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When talking to clients, be careful what words you use.

Every industry has its own language, design is no different. When talking to clients we have to remember that they’re not part of our industry and if we’re not careful we may scare them away.

I remember the first time I realized this. A potential client called to discuss a possible job. We spent about 30 minutes on the phone talking about the project and figuring out the best way to go about it designing it. I gave him some ideas and he pitched in his thoughts. At the end of the conversation, the client said he wanted to move forward with me and we made an appointment to meet in person to iron out the details.

Before hanging up, the client told me how different it was talking to me compared to the other designers he had contacted. He told me the other designers made him feel dumb because he didn’t understand half of what they said. But with me, it was like having a conversation with a friend. He understood everything I said and could picture exactly what I meant. In the end, it wasn’t the price that made him choose me, in fact, I wasn’t the cheapest bid, it was the way I talked to him that was the foundation for our new relationship.

We completed that project and that client is still with me today.

There’s a valuable lessen there. If you try to make yourself sound important by using industry jargon all you’ll end up doing is alienating your client, making them feel dumb and they may not want to work with you.

Let me tell you a story.

Our washing machine recently went on the fritz. It would go through the wash and rinse no problem but when it came to the spin cycle it just stopped. After a while, the washer would say the load was done but the clothes were still dripping wet.

I called a repair guy, someone I’ve used successfully several times in the past. He came in, diagnosed that it was some actuator or something or other that was causing the problem and ran some diagnostic tests. He replaced a part that I couldn’t even pronounce and said a bunch of mumbo jumbo that left my head spinning. The part didn’t fix the issue so he put mine back in and told me I needed a new motherboard (finally a word I understood), and that it wasn’t worth replacing, I would be better off purchasing a new washing machine.

The repair guy left and I had no idea what the issue was other than it was going to cost me a lot of money. The guy made me feel dumb which I didn’t appreciate. And I didn’t know if he had spouted all of that jargon specifically to confuse me or not. Either way, I lost my confidence in him and called a second repair guy to come have a look.

The second guy came in and had a look. He pointed out the same suspected faulty part but he told me it’s a sensor that reads the rotations of the washer drum. Every time the drum spins that part registers how fast the turn took and relays that information to the computer. Once a certain number of rotations have completed it tells the computer to stop spinning to complete the cycle. He then proceeded to explain to me, in words I understood, the processes involved to complete the wash cycle. He replaced the same part the first repair guy did and explained that in order to make sure it worked properly he had to run it through several cycles first, something the first guy hadn’t done. After a calibration and a few successful cycles he told me to test out the machine for a few days and if it continued to work he would bill me for the part and his labour. If the machine failed, he would remove the part and not charge me for it.

Long story short, the machine is now working fine and I understand exactly what the second repair man did because of the way he explained it to me.

As for the first repair guy, he may have thrown a lot of big words at me which made him sound like he knew what he was doing but it also caused me to second guess him and seek out a different opinion.

The same thing can happen to us if we’re not careful when talking to clients.

Take a minute to think of all the design related words we use in our business. Words we take for granted because we use them on a regular basis.

If a client contacts you for a 64-page booklet you may want to ask him the following questions.

  • Will it be perfect bound or saddle stiched?
  • Is it self cover?
  • 4 /4? 4/1? Something else?
  • Will there be spot colours?
  • Matte, Satin, Semi, or Gloss stock?
  • Lamination, Varnish, Aqueous or UV coating?
  • Will it bleed?
  • What’s the gutter size?
  • What about creep? Do we worry about it or does the printer?
  • What about pagenation?
  • Is the printer setting up the signatures or are we responsible for that?

If you design for print, you probably understood all of that. But to a client, it’s a foreign language. You need to learn how to say all of this in a way they will understand but also without sounding condesending.

  • Do you want the book to be folded and held together with staples or do you want it to have a flat spine with the pages glued in?
  • Do you want the cover to be a thicker stock than the inside pages?
  • Will there be colour photos or images inside. If so, will they be on all pages?
  • Do you want the images or photos to run off the edges of the paper or should there be a white border around the page?

Clients will be much more appreciative if you use a language they understand. It’s the concept they need to know, not the industrie’s terminology.

If a client contacts you for a new website you may want to ask him the following questions.

  • I presume you want it responsive?
  • Static is no longer recommended so is it ok if we go with a Dynamic site?
  • Do you require multiple landing pages?
  • Do you have your domain already? What’s the URL?
  • What you’re asking will require some custom JavaScript.
  • Will you be doing any eCommerce?
  • Now let’s talk about SEO, have you given any thought to your backlink strategy to increase your page juice?

Again, this could leave a client’s head spinning.

It might give them the impression that you know what you’re doing, but it won't give them the confidence to hire you.

I’m an advocate for builing relationships with your clients. It’s the best way create loyalty which in return brings recurring work and referrals. Now think about your every day life. Do you have any meaningful relationships with people who make you feel dumb because you don’t understand half the things they say? Of course you don’t.

Your business shouldn’t be any different!

The next time you find yourself talking to a potential new client, be conscious of the words you use, or if you do use industry jargon, make sure you follow it up with an explination, not talking down like you’re explaining something to a child, but simply explaining a concept to a collegue.

If you use the right vocabulary when talking to clients you may find a lot more bids and proposals ending in your favour.

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you didn’t understand what was being said to you?

Let me know by leaving a comment for this episode.

Questions of the Week

Submit your question to be featured in a future episode of the podcast by visiting the feedback page.

This week’s question comes from Tyler

In high school I combined graphic design and videography to discover the wonderful world of motion graphics. I then moved away to go to school to learn as much as I could about the industry. 4 years of tutoruals, playing in programs, and going to classes where I was ahead of the curve and I find myself in a unique situation. At the beginning of last year I felt ready to dive into the industry, I found a paid internship working for a government agency doing all of their media, design, photo and video work. After a year of interning they hired me on a 1 year contract. I have found that where I live, there is a market for what I've been doing for this government agency and I think it would be a viable business. My biggest concern is simple, I am afraid I don't have enough experience to start an undertaking like this. I know that I have the grit, and I would like to think I have the skill, but I am fairly young and I know that could scare business away. What do you think?

To find out what I told Tyler you’ll have to listen to the podcast.

Resource of the week: Think With Google's Test My Site

Test how mobile-friendly your site is with Test My Site by Think with Google. Find out how well it works across both mobile and desktop devices. The site provides you with three basic scores out of 100. Mobile Friendliness, Mobile Speed and Desktop Speed. You can then request a free detailed report by email or you can click the provided links to get a basic idea of what needs to be looked at in order to improve your site’s speed.

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I want to help you.

Running a graphic design or web design business all by yourself isn't easy. If there are any struggles you face running your design business please reach out to me. I'll do my best to help you by addressing your issues in a future blog post or podcast episode here at Resourceful Designer. You can reach me at feedback@resourcefuldesigner.com