As a graphic designer you’re going to spend a lot of time collaborating with clients on current projects and helping them through the design and production process. Often when I work with small business clients, I’m their first experience working with a graphic designer and marketer. They love their company, they want to grow it, but their money is valuable and they often have lofty expectations on what their budget can afford. When I worked as a project manager for a boutique design firm, the designers hardly ever talked with clients without me or another project manager present. As a PM, I was to keep the project on track, provide resources to my designers, and manage client expectations. Having a PM is not a luxury I have in my little design shop and I’m forever grateful for my project management training and my experience working to anticipate and manage client expectations.

If you’re in the same boat, or are working to be a graphic designer/project manager here are few things to keep in mind to make the process run a  little smoother or maybe even get your client to proclaim you a design project superhero.

1. What are you hoping to achieve with this project? 

This sounds open-ended. But take a few minutes and really get your client to provide you with what they have in mind. If they give you the deer in the headlights response – use a few follow up questions. “Business cards? New logo? Updated site design?” or maybe something like, “is there someone in the industry that you feel is really killing it? Maybe they’re doing something you’d like to incorporate in your own marketing and design?” You’ll be surprised what these prompting questions may get you – and more than likely it will be a whole lot more informative than just a need for a new brochure.

2. Do you have current files for your logo and any photography you may want me to incorporate? 

There is nothing more frustrating for a client, than saying yes to a project only to find out that you can’t get started on it – now. Sure, it’s their job to provide you with files. But you’re the expert. Most small business owners aren’t even sure what type of files you need and many have created their logo on their own. That’s ok. Ask for an .ai or an .eps file of their logo. If they don’t have those, ask for any design file they may have that has a logo. Whatever you do, be clear that you’ll need these files before you can get started on this new project. Tip: Include a line in your proposal that states the official start date of the project is the day you receive current design or logo files necessary to complete the project. This obviously won’t apply if you’re creating a new brand.

Need to brush up on file types and when to use them? Read more about that here. 

3. Timeline. When do you want to start using ________?

I learned this lesson the hard way. I think every rookie project manager does. Most clients get the timeline question. They really do. The problem comes when they don’t understand how many people have to participate to complete their project. Ask the client when they’re hoping to start using ________. If they give a vague answer like “the beginning of the year”, flip open your calendar and pinpoint the date. Then (with your calendar still open) explain that you’ll need about X weeks for printing and cutting, X weeks/days for a press check to be completed by you, X days for initial design, and X days/weeks for refinement. So it looks like that means our start date is_____.”

For some reason, the having a calendar out when you discuss this and giving them a view of how many people are involved and how many times they’ll see the file before it goes to print is eye opening for most clients. Often the start date has already passed – not a problem. Just explain to them it’s going to be a tight turnaround time and that everyone will need to  be focused on getting it done.

4. Do you already have a printer you like to use? 

When I worked as a project manager, I never asked this question. Our clients usually left it up to us to provide a cost effective printer for the job. Now, with online printing options being marketed to the general public, I’ve found asking this upfront makes the process go a lot smoother. Clients often feel like they know the value of printing because they saw an online add for 500 free business cards or a discount on banners. I love that they’re more aware of cost – use it to your advantage. Explain that they’re a print house that prints quantity. The quality is often decent but you won’t find high-end options there. Explain that sometimes the jobs are often outsourced so the quality can’t be checked – not an issue if that’s not a concern, for sure. Making them aware of these issues will help you manage their expectations.

What other questions do you ask your clients?

Want to know what other questions will make you look like a rockstar in front of your clients?