You spend weeks working on a website, agonizing over every detail and producing something that you can’t wait to show your client. You’re sure the client will be just as overjoyed as you are about the final look. You click “send,” and you wait for the accolades to start pouring in.
Then you get the e-mail.
The one that says, “Everything looks great, but…”
The one that asks, “Could you maybe just change this one thing? Oh, and then just this one other, small thing? Wait, now that I think about it, also just this other tiny change?”
Sometimes, they really are small changes. Other times, they are actually major changes, but the client doesn’t understand the amount of time it takes to make them. Sometimes, those small changes just keep adding up, creating so-called “revision inflation.”
Establishing a system for handling revision requests is integral to your success as a freelance web designer. Without it, you can spend hours performing unpaid revisions, and your once lucrative contract can have you working for peanuts.
Get to Know Each Other
Making sure you really understand what your client wants right from the start can help you avoid revision requests altogether.
“The goal is getting inside the client’s head at the beginning of the project. Then you will have fewer problems later in the process,” Jason Fowler, the owner of Wisely Woven Creative Media, says.
Take the time to thoroughly discuss not only the client’s vision for the look of the site, but also the functionality that the client needs. This will hopefully eliminate any surprises for you or the client.
Chris Lowrance, who runs Lowrance Creative, gives this example: “You agreed to a five-page site, and by the end, you’ve discovered that one of those ‘pages’ is a blog with its own main, single post (with comments), search, and category archive sub-pages.”
Having the right conversations before you begin can help you avoid these types of surprises and unnecessary revisions.
Sign a Contract
After you’ve had the initial conversation with the client about the site, you should draw up a contract that details the scope of the project, the cost and how you will handle revisions. You may include a certain number of revisions with your quote, or you may choose to charge an hourly rate for any changes. All freelance web designers have their own policies.
“I limit revisions within the initial quote,” Lowrance says. “I describe them as ‘rounds.’ So the contract will say something like ‘1 round of revisions after delivery of mockups.’ That means that after I hand in those first few potential designs, I expect the client to spend some time thinking about them and send me one e-mail listing everything they’d like to see different. That’s what it’s really about — getting them to take the time to make a thorough list, rather than drag it out over several conversations and multiple versions of the mockup or final site.”
Spelling out your revision policies in the contract will set the parameters for the project and give you a point of reference should the client begin making excessive requests.
Be Honest but Diplomatic
Even with a contract, it is inevitable one of your clients is going to ask for revisions that were not within the bounds of your original agreement. You can be flexible about these changes, but you don’t have to make them for free.
“I used to just go along with it,” Bryan Gentry, who runs Bryan Gentry Web Design, says of the additional revision requests. “But now I explain to my customer if their requests go beyond the scope of what they are paying me to do. Really, this is what hourly rates are for. If the customer asks for more revisions, you can let them know that you are happy to make the change and add it to the bill.”
Walking a client through the changes can help them understand why you need to charge what you do.
“Generally, I make every effort to provide them with the solution they are looking for, but there are times when I will tell a client, ‘That can’t be done well,’ and I’ll explain why, or I’ll say, ‘Yes, that can be done, but it’s going to push the completion of the project way back,’” Fowler says.
Lowrance adds, “’Yes, and…’ is a powerful tool both for conflict management and contract negotiation. Let’s say toward the end of the project, the client asks for something nuts. You can say, ‘No, that’s not possible because…,’ but it’s even better to say, ‘Yes, we could do that, and it’ll cost you this much extra because….’ This way, you either extend the project and get paid more, or you’ve made it clear to the client that their request is unfeasible but in a positive way.”
You should charge your regular hourly rate for any revisions outside the scope or your original quote.
Know When to Walk Away
If you and a client are not a good fit, you may find yourself faced with multiple revision requests to the point where it is no longer worth your time. It is important to recognize when to walk away from a project.
“In general, you’ll know it,” Lowrance says. “When you feel like the client isn’t negotiating in good faith, but is just trying to push you for more work for the same money. When they’re insisting on things that are clearly beyond what you agreed on or can do. When they hated your initial mockups and hated the results of their own revision requests, so it’s clear you’re just not the designer for them. Yeah, there are times to walk away, and don’t be afraid to do so when you feel you need to. Just be polite and professional, no matter if the client gets rude or insulting.”
Though you may never want to have this conversation, you may have to at some point.
