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How to cope with difficult clients

In the style of the British Board of Film Classification, this feature ‘contains language’! This blog was inspired by a post I saw in LinkedIn about ‘ways to piss off a freelancer’. It was funny, true, I’ve heard them many times myself, and by the number of comments, so had lots of other people. But, is there any way to prevent clients pissing off their creative team? How to cope with difficult clients.

A people person

Working in a creative industry is great. You meet loads of different people, each project is different, it’s exciting, you create wonderful things and you generally contribute to making the world a better and more beautiful place. That’s the dream. Buuuuut, unfortunately it’s not all sitting in hipster joints with lovely clients eating organic pumpkin toast and drinking unusual tea. Would that it were.

The downside of meeting loads of different people is that you come up against people who don’t really understand what you do. They know what they want, but they don’t understand the process or what’s involved. It doesn’t matter if it’s web design, or graphic design, copywriting, photography, any creative service that is open to interpretation, generates an emotion, or that could have different, equally good, outcomes. Really, I suppose it applies to any service generally. Paying for a service is not the same as buying something that exists already like a car, or a hat, or a new washing machine.

As a creative, the massively overwhelming majority of people you meet are regular normal and lovely human beings. But, it’s important to develop the art of diplomacy and really practice your ‘inside voice’ for the instances, every now and again, when your resistance is low and people say the following things.  And let’s face it, sometimes, being ‘professional’ kind of means ‘not being able to say what you really want to say’.

Eleven deadly sins

Client 1: I just want something simple.

Inside voice: You just want something cheap, don’t you? Unbelievable. You’re already haggling and trying to beat me down on price.

Client 2: Can you mock something up for me before I decide if I’ll hire you or not.

Inside voice: What, you want us to work for free? Would you say that to a builder you’re considering to build your kitchen extension? What do you think our portfolio is for? Our own vanity?

Client 3: I need a website before the end of next week. No, I don’t have any content or imagery yet – thought you could help with that.

Inside voice: Pah-hahahaha! Yes, Pal, we’ll drop everything we’re doing and get cracking on yours tomorrow. You clearly have a well-thought out business plan and your time management is obviously tippety-top. Or did you wake up this morning with this fantastic idea for ‘the new Facebook’?

Client 4: My brother’s mate said he’ll build a site for two hundred quid.

Inside voice: At that price, sounds like you brother’s mate knows exactly what he’s doing. I’d grab his hand off. So, why are you ringing me? You want me to match that price?

Client 5: Sorry, been dead busy the last few weeks and not had time to get back to you with feedback. Is the website finished?

Inside voice: Is it finished? We said we couldn’t move on with the build until you said you were happy with the web design. In six different emails. And where’s the staff bios we asked for three months ago?

Client 6: I want a website doing professionally. What’s a rough quote . . . ? That’s really expensive . . . Why is it that much?

Inside voice: Because your brother’s mate isn’t doing it for two hundred quid. And, you said it yourself, you want it doing professionally so you need to pay professional rates.

Client 7: I’ve just shown my boss the finished site and he says he doesn’t like it.

Inside voice: But you signed off on the design! Why, in the name of God, Buddha, Krishna, and all the holy saints, over the last eight weeks that we’ve been working on this project with you did it not occur to you, at some point, to keep him updated with progress and show him the fucking design before we built it?!

Client 8: We’ve been through your website proposal and you captured exactly what we’re after. What’s your best price for cash?

Inside voice: It’s on page 16. Funnily enough, it’s the same price. What do you think this is, the timber yard behind the Dog and Bucket?

Client 9: I know the final invoice needs paying before it’s launched but do you mind if we pay at the end of the month instead?

Inside voice: No, so long as you don’t mind your site being launched at the start of next month. You know cash flow is important to small businesses, don’t you?

Client 10: Would you consider building this website for some shares in the company?

Inside voice: You don’t have any money, do you? You have no business plan. It’s time consuming and stressful enough running my own business without worrying that you’re running yours properly so I see a return, and shares don’t pay my staff. Besides, your business idea is shit.

