Most people shy away from setting boundaries. After all, It can sometimes come across as slightly demanding when someone is adamant on a rigid schedule, or inflexible when they insist on a set way of working. But the opposite of this is that anything goes – costs get ambiguous and deadlines are pushed back at the risk of missing them.
I have started to realise the importance of giving clear expectations, and this not only applies for the project manager, but the person carrying out the tasks. It is not simply a case of a project manager giving strong instruction; it is a two-way process of communication that needs to continue throughout the task.
Since I've taken on more of my own clients as a freelance creative I have changed many of my work processes, stemmed from the fact that expectations are easily blurred. Often I think that things are very clear and then a client will throw in a curveball and I will need to adjust to find the best way to accommodate them without compromising on my work. So, below are some of the most helpful boundaries you can put in place when commissioning a project, in order to help you establish better working relationships and make sure that projects run smoothly.
1. Establish clear timescales
Can I have that ASAP/I'll get that to you ASAP?
What is that? As soon as possible? As soon as I can possibly do it? Or now? The problem with asking for things as soon as possible is that there are no clear boundaries. Many people will ask for things as soon as possible because they want it now, but the problem with this is that, to the person doing the project, ASAP could be anything from a few hours to a year. In my case, if someone asks for something ASAP I presume that, although the clients wants it quickly, there is no specific deadline, and therefore I will work to my 'urgent' deadlines first and put the ASAP at the bottom of the pile. What needs to be done on both sides of the party is clarification. For the person carrying out the tasks it is important to clarify what ASAP is for them: "Okay, so you want that ASAP? I can complete this project for you by the end of the month." and let the client know what they can expect.
2. Establish clear costings
Costings can easily get blurred when starting a project. Many people ask me how much I charge per hour and, unless I'm working in-house for a design agency, most people are not hiring me for a day to complete a project, they are hiring me to get the project done. Often doing a project involves more than just sitting and creating something, there are many hours involved in thought processes and development work. Sometimes a logo creation will take me longer to produce for one company than another and that's all part of the creative process. It's unfair to charge one company more than another simply by charging by the hour. Similarly, it's unfair of me to start a project and not make clear how much it is going to cost; racking up the hours on a job and then landing my client a big fat bill at the end of it. Costs need to be clear and written out at the start of every project, and exactly what the client is getting for that cost.
3. Establish what the client is getting for the cost
Before now, I've costed a project and then been asked to various meetings to discuss the developments of the project. In theory, I did no more work than I had costed for, in the sense of creating actual designs, but I was asked to four meetings in the process, which cost me eight hours of my time and the cost of transport for a job I was earning very little on. This was, in part, down to my lack of clarity with what the client could have for what I'd charged; the boundaries had become unclear. It is important to make clear how many stages of developments are included and how many meetings are included if they are necessary, or how much extra a client can expect to pay for additional meetings or stages of work.
4. Establishing clear work processes
What is vital when starting a project is making sure that communication is held throughout the process, not just at the beginning and end. Clients need to feel that the person undertaking the tasks can be trusted to complete the project with good timing. The client is not psychic and, although your reputation may precede you, the client cannot be expected to simply trust you to get the project done, especially a huge project at that. Establishing how projects are done and keeping clients in communication means that the project will be more successful and prevent creating work that is going in the wrong direction. Similarly, the client or person commissioning the task needs to make clear communication when deadlines or project details change.
5. Do your research.
Both parties need to take a little time to get to know one another and how they work. If I am creating a logo for someone it is essential that I understand the target audience of the business in hand, otherwise my work will be irrelevant. Likewise, it is essential that the client knows a bit about me and the sort of work I do - I've had people contact me to illustrate something 'in the style of [insert famous illustrator here]" – clearly they have not taken the time to research the type of work I do – they are not paying me to be a generic illustrator, but someone who will bring something unique to what I create for them.
There are probably many more points I could add, but essentially the key to a successful project is in good communication and setting clear boundaries. Business is not simply about completing a task to get a pay cheque at the end of it, it is all about connecting with people, making lasting relationships and exceding expectations.