If you’ve been in the business for more than about a week, you’ve run into this particular monster of a client before, and probably been scared off by more than one. These are the clients that keep plowing forward, consuming every idea you throw at them, but are never satisfied. These are the clients who say “I don’t know what I want, but I’ll know it when I see it.” This is, of course, one of the least helpful phrases in the English language, and even listed as one of Fast Company’s biggest red flags.
Whether you’re working on a marketing campaign or website design, digital professionals need to know how to handle this unrelenting horde. While your client probably isn’t shuffling around groaning for brains, the fact of the matter is that your brain is actually what they want. When they say they don’t know what they want, they’re relying on your expertise—your brain—to understand their business needs well enough to produce something that will get real results and send everyone home happy. There are, thankfully, three fairly simple steps you can take to pull this off without joining the ranks of the undead yourself.
- Make sure they know from the get-go that you’re going to be asking questions. If you’re dealing with a client who wants you to create something with nothing to go on, you had better be getting paid double or triple industry standard. Let them know that in order to do your job, you need to understand how they do their job and why. This will help smooth over all your brainstorming sessions from jump.
- Ask a lot of questions. Entrepreneur.com has a few suggestions, but you need to go beyond the broad “questions you need to ask” heading and get down to the nitty-gritty.Understand your client’s business, both methods and aesthetic, and make sure you know 100 percent what it is they want to achieve with your project. If you’re in this for design, figure out the reasoning for the corporate palette, get a feel for their aesthetic and the aesthetics of their industry. For marketing campaigns—which tie into design, of course—you need to understand their ideal customer and how to appeal to them, which means asking even more questions.
- Start broad and then narrow it down. Start off with a half-dozen extremely rough concepts, discuss them with the client and help narrow down options before you’ve put too much work into any one rejected design or campaign. These rough concepts should all be dramatically different in order to help your client establish the look and feel that their business needs.
As long as you follow these three steps, you should be able to handle whatever the legion of the undead clients throws at you. Instead of getting spooked, focus on helping the client to answer their own question—save your own brain by using theirs instead! As long as you ask the right questions and understand what they really need, you should know what they want even when they don’t.
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