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. I don’t have that luxury 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.

So here’s a few things to keep in mind to make the process run  little smoother or maybe even get your client to proclaim you a superhero when it comes to design.

Want to read about the first 5 questions? You can read Part 1 here.

5. Budget. 

As a project manager and even today as a business owner/designer I never ask this as a question. Of course there is a budget. And more than likely it’s not a huge pile of money that’s at your disposal. Instead of asking it as a question so that you’re client views this as a negative, turn it around. Tell them up front that you’ll be discussing the funding for the project at the end of this discussion. Help them manage their expectations as you toss ideas around. For example, when you’re talking about printing options – give them a economical, moderate, and high-end option.

Here’s an example – I literally just said this to one of my current clients on the phone this morning.

“Loving the branding we have going for your website launch. Business cards are a pretty standard need. I’ve got three options for you when it comes to printing. Option 1 keeps us fairly low cost and uses 4 color printing. Option 2 is moderate in price – we upgrade the paper weight and consider using metallic inks for those elements in your logo. Or we can high-end – a hot foil printing, using the bronze metallic that is in your logo for the front of your card. All are good options and will keep you well within whats trendy and sticks with your brand.”

Somehow, when you ask it as a question, it implies that you’re questioning their ability to out guess what all this may cost. That’s why they came to you – you’re the expert – and it’s part of your job to help them figure it out and get it accomplished. They’ll feel a lot better about your skills and expertise if you approach it as a discussion and help them manage what the options might cost as you work through the discussion.


Here’s the clincher.


6. Make an Action Item Conclusion 

At the end of every email, conversation, string of texts, etc. Sum it up. It may be redundant but keeping expectations in the forefront and making sure they’re not expecting more from you than you’re promising is the best way to not spend dozens of hours in managing the project.

Here’s an example – I just sent this off to a client in an email this morning.

“Here’s where we stand on the Rebranding Project. I’m working on the final revision of your final logo and completing a style guide for your reference. What I need from you is, your final count on business cards, brochures, and rack cards (needed by X/X) so I can order from the printer, as well as the social media outlets you’re currently using so I can provide you with the appropriate logo sizes for your cover and profile photos. Final deadline, and when we’ll have another phone meeting is X/X at 8:30am CT. What else can I help you with?”

I recap during phone conversations verbally, but I anticipate that most clients are either not taking notes, or are too busy to transfer these items to their calendar or planning system of choice. So I always send a follow-up email after a phone call just recapping the to do list for each of us and the necessary deadlines. It doesn’t hurt to give them a sneak peek on the project, let them know you’re excited about how it’s coming along, or that you enjoyed talking with them either.

7. Up-sell

I know you’re probably wondering how up-selling is something your client will love you for right? Let me tell you.

Often with small business clients, they’re not sure exactly what they need. They don’t often have an employee that’s dedicated just to marketing and many are just learning the ropes of marketing and social media as they go. I have new bloggers who haven’t really thought about the need for business cards – and rightfully so – they’re busy with getting their next post published and running their blog. If you’re phrase the up-sell so that it’s helpful, rather than just another place you can make a buck, you’re client’s are going to appreciate you.

So how do you add in the up-sell without sounding like a used car salesman? First, don’t overwhelm them with a list of things they really don’t need. Believe me – if they’re asking you for a logo, they’re not interested in you pricing that as well as a giant billboard signage and everything in between. (Unless they ask you specifically for that.) If a client asks for an updated logo – have a design meeting, get started on the project, and then after they review the logos and select one, simply state:

” Have you thought about redoing your business cards with the new logo yet? Will you need files for your social media platforms and your website? “

If they decline, simply tell them “…that’s great. You let me know when you’re ready for _________. I’d love to help when the time is right.”

Tip: Then make yourself a note to check back with them on this project and see how things are going and offer these items again. 


What other questions do you ask your clients? Share them in the comments below.