Sometimes the most heartbreaking thing about being a creative for a living is when a client has negative feedback.
It looks a little something like this: you go through a discovery process, you ask all the right questions, you and your client are jiving and on the same page, you pull inspiration and the client gives you a big thumbs up. You spend days sketching, refining, and finalizing a design that makes you proud. It just might be your best work yet.
Then, you present a design to your client. You can read their face – they aren’t loving it. Or maybe they take their time getting back to you – you take the silence as criticism and start beating yourself up over what they’re thinking. Maybe they come back with “I love it, but could we change …” followed by revisions that butcher your work into something that resembles nothing you would ever create. You find yourself feeling like a pixel-pushing order-taker rather than the gifted creative expert you are.
At worst, you’re left wondering if maybe you really do suck at your job, and at best you’re wondering how to get your clients to trust you. You become resentful and begin daydreaming about what it must be like to be an accountant for a living – work that isn’t quite so objective or personal.
Sound familiar? I know, me too. I spent the first eight years of my career as a graphic designer battling feedback that was anything less than glowing. But I’ve learned a few things along the way – and I’d like to share those coping skills with you today. I’m writing this post from my perspective as a graphic designer, but I think it could apply to any visual creative field.
It’s really easy to rush to judgments at first glance. You’ll only pick up the very worst parts of what’s being said and come to quick conclusions when your feelings are hurt. So when you receive feedback from a client, be sure to read it at least three times before you start freaking out. If a client is giving you feedback in person, write down, word-for-word, what they’re saying (it’s easy to forget what was said when emotions take over).
Actively listen to your client. What is it they’re actually saying? What are their biggest concerns? Which part of the work, specifically, is and is not resonating with them? Why?
Remember, you and your client are both on the same side with the same goals. Get on the phone or face-to-face – reiterate the original objectives of the project, your client’s original input, and explain your creative rationale (without getting defensive). Your client is probably as flustered as you are – they may be feeling a range of emotions as well! What you want in this situation is to remain calm, transparent, and open. Sometimes, going through rough patches with a client (and acting like a kind pro in the process) will only help them trust you even more through the next round of revisions!
Sometimes criticism can feel HUGE when in fact, you just need to make a small shift. For example, one time I presented a branding project and the client said it just didn’t feel right. At first glance, I thought my client was asking for something COMPLETELY different than what I had designed. But after a little bit of conversation, I realized my client wasn’t jiving with just a few aspects of what I had created. With a slight color-shift and a minor typography change, the brand was still on-point, not that different from my original concept, and made all the difference to my client.
You can even use this tactic to reassure your client that you guys are on the right track. You can say something like: “Okay, after chatting I think we’re still on the right track, and with just a few adjustments, we can easily have a design that both of us feel really good about.”
Pretend like you’re in couples therapy with your client – repeat the requested feedback, verbatim, to them. Then share your concerns, insights, and recommendations and plan of attack so everyone gets what they want.
An actual conversation might look like this: “I’m hearing you say that the typography isn’t ‘clean’ enough and you’re looking for something that feels ‘modern’ and ‘sleek’. My suggestion is that we update the expressive typography to something classic, and maybe tone down the accent colors you originally wanted to something a little more neutral, like a metallic, so that it still has a little edge. Is it cool if I try that approach? Keeping in mind your desire for something clean, modern, and sleek, while I make those tweaks?”
Your client doesn’t speak the same language you do. Their feedback may read a little harsh only because they don’t have the words to describe what they like and don’t like about the work (which has to be frustrating for them too!). If your work is visual, one of the best things you can do to get back on track is moodboard out an updated design (textures, typography, color palettes, photography, logos, themes, etc.) and ask them specifically which examples they like and ask what they like about it. As you begin to see what they’re gravitating toward, give them language to describe what they like and don’t like.
You might even say something like: “I’m noticing that all the examples you’re pointing out have organic textures paired with black hand-drawn lettering. And while you like hot pink, it appears that most of the brands you like use accent colors in their photography more than the actual brand identity.”
Remember, at the end of the day if you can maintain control over your own emotions, assume the best, act with intention, humanize your motives and your client’s feedback, and strive for a positive outcome everyone is enthusiastic about ... then you are truly doing the best you can.
