Annoying Things Clients Do

(This post was originally published on LinkedIn on November 30, 2015.)

Having now worked in the creative professional arena for several years, I’ve collaborated with brands and individuals from a vast array of industries. My diverse clientele comes from backgrounds in entertainment, fashion, real estate development, the nonprofit sector, and many places in between. The projects, too, have have spanned a variety of formats from video to social media to web design.

Let me first say that I am fully appreciative of all my clients regardless of their industry or assignment, and I’m always flattered when they select me as their creative collaborator. But I’ve found that there are a handful of things that clients periodically — but still somewhat consistently — do that I frankly find to be, well, kind of annoying. And not only are they annoying, they can also hinder the creative process and result in the production of subpar work. Below are a few items to be aware of if you ever find yourself needing to contract out creative services:

  • Giving vague direction: I want to feel like I’m walking through a field of wildflowers on a crisp, autumn day. Believe it or not, this was something a client actually said to a cellist friend of mine when she hired him to compose a piece of music for her video project. This kind of direction is unhelpful because each individual has his or her own subjective interpretation of what it should feel like to have the experience described above. Instead, try to use more specific terms like “low-tempo,” “sparsely-produced,” or even “evocative of calmness.” Also, and especially in the instance of visual projects like graphics or video, it can often be helpful to provide your collaborator with samples of other work that evoke a similar emotional or intellectual response to the one you are trying to achieve with your project. When you offer direction that is clear and coherent, you drastically improve the likelihood that you (and your customers) will respond to the message conveyed by the end product.
  • Micromanaging the creative process: While it’s good to provide a creative professional with project parameters, you must also be wary of crossing over the threshold into micromanagement. It is therefore important to strike a balance between ambiguous subjectivity and ironclad rigidity. Consider the artist who’s commissioned to paint a mural on the side of a building. Establishing a theme (“design something that conveys the triumph of good over evil”), providing a quote for inspiration, or specifying a color scheme can all be great ways to guide the artist but also leave her with enough room to do her creative thing. After all, you hired her for her creativity; you should allow her to exercise her artistic talents. Micromanagement of an artist could also damage his confidence, since he might understandably interpret the manager’s behavior to be indicative of a lack of trust in the artist’s abilities or competence. The lesson here is that it’s the client’s responsibility to paint the big picture, but the artist’s task to handle the details.
  • Scope creep: I’ve touched on the hazards of scope creep in a previous article, but it’s worth mentioning again. This phenomenon occurs when a project gradually grows beyond its originally envisioned size. The frequent result is that the artist becomes stretched thin while attempting to cover the extra territory, causing his ideas to become watered-down and punchless. One thing you can do to prevent scope creep from scuttling your project is to focus on specific business goals you’d like to achieve. Don’t tell the video producer “I want you to make a video that showcases my business.” Instead, tell her “I’d like to promote my winter clothing line with the aim of boosting sales by 20%.” Something else that I frequently provide to my collaborators prior to beginning work on a new video is a written guideline that covers basic project specifications such as running time, target demos, and key selling points. Not only is this guideline helpful to the people you work with, it’s also a valuable exercise for you, since it forces you to articulate specific desired outcomes for your project.
  • Rushing the project: I understand that we all have deadlines to meet, but it’s critically important that you give your collaborators sufficient time to complete their work. It really comes down to planning and foresight. Let’s say you’re looking to launch a new website in three months. The first thing you need to think about is the different collateral you’ll need to develop in order to complete your project: page design elements, photography, written copy, video, etc. Make sure you give each of your collaborators sufficient time to create quality content. The appropriate time frame will vary depending on the type of work being performed. Writing 300 words of copy for an “About Us” page, for instance, should take substantially less time than producing a two-minute branded video, so plan accordingly. Rushing to get everything done last minute will result in frustrated collaborators and deliverables that aren’t up to snuff.

“Help me help you” isn’t just a quote from Jerry Maguire. It’s a professional lifestyle, and it’s the philosophy you need to adopt when you work with other people — regardless of whether they’re a part of your organization or not. Providing your collaborators with something solid to sink their teeth into while at the same time giving them the space they need to be productive is the name of the game. If you earnestly strive to create the conditions under which success can occur, you just might be surprised at how often it does.