Jun 27 2013

Sit Down And Shut Up: How To Rescue Your Clients From Their Own Bad Taste

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We’ve all been there before: a client hires you to design something, let’s say a website, for them. Work is good, right? But then as you start working on the spec with them, red flags start to crop up. Does your client proactively push you in directions you would never want to go? Does your client demand for the most aweful color palette that has ever been used in the history of web design? Let’s stop him. I’ll show you how..

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Here’s a handful of warning signs that you may need to reign your client in:

  • Frequent new and directionless ideas from the client
    “Hey my cousin just gave me the awesome idea. Let’s make the headline sparkle and spin! Oh, he really thought we should use Papyrus for the header fonts.”
  • Constant redesigns and tweaking of logos and slogans
    “I know I just asked you to change the site’s primary color to #FF0000 … could we switch it back to a black background with that bright blue”
  • The client begins micro-managing the process
    “I want to see 10 different options of the About Us page so I can just pick the one I like.”
  • The client doesn’t have a clear understanding of the goals of the website (or other project)
    “Let’s add a donate button to the site”
    “Why?”
    “Because I saw another site with a donate button on the homepage and I thought it was a good idea”

This list could go on and on. If you’ve been working freelance for any amount of time, I’m sure you could easily double this list in five minutes.

Once these things start happening, it’s a short snowball effect to a project that will cost you time and money. Just as bad, it can be an indication that your client doesn’t trust your skillset.

How do you get this project back on the track?

Repeat after me: I am the expert.

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Go ahead and say it again, louder this time.

Louder!

Now that your neighbors or innocent passersby have a nice healthy skepticism about your sanity, we can begin to discuss how you can convey this mantra in a meaningful way to the client.

Review the Contract

Contracts and the language within them are absurdly crucial. You probably already know this, and at the beginning of the project made the deliverables very clear. If you forgot to do this, that might be why you find yourself in this mess in the first place.

If the deliverables are clear, it’s very easy to say “Hey, so and so, this isn’t in the scope of the contract.” If it’s something you’re willing to do, you can add that it’s possible, but you will be billing them for it. People tend to pull back their “awesome new ideas” when they find out it will cost them extra money. They’ll either back off or pay you. Win win.

If the deliverables aren’t so clear, it can be difficult to make the same assertion. Just saying “Um, no I’m not going to do that,” isn’t the best move client satisfaction-wise. In your case, allow me to refer you to the below section, and be advised that for future clients crafting a well written contract is going to help you in ways you are surely beginning to realize.

Stick to your guns.

You’ve done your homework. You know what the project is supposed to accomplish. You are the expert. You are the authority. Now you must speak with that authority.

When the client comes to you with requests for things that are detrimental to the goals of that project, it’s in your best interest to make that clear to them. Explain why their request sabotages their end goal.

Likely as not, they have a rational reason for wanting the extra work, so be prepared to hear their rationale and be doubly prepared to rebut it. No waffling allowed. Take the time to think through your case thoroughly so you don’t end up second guessing yourself on accident.

As I mentioned before, if they push back you can always agree to take care of it- for an extra fee. However, if the request is truly a harebrained idea, you owe it to yourself and to the client to say so.

Sometimes you just have to say no.

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Blow them away

Micro managing can start if you ask too many questions, or even check in too often. Feedback is good. Constantly going in circles, revising this, tweaking that, is not. If you’re getting into this type of downward spiral, the best thing you can do is back off for a minute.

Use your mad design skills to craft a draft or a mock up that steps outside the paradigms that are feeding the pending implosion but still accomplishes the goals of the project. Do not show it to the client until you are satisfied with it and can defend your design decisions.

Odds are they’ll be excited to see a fresh vision for the project that pulls them out of the endless revision cycle as well. If they really love it, they’ll shut up and let you do your job. If they start trying to tack other bells and whistles on, see the above section.

Fire your client

If you’re skeptical about the above advice, I don’t blame you. Depending on the project, the client, it might be a better call to walk away. If sticking to your guns isn’t working, and your intuition tells you that dazzling them isn’t going to work, cut your losses. I’d rather save face by walking away than be stuck attaching my name to a terrible end product.