If you found this helpful for dealing with client reject, but you're also wondering how to get more clients in the first place, you're in luck! Join us for a FREE webinar on Friday, January 27th at 12pm Central Time where we'll share three simple things you can do to attract more dream clients (without feeling icky). Sign up for the webinar here.
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I have an incredibly talented friend (and former Braid client) who makes a living as a professional photographer. We were recently hanging out and she was sharing her business insights and frustrations alike with me. This friend of mine is incredibly grateful for the clients she has, the reputation she’s building, and the work she is getting, but like any creative entrepreneur, there are seasons when she’s racking her brain to come up with new tactics and ideas to book her schedule solid with dream clients. Since chatting with my friend, I’ve been racking my brain thinking of ways she can get more clients too. So this post is for her (but I have a feeling it might help you too).
It’s easy enough to say “I want more clients,” which was what my friend was originally expressing in her frustrations, but that’s not an easily measurable goal. So I asked my friend over the course of our conversation to get more specific and she said, “I want to book 20 weddings this year.” Okay! Now we have a number to work with. 20 weddings a year = 5 per quarter.
1B. MAKE SPACE FOR YOUR GOALS
My favorite tool for making my goals visual is The Chalkboard Method. So I would advise my friend to create her own chalkboard pronto. (Seriously, it works.)
Knowing that booking weddings are her goal, she can now put her efforts toward booking couples getting married. However, before you even begin marketing toward those brides or grooms, begin nurturing your relationships with wedding venues, event planners, florists, and caterers. These are the folks that are going to recommend you and help you create a name for yourself within the industry. Here are just a couple ideas for nurturing those valuable relationships:
Gay marriage is still newly legal (yay!) which means a lot more gay couples are getting, well, married. My friend was telling me how much she’d love to photograph more LGBTQ couples, and many LGBTQ couples shopping for vendors are cautiously looking for folks who will be enthusiastic and supportive of their union. My friend already has LGBTQ couples in her portfolio, but using gender-neutral language when talking about couples, and explicitly telling her potential clients on your website that she is LGBTQ friendly could go a long way in getting more dream clients.
My photographer friend takes really amazing boudoir-style shots of women out in nature. So, while she wants more weddings (that pay the bills!) my thought is to ask brides if they’d be game for a sexy shoot they can surprise their spouse-to-be with. Including the kind of photos you want to be known for in the packages you’re already getting hired for is a great way to boost your portfolio with the kind of work you want to be known for.
The other day I noticed that my friend has over 20k followers on Instagram, and she’s great about consistently posting, but wasn’t so great at explicitly reminding her audience to hire her. She was unsure about bombarding her followers with calls to action. but creative professionals have to make a living by consistently selling themselves. You can’t worry too much about what other people might think when your livelihood is at stake. Trust that people want to hire you, they just need to be consistently reminded that you are available.
These are little nuggets of advice that are simple enough and can make a big difference in your bottom line. I hope these not only help my photographer friend land more dream clients but that you’re able to take away a few tidbits you can apply to your own small business.
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Kathleen here wishing you a Happy New Year! I for one love a fresh start, and there is no better time than the new year to harness that kind of “DO OVER!” energy to build the business and brand you want. So today, I wanted to share a few ideas that will help you take your brand and business to the next level in the new year.
If there is one thing you can control in your business, it’s how you consistently show up. Here are a few ways you can be more consistent in the new year:
It sounds counter-intuitive to make accruing rejections a goal, I know. And to be completely honest, rejection is one of my personal fears, which keeps me from putting myself out there in a bigger way. So a personal goal of mine is to embrace rejection by aiming to be told “no” at least 100 times in the new year. But, I trust that if I’m rejected 100 times I’ll get a few “yeses” that will open my business and brand up to a few unexpected opportunities. Here are a few ways you can open yourself up to rejection:
I was the kind of student that always hated group work. I thrived on creative control and liked working at my own pace. Plus, I could get stuff done better and faster if I just did it myself. While I still like having control and standards over what I’m putting out into the world, I’ve learned that ideas, projects, and relationships go so much deeper when you collaborate with other creatives. Sure, it might take longer, and there’s a risk for hiccups along the way, but the rewards can take you—personally and professionally—further than you ever imagined.
Here are a few ways you can connect and collaborate:
P.S. All of these goals are great things to track with The Chalkboard Method.
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