I really don’t need to explain how important your reputation is, do I?
Short version: if people think you suck, either as a person or as a designer, they won’t hire you. It’s not a difficult concept, all things considered.
Figuring out what other people think of us is much harder. Controlling what they think about you is next to impossible, as any attempt to “change your image” will probably backfire, unless you’re a consummate actor. And then… then there’s one big, honking problem: the idea of “sucking as a person or as a designer” will vary from person to person.
No matter how wonderful you are, somebody will…misjudge you…That’s life
If you’re looking to this article to help you control how others perceive you, don’t bother. No matter how wonderful you are, somebody will misinterpret you, misjudge you, or just not pay enough attention. That’s life.
On the other hand, what you can do is build a reputation that appeals to the clients you want. You know, the fairly reasonable ones. These tips can help you to minimize the number of negative interactions you have with clients in general. The more positive interactions you have, the better your reputation, the more clients you actually like will come knocking at your door.
Get A Set of Principles, And Stick To Them
This seems like a no-brainer, but people often start out with good intentions, but ill-defined principles. I did. It has led to a situation or two where a client asked me to implement a sort of “grey pattern”, or do something a little sketchy, but ultimately not “bad”. This would inevitably end with them asking me to do something I just wouldn’t do, and my relationship with those clients never ended well.
refuse to make the same mistake twice
Unfortunately, it takes some trial and error to find out just how far you’ll go, and what you’re willing to do for a client. The best thing you can do is learn quickly, and refuse to make the same mistake twice. As you develop your set of principles into something codified and clear, you’ll learn how to avoid clients who would put you in awkward positions.
Be As Direct As You Can
Be honest, while being as tactful as you can. You don’t have to blurt out your life history to anyone who will listen, like I do, but you should be direct in your communications. Never, ever depend on subtext to do your talking for you. More often than not, people will misunderstand you.
They might misunderstand you anyway. People will sometimes try to “read between the lines”, even if there’s nothing there to read. There is nothing you can do about this, but as long as you’ve been honest, then it’s not your fault.
Bonus tip: keep a record of your communications, so you can refer back to it to resolve disputes and (if things go very wrong) lawsuits.
Be Careful About The Promises You Make
Both in your advertising and in your direct communications, be wary of making commitments you can’t live up to. This is difficult, especially when you’re freelancing, or struggling as a business. It’s tempting to say “yes” to everything when you’re just getting started, but don’t.
You might take on too much at once, or worse, you might agree to build something you do not yet have the skill to build. God knows I have. Asking, “How hard can it be?” is an invitation for the universe to beat you over the head with some harsh truths.
A broken promise might be the single worst thing you can do to your reputation
Sometimes you don’t know what you can do until you try, but it’s probably best to try on your own time, not when there are paying clients waiting. A broken promise might be the single worst thing you can do to your reputation, so be very, very careful about what you commit to.
Oh, and always give yourself some wiggle room with your deadlines. You might think you can pack two projects up close together in your calendar, but that so often ends in disaster; besides, you need time to unwind, and let your brain rest.
Own Up To Your Mistakes the Moment You Discover Them
And for God’s sake, do your best to remedy them. Offer a discount or partial refund if you have to, but only as a last resort. A show of willingness will often be enough to smooth things over, and even when it’s not, it makes a great start.
Advertise With Discretion
The way you advertise yourself is a big part of your reputation, especially at the beginning. Want to make a good impression? Don’t use pop-up modals. Don’t blast people’s eyeballs with unwanted interruptions of any kind. And for goodness’ sake, don’t try to make people feel bad for not wanting your newsletter.
If you’re going to upsell, time your upselling properly. Ideally, you will do it in person, and do it right after your client has said something like, “That’s amazing! We love what you’ve done.” That’s the time to ask if there’s more you can do for them. Not before.
Advertise confidently, not insistently.
There’s A Lot You Just Can’t Control
Get used to it. All you can really do is this: do your best work, and treat people kindly and compassionately. That won’t always be enough, and some people will still misjudge you. Some will try to take advantage of you. Ditch those people fast, and keep looking.
A good reputation is a long-term project. In time, good clients will see your honesty and hard work. Those qualities are precious enough that they’ll want to protect you, and yes, they’ll want to pay you.
Featured image via Unsplash.