One of the best little golden nuggets of advice I can give to freelancers everywhere, is to take the lead. When you are hired as a freelance graphic designer or creative consultant, the client has hired you for your experience and your skillset. If you take the lead, you'll be sure the project doesn't go off track or lag. Time is money in the freelance world, so instituting and maintaining timelines is paramount for success.
The Kick-off Meeting
As soon as you have a signed contract (and initial payment to commence work) in hand, schedule a kick-off meeting. Be proactive from the very start of the project and send along an agenda for the meeting along with any necessary questionnaires you'd like your client to fill out prior to the meeting. Questionnaires are a great way to gather specific information from your client. Ask about their goals and expectations from the start. Be sure to find out who they consider their toughest competition so you can research their competitors and come to the kick-off meeting with a keen strategy and good insight.
Don't Wait... Take Action Now.
It is your responsibility to keep the project on shedule. Hold everyone accountable to the project timeframe. Often a project is stalled for reasons out of your control. For instance, if you haven't heard back from them on the second round of revisions... don't wait. Send an email and follow up with a phone call to the client that day. Take responsibility for the project and track them down. Often projects are delayed because of lack of communication. Don't be afraid to pick up the phone. I find a simple phone call remains the quickest way to get things done and the best way to avoid misreading tone in an email exchange.
Ask Questions and Engage the Client
Your client wants to be involved and consulted throughout the process. At the very beginning of a brochure project, I have my client make a pinterest board of brochures that they like with simple notes (ie. great color scheme, like the logo treatment, perfect size, etc.). The brochures do not need to be industry relevant. This is a great practice to get a feel for the client's taste and style preference. Engaging the client will also further strengthen your working relationship. Listening to the client's creative input will keep them invested, as well as enhance their experience.
When the Client Becomes the Art Director
This has happened to me in the past. The project is going along fine and just as we reach the final approval stage, I receive an email with a file attached... it's the creative approved at the start of the project that is now marked up with notes saying things like, "could we try a lighter blue here, or maybe a teal?" This is a big red flag. This is a pivitol point where you must stand your ground and gently remind the client of the initial concept meeting, and the reasons for the existing color pallette and any other creative decisions.
Do not waiver. Do not allow your client to direct the creative. You are the designer. The client hired you to help guide them in the right direction to meet their marketing goals. Once you allow a client to change your design, you've lost control of the project, and subsequently you will lose money. If you don't stand firm on the design elements you implemented at the start of the project, you will spend time on the back end redesigning and shifting layouts until the cows come home. I'm talking about the layout and design, not content. Clients will often have last minute text corrections, and that's ok. Frankly, it's the norm.
Freelancers are Natural Born Leaders
The fact that you are in the freelance business proves that you are already a natural born leader. You are someone that feels comfortable at the helm. In order to survive (and thrive) in the world of freelance graphic design, you must offer creative concepts, take the initiative, and manage projects on time and on budget. You are not only working to impress your cllient with your creative skills, you are working to keep your client and build a long-lasting relationship. The more work you take off your client's plate, the better. Be smart, proactive, creative, and easy to work with, and you will find yourself trusted, well-respected and referred. That's the goal.