The Freelance Instructional Designer’s Guide to Client Relationships


Welcome, fellow freelancers! As instructional designers, it is equally as important for us to be able to develop and maintain strong connections with our clients as it is for us to be able to create learning products that have a significant impact. This blog post is packed with actionable recommendations, real-world examples, and practical guidance that will assist you in navigating the sometimes challenging waters of client relationships. It is written for those who are just beginning their freelancing careers or those who are trying to improve their existing freelance practice.

Understanding Client Needs: The Foundation of Success

One of the most important steps in every successful freelance assignment is to have a thorough understanding of the requirements of the customer. It may appear to be a simple task, yet here is frequently where freelancers experience difficulties. The first step in developing a strong relationship with a customer is to conduct in-depth initial consultations during which you ask specific questions that disclose not only what the client wants but also the reasons why they want it.

I recently worked on a project with a customer who need training materials for their sales force. I was able to provide them with these resources. Rather than diving headfirst into the design process, I decided to conduct interviews with a few members of the team as well as management. Not only did this result in the content being tailored to the exact issues that the client was facing, but it also demonstrated to the client that I was dedicated to providing materials that were absolutely effective.

Communication: The Bridge to Clarity and Trust

Clear, consistent, and open communication is the backbone of any strong relationship, especially in freelancing where face-to-face interactions are rare. Regular updates, asking for feedback, and being transparent about challenges can build trust and prevent misunderstandings.

Actionable Tip: Set up a regular schedule for updates and stick to it, even if it’s just to say, “Everything is on track.” Use tools like Slack or Trello to keep communication lines open and organized.

Managing Expectations: The Art of Saying No

One of the most delicate aspects of client relationships is managing expectations. It’s easy to say yes to all client requests in the hope of pleasing them, but this can lead to scope creep, unrealistic deadlines, and stress on both sides.

Example: A client once asked for a complete overhaul of a course just a week before the scheduled launch. I explained the implications on quality and time, and instead offered a phased approach. This not only managed the immediate needs but also paved the way for future updates and projects.

Handling Feedback: Turn Critiques into Opportunities

Feedback, even when it’s negative, is a golden opportunity for growth. The key is to handle it constructively. Always listen carefully, acknowledge the issues raised, and discuss possible solutions.

Actionable Tip: When receiving feedback, use the “clarify, confirm, correct” method. First, clarify the issue to ensure understanding, confirm that you grasp the client’s concerns, and then correct the problem efficiently.

Dealing with Difficult Clients and Conflict Resolution

Even with the best strategies, you’ll occasionally run into difficult clients or face conflicts. The key is to remain professional, calm, and focused on finding a solution that aligns with both your client’s objectives and your own professional boundaries.

Actionable Tip: Always approach conflicts with a solution-oriented mindset. If a conflict escalates, propose a brief cooling-off period to allow both parties to reassess the situation calmly.

Conclusion: Why Strong Client Relationships Matter

When you are working as a freelance instructional designer, the most significant thing you may possess is a solid relationship with your clients. They result in recurring business, referrals, and a reputation that can place you in a position of distinction in an industry that is very competitive. Always keep in mind that every interaction you have with a client is an opportunity to demonstrate your professionalism and that you are committed to providing exceptional services.

Make use of these newfound understandings by putting them into practice! Contemplate the customer relationships you now have, pinpoint the areas in which you could improve, and make a commitment to bringing about positive improvements. One project at a time, strong relationships are created, and the next project you take on is a fresh opportunity to shine from the spotlight!

It is important to keep in mind that the success of your freelance instructional design business is not only dependent on the job itself, but also on the manner in which you interact with your clients.