Business of Design: Common Client Onboarding Questions (& How to Respond)

Client Questions (and how to respond) by Katie Wilhelm RGD


I am an independent designer and I love everything about it, including the business end of things. A good amount of my time is spent onboarding clients and I have observed over the years that the basic client questions are mostly the same. Some questions are exactly what you’d expect, while others require some improv skills. Here are some of the questions I have encountered and some tips and resources I have found helpful for crafting the right response. 


So, what exactly do you do?

In conversations with potential clients, this should be the question you've been waiting for. This is your opportunity to provide your elevator pitch. Once you're at the stage in the conversation where this question comes up, they'll already know most of your basic information; this question allows you to emphasize your unique offering. 


Rather than rambling off the intro to your 'About' page, it's important to tailor your pitch to the specific client. If you have worked with other clients in their industry, you might mention your relevant experience and share stories or anecdotes about successful projects you have worked on in their field. Storytelling is a more personal way of answering this question than presenting a flat bio, and it adds credibility to your explanation while also presenting real-life examples. 


With any connection, this question should be the opportunity to spin off into a conversation around getting to know each other better. Focusing on establishing a connection will be more valuable than launching into a hard pitch. 


Do you have a business card?

While connecting immediately on LinkedIn or sending an instant message is preferred by some, this is still a very common question. In my experience, cards are king.


Many corporate executives still look at the business card handoff as the starting point for a business relationship, especially in industries such as advanced manufacturing, real estate and government. When designed with the client in mind, a printed business card remains very effective. 


Do you know anyone who can…. ?

If a potential client is looking for a contact with related skills, it can be an opportunity to bolster your credibility and promote your network. 


In your practice as a designer, you'll likely have a 'go-to' person in relevant service areas. This question can be an opportunity to share the love. While I would never recommend sending around a full list of your contacts, providing a helpful connection shows a client that you are willing and able to go the extra mile for their project. In my experience, prioritizing collaboration over competition benefits everyone. Building and maintaining a strong community of experts will also be helpful when a really big project comes your way. 


Do you charge hourly or by the project?

The answer to a pricing question should be reflective of your business approach. Having a firm pricing model is helpful for maintaining transparency and establishing the value of the service you're providing. Your pricing model should take into account the industry standard price, the time it will take to complete the project and hopefully you can factor in the client's budget as well. 


To source and research comparative rates I talk to design professionals in my network with similar experience, geographic location and service offerings about their rates. A quick Google search on “average cost of design” will yield a multitude of tools that a designer could use to determine a base comparison rate. With these tactics I can get a good idea of what the competition is charging. 


Katie’s Variable Pricing Model Considerations

  1. Production Cost: Rate x Time = Cost
  2. Market Value: What do my competitors charge? 
  3. Client’s Budget: What is the budget value of this project?

Related Question: Can you offer free consultation? 

The subject of compensation can lead to conversations around speculative work, contests and working for exposure. In most cases, if the conversation turns to one of these topics you should be wary of the ethical implications. If you're unsure if a client's request is ethical, I would recommend RGD's spec work resource Free, Fee or Flee.


When faced with this question, here are some things to consider:

  • Am I the right person to answer the client's question?
    • If the question is of a super-specialized nature and you are not qualified or knowledgeable on the subject, it is important to recognize your limitations. 
  • Will this consultation lead to paid work in the future?
    • Offering free, general consultation can be an incentive for getting clients in the door. Once you have had a face-to-face conversation, you might be more likely to close the sale. If your instinct is that a consultation might lead to paid work, make sure you explain the value you can offer when you provide paid work. 

In a free consultation the goal is to advance your relationship with a potential client, not to provide free design work or advice. A consultation might involve answering questions about my business and the services that I provide, but I will defer to a paid contract if asked for specific work or advice. Professional designers are encouraged to contact RGD when asked to engage in spec work.


This list covers common questions that I am asked by clients, but I could also write another list based on the bizarre questions I have received. Sometimes the best advice is to expect the unexpected. Overall, having a strong network and knowing the value of what you have to offer are great ways to prepare for a successful client interaction. 


Katie Wilhelm, RGD is an independent graphic designer and marketing consultant based in London, Ontario. You can learn more about her experiences and client stories on her website:

Please note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the RGD.