Better Clients Pay Cheaper Invoices

One of the unfortunate side effects of proper business is budget. Budgets interfere with day-to-day operations consistently, and are often the root of much stress with everyone involved in a project. We, as designers, hope for the highest possible budget allocation on a project, while business owners are forced to keep finances in balance. When that “happy medium” is finally found, it often results as many negotiations do, with both sides wishing for more. Designers wanting a few more hours to work with, and business owners looking to get things done as soon and as cheap as we can.

What’s most frustrating to hear when a new project comes through the door is something similar to “we need this as quick and cheap as possible.” Immediately your creativity is strained by a timeline. In an ideal world, the creative department would never have to confine their work to a schedule. If that were the case, however, certain projects would never ever be completed. A project end date is part of the process, but forcing something to be “quick and cheap” should be in no-one’s best interest.

Websites on the cheap

As we’ve all heard before: everyone does Web design. It doesn’t take any special talent and can be done in a weekend. The stigma of Web design is unavoidable, and with each project you’re faced with an uphill battle to prove your professionalism and talent. The fight becomes draining quickly, and without quick resolve, the design process becomes a tedious chore instead of the craft you have come to love.

You cannot blame a client for wanting something to be affordable and within their budget. You can blame a client for having misconceptions and disregard for what you do and how you do it.

Client quality affects invoices

My office feels strongly about partnering with clients. We have been very successful when clients are equally interested in a psudo-partnership. Unfortunately, we’ve had a certain amount of difficulty when a client insists on putting our expertise to the wayside and art direct a project from start to finish. This, of course, only rises to the surface after a great kickoff meeting, too late for any red flags to be risen.

Not only do we become frustrated with the lack of direction a project falls under when a client becomes Art Director, we also face the recoil of client outrage when their cost estimations must be revised to compromise. Even worse is trying to explain an invoice value when the client forgot our discussion about the estimate revision last month. At that point, things are turned back around and we’re again given the label of “professional” and questioned as to our ethics and/or (lack of) industry experience.

I don’t mean to imply that an exchange such as this is at all common, but I can only assume you’ve had at least one bad client. Money is a terrible thing to argue about, but it should be respected on both sides. You’re a professional, and the invoice you provide will have an equivalent value of work to back it up. A client receiving the invoice should not only be prepared for it, but also be appreciative of your service. If he or she has had a negative influence on the project by making more work for you due to a personal bias, adjustments should be expected.

My company estimates project cost based on hours. We do our best to make estimations accurate by including The Client Factors as well as considering our past experience. We’ve become quite good at it, but there’s always room for improvement. The one thing that has remained completely consistent is the correlation between client direction and invoice figures.

We have a healthy respect for clients, and more respect for their knowledge of their industry. We can also have a respect for their knowledge of our industry, but here’s the problem: it’s usually terribly inaccurate. Whether it be based on limited experience, clients will usually have it stuck in their head that things are only done one way. That bias can (and usually does) mean disaster for a project. The relationship will be strained, the project will suffer, and the cost estimations are nearly useless.

Our most successful projects are a result of positive client education paired with an open mind and desire to learn. Project cost estimations are scarily accurate, and client satisfaction is through the roof. We do our best to predict the future as far as reading client personalities is concerned, but we’re only human, and predicting the future is difficult. Our main goal is to find common ground with a client, act as their design department instead of their design lemming, and make a solid effort to create the best end product we possibly can, all the while keeping their budgets and timelines in mind.