After years of freelancing, still, one of the most daunting feeling is waiting for a client’s response to your work. Will they like what you’ve come up with? Does it meet their expectations? What if you get a negative response?
“I don’t like this direction.”
“This is not what I had in mind.”
“Can we chat about this?”
No matter if you’re brand new to working with clients or you’ve been doing it for years, dealing with client feedback can be exhausting. In situations where the client requests revisions, you must tread lightly, because if you begin to bend backwards for them, you can easily lose control of the project.
So how do you handle situations where the client requests revisions? More importantly, is there a way you can prevent this from happening? The good news is – yes.
In the years I’ve been freelancing, I’ve experimented with many different techniques in how to handle countless client situations. I’m going to share with you everything I’ve been putting into practice that can result in less stressful situations for both you and the client. You’ll be able to work faster on projects you enjoy, keep control of your role as the designer, and you’ll have some very satisfied clients.
It starts with being selective
It’s no surprise there are clients out there that ultimately would like to use you as their technician. They want to take advantage of your skills and put them to use to do their grunt work. These are the clients you must avoid and turn down. But how to do detect these type of clients?
Usually you can spot high-maintenance and disorganized clients from the way they communicate. Are they professional in how they explain their project? Can they define their own target market in detail? For example, in your project questionnaire when you ask about the client’s target market, do they give you a vague answer like, “Children” or something more in depth like, “Our aim is at children ages 4–13, and ideally we’d like to become a learning resource in schools.”
In general, if the client is hesitant or shows lack of understanding for their own project, you should consider turning it down.
When I look at the questionnaire entries from my website, I look for three things in a client:
- How passionate are they about the project?
- Do they have an understanding of their own goals?
- Do they show an interest in working with me specifically?
Asking questions upfront and reviewing how the client responses is important because it sets the tone for the professional relationship moving forward.
How to prevent unnecessary client requests
The best thing you can do for every project you take on is to discuss and define specific goals. Before you take any payments for the design work, it’s imperative that both you and the client are on the same page.
During your preliminary discussions about the project, go over their goals (specifics of what they’re in need of), expectations (steps to take and when), but also define the roles you both will play. Your client is the expert in their field, so they should be delivering their target market and project goals in detail. Then it’s your job to take those goals and seek out the right solution – providing as much value as you can along the way.
Defining a revision policy
It’s smart for you to know how you’ll handle revisions beforehand, and that you state this on your website and/or in your preliminary discussions.
Many clients may expect 3–5 rounds of revisions, or even worse, unlimited amounts if you don’t specify how many. Limit revisions to 1–2 rounds, or even follow The One Concept Approach. The client needs to understand your process and must be willing to fall under it. They’ll trust your process as long as it’s laid out in front of them, and you’re confident in it yourself.
Defining the project goals
When you’re discussing the project (before you’ve gone over pricing), figure out in great detail what the client is expecting. If they’re looking for a logo for example, are they looking for a typography only logo, or one with a graphic element? In what style should the logo be in? What elements must be included? What should the logo achieve and who should it appeal to?
Once you have all of the details you need, get a final approval from the client on what’s been established. Go over this in your project proposal or even directly in your email:
From what I’ve gathered, you’re looking for a new logo that achieves A, B, and C in [specified style.] All while targeting [defined target market.]
If the client agrees with what’s been defined, then move forward with the contract and down payment.
After you’ve discussed the project, defined its goals, and you’ve begun the design process, the next and potentially most important step is presenting the work to the client.
First, the worst thing you can do when presenting is sending the design work over and saying, “What do you think?” This leaves the option for revisions open to the client, and that’s the problem where most revision conflicts rise. By giving the client a say in the design process, you’re handing over your control and role as the designer.
When you deliver the design to the client, you should cover three things:
- Restate the project goals as provided in the preliminary discussions and/or proposal.
- Show your work process and how you focused on the goals.
- Present the design work in light of the project goals and explain its effectiveness.
After you’ve presented the design work, next you should follow-up with a call-to-action – usually being the final project payment.
Dealing with revision conflicts
If you’ve put the above best practices to use in your process, then the project should be smooth sailing. But not every project will go as expected – that’s just the reality of it.
If anything outside of the project scope is requested (requests for something not previously discussed), then don’t be afraid to bring up the project goals as a backstop: “As discussed in our preliminary discussions and stated in the project proposal, you defined and approved [these details] for the project.”
Here’s an excerpt from my freelance contract which covers project changes and cost renegotiations:
If the parameters of the Work change, or if it involves more time than estimated, Designer will inform Client and they can renegotiate the Work’s cost.
At this point if the client requires something outside of the original scope, you must take a step back into defining new goals and coming up with a new, additional cost. And if the client had issues with this, then you have every right to cancel the project.
Dealing with negative client feedback
It’s inevitable that you’ll run into negative replies from a client. This is always tough to handle, but first things first – don’t take it personally. (Hoping that their response isn’t actually a personal stab at you. That’s an entirely different situation that you hopefully don’t fall into.) Chances are the client’s intent isn’t to devalue your work. Roll it off, and seek out the best way to handle the situation.
Usually if a client doesn’t respond well to what I’ve sent over, I simply ask something like, “Can you elaborate on what you don’t like about the design?” From there you can figure out the right direction to take. Whether it be to revise what you’ve done, bring up the original scope, or educate them on why you went in that direction and why it’s the right solution for the project.
Hopefully you can limit this from happening if you’re following the best practices in this post: be selective, define a revision policy, clarifying your work process to the client, and defining specific project goals every time.
Always focus on solutions and solve the problem over arguing what’s right. Most clients value you talking them through the process of why you chose the direction you took.
A client telling you they’re unhappy isn’t the end of the world. By putting some necessary steps in your onboarding process and by staying calm and professional throughout all communications, you’ll come out of every project unscathed.
Have you a crazy client revision story? Have any unanswered questions on the topic? Leave a comment below!