We talk a lot about client relationships on The Honest Designers Show, our weekly podcast about all things design. It’s a huge subject with lots of intricacies, but we’ve found that there are some evergreen tips to keep in mind when establishing, developing, and maintaining great client relationships.

So we’ve combed through all The Honest Designers Show episodes to compile this comprehensive guide for you! We’ve also included plenty of relevant links to Honest Designers Show episodes if you want to dig deeper into any specific part.

We hope this guide is super helpful to you! Please feel free to save, share, and come back whenever you need to!

1. Respect Expertise – Theirs AND Yours

You are the expert at design. You must clearly communicate to your client that your time and talent have value.

In the same vein, your relationship with your client depends on your respect of their expertise. Respect their industry knowledge, their relationships with their customers, and their vision for their brand. They’re the experts at their business.

9 Tips for Building Lasting Client Relationships

How to do it:

  • Listen carefully when clients talk about their goals, their brand, and their business.
  • If a client is initially dismissive of your expertise, build trust with well-informed design choices.
  • Be firm about payment – your time and talent have value. Obviously, be professional and as positive as possible. You’d be surprised at how many stressful payment situations clear up beautifully with some extra care and purposeful communication on your part!
  • Allow projects to drop if the client isn’t sustaining their commitment. (We realize that this isn’t a possibility for everyone. New designers, especially, can’t afford to let projects drop, even though they’re often the ones who have the most difficulty with this subject. Since it’s a big topic, we don’t cover it all here, but we have some great episodes on this particular subject; start with the following episodes:

Episode 8: Client Relationships
Episode 19: Why Being a Designer Sucks!
Episode 53: Taking a Vacation as a Creative

Also check out Episode 54: Respecting Yourself and Your Clients for more on ways to respect both yourself and your client(s).

2. Make the Process Crystal Clear

Again – you are the expert! Your clients may not have ever been involved in a design project before. Demonstrate how much of an asset you will be straight off – by detailing the way the process works from first meeting to final payment.

9 Tips for Building Lasting Client Relationships

If you don’t already talk about the process with your clients your first step is going to be to get a handle on it!

How to do it:

  • Write down ALL the steps of your client design processes (even if some steps are missing from some projects).
  • Once you have this list, use it to give clients an idea of what to expect.
  • A great way to do this is, at one of the early meetings, give your clients a rough “schedule” or flowchart of their project, one that identifies key deliverables, dates, and other important information.

Check out Episode 107: Project Planning and Organization with Aiden Fishbein for more on creating and improving your process.

3. No Surprises on Pricing

No one likes to be surprised by extra costs. You need a reliable way to communicate costs at the outset and when clients come in with changes or additions. If you don’t already have a solid idea of what things cost, get on that.

9 Tips for Building Lasting Client Relationships

How to do it:

  • Identify two or three representative projects (or your dream projects if you’re just starting).
  • List every single minute factor that (should) affect cost.
  • Assign a cost to all those things.
  • Use this list as reference when quoting new projects and when you’re figuring out change fees.

Check out Episode 70: Burnout and Raising Prices and the “Pricing Your Work” bit of Episode 34: Compromising your morals, Pricing Work and Organising your Projects.

4. Involve Clients in the Planning Stages

We mean really involve clients in the planning stages. Consensus on design is waaaayyyyy easier to reach when everyone is in the same room, working together and talking a lot.

9 Tips for Building Lasting Client Relationships

How to do it:

  • For that initial planning meeting, set up an afternoon in a conference room with a bunch of visuals and have the clients workshop with you.
  • Be in the same space while you are working, be talking about it as you go.
  • This can be incredibly fun and positive and can set a great tone for the project as a whole.

5. Reiterate the Process (with details!) Post-Planning

You sat around and hashed out all the details with the client. Everyone is excited about the direction of the project. Now you need to communicate exactly how the rest of the project will play out.

Reiterate the parameters of the project – in writing! This is a great opportunity to build trust and make sure everyone is on the same page before you get into the design phase.

9 Tips for Building Lasting Client Relationships

Send an email that includes everything you decided/agreed on during planning. This can include the following items as well as anything else you and your client thought was important:

  • Timeline
  • Deliverables
  • Costs
  • How to ask questions
  • How questions get answered
  • What happens if changes need to be made
  • How change requests affect the timeline
  • How change requests affect the cost
  • Who gets the final product
  • And how you will communicate progress

Check out Episode 17: The Best Design Processes for some the basics on great design processes.

