Five ways to turn ‘good’ into ‘great’ when working with clients

By Chad Hutson

Over the years, I’ve been asked several times about what makes a project “great.” Oftentimes the clients are especially nice and organized folks, though others may be a bit harder to handle despite their excellent creative thinking. But even apart from how easy or difficult a person can be, the consistent smoothness of projects comes down to processes, which you have the ability to implement and control.

Instead of leaving your next project to fate, try establishing some practices that ensure everyone follows the script (with a little improv when necessary). Here are five of my favorites:

1. Set the stage for collaboration
Of course, if you’re renovating your bathroom, you probably have a vision for what you want to achieve — which is a solid start. But the wisest of us seem to understand that hiring a professional contractor to bring that vision to life is the way to ensure the end result will turn out well.

Naturally, the same should be said for the relationship between you and your client. We look for those opportunities to make it clear that we have been hired for our expertise, and we take a great deal of pride in doing our jobs extremely well. We all understand that the creative process needs to be collaborative, and all input highly valued… and that includes ours. We chiefly aim to establish this by earning our clients’ respect, and in those cases where we accomplish that our business relationships ascend to new levels.

Leviathan’s workspace.

2. Educate clients about your creative and technical processes
Agency and brand clients alike have varying degrees of production and post production knowledge, though as content producers we never quite know exactly what the level of that expertise is. Further, it’s a safe bet that new clients are unfamiliar with your company’s specific processes. We have developed outlines that lay out how we generally treat projects, addressing initial concept development, boards, previz, rough cuts, finishing… all the way to shipping a master. We also gain sign-offs as each stage is approved. Communicating this way, with an easy-to-understand process outline, serves as a checklist for both parties as projects take shape. You might even consider including such a document as an addendum in contracts: it  keeps everyone in line, including your team.

3. Clearly establish project caveats and boundaries
This probably sounds like Production Business 101 to most of you, but it’s surprising how many companies don’t clearly outline a project’s scope-of-work or definitive milestones… and as a result, their gigs can run off the rails. (To be fair, I’ve learned this the hard way as well.) To produce great work, ensure clients know what is and isn’t possible on a project from the beginning. One example, if client approval is expected by a certain date but isn’t received, properly structured bids can provide for required deadline extensions and/or additional fees. It may seem cold at first, but it provides some remedy for you should changes come, and it also protects all parties from “scope creep” (which keeps you and your clients out of trouble with CMOs and CEOs).

4. Go the extra mile to provide options
Referencing item one above, remind yourself that clients typically hire you because you’re damn good at your job… so seize the reasonable opportunities to prove that to them. When presenting initial concepts or approaches for a project, consider not only giving them what they asked for but also another separate, fresh perspective they may not have considered. While this will probably come to them as a surprise, they will very likely be impressed and may even take you up on that new point-of-view.

The same can go for requested revisions down the line. You may hear, “Make that logo bigger,” and you can come back with, “Here are four options of a bigger logo.” This affords you the luxury of controlling the choices and quality of the work while making decisions clearer and easier for the client. Plus, you will look like a champ for being so proactive.

5. Get it in writing, and stick to your guns (but be prepared to show some compassion)
Crystal clear project processes? Check. Air tight bids and contracts? Done deal. Now that your client understands the parameters around the project you’re producing together, they should always play by the rules and no surprises will arise, right? Well, unfortunately it’s rarely that simple, and this is where good judgment comes in.

For example: If the client’s boss is seeing progress for the first time and wants to make drastic changes, you’ve already communicated and clearly agreed via contract that this will impact the gig’s schedule and cost, so you’re entitled to remedies that allow these revisions to happen without impacting your bottom line.

But you do have some stakes to consider: What’s the future potential with this client? How easy or difficult have they been to work with thus far? Do you want to keep them long-term? Standing your ground on contract deviations is a great precedent to establish, but of course if you want the business relationship to endure, some small concessions may be worth accommodating. After all, imagine your central file server crashing, setting the project back a day or more. In that situation, how would you want your client to react? If you’ve demonstrated at least some flexibility and coolness, that karma might go a long way for you.

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Examples of some Leviathan work.

Leviathan is a conceptual design company that creates engaging narrative content and experiences for brands and entertainers worldwide. Every day, Leviathan’s artists and engineers help transform the worlds of commercial advertising, live events, film, television and environments. Follow them on Twitter @lvthn and Chad on Twitter as well @chad_Hutson.


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