What do you do when clients won’t stop asking for revisions? Here’s some advice:
As a designer or creative director, you’ve probably had the experience of working with a client who repeatedly asks for revisions with no end in sight. It’s frustrating, right?
You want to keep the client happy without driving yourself crazy or ruining your profit margin. Both are essential to the success of your business. So it’s important to understand how to avoid getting sucked into the vicious cycle of revisions.
Managing projects and client relationships is a delicate matter and a two-way street. Sometimes we just end up working with an over controlling client who’d do everything themselves “if only I knew Photoshop”. But at other times we haven’t set the right expectations with the client from the beginning, or we’ve mismanaged the client relationship.
The following strategies should help create healthy professional relationships with your clients.
01. Start with the intention to develop a healthy relationship with your client.
If you start the project just wanting to finish it quickly and get paid ASAP, then you’re setting yourself up for failure.
An unreasonably short timeframe will create stress and anxiety that will cause you to be frustrated about each additional client request, no matter how minor. Also, the client will feel that you’re in a rush and not intending to give your best. If they feel like they are getting short-changed, they’ll likely start asking for more, more, more. Such a professional relationship is doomed to constant friction and will likely end badly.
However, if you start a project with the mindset of developing a healthy relationship with your client and doing your best, you’ll be off to a good start. Aim for a mutually beneficial professional collaboration where you respect each other’s time and ideas. From here, any hiccups along the way will be easier to resolve.
02. Educate your client about the real purpose of a revision
The design process naturally consists of phases. The designer creates a design draft and asks the client for feedback. Revisions are then made with the goal to move closer to the best end result for the client’s project and its audience. In other words, revisions are part of the design process and they cannot (and should not) be avoided. Rather, they should be done purposefully by keeping in mind the project’s objectives.
In your first meeting with a new client, explain this process as part of your overall work approach. You’ll set up certain expectations – of both your role and their role. That will give them a clear perspective on how the project will unfold and they’ll understand that revisions are part of the process. Knowing these boundaries, they should respect the process (you might need to remind them a few times along the way) and not take advantage of you by asking for numerous revisions based on their whims. Unfortunately, that does happen. Read on to find out what to do when it does.
03. Clearly define and articulate what is a round of revision
Your client hired you because you’re the professional, not them. They may not know exactly what constitutes a “round of revision” – it can be a vague term for someone not familiar with design jargon. Take the time to explain to your client exactly what a round of revision is and include the specifics in your initial estimate and legal contract.
Once a design draft is presented, the client has a specified number of days to provide their feedback. Once all of their comments, ideas and questions are consolidated and provide a new version, that’s the end of that round of revision.
04. Clearly define how many rounds of revisions are included in your fee
The number of rounds of revisions – based on your professional knowledge of the complexity of the project – should be clearly articulated both in your legal contract and in the initial estimate you send to the client.
The more transparent and informative you are upfront, the less confused your client will be. In the end, your diligence at the beginning will prevent misunderstandings and conflicts throughout the remainder of the process
05. Clearly define when change requests will be considered extra work and how this will be billed
As you know, there are major revisions and minor ones. But your client might not realize there’s a difference. Give your client clear examples of each so they understand it up front. For instance, you could say: “Moving photos and text around the page means we are doing layout changes and that’s a major revision. However, changing a short text phrase here and there is a minor revision.”
Again, these specifics (including how you bill for major revisions – eg hourly rate or flat fee) should be included in both your legal contract and the initial estimate you send to your client. Of course, you can’t include every possible scenario in these documents, and many change requests are somewhere in the middle between major and minor. It’s your job to keep educating the client along the way and referring back to the initial examples you provided at the beginning.
06. Keep the client informed about each phase of the design process
Most clients aren’t aware of the incremental steps a design process entails. Keeping the client informed about each design phase helps prevent misunderstandings about where you are in the overall process.
For example, after you receive the client’s first consolidated feedback, send them a confirmation email. Use a subject line such as “first round of revisions out of three” and then reiterate the changes we’re planning to do based on their feedback.
Taking time to do this will help you structure your work and manage the revisions, but most importantly, it will keep the client informed about the progress of the project.
07. Accept that design is subjective
Design is subjective. Therefore, sometimes we, as designers, truly misunderstand what the client is expecting. Using words to communicate visual tastes and preferences can be tricky and misleading. If your design doesn’t meet the client’s expectations, simply apologize and ensure them that you’ll get it right. And, don’t count that round as part of the agreed number of revisions (sorry).
Sometimes you and your client won’t agree about the best design solution. Or, your client might reject your ideas simply because it doesn’t appeal to them. It can be useless to argue when it’s a matter of personal taste; you might need to just spend that extra time making more revisions.
Although this might be disappointing to you as a designer, simply accept that design is subjective and you, as a designer, are providing a professional service to the client. Thus, plan for this possibility when initially budgeting out your project.
08. Accept your mistakes
It can be a hard and costly lesson, but it happens to the best of us. After years of experience, we know that a project succeeds or fails based on how much care and attention we give to the design briefing process. It’s a crucial step that can save hours and heartache down the line.
So, be sure to ask your client the right questions to obtain all of the information you need.
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