During the eight years that I've been running Killer Infographics, I've heard myriad horror stories from clients about previous creative services firms they've worked with. From being overcharged for simple work to getting nothing at all, clients of all sizes likely have had at least one awful experience worth sharing. As a result, many doubt any future vendor or agency partner -- with good reason.

While I've sometimes heard stories that truly made my jaw drop, other stories fit common patterns. As a result, I've made it my business to build an agency that acts as the antithesis to common negative stereotypes that flow through my industry. We focus on productive feedback and strong teamwork, not cutting costs and style without substance. Here are the five mistakes most creative teams make that hinder project success and erode client loyalty.

1. They rely entirely on freelancers.

In the gig economy, it seems to make financial sense that many agencies are building businesses around freelance creatives instead of in-house teams. But while it sounds appealing, this method of business can be a huge disservice to your clients. 

For one thing, your client won't be able to talk to their creative team directly if a freelancer is doing the bulk of the heavy lifting. This can lead to key information being lost in translation and a frustrated client in the end.  

Beyond the stress on your client, what about the stress on you? Relying on 1,099 freelancers means that you have to fight to keep them loyal to you over your competition. They might miss deadlines due to better opportunities, farm the work out, or deliver subpar assets, leaving you to pick up the pieces. 

2. They're wishy-washy about edit requests, deadlines, and more.

I teach my team to speak in absolutes versus vague responses. If a client makes a request and gets a response of "Maybe" or "We'll see," her confidence in our abilities will diminish. 
Think about it: if someone was building your dream house and you asked them to make sure your king-sized bed would fit in your new master, the last thing you would want to hear is "We'll see."

The same holds true with creative services. If you don't feel confident with an answer, don't tell them "Maybe." Instead, say, "I don't have the answer to this right now, but I'll have it to you by 2 p.m.!" This way, you are protecting yourself from overpromising and giving your client something substantial to rely on.

3. They value form over function.

If your team is prioritizing design and pretty pictures over results, they are valuing form over function. Effective visual content today must be more than pretty pictures. It needs to instead carry forward information and drive action. In other words, it has to be just as functional as it is fun to look at.

If you're developing content for your client without any clear goals in mind, then you are simply executing without bringing strategy to the mix. The agencies that rest on their laurels end up losing out, because their clients choose to leave them for an agency with a more results-driven approach. 

4. They're thick-headed instead of thick-skinned.

I often tell my clients that, at Killer, we are thick-skinned, not thick-headed. What I mean is that my team does not take edit requests personally, but rather welcomes them. The success of a project can be defined by an end goal, a timeline, or even sticking to a small budget. In any of these scenarios, the design approach should be guided by what defines success for the client.

When attacking each project based on what drives success, the end product might not fuel a designer's ego, but it will meet the needs of the end client. A mutual commitment to success over ego gives the client a chance to speak openly and freely, without fear of offending the project team.

5. They don't collaborate on solutions.

I rarely drink caffeine. If I go into a coffee shop and order a decaf, it's what I expect to receive. If the shop is out of decaf, the last thing I want is for them to just pour a regular coffee for me and assume it will suffice. Instead, I want them to offer me alternatives. 

By saying no and then responding with other options, they let me be a part of the solution. That same level of hospitality should be expected of any creative services firm. 

These are just five of the many complaints I've heard when I ask a client why they are leaving their current agency. If you're in a business that relies on creative client services, consider focusing on any improvements you can make in these areas to keep your clients happy for the long run.