How to boost your profit margin with a good brief

Do you cringe at the mention of a “brief”? It’s just a document for clients and “suits,” right? Wrong!

A brief has the potential to be the single biggest factor to determine your profit margin, which means you should care about them.

Creating a great design brief takes extra effort and time, yet a tight brief can save a designer up to 20% of the project’s timeline. If you’re working on a fixed-fee project, then that adds up to hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars saved.

If you’re being paid for time and materials, then you won’t necessarily be losing money, but we all know how soul-destroying getting negative feedback and constant requests for changes can be, all because of a poor brief. It causes frustration for both the designer and the client.


How to develop a top design brief

Ask questions

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Ask as many as possible, and keep asking until you are satisfied that you understand what your client’s brief is. A great way to do this is by using a briefing template that you know and trust and that you feel has all of the necessary questions (so that you don’t forget to ask certain ones). Don’t just email the template to your client. Go through it with them. Discuss each question and even fill it in for them.

Communicate with your clients

Explain to the client the importance of the brief. Your clients are probably busy people, too, and so they might not appreciate the importance of spending extra time creating a brief.

Collaborate with your clients and colleagues

Collaborate. The more people involved in a design project (this could include more than one person on the client’s side, as well as the designer, the account manager, the creative director), the more important the brief becomes. Make sure that you all collaborate on the brief, so that by the time it is approved, everyone who is involved will understand what is required and what the brief is.

Use a written document

Always put the brief in writing. If you’re a freelancer, then you might not like this one. Just taking a verbal brief from the client is often quicker and easier. While discussing the brief is important, a written document gives you more cover and helps to protect your profit margin. If you’ve ever heard a client say, “I think you misunderstood what I meant” or “I don’t recall saying that,” then you’d know that having the brief in writing is the only option.

Use a single document

Have one brief, in one place. The best way to explain this is with a scenario. I’m sure many of you have experienced this: the client provides a written brief, and you meet (or Skype) to discuss it. Cool — you know what they want. A few days later, you receive an email with a few updates. Then the client calls to change something else. You’re now a week into the project, and the written brief you received is out of date, and keeping track of the phone calls and email conversations is getting confusing. What was the brief that the client approved? Keeping the brief in one place where all communication is documented will help to keep the project on track and keep disputes to a minimum.

Use the cloud

Put your brief in the cloud. Annotating a PDF or tracking changes in Microsoft Word gets messy. Long email trails and forgotten conversations are even messier. You’re a web designer, so use the web for your briefs. It will increase your productivity, your client’s productivity and your bottom line.


The final word

Briefs are never going to be the “exciting” part of web design, or any creative process. However, spending time developing a brief properly and giving it the care it requires, all the way to its final approval, leads to several things:

  • higher profit margins;
  • happier clients;
  • happier designers;
  • more productive freelancers and studios.

Sounds simple, right? Take a few moments to think about your briefing process. Could it be improved? Are you wasting time and money because of poor or lazy briefs? The time to improve your briefing process is now.

How do you manage your briefs? Do you use formal documents? Let us know in the comments.

Featured image/thumbnail, briefing image via Shutterstock.

  • Geoffrey Gordon

    Love it… Its a case of effort in = Reward out. We do this as a standard practice in our company. Its makes the communication and workflow a lot easier. I find Google docs to be a use tool for working on a live documents and keeping track of all content need.

    Its important to also educate the client, not just tell them what needs to be done and how it needs to be done. We have developed a document for the design brief, which has taken many revisions, but it has been worth the results in the long run.

    it would have been nice to have added a sample brief to show viewers reading this blog post an example.

    • shaunsymm

      ‘effort in = reward out’, great way to put it.

    • Kennedy Tan

      I also think that a way to maximize profit is to really gather all elements possible while teaching your clients with valuable information (I love infographics). in the starting phase of the project. It is usually the longest to escape from if you really have a streamlined process of serving up your web design services. But for people who just dive right in to coding, it’s probably going to extend their time on constant need for revision.

      Thanks for the Google Docs tip, I was almost in for Dropbox version control. The 2 are really amazing.

      I send your opinion on a short brief example, it might be good if you provide us!

  • Andrew Hersh

    Um. How’s about defining “brief”?

    • James

      Really? It’s called google, use it.

      • Andrew Hersh

        Really? It’s called an article about a topic. Ya know… the kind of thing from which you’d expect to LEARN ABOUT A TOPIC.

      • James

        And if I did an article on web design for designers I wouldnt include a definition of “the Internet”. See how that works?

  • Marifer Duran

    Nice article! And totally true!

    I create my briefs with JotForm, I recommend it very much, its simple, easy to share and easy for my clients to use and answer all our questions… No more “I cant open the document”, “How do I answer to the questions and send it back?” or those hideous scanned handwritten answers. Cheers!