Can Clients Trust You?

I recently recorded an extremely interesting interview with Brennan Dunn, the author of Double Your Freelancing Rate.

Now don’t let the title fool you. The book is not about miracle remedies, and all about rethinking the way you envision your freelancing career and yourself. Anyway, you’ll learn more about all this when the interview is published.

That being said, one thing we talked about seems so important to me that I didn’t want to wait any longer to tell you about it.

In fact, if you’re a freelancer I think it might just be the single most important factor in deciding whether you get projects or not. And that factor is:

Trust.

When a client is hiring you, they want to know that you can be trusted. Trusted to deliver high-quality work, trusted to meet deadlines, and above all trusted not to take their money and run.

Once trust is there, the rest naturally falls into place. The first version of the project isn’t good enough? The client will trust that you’ll do better for the next one. Want to try a new, edgy look? The client will trust that you know what you’re doing. Missed a deadline? The client will trust that you had your reasons and did your best.

But when I look at designer portfolios (including my own), very few of them are optimized to show trustworthiness.

It’s even funny in a way: every single designer I know will obsess over what font, color scheme, and layout to use for his personal portfolio site, often scrapping multiple versions before pushing out something.

Yet if even one tenth of that time was spent thinking about showing clients can trust you, you’d probably get a lot more people contacting you.

So how do you communicate trust? Let’s take a look at a couple key elements.

Your Portfolio

Your portfolio itself is the first step, since it shows that other companies have trusted you in the past (and hopefully, that they were right to do so). Just don’t forget to put the company name forward.

Put the name of the client forward, not the type of work

Taking a look at Folyo designer Joanne Marie Panalingan‘s portfolio, you can see the work she did for various clients. Yet the slideshow is simply titled “Marketing Campaigns”, and the name of the clients doesn’t figure anywhere except in the screenshot itself.

This is a missed opportunity. By grouping your work by project type instead of by client, you’re making your site look more like a restaurant menu (“I’ll have the website with a side order of brand identity, please”) and less like a showcase of your skills and trustworthiness.

Fantasy Interactive features their client logos prominently

Testimonials

If your past clients were happy with your work, let them say so on your site.

I’ll tell you a secret right now: no client is going to say you made them a crappy logo, because that would be admitting their logo is crappy. So unless you were a complete jerk to work with, most clients will be happy to provide a glowing testimonial.

While browsing through designer portfolios, I found very few of them who featured client quotes prominently, and I think that’s a mistake.

On Mark Hendriks’ portfolio, a client quote is the first thing you see

Instead of using a vague generic tagline such as “I design beautiful and usable sites that blah blah blah”, wouldn’t it be much more powerful to display an actual quote from a satisfied customer?

Other Elements

What else would make somebody who doesn’t know you trust you? How about links to profiles on Twitter or Dribbble, to show that you’re a respectable member of the online design community?

Including your photo and a short bio can also make people feel like you can be trusted. And if you work primarily with local businesses, maybe a phone number and address would be a good idea too.

Rather than navigation links, Dev Gupta offers social networks

And if you want to go further, you can even display your rates right on your site so clients know they’ll pay the same price as everybody else.

Client Fears

Think back to the last time you had to pick between two pairs of shoes, order at the restaurant, or any similar situation when you had to make a choice. In those situations, we do our best to persuade ourselves we’re picking the right option, and we look to any clues we can to help us feel good about our decision.

Similarly, when a client is looking to hire a designer, they want to know that they made the right decision, and you need to help them see that.

Clients are afraid they’ll pick an incompetent designer, that you’ll be the wrong person for the job, or even that you’ll try to scam them. Make these fears go away, and you’ll probably get the job.

But Designer XYZ Doesn’t Do That!

Lastly, I want to warn you against taking inspiration from the sites of established designers. These designers have built a huge network over the years, and have job proposals dropping in their inboxes like clockwork. They couldn’t care less what their portfolio sites look like.

In fact, I’m willing to bet that more than a few well-known designers intentionally hide away their work in hopes of stemming the tide of unwanted client inquiries.

So realize that you and Jason Santa Maria or Frank Chimero probably have very different goals (unless you actually are Jason or Frank, in which case, wow… umm, would you like to join Folyo by any chance?).

In Conclusion

Designers are first and foremost problem solvers. So let me put it this way: if you want to land projects, the first problem you should be solving is not “how do I make my portfolio look beautiful”, but “how do I make myself look trustworthy”.

Note: you can also discuss this article over at Hacker News