Freelance Designer 101: Your First Contact with a Client

March 2024 Edition

Hey guys! 👋 

I am starting a new practical series called “Freelance Designer’s Coffee”.

I will be sharing practical tips, guidelines and processes on how to be a successful freelancer.

In this edition, I will focus on the first contact with a potential client: what are some necessary steps to have a good beginning of your relationship, stay confident and align expectations.

Ready? Let's dive in.

Client Process for Freelance Design Projects: First Contact

Recent Designer layoffs have started a new trend — Senior UX/UI & Product Designers seeking alternatives to full-time roles in a competitive market. Some jumped into side hustles, launched their own startups or simply decided to start freelancing.

This year I started freelancing too, and I realized that coming back was really easy for me. The reason is an established client & project management process. It’s a skill or more like a set of rules that stay with you.

So I wanted to share with you the client process I’ve been using for the last 5 years for most of my freelance projects. In this edition, I will cover the initial contact, project discussion and call summary.

📩 Initial Contact

Most likely the first message from your potential client will be generic and won’t give you enough information. So you have no idea how big the project is or if it’s something you can even do.

Example 1: Hello! I am reaching out to redesign our mobile app. I really loved your work on [product].

Example 2: Hi there, Looking to make a design sprint and build a responsive website. Would love to setup a time to chat. Thanks!

🔎 Asking clients for more details

Personally, I don’t like jumping into calls unprepared or wasting both my & the client's time on discussing a project I can’t help with.

So before suggesting a chat, I ask for some more details about the project to understand the approx. scope & client’s freelance maturity (it’s always nicer to work with clients who know how freelance works and you’re not their first hire).

Example reply for website redesign project: Hey! 👋 Thanks for your interest in my work! To better assess your project needs, could you share:

  • Your website URL and areas to improve.

  • Goals for the redesign (e.g. higher conversions).

  • Any specific features or requirements for the new design.

  • Your competitors and inspirational websites.

  • Your target audience details (e.g. location, interests).

  • Your ideal timeline for completion.

This will help me provide a rough estimate. For reference, 5-page redesigns start at $2,000. Let me know if this fits your budget and feel free to ask any questions or provide further details.

If a client can answer these questions immediately, you’re dealing with a client who knows what they want and understands their goals. This is a green flag to continue the conversation.

☎️ Preparing for your first chat with a client

For scheduling calls, I use Calendly or Notion Calendar (it allows me to connect my multiple Google calendars). Using these tools lets your client select the most comfortable times from your availability.

For the meetings themselves, you can go with the two most popular options - Zoom or Google Meet. Google Meet is easier since it doesn’t require an installed app.

I also suggest keeping the first chat short, around 30 minutes. You don’t want to waste time if it’s not a good match.

Preparing for your first chat with a client | | Kristina Volchek | Designers Coffee Newsletter

Once the time is booked, you need to prepare for your call. If your client provided you with some project details, you’re in a better position already. If not, there are some things you can still do to be more prepared.

  1. Write down your questions. It seems obvious, but you can forget about them once you’re stressed talking to a new person.

  2. Research project industry, competitors, and the client’s product. Make sure you understand what your client does, and some basic jargon and terminology of their industry.

  3. Explore the website and look for problems. Do you notice any bad UX practices? Does something feel odd on the website? Are there bugs?

  4. Look for inspo. Especially if you are not familiar with user flows or design patterns in that industry — spend some time on Mobbin to go through similar experiences.

Preparing for your first chat with a client checklist | | Kristina Volchek | Designers Coffee Newsletter

🎥 During the first call with your client

Be friendly and more casual, the freelance world is way simpler and less wordy than corporate. Start with small talk to minimise the awkwardness of meeting for the first time.

Small talk is not just for etiquette. It helps you understand your client better. Learn about their location and working hours, unique challenges and attitude to work.

Small talk during the first call with your client | | Kristina Volchek | Designers Coffee Newsletter

Intro calls with clients are less about you and more about the client and their problems. You don’t want to take all the time talking about yourself and your experience.

