Being Transparent with your Clients – Part 1

Posted By Nathan Hoernig

Clear from the Start

Transparency is huge.

What I mean, is that the new “good guest service” is communicative, clear and honest guest service. Building loyalty requires respect and morally sticking to your promises.

On my smartphone, I keep a small list of details that my clients must know, before I send them a quote for services (which I usually send after the initial brief). If I’m meeting with them in person or on the phone, I always like to mention the following things before closing the conversation so as not to shock/surprise them later.

All of these are included because I’ve gotten in trouble for NOT mentioning them in the past.

When it comes to on-the-spot stipulations, there are two main reasons why this is important:

  1. For a client ordering design work, it’s always best to be clear and informative. If you mention something to them in advance, they’re more likely to understand and remember it. It also makes the actual contract signing easier as they’ve already heard most of the points.
  2. For a designer, it’s better to be safe than risk getting yourself in a sticky situation later. Your “bad” for not handling a potential issue will most likely result in your “bad” customer service.

What I’m talking about is your verbal stating of your contract. Here’s what it should look like:

The Cancellation Fee

This is where you’ll charge the client a fee for work rendered, despite the cancellation of the project. You needn’t mention the details, just let them know that it exists. When discussing it, always mention that its purpose is to cover time spent towards the project. We usually try to work the deposits and payments as non-refundable in the case of a cancellation for the sake of the customer not wasting time ending things (with a subsequent payment). Another option we occasionally offer (depending on the project) sets the fee at a percentage of the final project cost. Every situation varies, but don’t forget to mention it!

Here’s how you’ll say it:

One Contact Only

Two people means (usually) clear communication. If you email an important document or question to that single liaison, you’re pretty much guaranteed the other side will get it. When you start introducing multiple contacts with differing information, life (and the project) gets hectic. Let’s say one person knows an important piece of information. Two days later, the other asks you about it. You’ll be explaining it twice, therein doubling your work. Mention that one-on-one project handling is for the sake of communication which will ultimately better the project.

Here’s what you’ll say:

Timely Correspondence

In continuing the communication theme carried over from the previous point: The faster the customer replies, the faster you can get work done—and vice-versa! This is key, especially on a rush project. Again, explain this in a manner that leads to the deadline or completion date as the most important point. Don’t forget, you too should be fast and reliable with responses! In order to manage a project well, always think in dates. Give a clear date as to when you need information by in order to keep the schedule on track.

Say something like this:

Payment Precedes the Project Start

When payment has been confirmed, the project begins. A designer shouldn’t do work beforehand unless its part of their marketing strategy or some other agreement.

Sometimes, you may find yourself in the need to start a rush project over the weekend while a bank transfer or check deposit is in limbo. Use your best judgement here. If you and your client have a reliable past, then maybe it’ll be fine. Just remember, it’s not normal for a business to do unpaid work. We have trusted clients in the past and have been burned…bad.

Try this angle:


How many revisions do you offer? In order to make up for extra time spent on revisions, you will need to charge. Mention that this is to cover time spent. Also mention that the client should make a list of things they’d like to see changed all in one go. This will cut back on unproductive communication and avoid the need to charge extra. That way, you can go through the list one-by-one and make all changes in one round. This will result in the project being more organized and allow the client to be concise and clear about their requests. Both are great for the project’s success!

With the proper wording:

Be Clear!

It’s all about being clear. Try these five examples out at the end of your next brief. Put them in your phone, on your tablet or somewhere you can easily call them up. Odds are good you’ll forget some if you don’t have them written down somewhere.

In Part Two, I give you four more pre-project life savers for that brief.

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