Seven signs of a great client

Many articles have been written about how to spot a bad client, and how to deal with them if you’re already working with one. Unfortunately, it seems that fewer words have been devoted to great clients, which are a big reason why we’re in the design business in the first place (and are able and willing to stay in it).

Thinking about the great clients that I’ve had, here are seven things that most of them have in common:

  • They ask good questions, and are interested in the process and in learning from our expertise. It’s not just about the end result.
  • They view design as an investment, not as a sunken cost or a low-priority expense. They understand the value of great design.
  • They have specific goals and can articulate them.
  • They’re willing to assist in content creation by setting aside time to write and to provide information and feedback as requested.
  • They have an adequate budget and reasonable expectations, even if they have big goals or lack deep pockets.
  • They’re trusting, but not blindly so. They give you the opportunity to earn their trust, and once that happens, they take you at your word. If they’ve had a bad experience with another designer in the past, they give you the benefit of the doubt rather than keeping you at arm’s length.
  • They make up their minds and act quickly, but not hastily. Clients who are slow to respond and make decisions tend to stay that way.

Most clients don’t have all seven of these traits, and that’s okay. Aside from having reasonable expectations, the most important sign of a good client is the first item on the list, asking good questions. In my experience, a client who seeks to gain from my knowledge is much more pleasant to work with than a client who just wants to purchase my company’s services.

It’s also worth mentioning that although an educated client is ideal, I’ve had plenty of great clients who knew little or nothing about design and technology. This is only a problem if the client (a) thinks they know more than they (or you) do, or (b) is uninterested in listening and learning.

The best client relationship is one that is mutually educational, and not just profitable. If you’re doing your job, the client will gain a better understanding of the value of design and the thinking that goes into your work—and you’ll gain some knowledge about the client’s industry, and how to more effectively manage your design business.