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How to Work with Long-Distance Clients

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Ah, the world wide web. It’s kind of like a cyber-world tour pass – we can go virtually anywhere, at anytime, with a good internet connection. Luckily for us designers, that means the amount of potential clients has increased exponentially. I’ve written about how to get local design clients before; now, I’d like to focus on how to work with long-distance clients.

The fundamental principles of good project management remain the same, whether your client is local or international – trust & communication. If you can gain one another’s trust, and if you communicate effectively with one another, then a project will run smoothly. But how can we do that if we’re working long-distance, giving up face-to-face meetings and focusing on internet and phone-based communication?


Working Long Distance with Clients

Well, let’s approach a long-distance project the same way we’d approach a local project, and I’ll point out ways to combat the small roadblocks that come up. Hit the jump to read the rest of the post!

WEB PORTFOLIO

First of all, you need to have a good web portfolio if you’re even going to get long-distance clients. So, if you haven’t done that already, get on it! Here are some great resources for online design portfolios:

Design a Simple & Sleek Web Portfolio

10 Cool Photo Portfolio and Gallery WordPress Themes

Design a Textured Portfolio Site Layout with Photoshop

MEETINGS

Just because your client is in [warm, sunny] Australia and you’re stuck in [freezing, grey] Edmonton doesn’t mean you can’t still have meetings. Of course, you’re not going to have traditional meetings – that’s just inefficient (not to mention ridiculous). Luckily, there are tons of great programs out there that allow face-to-face meetings over the web. The most obvious is Skype – free & web-based, so everyone with an internet connection can set up an account and use it with no cost.

This is a great way to build trust – body language, tone, and facial expressions don’t come across in email (and tone can often be misinterpreted), but using a service like Skype alleviates these issues and allows for both trust-building and increased clarity of communication.

So when you need to brainstorm with your client, or talk about a draft and/or revisions, try using a service like Skype.

CONTRACTS

So you’ve “met” your client over Skype and have come to an agreeement regarding the scope and cost of the project. Now it’s contract time. It’s not like you can go door-knocking if a client is late with a payment when they live overseas, so a contract is an absolute must. It still needs to be signed – there are online services like Fax.com to help out with this, or you can use traditional fax, or you can scan and email. Any of these methods is suitable and recommended when working long-distance with a client – and a good contract should be a trust-building device on both ends.

PAYMENT

Payment is payment – just like any local project, I’d recommend take a down-payment and/or have a stage-based payment system written into the contract. The client can pay a variety of ways – certified cheque (slow, but it works), PayPal, email money transfer, or other. Just because they aren’t next door doesn’t mean it’s difficult to receive payment.

REVISIONS

As with any project, there are always revisions to think about. The key here is finding an efficient way to communicate design decisions and revisions online. There are collaborative editing tools, like Google Docs, for text-based edits that need to made by one or more parties. There’s also the traditional email method – just be sure to accompany your designs with clear language and to fully understand your client’s feedback as well.

I’d recommend Skype here again, as you and your client can both open up  your document on your individual machines and have a conversation about what needs to be changed etc – as opposed to writing back and forth, which can be inefficient and difficult to comprehend.

Finally, if you’re working on a huge project with many people involved, I’d recommend some online project management software. Here is a great list of available online PM services from www.tomuse.com. Most of these services have a free component, but they are limited. If you have lots of big, long-distance projects on the go, I’d recommend paying for the full service of one of the providers.

DELIVERABLES

So you’ve gone through your whole project, your [insanely happy long-distance] client has signed off on the final design… now you have to deliver it. Sometimes that’s as simple as uploading the files to the web server, if you’re building a small website. Some files are also small enough to send via email. However, what about those huge projects that can’t be sent via email?

There are plenty of online services, like YouSendIt, which will upload and send links to your large files to your clients. You can also upload the files to your own server and allow your client to download them, if you’re comfortable with that. If it’s a print job, I would recommend sending the files directly to a printer who is local to your client, and giving the client instructions on when & where to pick it up. Before you do that, though, make sure your print piece is print-ready – here’s a handy list of pre-press tips from Smashing Magazine.

There you go! We just went through the basic elements of any design project and demolished all the [small] roadblocks that come along with working long-distance. So don’t be afraid – get out there and let your global design takeover begin! In a nice manner of speaking, of course.

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