8 Signs of a Great Client

Client work can be fun and rewarding, or it can be frustrating and discouraging. Freelancers deal with clients on an every day basis, so there are bound to be some good and bad experiences in the mix. Recognizing and appreciating a good client can sometimes lead to more of the same as you may be able to find ways to work with the client on an on-going basis, or you may be able to encourage referrals who will have some of the same characteristics.

From my experience, good clients have a number of common characteristics besides simply paying on time. In this article we’ll take a look at some signs of a good client, and why they are important.

1. They Have Realistic Expectations

All clients are unique and they all have different needs. Unfortunately, it’s very common for a client to have unrealistic expectations about how you can help to meet those needs. I’m sure we’ve all received emails or calls from potential clients that want a large, dynamic website with great design for a bargain basement price.

Pricing isn’t the only potential area for this situation. You may have a potential client that approaches you today and tells you that their site needs to be live in 2 weeks, when you know that their requirements will take far longer.

Dealing with unrealistic expectations and doing your best to communicate why they are unrealistic is often part of the job. When you are working with a client that has realistic expectations in terms of pricing, the time frame of the process, the amount of work that is involved, and the need for their participation in the process, that’s a good sign that they will be a pleasant client to work with.

2. They Know that a Good Website Costs Money

With such a huge number of freelancers and design studios in the marketplace, there is a very wide variety in terms of pricing. Typically, the cost of the service will generally correspond to the quality of work and the end result. Unfortunately, many clients don’t understand that they will usually get what they pay for, and if they want a quality website that meets their needs, they will have to spend some money.

Personally, I think it’s great that there are designers who are working at all kinds of different levels of pricing, and starting low is an effective way to gain some experience and learn while picking up some clients. However, clients often see a big gap in price difference and get hung up on that fact and fail to realize the potential variance in quality of work that they’ll receive.

When working with a client who understands that getting results with a website will require some investment can be a great thing for the designer/developer because the emphasis is then on creating the best website, not on getting it done quickly to keep the price down. This is the ideal situation for everyone involved.

3. They Can Give You a Description of What They Want from Their Website

Most designers like to have some creative freedom in their projects, rather than working on something that is completely dictated by the client. However, having a client that provides very little or no direction is not ideal either. The client knows their business much better than any designer would, and they should be able to have an idea of what they need to get from their website in order for it to be a valuable asset to the business. Likewise, they are more aware of their business’s identity and how it should be portrayed to visitors of the website.

While working with complete freedom may be nice for designers, it usually won’t produce results that are most effective for the business. The ideal situation is a client who knows specifically what they need from their website and is willing to work with a designer to get this accomplished. The best design process involves the client and the designer coming together to combine their expertise to create something special.

4. They Provide Constructive, Descriptive Feedback

Most clients don’t have a problem with providing feedback, but it may not always be the most helpful. I’m sure we’ve all had situations where a client says they don’t like the way you have something on the site and asks you to change it. But if they don’t give some descriptive details about what they don’t like or how they would rather have it, you’re taking a shot in the dark that they will like the changes you make. Nothing is more frustrating than changing something multiple times because you can’t get clarity on what they want.

When clients are able to give feedback to your ideas or to your work that is helpful and descriptive, your job will be much easier, and the client is also more likely to be pleased with the end result. Sometimes getting this feedback may be something that the designer can encourage by emphasizing the need to truly understand what the client wants in order to produce the best results.

5. They Respect Your Time and Their Own

While clients will not always understand what is specifically involved in the design and development process and the details of time consuming it can be, they should generally have a respect for your time. Designers, especially freelancers, understand that time management is critical to success, so we are forced to respect our time. Some clients, however, forget that you have other clients and responsibilities that may prevent you from being on call to them at all times.

During the design process there are any number of ways that designers can wind up wasting time because of poor communication. For example, in most cases if the client has an issue with part of the design that needs to be changed, the sooner the designer is made aware of the problem the less time it will waste. Of course, many clients won’t think of issues like this, so it is up to the designer to communicate the need for effective communication in order to prevent lost time. Hopefully the client will understand and take the appropriate measures to help ensure that time is not wasted.

Likewise, I prefer to work with clients who have a great deal of respect for their own time as well. A client who respects their time will be well-prepared, will be willing to pay for services that will save them time, and will be prompt and accurate with communication throughout the process.

6. They Take Their Website and Their Business Seriously

Occasionally you may be working with a client, and at some point in the process you may feel like they just don’t take their website seriously. Maybe they’re not getting involved in the process by helping you to get to know their business. Maybe they underestimate the potential impacts of the website on the business. Or maybe they just want a website to have one, but they don’t really care about the details.