“Stay in web design long enough and you will reach a point where you need to ‘fire a client,’” Gentry says. “Where this point is depends on where you are in your career, what relationship you have with your clients, (unfortunately) how much other work you have available, and you personal preference. In general, you need to walk away from a project when moving forward with it is more trouble than it is worth.”
Every designer will define this point differently, but Gentry says that it may include a client who repeatedly breaks the terms of your contract, who makes excessive demands or who is constantly making changes.
At the end of the day, how you handle revisions is all about the relationship you have with your client. The designers Treehouse spoke with noted that they are willing to go above and beyond for clients who show respect for the work and the time involved.
“Web design is not just knowing code or trends or techniques,” Fowler said. “It is also knowing how to manage the project and give great customer service. The issue of revisions is an issue of client management and people skills.”
Photo: By Johann Dréo
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Interesting Article. I use Apptivo software for my web designs.
This was a very interesting article to read, as I am at the other end of this – the client side. I want to make things as painless as possible for our designer. I think I can see where all the “little” changes can really add up to big scope creep. One thing I was really hoping to see outlined in this article was a best practice way that designers like to see clients use to communicate the changes they want. Email can be a cumbersome mess and I feel there must be a better way. So, to the author and other designers – In your experience, what is the best way for a client to submit changes in a clear, easy to track/manage way?
Great post, I just have one question about giving up a project.
I agree it’s healthier to just walk away on some cases, but how do you charge that? You did some work, so it’s fair you want to get paid, but if the client “hated” all your work so far, they won’t use any of it. That means that client will be paying for “nothing”.
If you have to walk away, the relationship with the client already isn’t the best, now you are making them pay for “nothing”, so it can’t get better… They can even argue you made them lose time too, since they’ll have to start all over. How you handle that?
This is a good and well-written article. As suggested in the article, signing of a contract is the best idea for web designers. This will also help to maintain a healthy relationship with the client. Keep posting such stories as they are very helpful.
Thanks so much for writing this article!! I’ve definitely had to learn how to handle these situations the hard way.
One thing that I didn’t see mentioned was the possibility of talking to your client about whether or not their demands would actually help their business objectives and help them reach customers….
I’ve had clients ask me for changes after everything’s been signed off and the markup has been delivered. I used to just go along with their demands, and then reach a point where I would tell them “OK, I’m happy to make these changes, but after this I am going to bill you hourly!”. But I realized that going along with their demands wasn’t doing anything to serve their business goals or their customers.
For example, will this or that drop shadow REALLY help you sell your product to your customers? Will it REALLY help build trust with your customers? Will having zany carousel effects REALLY help? Will having 100 tiled instagram images in the background REALLY drive social media engagement?
I’ve started taking the time to educate my clients about the difference between our own subjective preferences, and serving the users who are coming to their sites. Especially since so much traffic comes from smartphones (i.e. maybe someone opens a link to your site from within their Mail app or they’re mindlessly scrolling through Twitter or Facebook while they’re waiting in line at the bank) – people have much shorter attention spans and, more likely than not, they’re at your site because they’re looking for something specific: How do they reach you? How much does your stuff cost? They’re not going to ooh and aah over carousels and transition effects; in fact, such elements actually detract from a good user experience on mobile. (OK, I’m digressing a little here, and maybe giving too much weight to mobile users).
In any case, I’ve found that clients usually listen when I ask them how a certain change will serve their customers, and they usually back off. I’m not a confrontational person and I like maintaining healthy relationships with my clients; if I think a demand is within reason, then I’m happy to do it.
But at a certain point, I have to say something if I think that a client is putting their own ego before their customers’ needs.
Oh man that last line sounded really self righteous and confrontational… I never bring up the whole ego thing, that’s just me psychoanalyzing!! I usually phrase things a lot more tactfully, like, “OK, your Google Analytics shows that a lot of your users are using XYZ technology, so this might not serve their best interests,” or “Some kind of fact about mobile users, blah blah blah,” or “Something about bounce rates, blah blah blah.”
I have to agree with some of these superb titles within this post. Sign a contract is a MUST! Then both yourself and the client have an agreement in place. And know when to walk away. Is by far the best piece of advice.
This article is very helpful at all to the projects that I have made. And clients still trust the results of my work.
Thanks for share and it’s a great article.
Dear Treehouse Team,
I just wanted to thank you guys for providing such brilliant articles. It’s so nice to read an article like this and think, “Yes, YES, that’s exactly what happens!” The Web Elite really plans to try and put some of these practical suggestions into practice.
Thanks again guys, and keep it up!