Client 11: Before we go live tomorrow, can we just change the layout of the service pages?

Inside voice: Fuck right off, you nobber!

Outside voice

I think anyone who has worked in the creative arts recognises these, or similar, situations. But, there are a few important things to remember, all of them relate to consultancy and education.

Clients come to us because they can’t do it themselves and it’s our responsibility to help them and to educate them. All of these common utterings from clients can be answered with our outside voices or by changing how we manage clients and projects in general.

Client 1: I just want something simple.

Outside voice: There are different ways of building websites. Is cost an issue for you? If you have a budget I’ll be able to say whether we’re the right company for you, and if we’re not, I’ll be able to refer you to someone who can help.

Client 2: Can you mock something up for me before I decide if I’ll hire you or not.

Outside voice: Let me explain our research, design and build process and why we wouldn’t be able to do that.

Client 3: I need a website before the end of next week. No, I don’t have any content or imagery yet – thought you could help with that.

Outside voice: Let me explain our research, design and build process and why that’s a really short timescale. There are a lot of things that are required to build a decent site.

Client 4: My brother’s mate said he’ll build a site for two hundred quid.

Outside voice: Is he a web designer? He’s done one before, you say? It may be a false economy to pay so little because you kind of get what you pay for.

Client 5: Sorry, been dead busy the last few weeks and not had time to get back to you with feedback. Is it finished?

Outside voice: Unfortunately, not. But we did say that we wouldn’t be able to move on unless we had prompt feedback. It’s on the schedule we did together on the project management system.

Client 6: I want a website doing professionally. What’s a rough quote . . . ? That’s really expensive . . . Why is it that much?

Outside voice: You’ll get a huge range of quotes from different web designers. Agencies are more expensive than freelancers because of overheads. If you want a professional website it does cost professional fees. For example, it’s like the difference between a Vauxhall Corsa and a Range Rover. If you pay more, you will get a higher level of expertise.

Client 7: I’ve just shown my boss the finished site and he says he doesn’t like it.

Outside voice: We talked about the milestones that needed to be signed off at the beginning of the project. Each time you said you were happy for us to move on to the next stage and you signed off. We also said that all stakeholders should be informed at each stage to prevent this kind of thing happening. We can change it but it was also in our Letter of Agreement that we would charge if you changed your mind about something afterwards. We can’t work for free.

Client 8: We’ve been through your website proposal and you captured exactly what we’re after. What’s your best price for cash?

Outside voice: I’m sorry, but we run a legit business and everything goes through the books.

Client 9: I know the final invoice needs paying before it’s launched but do you mind if we pay at the end of the month instead?

Outside voice: We’ve stuck to the schedule of the project and we’d like you to as well please. It’s important to us that we all stick to what we agreed to at the beginning of the project.

Client 10: Would you consider building this website for some shares in the company?

Outside voice: I’m sorry, but that doesn’t fit in with my business model. We provide our services to pay staff and grow the company. Share won’t help us to do these.

Client 11: Before we go live tomorrow, can we just change the layout of the service pages?

Outside voice: This is something we talked about at the design stages. Whatever design you signed off would be what was built. We can change the layout but there will be an extra charge and it won’t be going live tomorrow because we have other clients’ work booked in.

Education, education, education

There’s a lot of frustration if you work in a creative industry, but, that’s the deal. If you work for people, you have to manage them. Managing expectations is part of what we do, as well as educating clients about our processes and how projects are run – they come to us because they need our help. The above client statements are not stupid, some people just don’t know. But it’s vital that we do all we can to prevent them being uttered. Explaining and helping ‘awkward’ enquirers empowers them to make a better decision about their website idea. Making sure we explain ourselves clearly throughout a project, and why we have certain rules and conditions in contracts that are sufficiently communicated, goes some way to reducing the instances of projects falling apart. It’s up to us. It’s our job. But, you’ll always get one nobber.

Photo by Aarón Blanco Tejedor on Unsplash

 

 

Posted in Help and Advice, Web Design Liverpool

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