Being A Dream Client

As a freelance character designer I’ve worked with a lot of clients over the years: big ones, small ones, established companies and young startups. Most have been terrific and I’ve been fortunate to work with a lot of really great people. Still, despite the best of intentions not every project runs as smoothly as it could. Even after eleven years of freelancing I still occasionally work on projects that get bogged down by miscommunication, misunderstanding, and avoidable delays.

If you hire freelance artists, or are thinking of hiring one soon, here’s a list of friendly tips on how to help things go smoothly. Of course project delays and difficulties aren’t always the client’s fault. Tomorrow I’ll turn the tables and give some thoughts aimed at all you freelancers out there. For now, here’s some tips on being a “dream client”:

1. Give the freelancer as much information about the project as possible. The more info the better. Who is the target audience? What is the project trying to accomplish? Is there a certain style or tone you are after? How will the art be used? Will it need to be enlarged or reduced? How will it fit into the context of the larger project? A lot of these are questions the freelancer should be asking you, but if he doesn’t you should offer the information anyway. There’s no such thing as too much detail.

2. Provide as much reference material as possible. Do you have a style guide? A specific color palette? Reference photos? Concept sketches or artwork by another artist? How much reference material an artist needs will vary from project to project, but more is always better. The less time he has to spend doing his own research the more time he can spend on your project.

3. Respond to emails/phone calls promptly. A good freelancer won’t bother you with questions unless he thinks its important to the project. The faster you can give an answer, the faster he can get back to meeting your needs.

4. Communicate clearly. You are probably very busy and have a million things on your plate. Maybe that’s why you hired the freelancer in the first place. No matter how busy you get, please take the time to be specific about your ideas and feedback. If your comments can’t be summarized into a three- or four-sentence email, it’s usually best if you call. Things go much more smoothly when a freelancer can hear the tone behind your feedback and ask for clarification on the spot. The more clearly he understand your vision and goals, the better he’ll be able to help you.

5. If possible, build a cushion into the deadline. Of course a good freelancer will never, ever want to miss a deadline and will try very hard to make sure it doesn’t happen. But freelancing is a feast or famine business, and during the crazy times its nice to be able to ask for a small extension of the deadline during those rare occasions when it is needed.

6. Pay on time. Treat the due date on the freelancer’s invoice the same way he treated the deadline on your project. Clients who pay me on time make life so much easier. Clients who pay immediately are like gold.

I sincerely hope none of this sounds like I’m griping or whining. I just want to help make the client-freelancer relationship go as smoothly as possible. If you’ve got any feedback or want to add to this list, feel free to leave a comment below.

Tomorrow I’ll have some thoughts for all you freelancers out there!

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