Monday, April 1, 2013

Keeping Clients Coming Back - advice from creative services consultant Maria Piscopo

How illustrators can best work with designers and art directors

Once you have a chance at a job with a new client or a big job for a current client, there is a tendency to rush through the standard business practices. Don’t do it, especially with new clients. Illustrators often feel if they are “easy” on the client on the first job, the client will decide to stay and give them more work. Not necessarily true; all it does is set you up for an unhealthy relationship. The way to build healthy and profitable relationships with clients and turn jobs into repeat business is to use good business practices dealing with client projects. Here are some client project issues that will come up with your illustration jobs, and some tips on how to deal with them to develop and maintain a strong relationship thus encouraging clients to keep coming back with more work.

The Deadline
This is a very delicate subject in any job with any client. Many illustrators feel if they meet a miraculous and unreasonable deadline, the client will “love them”. Unfortunately, all that will do is ensure the client will always give you jobs with not enough time to get them done properly in the future! Every client has a deadline horror story to tell that makes them wary of giving accurate information on this point. The best bet is to ask the kind of questions designed to help the client feel more comfortable with your ability to meet their deadlines. Instead of asking, "When do you want this job done?" as this is much too subjective a question, ask for more objective and measurable information such as, "When will the website with these illustrations launch?” Look behind the stated deadline. By breaking the delivery into a series of benchmarks on a timeline, both you and your client will feel more in control of the process (and they will feel safer coming back for more).

The Specific Need
Be sure to find out what specific problem this illustration project is supposed to solve. The more accurate a statement from the client of their goals and objective, the better opportunity you have to meet it. Meeting the client’s goal, whether it is for traffic-building website illustrations or a sales-building package illustration, will always give you a better chance that they will come back again.

The Approvals
This is another touchy subject between any client and illustrator. Sometimes, you both are caught in nightmarish scenarios where everyone responsible loves the ideas and then someone with a higher authority shoots it down. Do the most you can to protect yourself and your client: be a team. Find out how many people need to approve the project. Who are they? How do they relate to this project? Where are they? How many electronic file transfers vs. overnight deliveries are involved? Will there be personal consultations with you or will your client make the presentations for you?
Also, be sure to distinguish between subjective and objective approvals. Subjective is someone's opinion and should be given only to the highest level of authority, i.e., is this the color background they had in mind? You could say that subjective approvals represent the aesthetics and are a “matter of taste”. Note how different this is from an objective approval, which is a measurable determination of accuracy—such as the correct number of subjects or the correct size of the product in the illustration. You want to maximize the objective approvals and minimize the subjective approvals to get the job done and make the client happy.
Cathie Bleck of Cathie Bleck Illustration,, gives five “core values” as keys to repeat business, “Reliability, intelligent solutions, originality, quality assurance, and treating them with respect.” Also, Cathie likes to get to know her clients, “on a personal level, and strive to keep an open and honest dialog between us. Keeping it friendly so to speak allows them the ability to feel that I am approachable on the project or any future projects, even if I don't get the job. I usually try to ask them in the bidding process who I am bidding against and what factors might determine the decision? We may start a dialog from here or another question regarding what I might be able to offer them that might make my service unique to the project.”

Handling Conflict
Finally, your skill in handling conflicts with clients will determine whether your relationship will prosper or end. It is important to know that conflict is not bad. In fact, it is natural and inevitable and you cannot avoid it. What matters is how you choose to manage the conflicts that will arise, and maintain a relationship characterized by integrity, and open communication to achieve the “win-win” that keeps clients loyal.
Cathie Bleck suggests,“I have very few conflicts with clients, but when I do I try to be direct without being negative. Pointing a finger at the problem and not them will hopefully preserve the relationship for the future. Putting the agreement in writing from the beginning of the project serves to alleviate most communication problems.”
Today's competitive marketplace justifies a closer look at how illustrators look at their relationships with clients. On the client's side, the same market factors dictate a new importance and evaluation of their relationships with their illustrators. The more you learn and study the relationship between the creative and the client, the better chance you have of getting the job, and then turning that job into a client and a long-term relationship!

Maria Piscopo is a creative services consultant, an art/photo rep and marketing workshop instructor specializing in effective and creative marketing strategies delivered in her business and self-promotion classes, keynotes, seminars and workshops for associations, schools and photo industry conferences. She is currently an instructor at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco and a reviewer for

Maria will be speaking in Seattle on May 23rd for the ASMP and Seattle illustrators group. This is one of the best workshops you could attend - highly informative - about pricing your work. 
She will repeat her new 2 hour workshop that she premiered at ICON ‘Taking Charge of What You Charge’
If you're in or near Seattle - please don't miss it! You'll thank me later!

from Norm Bendell's portfolio on (represented by David Goldman)
from Val Bochkov's portfolio on

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