or, at least, you make yourself believe it’s difficult). I think your point about keeping the client involved in the entire proces, from the first handshake to the site’s delivery, is a great idea. There does seem to be some sort of understanding that what we do is “magic” and that lengthy turnaround times are just laziness. Involving the client seems like a great way not only to garner respect for your work, but also for the entire business. Great article =)

    • Thanks Ryan! I agree It’s difficult to want to keep the client involved. Naturally, (especially us designers) we want to impress clients with a polished product, but that could potentially do more harm than good. What do you think? 

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