Design Domination Podcast Episode #161: How to Get What You Need From Clients

Do you spend a lot of time explaining what you need to clients? Are you tired of getting the wrong files or clients not following your processes? Find out how to get what you need from clients to make for a smoother client relationship and more profitable projects.


In this episode of Design Domination, I’m getting into how to get what you want from clients.

I know that so many designers spend so much time out of their day explaining to clients how to send files and what formats to send, and why it’s not a good idea to send images in a Word or PowerPoint document or to send edits in a new Word document.

Stick around to find out how to get what you need from clients and have a much more pleasant working relationship with your clients.

Most designers do not explain to clients how to send files and which files they need. So what happens is the client, who doesn’t do this type of work and doesn’t usually know better (although some do), will send you files that you can’t use because they’re the wrong format or they are poor quality.

And then what happens?

You spend tons of time explaining to the client types of files you need. You get frustrated. The client gets frustrated. They wonder why you didn’t tell them this to begin with. You’re supposed to be the expert.

You end up wasting both your time and theirs. But it’s not only time consuming to have to explain things over and over to one client but to multiple clients over time.

When you don’t get what you need, it also eats into your profit because you’re having to take the time to explain or you’re having to work in a way that is not efficient for you, like extracting images from a PDF or a Word document, copying text from Canva or something, in order to get what you need to do the job right.

The client may feel stupid for providing materials in a way that you didn’t want to get them too. And people remember how you made them feel, so you don’t want your clients to feel that way.

So nip this in the bud, and things will go much, much smoother for both of you. You will set the project up for success!

Now, for me, it’s been quite some time since I’ve had an issue with getting what I need from clients, because as my friend Katie says, I have things “buttoned up.”

Well, when you have a lot going on, such as dealing with a broken hand and going to physical therapy twice a week and not getting much sleep because your dog has a collapsed trachea and has coughed every 15 to 20 minutes, including at night, for the past month, well, things can fall through the cracks.

So this just happened to me.

I have a client I love working with. They graciously referred another contact within their organization to me. I sent them a proposal for the work, and it was accepted.

Sounds perfect, right?

We started working on the new design while waiting on the revised copy, which was supposed to be minor edits. We exported the copy from the PDF and cleaned it up, because exporting text from Acrobat maintains any hyphens and line breaks. The hyphens and line breaks (other than paragraph breaks) need to be removed.

So we did all that, and then the revisions came—in the form of an edited PDF. No comments in the PDF noting what had changed—just a new PDF.

It also came with some new images and others removed that they no longer wanted to use.

Wowser! This was not at all what I was expecting. I was expecting a PDF with comments letting us know the text edits they were making.

I thought, how could this have just happened? I always specify how I want files sent and how to do it and so forth.

I went back to look at the proposal I had sent them. It was missing the Work With Us page, which is where I spell out what we need for copy and images and how we want to receive edits, etc.

Yikes! How could I have left out such an important page?

Oh, right… Little sleep, a broken hand, a sick dog…

Anyway, I went back to the client and apologized for not having included our typical terms and explained what we needed. I am waiting now on getting what we need.

So this was a reminder of if you don’t explain what you need, then clients will determine on their own what that is and how to deliver it to you.

It’s also a good lesson that just because the one client contact you work with already knows better, that their colleague knows too. So you have to educate every new client you work with, even if they are within the same organization.

Guidelines for Working With a Designer

You need to write up and convey guidelines for working with you.

You can have them on a web page or as a page in your contracts or even a PDF guide. But write them up once and send it out, so they know what is expected.

Remember: You’re the expert, not them.

Include in the guidelines a short statement about why these guidelines are important, i.e., they will save you both time, they will make things more efficient, keep things on track, eliminate back and forth, because nobody likes that!

Then create sections for what you want them to provide. You might have a section for copy, for sending edits, image formats, choosing images, website login credentials, etc.

I like to include do’s and don’ts in each section.

Copy Guidelines

For example, I have a section on copy and I list out some things that I want them to do, such as:

  • Provide edited and proofread text. I don’t want anything in the draft stage.
  • Clearly name text and image files, as opposed to sending image files that are named “DSC” and  some random number. If we don’t know who the photo is of, how can we know which one goes where, right?

In my Don’t section, one thing I state is not to send unfinal text to “get started”. That makes me crazy. Let’s design something and lay out all the text, and then let’s change it all up on the next draft. Absolutely not!

The don’ts are things I’ve encountered in the past and never want to happen again.

Submitting Edits

I also have a section on submitting edits, where I tell them how I want to get edits and I explain why (efficiency and reducing the possibility of errors). They should be on board with that.

I want only one point of contact. I don’t want multiple people having conversations on proofs and I can’t tell if the edit needs to be made or not, or what the final edit is supposed to be.

I want you to use Acrobat to add comments to the proof.

I don’t want a new Word document where I cannot see what’s changed.

I don’t want an email saying to make this edit to page 5, paragraph 2, which could change if other edits are made prior to that, if text reflows. I don’t want to have to use a map to figure out where to make an edit.

I don’t want you to tell the printer you have edits instead of telling me, where I can easily make the change and send them a new page. That also ensures I have the most up-to-date file.

Image Guidelines

I tell clients about images.

Don’t send me images that you don’t own or don’t have permission to use. That includes Google images.

Find out if a credit needs to be provided with the image.

Make sure you’ve gotten any releases from people in the photo, if they’re needed.

I don’t want to get any threatening letters from a stock image agency or someone else.

Send image files as image files, not pasted into Word, and send these formats: TIFF, JPEG, PNG, AI, PDF or EPS—whatever it is I need based on the type of work.

You can also include guidelines on resolution and even how to pick good stock photos or how to pick good photos they own, such as don’t send me a photo with someone’s head cut off if you’re featuring them in your brochure.

Sending Files

You may even have guidelines for how you want clients to send files.

Do you want them to email them to you? Often what happens is you get things piecemeal, a few files in one email and one in another. Some files are too big to email, and many clients won’t know how to send them.

You can easily specify how you want them to send files, whether that’s via a Dropbox or Google Drive folder you set up, a client portal or something else you send the link to.

Other Guidelines

I also specify that I may need source files for content that needs to be modified to be made accessible, like if they send me an image of text that needs to be recreated or a chart that needs to be modified.

Whatever guidelines you want to include depend on you and your clients and the type of work that you do.

Think about how clients have provided you files in the past and what any of the issues were with them. As something new comes up (which it likely will!), add it to your list of do’s and don’ts.

And if you feel like this is too much for a client to handle, like it’s more work for them, then I’ll share this… I’ve gotten really good feedback from clients after they’ve read my guidelines. They are not only impressed, they find them helpful.

They actually appreciate knowing what to do up front instead of guessing and wasting their time or mine and dragging out the project longer. They feel empowered rather than foolish because they didn’t get it right the first time.

Like I said, people remember how you made them feel. Don’t make them guess. Don’t waste their time. Don’t lecture them after the fact when you didn’t get what you needed from them.

Client education is important for a smooth relationship. So tell the client up front how to help you. Then you set yourself, the client and the project up for success.

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