Probably the toughest aspect of design isn't creating something visually stimulating, most designers can do this naturally. However, listening to your clients needs and wants, and then producing a great design is key to offering a functional design and a usable product for them to take away.
It doesn't matter how incredible your design is, if it doesn't meet your clients needs then it isn't good.
Time and time again, I have become the second port of call for clients, who have had their time wasted by other designers who had brilliant portfolios, but just couldn't grasp the clients needs. This is something I did myself when I first attempted to start my own design consultancy back in 2007. I had the skills and passion to design since graduating with a HND in Multimedia Design, I didn't have the business savvy know how to turn this into a successful business.
Unfortunately, I found this out the hard way and spent several years in the corporate world developing my selling and listening skills. All the while I kept my eye on design and the arts, with a view to one day setting up properly, prepared to take on the business and sales tasks in addition to creating.
Since going freelance last March, I have had very different results compared to my first attempt back in 2007. Clients return to me to use my services for new projects, they refer other businesses to me and clients make first contact with me more often. I now outsource portions of projects to other designers and animators so that we can take on bigger projects together.
One thing that has become vital in my business practice, is sending work in the direction of other designers in my local community. I was fortunate enough to be in a position of having too much work on in Q4 of 2013 and recommended other creatives to my clients. Giving to others is important to my business as well as receiving, if designers help each other out, we all have a much greater chance of surviving in a tough industry in difficult economic times.
So work hard, be nice to people, listen to your clients and always do more, every time you go above and beyond for a client you are investing in your future.