How to educate clients who are new to buying design
Last week, Faithful Reader Ellen Emmerich shared this post:
“There are clients who truly understand the value of great design. They've learned on the job working with designers and other creative professionals. Unfortunately, there are less and less of these well-trained and sophisticated clients whose job description usually includes the word "marketing" . . . Then there's the client who's maybe a small business owner or an entrepreneur. What fun it is to work with them when they're closely invested in the collaboration. On the flip side, they may have no experience with buying design . . . It is up to the design community to educate them. Easier said than done.”
Too true. I work in a very small market area, and I often get inquiries from people who are not only new to buying design, but also new to being in business, with only a vague idea of how to market their companies. Since I don't consider ignorance a punishable offense, I have come up with ways to find out what they need and explain it in simple terms.
The key is to put the emphasis on what they need as an outcome, not on what you offer. Leading with a list of your services will mean nothing because inexperienced clients have little way of knowing what they need. A litany of strange terms will only induce confusion. And as we all know, confused people don’t buy. So our job is to understand their goals, and then explain what they need to get there.
There are a couple of ways to approach this. If they are truly new to doing business, the initial meeting should be face-to-face. They will likely be at sea as to what they need, even if they say they want a specific product like a web site or a brochure. Instead of saying, “OK, one web site coming up,” ask what they expect that product to do for them. Explain that web sites and logos are marketing tools and that they should expect these tools to deliver certain results. Using their business as an analogy is helpful: if the new client was a builder, you could say, “I could sell you a great band saw, but if what you really need is a miter saw, the band saw will do you no good. We need to figure out which tools will best serve you.” They will usually get it.
They also need to identify their customer. Often clients will say the equivalent of “anyone with money,” but it’s crucial for them to dig deeper. This is where you explain that you need this information to craft the best possible marketing tools. Using the builder analogy, if they want to build garages, they should not be trying to sell to people who only ride bicycles. Clarity about who will buy from them will help you create tools that deliver the outcome they want. This may sound simplistic, but when your client is new to business, explanations need to be clear, non-patronizing and in the context of his/her business.
The other way to deal with educating clients about design is an online approach. On my site I have three pdf downloads on the Process page. These help qualify people who have a higher level of needs awareness, but little or no idea of what it will take to create the tools they need. When I get a call from new prospects asking for a logo, I have them download the logo process pdf. It has three parts: the purpose of a logo, the process for creating one and a list of questions that the client needs to complete in order for us to proceed on its development. It is bit shorter than two pages and written in clear language.
This pdf accomplishes several things: it defines the nature and use of the logo as a business tool, it explains what it takes to develop one and what role the client plays, and it starts the process by asking several strategic questions. By the time clients have gone through it, they have started to answer some of the questions and are well on the road to engaging my services. It lessens the possibility of inaccurate assumptions about the logo’s use, its importance to the client’s business goals and what it will take to create a successful design. It also helps in justifying my fee and in making clear the client’s role in design development.
I have similar pdfs for web sites and for brochures. I developed these over time through experience, both my own and others’. Feel free to use them and adjust/rewrite as needed. In this economic climate, client education is more crucial than ever and can be the deciding factor as to whether the project goes forward, so I hope you will share your own approaches.