9 RULES FOR GREAT FREELANCER TO CLIENT COMMUNICATION
October 2021, Mar Exposito
What will make a big difference in how much you enjoy your work is who are you working with.
And in that, honest communication and clear expectations are the core of any professionally successful and fun project to work at. It will give you a safe feeling that everything will be done as you imagine and on time. Which helps to also creative results!
What works when we communicate with clients commissioning our animations:
1. WE DO THE DIFFICULT CONVERSATIONS AT THE BEGINING
Copyrights, payment dates, project "must have's" and everything important must be said as soon as possible. Ideally before closing any deal.
Leaving things as a guess will lead to terrible problems.
2. WHENEVER POSSIBLE, WE MEET IN PERSON OR USE SOME VIDEO CALLS
Humans are meant to communicate using all their senses: vision, hearing, or even touch,... OK! maybe taste and smell are not the appropriate ones here!
But in general, the more communication inputs, the easier it is to pick up details, things that may not work, ideas that spark interest, and many other useful data to make sure you are working in the same direction.
When possible (and safe), meet in person. Or at least try not to skip a few video calls per project. We may have skipped this step in some projects because text messaging seemed to work but, honestly, a shorter call would have been much more fun and informational than any chat!
3. WE KEEP THE IMPORTANT THINGS IN WRITING
We just talked about how connecting and important it is to meet "in person". But for everyone's sake, do keep the key points of conversations in writing. What you can always do is send a summary message shortly after. It will save you a headache as it proves, and reminds you, what has been agreed.
4. WE COMMUNICATE AS MUCH AS THE PROJECT NEEDS ASK FOR
The biggest bulk of communication is often at the beginning when there is a lot of going back and forth about contract details or storyboard revisions. But that does not mean we disappear later! Usually, we keep in touch from time to time (being it days or weeks) to inform if everything is going smoothly.
5. WE USE A LANGUAGE YOU ARE CONFIDENT IN
If the client speaks native Spanish (or Catalan), I, the studio director, will shift to that language for main communication since that is my native language as well. That will cause some brain effort to then communicate with the team back into English, our common tongue. But it is 100% worth adapting if it can smoothen our talks.
6. WE ASK AGAIN
Even within native speakers, not every word will mean the same. And that is even less likely when a lot of communication happens in written messages, naked from all emotion and context.
To avoid mistakes, I often need to be brave and ask about the meaning of whatever is being said. Or, at least, I repeat what I understood to confirm it is correct. It may not look professional to ask many questions, but it is even worse to deliver something wrong for the client's project!
7. WE STRIVE TO BE HONEST, AND DON'T SHY AWAY FROM NEGATIVES
Saying everything is going well when it isn't = main ingredient for a trouble potion. We don't communicate with the client about every single setback, especially if we know we'll catch up with that obstacle in a few day. But it is also important to keep them in the loop of bigger struggles.
One big tip here is that, when you bring a problem, try to also bring a plan B idea. In many cases, the client may even be able to help. And if is bad bad, then we better all face reality ahead of time and have as much margin as possible for plan Z!
8. WE BRING SUGGESTIONS AND ASK FOR FEEDBACK
Every story and project is new. That is why it is worth making it, isn't it? That means that what we talk about during design time may look different once put into motion, so things must adapt. Or, simply, you get a better idea as time goes by.
In cases when this is big or part of an important scene we make sure to run it through the client to make sure the changes get approval. As well as show drafts from time to time so they can give feedback if something looks terribly different from what they had in mind. Or in case they get inspired themselves to new ideas.
An important note here is that new changes "for the sake of how cool it would be" (thus not mistakes or necessary adaptations) are accounted in "revision time". Otherwise, the production will risk going past the deadline or even lose consistency.
9. WE LISTEN
Both us and the client have their point of view, worries, knowledge, and creativity. And there is no communication (and good project) that escapes understanding or, at the very least respect for each other's ideas. So, needless to say: we carefully listen to wants and needs before taking any meaningful step. And fast and reply politely!
This seems hard and tedious but...
...making work easier often requires hard steps first.*
Think of it as exercising. It is hard to keep it going every day. But losing your strength and flexibility over time will make your life even more difficult!
*An idea I came by through James Clear.
So whether we follow all this every single time or not, now you know what we strive for as we work. We will spend a lot of hours working together so we better make it with ease, clarity, and fun!