6. Create Some Space While You’re Creating

There should be a spot where the client is done giving you input, everyone knows the project parameters, and you get to work. Protect your time and space so that you can get the job done, well, and within the agreed upon timeline.

9 Tips for Building Lasting Client Relationships

How to do it:

  • Establish a workspace that is physically separate from your clients. Even if you’re working in “their” space, find an empty table in a conference room or an unused cubicle to work.
  • You don’t have to answer questions as they come. If a client is checking in a lot, let them know you’ll respond in batches on a regular timeline (end of day or week, for example). Of course, do this professionally and in a positive way – use it as an opportunity to reiterate how much you care about them, their project, and getting it done well and on time!
  • If a client stops by your workspace unannounced it’s okay to break off after a few minutes and show them the door so you can get back to work. Again, be professional and positive with this! Make sure they know how much you care about the project and how much you appreciate their own excitement.
  • Have boundaries around when and how you can be contacted. Respond promptly when clients respect those boundaries (and don’t respond when you get a text at 4am).

7. Communicate Regularly – But Keep it Brief

When updates are regular and dependable clients trust you more. It’s science. Make correspondence written (so it can be referred back to, and shared), brief, and informative. Avoid the Void of Silence – that quiet space where no new information is coming in and clients start to get nervous. Use regular communication to reassure them!

9 Tips for Building Lasting Client Relationships

This is also a great way to keep reiterating to your clients that you care about them and their project, that work is getting done, and that you’re going to hit the deadline!

(Note that this kind of communication is not meant to open the floor for suggestions. Hence the “brief” bit.)

How to do it:

9 Tips for Building Lasting Client Relationships

Check out Episode 43: Putting Yourself in Your Client’s Shoes for ways to communicate to your client with empathy.

8. Always Be Improving

Things that worked before may not work this time. At the end of every project, think critically about what went well and what didn’t. Use that reflection as a way to improve! This is a great way to create positive, forward momentum for your business and make the next client project even more excellent.

9 Tips for Building Lasting Client Relationships

How to do it:

  • After the dust has settled, sit down and reflect on the project as a whole – note all the important moments.
  • Go bigger: how can you make the good stuff even better?
  • Problem solve: How can you proactively address (or even completely avoid) issues that you encountered so that they aren’t as tricky next time?
    Use this article as a way to audit the project!
  • Remember, there’s no one size fits all. Develop a process and business practices that work for you.

A note: Sometimes you can’t always wait until the next project to make changes or improvements. When this happens, remember to communicate honestly and professionally. Even when situations go wonky you can still maintain a positive attitude and stay on good terms with your client!

9. Go the Extra Mile

WOW the client. Whenever possible, go above and beyond. Deliver ahead of deadline. Provide amazing communication. Develop an incredible relationship with your contacts. Include extra options or a useful add-on. Figure out how to foster and demonstrate real excitement and passion for the client’s project. It makes a world of difference!

Follow up communication. Ask how it went. Ask what was great about the experience and where there’s room for improvement. This is key for your own growth as a designer and it communicates – in a meaningful way – that you truly care about the client and your long-term relationship with them.

9 Tips for Building Lasting Client Relationships

Appreciate the client. Remember them on launch. Send a holiday hamper. Give them a shoutout on social media. Send work their way. If you discovered your main point of contact is really into Star Trek during the course of the project, send them a postcard of Spock. Was the whole design committee really into the doughnuts you broad for Mood Board day? Arrange a delivery at some point after the project is over, as an extra “you were awesome” gesture.

Check out for Episode 61: Making your Design Clients Happier for lots more great suggestions on how to go the extra mile.

We hope this guide has been helpful to you and given you some great insight as to how to improve your client relationships. This is a topic we return to regularly on The Honest Designers Show, so definitely have a listen if you haven’t already. And be sure to join our new Design Cuts Facebook Community for advice and feedback from other designers!

Thanks so much for taking the time out of your busy day to read, bookmark, and share this article. We appreciate you!

This article was contributed by Rachel Hollert. Rachel is a freelance content writer + copywriter who writes about, for, and with creative entrepreneurs. She shares tips for writing about creative entrepreneurship on her Instagram and Twitter.