Because the design and development process requires a time investment from the client and the designer, the ideal client will respect the need for a quality website and will be willing to do what is needed to make sure that it is done right.

7. They Take Time to Effectively Plan with You

One of the most difficult parts of the design process with some clients is the planning aspect. You’ll have clients who want to give you a one-paragraph description of their business, and they expect that you’ll be able to create the prefect site for them. Unfortunately, planning is probably the most important part of the design process, but some clients don’t want to dedicate any time to it. Without this, the project is highly unlikely to be very successful.

When you come across a client that appreciates the need to properly plan the website, this is a sign that the client will be good to work with. A client who is interested in planning understands that a designer cannot just magically create a site that works for their business without their input.

8. They are Careful to Choose the Right Person for the Job

The ideal client will realize that not every design is right for the job, and not every job is right for the designer. When the designer and the project are a good match, positive results will follow. When they’re a bad match, poor results will usually follow. However, some clients want to choose a designer very quickly for any number of reasons without really taking the time to find out if they are the best fit.

When I get an inquiry from a potential client that gives specific details about their project and what they need, I’m always more impressed than when I get a one sentence email that says “How much will you charge to design my website?” By giving me some details about what they are looking for, it says to me that they are concerned with finding the right person for the job.

What’s Your Experience?

What signs do you use to determine a good client?

If you’re interested in reading about bad clients, please see these articles:

Stephen Snell is the owner and editor of Vandelay Design, a popular design blog.
  1. May 7, 2009

    This was excellent… thank you for compiling. 🙂


  2. May 7, 2009

    I hate clients who think a logo or design is going to cost them a tenner! All companies, big or small, should be paying £100-Thousands for logos, they’re they thing that draws people to your company most in my opinion!

  3. Pingback: 8 Signs of a Great Client : Design Newz

  4. May 7, 2009

    Great Relevant List Here!! I have found these to be true with most of my clients.

    It seems as more and more people become part of the design industry, the cheaper people want stuff for and the cheaper people are willing to do it for but without true passion and unique work.

    I get so frustrated when a client is so cheap they will not invest in their website or logo because they either don’t know the worth of that business or don’t care. Clients like this is really hard to work with – hard to sale something they don’t believe in.

    Again, Great Post!

  5. May 7, 2009

    Great article – you really nailed it down. I particularly enjoy clients who hand you a properly thought out design brief. Shows that they know what they want, and they understand the value of their website to their business. A good design brief is an excellent “launch pad” for developing a good design and development strategy with the client. However, these types of “on the button” clients are rare …

  6. I would recommend making this a rubric for client meetings. As soon as you’re done with your meeting, one should check as many of these off as possible and be honest. If you get anything below a 6 out of 8, one should question the efforts in pursuing such a client.

    Great Read. Thanks.

  7. May 7, 2009

    Just finished a project, http://www.digobrands.com, and it went really well. before starting the project they had comps designed and a full IA package with sitemaps and wireframes. It was still a challenging job but because it was thought out properly, we were able to quickly move through the development stages and get it done on time.

  8. Hi Steven, Its a familiar list and when i get a client like this i’m pleased. I don’t agree that all great clients have to be like this. I have some great clients that, may not have heaps of cash, such as charity groups so the appreciation is important there. Another thing i like is clients that take initiative to promote themselves then i just facilitate the marketing 🙂

  9. May 8, 2009

    Hi Scott,
    Thanks for the feedback. Yeah, I agree with you, there are great clients that don’t match up with this list (sorry if I made it seem like this was a list of “requirements”). I’ve had some clients that have no idea what they want and they’re still great to work with because they’re very open to my suggestions and responsive throughout the process.

  10. May 8, 2009

    Hi Steven,

    Very good compilation.

  11. May 10, 2009

    Yeah, ideal client – in my dreams.!

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  17. July 10, 2010

    I would love to have someone just like the description 🙂

  18. July 29, 2010

    If you find someone with all of those traits it would be wonderful, but I’ve found that as long as you have a few of them you can make things work right. It’s just making sure you keep things open and let the client know what they are singing up for and what the process is. Its just part of the challenge of working.

  19. August 15, 2010

    Great Post!

  20. August 29, 2010

    How about, if they schedule a meeting at (or around) lunch time, they make plans to have lunch. Take out or eat in.
    That is a good trait to have.

    We do it with any vendors that we use.

  21. January 21, 2011

    You made some great suggestions there. I did a searching on the content and discovered most people might agree having your blog.

  22. March 5, 2011

    A great read. It’s sometimes nice to read about this seldom-realistic personality to remind me that I didn’t just dream these people up! 😉

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