Let your client explain their goals, problems, pain points, and expectations. Take meeting notes, and collect their phrases (the exact language they are using). Later, this will help them to see that you listened to what they said and understand the project.

Once you gain some understanding of the project and its challenges (and you actually want to do the project), it’s time to bring up some relevant or closest experience you had.

Selling yourself every time to a new client might be quite challenging, but you will get used to it. You will eventually find your authentic way to present yourself and your services.

Selling yourself during the first call with your client | | Kristina Volchek | Designers Coffee Newsletter

At the end, leave some room for client questions. Most likely, they will ask you about your process, how you would run this project and the billing situation. So be ready to explain your design process, billing options (e.g. 50/50 is the most common one), communication and project management.

Even if they don’t ask, it’s better to go through it anyway. It helps with establishing the client’s expectations.

If you are interested in learning about my project management process (tasks organisations, tools, revisions, communication, etc…) - just fill out the Topic Request Form here (it’s less than a minute). 😉 

📗 After the first call (or to be honest, any call)

Always, ALWAYS send a follow-up email with a call summary. First of all, people tend to forget many things that you went through during the call. Secondly, it’s simply a good service to provide a written summary, the next steps and any other important details you agreed on.

Clients are not only looking for a website redesign, they want a service that removes additional thinking and simplifies their lives.

They want you to think for them, they want you to tell them simple steps, they want you to simplify complex tech terms to an understandable level, and they pay you for that. It’s not just design, it’s a service for simplifying anything around design.

Writing call summary after the first call with your client | | Kristina Volchek | Designers Coffee Newsletter

Email is also the simplest form of a contract. It actually can be accepted as a legally binding contract. So when you are listing the changes to the project scope or new requirements you agreed on during the call, you’re creating a contract. Without a written form, it never happened.

In addition to the call summary, you need to navigate the client through the next steps. If you need any other information from them - make it clear and simple.

Example of the call summary: Hey 👋 , it was great chatting with you guys and learning about your project.

Here’s a quick summary of our conversation:

  • Project goal: To create an effective results page that presents data in a digestible manner for recruiters.

  • Considerations: a lot of data, unexpected questions, layout flexibility, fear of AI, and user privacy.

  • Target audience: Primarily recruiters or anyone reviewing candidate evaluation results. 

  • Pain points: data overload, the slow standard process of resume scanning, fear of overlooking talented candidates.

  • Success criteria: I assume at this stage, we are focusing on User Satisfaction and Feedback. Later, we may consider adding metrics like screening speed or time spent on the page.

Next steps:

  1. You will prepare a more detailed brief for the results page.

  2. Once I receive the brief, I will review the Figma file and the brief, and conduct some preliminary research to estimate the project scope.

  3. We will then plan our next meeting.

In the call summary, I also often provide a rough quote and timeline for the project. This will be confirmed in a later, final quote, after the client sends the more detailed information I requested in the call summary.

I don’t recommend providing the final quote right after the first chat, because you could miscalculate the project size, or spend a lot of time preparing a proposal that is simply out of the client’s budget.

In other words, the first call and rough quote is just for aligning expectations and making sure you are a match.

Stay tuned for more

That’s all for now.

In the next editions, I will explain the next steps of preparing the initial quote, preparing the proposal (or the final quote), and onboarding clients who accepted your proposal.

👋 Tell me about yourself

I’m curious to learn more about you guys. Who are you? What are you doing right now? What stage in your career are you at? What are your priorities for this year?

I would be really happy if you would answer this short survey (it’s a few minutes) and help me with writing about more interesting topics and design challenges for you.

That’s all for today! If you found the newsletter interesting, don’t forget to share it with your friends 😉. And if you have any cool links to share - drop them my way. 📮 

See you next time!

P.S. To ensure you don't miss any future editions, consider adding my email to your contacts, primary inbox or whitelisting it. I promise, no spam - just a good cup of Designer's Coffee each month! ☕

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