Few things are as thrilling as submitting a design to a client, only to receive pure praise in return. On the flip side, few things are more frustrating than submitting that design, only to receive an email from your client saying it’s “all wrong”.
Even if your client wants just a few changes, the revision process can be challenging, at best. Often clients aren’t sure what they want until they see your initial draft, and this can mean requesting massive changes. They may not understand how much work goes into making those changes, assuming graphic design is as easy as a few mouse clicks.
Since you don’t have time to give them a graphic design lesson, it’s important to put on your “customer service hat” and get to work. Here are our key tips for handling revision requests in an effective and professional way that will keep both sides happy.
Pleasing clients is essential, but if you don’t set boundaries, you could find yourself stuck in an endless revision cycle. At what point do you stop making changes and actually get paid for your work? That is a question that should be answered before you even think about working with someone new.
The first step is to learn to spot a bad apple right from the start. Require a consultation, either in person or by phone, and during the chat look for the following red flags:
- Difficulty articulating their needs
- No specific budget
- An inability to answer basic questions about the project or their business
- An off-putting communication style
- Negative commentary about other designers
Once you’ve had your consultation, you’ll need to move to the contract phase. As a professional designer, you should have a contract that outlines, in detail, the scope of the work, as well as the number of revisions your fee includes. Include the fee you’ll charge for each additional round of change requests after that time. You should also include a termination clause that gives you an “out” if you realize at some point that you can no longer work with this person.
If defensiveness is your first response when a client requests a revision, you aren’t alone. It’s an artist’s natural inclination to defend his or her work. However, it’s important to separate any personal attachment you have to your design and realize that you’re being paid to create a product to your client’s satisfaction. Sometimes it can help to read the feedback and walk away from it for a while. When you come back to it, you’ll likely see it with fresh eyes.
Clarify the request
But even then, you shouldn’t jump into the work right away. Either schedule a call or message your client to clarify the request. If you feel the changes will go against the client’s originally-stated goals, speak up. You are, after all, the expert in this area, and a good client will take your opinions into consideration. Don’t expect that your customer will easily go along with your advice, though. You’ll probably find that many clients continue to push for the changes they want without compromise.
Once you’ve verified the changes, roll up your sleeves and get to work. If you can, don’t hesitate to ask the client to take a quick look at your work as you go. Feedback early on in the revision process can possibly prevent you from going too far in the wrong direction. All too often, clients see changes to a design and realize it wasn’t what they wanted, after all.
Track your revisions
When you do send the newer version, make sure you note where they are in the revision process. A subject line that reads, “first revision of three” can help emphasize the fact that changes are not unlimited. This also will encourage them to take a serious look at the first or second draft and decide exactly what they want, rather than assuming they can just continue to have you tweak until they see what they wanted from the start.
When to push back
A successful graphic designer can handle both the creative and business sides of operations with skill. Good customer service means never dismissing the client’s concerns and requests, even if you disagree with them. First, make it clear you hear and understand what they’ve communicated, then state what you’ll do to correct things. If their suggestions go against what you know is best for their brand, state the specifics of why and try to strike a compromise.
When to be flexible
But what about those instances where they’re making suggestions that fall outside of the boundaries of the contract? This is where you have a choice to make. You’re running a business and you have every right to enforce your contract. However, you also could get more work from this client, along with possible referrals and recommendations, so it might be worth it to do an extra round of revisions or put in a few extra minutes of work that wasn’t originally mentioned.
When to be firm
Exercise caution here as a bit of extra work can easily lead to more. You’ll have to draw the line somewhere. Professional project managers are trained to prevent scope creep, which is a client’s tendency to add to the original request. A client who asked you to design a website, for instance, may suddenly decide an extra “About Us” or “Testimonials” page would be fun. A logo client may ask for multiple versions to use on print media and conference banners. When requests fall outside of the project boundaries, you have every right to politely state that this is outside the original scope outlined in the contract and will be billed at your hourly rate, which should also have been detailed in the contract.
The wording below can give you the right amount of pushback without alienating the client:
I’d be happy to add your requested features/elements to the design work we’re doing for you. Unfortunately, this would fall outside of the original project requirements, which I’ve copied below. Would you like to schedule a meeting to discuss creating an addendum to the original project request?
During your meeting, be prepared to quote a fee to make those changes, whether hourly or project-based. You can also discuss whether they would like you to complete the work you’re already doing or delay the completion date so that you can include this new request.
It’s all about communication
Revisions are a necessary evil of creative work, but if you have a firm contract in place from the start, you’ll be able to avoid some of the biggest issues. While most clients will provide a pleasant working experience, you have to be prepared for the occasional problem client. Over time, you’ll learn to spot red flags before you put a contract in place and you’ll find that clear communication ensures that everyone ends up happy.