Firing a client can be tough. Here’s some advice on how to do it right.

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Wrap up, reset, and start right

Whichever path you choose to wrangling an unruly client, once the project is done, it’s done.

Feel free to celebrate.

Maybe you don’t plan on working with that client ever again, maybe you and the client got on the same page and you’re already planning your next project with them. In either case, you’re going to want to check your project kick-off process for any holes before you wind up repeating the same mistakes again.

In most cases of client short circuit I’ve experienced, it’s not really the client’s fault. They may be trying to squeeze some extra work out of you, but odds are the root of the problem lies in misguided expectations and poor definitions of deliverables and service.

Here are a few things you can work into your proposals/contracts that will help nip these problems in the bud:

  • Begin by stating the goal of the project.This will help keep things focused. It’s as much for your own benefit as it is for the client.
  • Line by line, clearly state parameters of your service.
    Designing a homepage? Don’t just say that’s what you’ll do, but include the number of revisions you’ll go through with the client before they get cut off.
  • Include an estimate of the project schedule.
    This keeps you honest and the client happy. If you can get it done in two weeks, put the cap on the project at three. That way, if the client is slowing things down substantially, they pay for it.
  • Clearly define the deliverables.
    Don’t forget to keep it simple. If you’ve done this clearly and simply, then neither you nor the client will have problems knowing when the project is officially over.

Now, I know all of this appears a little strict. Is it wrong to throw in a few gimme’s here and there? Certainly not. Making your client happy is important. Just don’t let them abuse your good nature. If you normally throw small requests in for free, here’s another bullet point just for you:

  • Define “small favors”.
    Include small adjustments and tweaks as a line in the contract, no charge, but use language that makes it clear these will be done at your discretion, and if you evaluate them as favors slightly larger than “small”, it will cost extra.

If you’re afraid that taking a hard line at the beginning of the project will scare away clients, don’t be. My favorite clients have made me earn the authority put forward in our agreements, and once earned, they trust me to get the job done. It’s awesome.

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Now go get ‘em, tiger!

About The Author

sethrasmussenSeth Rasmussen is a Seattle based writer/ukulele enthusiast. After joining Small Biz Triage in 2012, he became co-owner and project manager of this small marketing company, which has grown to serve small businesses, creatives, and the occasional non-profit. In between blog posts and managing his team, Seth can often be found around Seattle making music and films.
 
 
 
 

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Comments and Discussions
  • James Young, 27 June 2013

    Good stuff, sometimes it’s tricky managing a strongly opinionated client.

    I would say to all designers out there that the book “Design is a Job” is an indispensable resource for working with clients and fellow designers etc. http://www.abookapart.com/products/design-is-a-job

    @welcomebrand

  • Simone, 27 June 2013

    Totally agree with you Seth, it’s really important do define every aspect of the project before putting time and work on it.
    Some clients are honest and some are not, with experience you can also recognize them before starting a project!

  • rcarmstrong, 27 June 2013

    What about when the “client” is your FT job? *headdesk* :-)

  • Seth, 28 June 2013

    Then you start looking for new work!

    Easier said then done, I know, but even in an employer/employee relationship it’s extremely important to stand up for yourself. So many employers break laws left and right to save money, they forget that taking advantage of their employees yields a less productive employee.

    Back in the day when I had a boss, I found a fair amount of success in that argument. When you can show an employer that their actions are costing them $$$, they tend to change their behavior. Unless they’re just lazy, in which case perhaps they’ll shy away from the prospect of having to find someone else to hire.

    Re: finding more (or different) work: my number one Mantra is don’t chase the money, pursue the lifestyle that you want to lead. The closer you can get to that, the happier, more confident, and fulfilled you will feel. If your employer is getting in the way of this, it’s time to look elsewhere. Seriously.

    Hope that’s a helpful pep talk, rcarmstrong.

    Thanks for reading, everyone!

  • Sean, 30 June 2013

    Love the title, made me laugh.

    • Seth, 02 July 2013

      Thanks, Sean! Stay tuned for more awesome headlines from the Small Biz Triage team!
      Seth Rasmussen
      smallbiztriage.com

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