STOP! Before reading further please Download Our Client Questionnaire and start using it today for your projects. Steal the questions, make your own PDF, do whatever you need to just promise for the love of God you’ll use it, ok? Good.
The other day I was wondering how anything was ever accomplished in business before email. Typewriters maybe, but I’m convinced cold calling or in-person meet ups are becoming pointless. I’m at the point now where if something is being discussed on a call or in person without some sort of prior documentation then did a meeting even happen? I don’t think it counts anymore and if it ever did.
A couple of month’s back I made a quick post to Facebook that asked:
“Designers: Who ISN’T using a client questionnaire for potential clients and why?”
What I got back was a string of harrowing comments from excellent designers that seemed to have no qualms playing Russian-Roulette with their time by not using a questionnaire for client vetting and just going straight to phone calls or worse, meeting with total strangers. I had so many questions—Why would you do this to yourself? Who hurt you?
Questions aside, the client-designer relationship is meant to be symbiotic. Clients do what they’re best at, we do what we’re best at, then we all make apple pie. Approaching hopeful jobs without a questionnaire sets a bad precedent for future client communications and opens the door for time vampires to run amuck so you can see why I’m dubious that designers should be so willy-nilly with their time to verbally discuss potential work without a proper documentation that doesn’t shake under human forgetfulness.
Would you subject yourself to go on a date alone with someone if you didn’t know a single thing about them? Don’t you want to know a little about their aspirations? Don’t you want to know you’re not wasting your time? If you’re not using a questionnaire to vet your clients then that’s what you’re doing. Sorry, but no designer should be using their personal phone numbers (ever) or going to “meet-ups” with anyone who hasn’t put in some work for your professional time and that’s why you need a trusty wingman.
So, what makes a good questionnaire?
Our good pal Zachary Richard Hill suggests asking just the right amount of Low Value and High Value questions when you first begin talking to a client and he’s absolutely right. A questionnaire serves as a formal introduction that tells you on-the-surface information in tandem with need-to-know bigger aspirations and goals from the client.
Questionnaires don’t have to be a novel either, in fact keep it under 20 questions. Don’t fatigue the client but you do need a certain amount of constructed information from them before you sit down with them and discuss their project that way you’re more prepared for the solutions you can provide and a Low Value / High Value approach for them will do just that.
Here’s a piece of advice that you can benefit from as long as you live: DON’T GET TATTOOS FROM TATTOO ARTISTS THAT ONLY TAKE WALK-INS. It’s a dead giveaway that the artist isn’t in demand or they’re most likely horrendous at managing their career and neither of those likelihoods should be behind a tattoo gun needling permanent ink into your skin. This isn’t Super-Cuts.
I specifically remember a tattoo session in my 20’s when my artist at the time had owned a parlor and a handful of other artists working out of it and one of those artists just happened to be a walk-in tattoo artist. In the middle of my session a guy came in and had requested an interesting tattoo concept: A portrait of Blackbeard the Pirate with big ship blazoned behind him. The walk-in artist didn’t bat an eye or ask him any questions other than where you want it and how much you got?
He looked at his reference pic, sat him in the chair, and got to work.
Now, I’m going to preface this by saying I hope anyone in involved in this incident never reads this but, the guy got a fucked-up Cher tattoo.
Wait, he changed his mind from Blackbeard to Cher? No, I mean his Blackbeard WAS 80’s Cher wasted on a cruise with a fake beard. It was awful. It was so bad it makes me physically cold whenever I think about it. Don’t ask me how the guy didn’t stand up and run out screaming at the sky. I think he may have been having an out of body experience? Actually, he could have been a ghost at that point.
From that day forward I knew that hiring any type of professional who doesn’t ask questions is out of the question.
“Watch your step kid, ya best protect ya neck.”
Wu-Tang knew it and you need to know it too. Yes, client questionnaires help you establish a great client relationship but more importantly they keep your time valuable and detract lowly window shoppers. You don’t want them and you certainly shouldn’t let them have your phone number.
When a prospective client first reaches out to us we send an immediate thankful email with our questionnaire attached for them. We don’t even entertain calls or meetings until we’ve received that questionnaire back as it’s healthy barrier between our team’s collective time and people who just aren’t that serious. Remember, there are four of us so if we all jump on a cold call with someone just trying to get a vibe for an hour it isn’t just an hour, it’s four hours.
Some people have asked “What if you don’t receive the questionnaire back? You probably just lost a lot of work!”
What, losing work with someone who cared so little about their project that they couldn’t be bothered to answer a small list of helpful questions about it? Too-Da-Loo! We also get asked about budgets, such as should you include a budget question? Yes you absolutely should. That’s a mandatory and don’t go a step further until you know at least a ballpark of what the client is working with. Don’t be afraid of it, it’s merely a question and one you deserve to know.
This is all simple logic. If a prospective client doesn’t make the time for you then you shouldn’t make the time for them either. Questionnaires are a breeze to set up and introduce into your design process ( again here’s ours ) and they help you get right down down to business because after all, isn’t that what we’re doing here?
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