I recently landed a dream client. Over the course of the project I gave them tons of ideas (a lot more than I should have). I showed them every iteration I could, checked my email constantly and developed some mild, persistent anxiety. Miraculously, we created some badass work (Which I can’t show because of lengthy NDA agreements). Everything seemed good. Then, all of the sudden, they told me to stop work for 24 hours while they re-evaluated the project. 3 days later I learned that I lost the project. They decided to use old materials that they had described as mediocre…
No one likes to lose a project. According to my contacts it was out of our control. However, In an effort to fully process what happened here are a few lessons I learned:
Lots of good ideas is not a good idea
Every great creator, inventor, scientist or designer is prolific. Many of ideas leads to better ideas. This does not mean showing your client every sketch you scan slide into your scanner is wise. I’ll be honest. I was scared that not one of my ideas were good enough. To compensate I provided dozens of ideas. In the process I lost my sense of conviction over any single idea. Merely chasing approval will never take you far. The client will loose trust in your professionalism and ability to make decisions in the process.
Perfection is not good collaboration
You will not come up with a great idea right off the bat. Especially when you’re working with a new client. I hate being vulnerable with really rough sketches. The fear of showing the client how messy my process scares me. So I spend tons of time trying to polish early concepts. This is a waste of energy and keeps me from adjusting to feedback because I am so invested into the work already. Trying to keep up appearances actually makes it harder to solve the problem at hand. It certainly kept me from taking risks and thinking clearly.
Treat your big clients like small clients
It’s hard to say that I am working from my bedroom or admit that I currently don’t have many projects. I want to appear successful — Who doesn’t? We believe success makes us attractive. In my first meetings with clients I am learning to set the mood by purposely letting my guard down right away. This usually begins after someone uses a cuss word or two. You feel the stale air of professionalism start to break as you get comfortable enough to stop pretending. Working with someone means you will be making a lot of hard decisions together. If you can’t be honest on a basic level expect the project to be harder than it needs to be.
Bigger projects shouldn’t be scarier
I’ll be the first to say it. Big projects scare me. Especially for brands I admire. The reality is that no matter how shiny a brand is, every client is disorganized, stressed and generally just as uncertain as you. There is no such thing as a perfect project. Things will go a lot smoother if you stop staring at the name on the door.
They are hiring you to be an expert
There were a couple points in the project where the client was clearly acting out of fear. I could tell they were trying to please some scattered managers. But instead of guiding them through a process I bent to every whim because I was afraid to upset anyone. Towards the middle of the project I challenged the way we had been working. To my surprise, they quickly asked for my advice. I shared my thoughts and we developed a plan to move forward. I cannot tell you how much easier this made the rest of the process.
Failure is always an option
Lets face it. We aren’t doing brain surgery. As a designer/creative failure is not just an option but an essential part of the creative process. If I’m not failing I’m not really trying. I would love to provide a sure fire formula for getting rid of the discomfort. All I can say is that the career of a freelance designer is anything but safe and predictable. In the end I was surprised to learn that really failing is not all that bad. After failure… I’m still here. That is probably one of the best feelings I’ve had this year. Being strong when everything goes wrong actually feels really good. It’s worth the risk.