With over 12 years of experience running my own design consultancy, with a huge variety of work from branding to footwear design, development, illustration, graphics & marketing and more, I’m often asked “what’s the hardest part?” With all honesty, It’s pretty simple- finding the right projects with the right clients. When done right, it’s what also makes this the easiest job I’ve ever had- doing great work for great people (and getting paid!)!.
Previously I’ve talked a bit before about why I do what I do - On Goals - Running a 2:58 Marathon & Running a Design Consultancy
My goal in starting the The Directive Collective was to design things I wanted to design, for people I wanted to work with, with a live/work balance that lets me enjoy the success I gain from working. Throughout my 11 years running The Directive Collective, the only times I’ve ever had a bad experience were those times when I lost sight of these goals. I once took a project that I didn’t really believe in, but thought it would be good for cashflow. It was the only project yet where I’ve had to fire the client. I once took a project that I believed in, but didn’t really get along with the client. It didn’t work out. I turn down 90% of project inquiries that come to me if they aren’t the right fit with my “Goal Life”.
Today I’d like to reflect on who I do it for. When designers get together over beers 90% of the conversation is about clients. Usually the bad ones that make work hell. Let’s have a look at what makes a client “Right”? What would the “Dream Client” be like?
Must Love Design
For me, a client who has a similar and complimentary view on the value of design is the number one thing I look for. I don’t expect the client to be an expert in design (that’s why they hire me), but they should respect design. The should want good design and want to learn about design. A client should have an opinion about design. Respecting design and the design process means leaving time for it. Being willing to pay for it. Sure, design is a means to an end, but if there’s no time or money for the means, you aren’t going to get a very good end, right?
You don’t need a huge budget or giant corporation’s resources to achieve good design. You just have to prioritize it. I often find chatting for 2 hours about their favorite cars, a cool interior I saw on Instagram, or the little details on the inside of a shoe I just designed is just as useful and productive as a 5 page Design Brief and Scope of Work Document. If we both love design, my work is easier and the results will be better.
Know the Unknowns
As I’ve said, I don’t expect a client to be an expert in design. In fact, I don’t expect a client to be an expert in much. Put it another way however, I do expect a client to know what they don’t know. Working a lot with start ups, clients and projects often come to me very early. An initial consult will often trigger a few basic questions about the project (who/what/why?). To me, it’s not so much even the answers to the questions that are important (again, why they are hiring me is to help with those answers), but how the questions are received. Are they happy to answer questions? Does the client have answers prepared? Do they understand the question? I’m often shocked that some potential clients not only don’t have answers, but don’t see the value in the questions themselves. “Why does it matter who is my target market?- my idea is so awesome, everyone will be the market” is 100% the right answer only if you don’t want to work together.
Know your business. Anyone can come up with ideas. If you plan on starting a brand and making a business out of it, you should have a Business Plan that outlines how you plan to take your idea to market. We can help dial in specifics and build brands from the ground up, but you should have an idea of What you want to sell, Who you are selling to, How you are going to make money and How much you are going to need to spend to make and sell you product.
For a refresher, feel free to check out So You Want to Start a Footwear Brand?.... 10 Tips to Get You Going.
3. Respect the Designer
Not only do I want a client that respects design, I’m also looking for a client that respect me. This doesn’t mean they have to always agree with me. As a professionaI I always tell clients that more than anything, my experience and opinion is what they are paying for. If they just want someone to do exactly what they want, or to agree with them no matter what, you don’t want me, and I’m pretty sure won’t pay for me. If you already have all the ideas why are you hiring a professional? As a client, you don’t learn anything if your consultant is always telling you “yes!”. The most value you can get is when I tell you “No, but..…” and we problem solve together to find a solution. Some of my favorite clients were those that I often disagreed with. I had weekly calls with a long time retainer client for 5+ years where almost every call would turn into a heated argument. That’s fine. As long there is mutual respect, disagreement is OK to be part of the process.
4. Be Passionate
Passion. There is no substitute for passion, and all of the above characteristics I firmly believe are a foundation for it. I want a client that has a vision. I want a client that knows what they want, is aware of the challenges to achieve it, but is focused on doing what’s necessary to get there. Passion is what makes a client ask more questions in reply to my questions. Passion is what makes a client want to make something better, not just cheaper or faster.
In my experience, passion is more predictive than money, experience, connections, or even a good starting idea, because together with my own passion and experience I’m always confident that passion can leveraged to get money, experience, connections….
5. Be Patient
Patience. A good client/consultant relationship takes time to develop. I’m always looking for clients I can work with beyond one project and my favorite clients who I’ve worked with over the past 12+ years are mostly those that I’ve worked with the longest. Like any relationship it takes time to develop and I view our first project together as our first date. The more we work together the more we both get out of it. I’m always hoping that new client can be “The One” and develop into a long term exclusive relationship.
Are you the Dream Client? Do you want good design? Do you have answers to my questions? Do you respect my experience? Do you have passion? patience?
If so, please do not hesitate to contact me.