On client communication

Recently at a Meetup, someone asked how I dealt with early client communications. A topic I am more than happy to address, I replied something like this:

Talk about money right away.

One interesting thing is, that business people respect the “money-and-contract-up-front” approach. In fact, they find it reassuring. So I always talk money and mention contracts before almost anything else.

Fashioning a statement of work, or, contract isn’t always the most intuitive process- especially for ‘designer’ folk; we aren’t lawyers, or, fat-cat business moguls with attorneys on retainer.
But setting in writing what is intended of all parties is -along with coding skills and vector wrangling- among the most important parts of doing client work.
Years ago, I downloaded Andrew Clarke’s Sample Contract, modified it, and, ran it by an attorney. It was a good way as a small business owner/freelance designer like me to offer clients the security of a contract. (Mr. Clarke’s contract is still available on his website.)
Sometimes a lengthy document to sign isn’t appropriate for small gigs- spooks them away. A simple statement of work is really all you need for the small stuff. Even in a simple agreement, be sure and touch on all the important points of who is responsible for what and when, timelines for delivery and payment, who owns what, and kill fees. I like the vibe at Freelancers Union – see their tips on items to tick off in an agreement/contract.

Read Mike Monteiro’s book

“Design is a Job” (A Book Apart)  – and his new book “You Are My Favorite Client”.  (read ALL the A Book Apart books! So valuable!)

Among the many things Mr. Monteiro speaks of is the importance of clearing, early on, any misunderstandings about the project. Make it clear to your client what you are going to do. This is a critical part of your professional interaction with clients.

So, my flow is like this

I get a brief from a client (with small clients, sometimes you have to prize the brief from them!).
In initial exchanges, by phone, Skype or email, I try and find out their motivations and goals. Here is an example list of questions taken from Monteiro’s own questionnaire:

  • What is the primary business and structure of your business/organization?
  • What are your major goals for this project?
  • Who will be working on this project from your end?
  • Will any additional outside partners or agencies be involved and how?
  • What is motivating you or enabling you to do this project now?
  • What is your target total completion date? What is driving that?
  • How important is each of these: on a scale of 1-10, 10 being most important:
  • Change in company strategy
  • Re-branding/New image/Look and feel
  • Engineering/Backend development
  • Improving key metrics/Quantifying success or results/Conversion
  • Content strategy/writing
  • Understanding your audience or organization
  • Getting it done as fast as possible
  • Getting it done as inexpensively as possible
  • Differentiating from competition
  • Reach new audience
  • Working relationship/communication with your design partner
  • Who is/are your audience/your target users/your customers?
  • How will you know this project has succeeded?
  • What is your budget range?
  • What does the selection process look like on your end?
  • How many people are you talking to and when do you expect to be making a decision?

[end questionnaire]

Soon after these questions are satisfied, I provide an estimate and general description of services, either by email, or, some companies want a formal estimate which I provide through a 3rd party time-tracking and invoicing service Paymo. (I couldn’t live without Paymo!)

Here’s a general description of work/services copied from a recent project:

Hello ___________.Thanks for providing me with information about the ________________.
You, (and the _________) have very solid ideas regarding online strategy. Marketing, community outreach, news feeds and regular ‘refreshing’ of content will go a long way toward getting and keeping your public’s interest in the _________’s site. [note: the quantity of flowery language is up to you…]  

I’ll provide you with a site which, like our previous project, ________, will be usable across a variety of devices and will not exclude those who may need assistive technologies to access a web site.


[Note: these dollar amounts are dummy numbers solely for the purposes of this post]
The base cost for the site will be set at $4,750 and will include all the features you set forth in your email (2/21/15).

These include (and are not limited to):

  • A multi-­page HTML site showcasing the clinic’s services, products as well as any resourceful information the _________ has to offer
  • (virtually) any number of email addresses set up for official use
  • Customized, downloadable PDF documents for clients to print and return
  • Running news feed from appropriate source
  • Set up of the server and any databases
  • Installation of Google Analytics
  • Help with domain name
  • Training (as needed for CMS, email, server control panel)

Additional cost may include:

  • Monthly hosting service (approx. $20 per Month with 3rd party)
  • Annual domain registration fees (approx. $12 per Year)
  • future updates, and/or, additions to site or related documents (example: PDFs)
  • Purchase of stock photography for use in site

Time line (weeks from date procurement of services is accepted):

*please consider any Calendar Holidays*

  • Draft designs and structure complete = 2 weeks
  • Site design and structure complete = 4 weeks
  • Site build complete and uploaded = 8 weeks

Payment schedule:

  • Design fee and site down payment = 1/3 of total base cost
  • Full payment = to be negotiated.

Client Responsibilities Include:

  • Leasing URL and hosting space
  • Other 3rd party software service licensing
  • Commenting on design
  • Providing digital content (copy & stock images)
  • Commenting on/proofing/agreeing final site

I look forward to working with you on this exciting project.


When we are agreed that I’m the man for the job, I send, via Adobe’s EchoSign [edit 2023, now called Adobe Sign], a contract to be signed and filed.

Then, the real fun begins!

By Beau

Painter, designer (print and digital) since the twentieth century.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *