As a web design freelancer, being a designer isn’t the only hat you wear. You are also the marketing manager, project manager, administrator, and accounts director.
There’s more to each project than simply delivering a web design. Your clients need to be onboarded, invoiced, and managed to make the project a success. So let’s cover how to manage your clients better.
While most web design courses fall short in teaching their students how to manage clients for a successful freelancing career, we feel that this is one of the more important skills needed for any professional freelancer.
In this article, we will be taking you, step by step, through the client management process, including:
- Discovery call
- Briefing/Strategy meeting
- Client service agreement
- Time management
- CMS (Client Management Software)
- Email updates
We have some great free resources and client management examples to share with you, including bullet-proof scripts and helpful tools. By the time we are done today, you will be able to create a successful client management process that will keep your freelance clients happy and coming back for more!
Step 1: The discovery call
The most important meeting you can have with your client is the initial discovery call. This meeting is a 30-45 minute session where you can introduce yourself, meet your client, and get a general outline of their goals and expectations for the project.
Scheduling a discovery call
Ideally, you want your client to be able to schedule a Zoom call with you at a time that suits you both. We highly recommend including a link for this on your website.
While it is entirely possible to orchestrate a discovery call booking via a contact form or even a direct email conversation, a scheduling tool such as Calendly will help automate and optimize this process. We use it to schedule meetings with our student advisors and our trainees love that they get to pick the times that best suit them. Better yet, it integrates with your Zoom and Google calendar to automatically schedule the meeting for you.
When setting up your discovery call, be sure to include some pre-qualifying questions to clarify expectations for both you and the client. You want to streamline your process to limit the number of inquiries you get and ensure the inquiries you get are much more likely to book with you.
- Start on your website by listing a “starting at” rate on your services page.
Listing your starting rate rather than a set package rate is much more helpful because you should be pricing on value to the client and this is going to change depending on who the client is. Know what your minimum base price is and list that on your website. This practice will immediately weed out the clients that can’t afford you. mention your starting rate and ask for your client’s budget in your contact form. This makes sure that anyone filling out your contact form is serious about working with you and they are aware of your pricing.
- In the booking form, request their existing online information.
Having your clients existing website and Facebook link alone will allow you to easily compile a little research before your meeting, This way, you can be prepared with some background information on who you are working with and even some suggestions for improvement to impress them in your first meeting.
- Setting a date
It’s a known fact in the creative world that every client wants “just a quick change” – and they want it done “yesterday”. To avoid these unrealistic deadline expectations, it is a good idea to take a fully transparent approach. List your average project timeline on your website and break down your process.
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Discovery call script
While it may take some practice to find exactly what works for you, it is important to create a structured script for collecting all of the information you need from a discovery call. Creating a list of questions will help you keep the call flowing and ensure that you collect all the information you need for an accurate quotation.
Start by opening a new document for each discovery call. At the top of the document, make sure you have the following information noted:
- Client name
- Client contact details
- Any notes from their inquiry
- Links to their website and/or Facebook page if they were supplied
Having this information readily in front of you during your call will help keep you focused and prepared.
Below this, you can script an entire introduction to remind you not to get hung up on small talk and move the meeting forward.
Something simple always works best.
Eg: “Hey [client], thank you so much for your time today! We’re looking forward to hearing more about your [type of business] and chatting about how we could work together.”
You then want to get the client talking as much as possible. The more they talk, the more information you can draw from the call, and the more accurately you can submit a quote and proposal.
Start by asking them about their business and goals:
- Tell us what your business looks like now and where you hope to take it.
- Why do you feel like now is the time to rebrand/redesign your website [whatever your services are]?
- What would you say is the biggest problem/hurdle in your way of reaching your goals?
- Do you have a budget in mind for this project?
Next, ask about their website and branding:
- What’s the #1 purpose/goal of your website?
- Any specific features/functionalities/website pages you have in mind? (this is going to be one of the most important questions for your quote, so be sure to dive deeper if you feel any of their answers need more clarity)
- How do you feel about your current branding?
- Off the top of your head, can you think of any websites that you love the look of?
- Are there any websites you can think of that are definitely NOT what you want?
Finally, you want to get a clear view of their expectations of working with you:
- Have you worked with another designer or agency before?
- We always want to ensure our clients are 100% satisfied after working with us, so what would success look like for you for this project?
- What is your deadline for this project? (Have in mind a potential project start and end date you could offer based on their project needs and your average timeline.)
Of course, you can adjust any of these questions to suit your process and needs as a freelancer. Remember, the more information the client can give you in this session, the better you will be able to offer solutions that they will love.
To avoid the awkward “goodbye’s, we do recommend that you include a closing section into your discovery call script too.
“Ok, so that’s all of the questions we have for you today. Our next step is for us to put together a custom proposal for you based on your needs that we’ve discussed today. We will send the proposal to you by [today/tomorrow] in an email, along with a brief of us walking you through everything that’s included. After that, if you confirm the proposal, we will send your contract and invoice and secure your spot in our calendar.”
Tip: Avoid throwing out any numbers on the call before you have had the time to break down a proposal, as you could end up under-quoting, making it that much harder to convert the client to a higher package. If asked, simply reply with, “Let us crunch the numbers for you and we’ll be able to give you an accurate quotation in your proposal”.
Client red flags
The sad truth is that not every client is a good client. Ideally, you want to have a defined niche for your own business, but even then, there will be some bad apples that are best to avoid.
During your discovery call, here are a few red flags to look out for:
- They have worked with multiple designers before
Good clients are generally quite loyal when they find a designer that they like. Even if their rates are slightly higher, they will continue to go back based on relationship and expectations alone. It is possible that they could be moving on from a single designer based on their needs not being met, but if they have worked with multiple designers before, the odds are that the client is the problem.
- They ask for exceptions
Every client should be special, yes, but if a client asks you to completely change your process for them, this is a red flag. Processes keep a business running well and a good client will respect that you have a tried and tested process to deliver the best results for them. This trait can also show up later if they try to pick apart your client contract.
- They don’t know what they want “until they see it”
This is a recipe for disaster. These clients often turn into the ones who require multiple additional edits and concepts. They end up consuming a lot more of your time while you attempt to guess their needs and preferences. It’s best to politely decline these projects.
- They are fixated on the lowest price
There is nothing worse than feeling like you haven’t delivered your best work because a client was not willing to pay for it. If a client is pushing repeatedly to lower your prices – walk away.
- They ghost on your discovery call
If a client blatantly doesn’t show up for your discovery call because they “got busy” or forgot, this shows a lack of commitment on their part. If they are not respecting your time for this initial call, how can you expect them to respect your work as a professional web designer?
Once you have completed the discovery call, you should have a clear understanding of their goals and requirements to be able to assemble a proposal and quotation.
Step 2: The proposal
After your discovery call with the client, you should invest at least a couple of hours into creating a proposal that meets their web design needs. This proposal doesn’t need to be more than a few pages and you want to make sure that it is sent via email within 48 hours of your discovery call.
It is best to deliver your proposal in an attractive Pdf document. This can be done in several programs, including Microsoft Word, Adobe Creative Suite, Figma, or even Google Slides. We suggest creating a general template for all of your clients to save you a fair amount of time in the future.
Your proposal should have an attractive cover page, followed by 4 main sections:
- Client goals and expectations
Including this in your proposal immediately tells the client that you have listened to their needs. Focusing on their goals and how you plan to achieve them will shine a light on the value of your services, making the client’s decision to hire you more likely.
- 2 or 3 package options
Including multiple package options to suit your client’s budget will reduce the need for further negotiations on scope and price. We suggest including a high, mid, and low-budget option with varied scopes to show the client what they can expect within each price range.
- Timeline and process
Include a breakdown of your process and an estimated timeline for the client. This will help give them a clear expectation of project progress and define when they need to have certain aspects of the project in order. Be sure to include time for feedback and content submission from the client.
Include some “optional extra” suggestions such as maintenance, SEO, and even copywriting. This will help you to maximize your project production and even secure a monthly retainer so that you can better plan your income stream.
It is recommended that you include a deadline for acceptance within your proposal to avoid an unexpected rush or project overlap. We recommend making a note in your email to the client of the proposal itself.
For example: “We have tentatively reserved X date for your project start date. Please note that this booking must be confirmed by X date to secure this project slot.”
Step 3: Briefing/Strategy meeting
Once the client has selected and confirmed their web design package, the next step is to make sure that the scope and expectations of the project are clear to both parties. The best way to do this is face to face with a briefing or strategy call.
This call is generally 60-90 minutes, where you talk the client through the project process and break down the project into page-by-page expectations. You want to get a clear idea of who their target audience is and what they need them to do.
For example: “Let’s talk about your Home page? What do you want users to see when they first land on your new website?”
Clarify what features and functions are expected on each page of their website, what you will need from the client for each page, and when you will need this information.
This strategy meeting will help clarify exactly what pages and information the client will be needing on their new website. Don’t be afraid to ask for clarification on any other aspects that you are not sure of at this point.
Eg: Fonts, colour palettes, and layouts.
Step 4: Client service agreement
It’s important as a freelancer and small business owner to be protecting yourself. The best way to do that is with a contract. Before you start with any project, it is important to have a signed contract between you and your client that outlines all aspects of the project to be delivered.
Before you begin to draft your client service agreement (CSA), you must remember that this serves as a legally binding document. Because of this, hiring a lawyer is highly recommended to ensure that everything is above board. This could save you from a few lawsuits if anything does ever go wrong.
When compiling your CSA, it is advised that you carefully study your country’s consumer protection laws regarding service providers, refund policies, and intellectual property rights. You want to have everything in writing, in as much detail as possible.
Here are the 10 must-have points that every CSA should include:
- What deliverables
- How many revisions
- Project timeline
- Client participation
- Payment due dates
- Late fee notices
- Copyright ownership
- Cancellation situations
- Terms relevant to your country of registration
Step 5: Invoicing
Accompanying your CSA should be an official deposit invoice for your client to confirm with payment. This payment is generally 50% or one-third of the total project cost, depending on your payment terms.
When first starting as a freelance web designer, it is completely acceptable to create your invoices using a Microsoft Excel template. As your business grows and your budget allows, we advise an upgrade to a more manageable and efficient invoicing platform, such as Freshbooks or Quickbooks. These tools will help you easily store your client’s information and your service packages, tax calculations, payment details, and banking statements.
For every invoice, you will need to include your client’s business and contact details, so be sure to request these beforehand:
- Client full name
- Registered business name
- Business details
- VAT number (if required)
A new invoice will need to be sent for every progress payment, so you will need to keep track of these dates and amounts.
It is advisable to research your country’s tax laws and remember that you cannot charge VAT if you are not VAT registered. You must make a note on your quotations and invoices for amounts including or excluding tax.
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Step 6: Time management
The cornerstone of any successful project is time management and milestones. It is important to keep your client in the loop with your progress and have a clear plan mapped out of exactly how long each segment of your project is going to take you.
We have created this helpful worksheet to help you plan your project timeline and milestones.
Here, we break down the project into these suggested key phases:
- Client enquiry
- Rough quote
- UX meeting
- UI design
- Build homepage
- QA checklist
- Client final approval
- Website live
- Post going live checklist
- Training the client
- 3 months support
- Maintenance and upselling
Within each milestone, make a note of when your client will need an update. We recommend at least twice a week, but some milestones may require multiple updates for feedback and flow. Eg: As each sub-page is completed.
Once you have mapped out your milestones and time allocations, you can use a time tracking tool, like Toggle or Clockify, to help you monitor your hours and progress. If you are charging by the hour, these will be some of your most important tools to help you charge correctly and better schedule (and price) future projects.
Step 7: CMS (Client Management Software)
If you are trying to keep track of multiple projects and clients using nothing but your email, there is inevitably going to be some details and documentation that is going to slip through the cracks. Your inbox is not a reliable client management tool.
Ideally, you want to be able to have a single go-to source that you can easily reference for client and project details. There are a number of great apps and tools out there that will help you do this.
If you have the added budget to spend, then a platform such as Honeybook will allow you to automate a lot of the process, from discovery calls to proposals and invoicing to project tracking. However, these platforms can be rather daunting (and pricey) if you are new to freelancing.
Notion and Trello are perfect client management tools for freelancers on a budget. Both platforms will also allow you to share individual project boards with your client so that they can track progress too.
Notion allows for a lot more freedom of what kind of information can be stored on the platform. You can create multiple tabs and make use of their personalization features to create boards, tables, layouts, and checklists that can help you manage your entire business from one place.
The downfall to Notion is that it may appear quite confusing to clients who are less tech-savvy.
The simple, user-friendly design and layout of Trello make it a popular choice for Freelancers managing clients and projects. With a free plan, you are able to manage 10 “Trello boards” simultaneously from a single account.
We find that clients tend to prefer Trello as its simplicity is easily grasped by beginners. It allows your clients to leave feedback and comments below each task or card as well as upload images, links, and files. Again, it also allows some basic personalization of each board’s appearance.
We advise utilizing one of your boards for a general client list or project overview, where you can keep all projects in a single space. Additional boards can be created for each project, where you mark out the milestones and share the board with your client. We recommend using the following lists within your Trello board:
Info and assets that have been collected for the project.
Eg: Brand guide, Project brief, Brand colours, etc.
- Info needed
This list will contain a card for each task or item of content required from your client.
Eg: Home page copy, Team member images, etc.
- To do:
A list of upcoming tasks and milestones.
- In Progress:
A list that shows the tasks and milestones that you are busy on right now.
- Awaiting feedback:
Tasks awaiting client approval.
A list of approved and completed tasks and milestones.
For a smoother feedback process and to ensure your client fully understands your board, it is a good idea to schedule a short training session and walkthrough of your project board. This will show your client that you value their input and understanding while also making sure that they are able to confidently navigate your board for optimal feedback.
Step 8: Email updates
Imagine you had paid someone a substantial amount of money to build something for you. They tell you it will take 6 weeks, request a deposit, you pay, and then… nothing…
Any sane human being would begin to worry if they hadn’t received any update in a week or two.
For this reason, it is advised to set aside two days a week for client updates. Simply set aside 10 minutes to type up an email with the following information:
- This is what I have completed
- This is what I am currently working on
- This is what is next
Be sure to include any viewing or reference links and request feedback where needed.
Friendly updates aside, email communication is one of the most important parts of the client management process for one reason: They are written confirmation from a registered source and as such, THEY ARE LEGALLY BINDING!
Get it in writing
In the unlikely event that a project goes horribly wrong and turns into a “he-said-she-said” event, your email correspondence can be referenced and (if necessary) submitted as relevant and legally recognized evidence in a court of law.
While communicating exclusively in your Trello board comments is useful, this text is not admissible in court.
To protect your wellbeing as a freelance web designer, it is important to note and communicate any and all-important project details, updates, and changes in a written email. Furthermore, you will want to insist on written confirmation that the client has read and understood your communication.
For example: If your client has “signed off” on a milestone in Trello, follow up in your next email update with, “I am so glad you love your new [homepage design]. Are you happy that we sign that off as complete so that we can move onto the next phase of your project?”
Don’t stop bringing it up until you have a definite “Yes”.
Step 9: Signoff
Confirming a signoff at the end of each project milestone ensures that you can safely move forward to the next stage.
There’s nothing worse than taking a client from the UX wireframing through to UI design and finally to web development, only to have them decide to change their initial layout completely. Not only is this frustrating, but it will require hours of additional updates and changes to the project to come back to this stage.
In this circumstance, you should have an iron-clad contract that states that additional work will be charged at your standard hourly rates. However, this alone is not enough as adjusting a page already included in your brief may not be seen as additional work by the client.
It is important to make it clear to the client that each phase of the web design project must be signed off before moving onto the next. Additionally, they will be charged accordingly for any further revisions on completed milestones. This information should be stated clearly in your CSA.
Deliver with personality
Remember, while your CSA may be a boring legal document, your emails don’t need to be. Adding some personality to your signoff requests can enhance your client experience and promote more positive responses.
“Please find attached your final design and respond in writing to confirm approval and signoff”
“It’s finally done! Take a look at the awesome design attached and pop me a “Let’s go!” if you are happy to give it your stamp of approval and move on to the next phase”.
A tough lesson that every freelancer learns at some point is that not all clients are trustworthy, especially when it comes time for final payment.
Once you have received the final signoff for your web design services, it is advised to insist on final payment before you hand over the end product. Simply talk your client through the final process, adding some enthusiasm to keep them motivated.
For example: “Pop the champagne! We’re ready to launch! Please find attached your final invoice for payment. As soon as we have your confirmation, it’s time to press publish and share your new website with the world…”
This makes it clear that they need to pay before you release your hard work, without sounding like you are holding their website for ransom.
Once you have pressed the publish button, be sure to thank the client for the experience and ask them to leave a review on your platform of choice.
DON’T ask them to leave reviews on multiple platforms, as the overwhelm may deter the client from leaving one at all. Rather, include one link and ask them to share their feedback on your project together.
When you are a freelancer, simply being able to design a website is not enough. You need to be able to successfully manage and communicate with clients to ensure the survival of your business and reputation. Establishing and utilizing a set process will help you better track your progress, manage your calendar and keep your clients coming back for more.
To recap, these are the steps we recommend to manage your clients as a freelance web designer:
- Discovery call
- Briefing/Strategy meeting
- Client service agreement
- Time management
- Email updates
Once you have completed a course in web design, these steps will help you successfully manage your freelance clients so that you can work remotely and on your own terms.
If you are already a freelance web designer, we would love to hear if you have any additional tips and tools that you use for your client management process. Let us know so that we can help more savvy freelancers, just like you!