Never sell your product or service to someone who doesn’t understand its value.
This happens when we make assumptions about the customer’s knowledge level. It is our job as businesses to make sure our customers understand not just what they are buying, but how it will benefit them and why it is valuable. People don’t always know what assumptions they have because the assumptions are unconscious. Sometimes these are wishful thinking; sometimes they’re based on a customer’s previous experience that has nothing to do with you and your offer. So we need to identify a customer’s knowledge gaps or run the risk of bad surprises, especially at invoice time.
A new client once asked me to design a business card including a small illustration. At the time it was about a $200 job – not huge, so I didn’t feel a formal contract was needed. I thought we had a good understanding about the project parameters, and got to work. When I had a draft ready, I faxed her a proof (that’s how long ago it was) and waited to hear back. When time passed with no response, I gave her a follow-up call. She said, “Oh, we’ve decided to go another direction with this project, so we won’t be needing your work.” I said in that case I would send her a bill for the work I had already done, and that’s when it all hit the fan.
She was incensed that I would have the nerve to bill her for anything when all I had produced was a fax. I explained that I had spent some time designing the card and creating the illustration, but she insisted that I had delivered nothing of substance and that she owed me nothing. When I continued to disagree with her, she became very abusive and even threatened to sue me if I tried to pursue the matter. At this point I realized that she was a) nuts, b) had absolutely no intention of ever paying and c) had every intention of being as obnoxious as possible or whatever it took to make me go away. Not worth $200, so I let it go.
What I learned was that I should have made certain that this person understood what exactly she was buying and what its value was. I assumed that she knew that what designers sell is design, not pieces of paper with ink on them. She assumed that she would get a physical thing of some kind – or maybe she had found someone else to do it for less money and just lied through her teeth. Since then, I have made sure that clients understand not only what they are buying, but how design will help their businesses.
Some have told me that they assumed that graphic design is like architecture: the design is part of the proposal process and what they actually pay for is the project execution. (Notice how the word “assume” keeps recurring?) These folks need to understand that when creative services are sold, those are the end product, not a means to another end, like a house. And it is also my job to make sure clients understand that they’re not just buying little graphic doodads to dress up their business materials and impress their friends. They are buying visual marketing tools that that will powerfully support their own business success.
What are the values that you need to make sure your clients understand? How do you convey the purpose and worth of your services?