November 6, 2020
For full show notes click here
There’s no sugarcoating it, client changes can really suck. Let’s discuss how to manage and minimize client changes from happening in your graphic design business. You’re listening to the Design and Prosper podcast, Episode 18.
Hey, I’m Kris.
And I’m Donna. And each week, we’ll be having unscripted, honest conversations about running a graphic design business.
We’ve been graphic designers and educators for the past two decades and have both run multiple six figure graphic design businesses—we have experienced it all—the highs and the lows of success.
We want to share with you, the good, the bad, and the messy. All the tips and secrets, the bits that worked if it didn’t help you create a thriving and profitable graphic design studio.
Not sure how to price your work? Head to designandprosper.co/freepricingguide and the ultimate pricing guide for graphic designers.
Ooh, we’re talking about those dreaded client changes today.
Oh man, the client changes that just do our heads in.
Client changes can really suck.
They do, they really suck bad.
They suck eggs. Let’s be honest.
Let’s be honest. Nobody likes it. It’s It’s crazy.
Yeah. And that’s why we need to do everything we can to discourage changes wherever possible. Because often, it’s just those little changes become another little change and then another and then another and then all of a sudden, it feels like your life is out of control. Your business is out of control. And you’re you’ve got all these jobs that are going over budget and it’s eating into your bottom line. Client changes need to be reined in.
They do because if you give an inch, they will take a mile. Absolutely. We’ve had this time and time again, in industry, where if you do not have the right boundaries in place, it’s open season. They pop their little art director hat on, or little designer cap on and let’s face it, everybody loves to do that trained or otherwise. And yeah, before you know it, that he can’t recognize the original design that you submitted.
No. And that’s depressing as well, when you don’t even want to share the thing anymore, because it’s been hacked into by unhelpful suggestions. But then, you want to keep the client happy, and you’re worried about, losing the clients. It’s depressing because it not only eats into your financial bottom line, it can also affect your motivation and your self esteem as the designer. And so this whole thing is sometimes called scope creep.
Yep, when I saw that, for the first time….we’re always encouraging designers out there to make sure that you are on top of industry terminology and use the right industry terms when you’re talking to peers and within industry and to clients. And I must say it wasn’t called scope creep for a long time. And then when scope creep was introduced, I was like, that is the most perfect description for this because it sort of gives it that negative little connotation, it makes you aware that you need to deal with this. This is a big thing.
Yeah, it sounds sinister
Its sounds sinister, it sounds bad.
It’s creepy, like.. ooh no, we don’t want any creepy scope creep.
Yeah, where they just keep on asking for changes. And it can happen even before you realize it’s happening. And it just sneaks in. And before you know, you’ve you’re losing money left, right and center, and you just feel like you’re losing control. It feels like the client has taken control.
Yeah, absolutely. And because they’re paying you, you feel like you’ve got to let them drive and and you hand them over the reins, and then you just become an extension of their thoughts. And you’re not doing the job that you’re paid for you become like a finished artist, where you are the skills, you’ll orchestrate the skills, and the client is the driver. And we never ever want that for you.
You become kind of like a design machine. who’s not doing the strategy. And you’re not doing the conceptual thinking behind it, because they’re doing it. But they’re probably not the best person to do it. Well, no, they are not the best person to be doing it. And then it gets so muddy. Because there’s this confusion about how to solve this design problem now, because the goalpost keeps on shifting.
And it always comes back to where you made the change, so you must have been happy with it. And so that solution that you’re offering to the client is something that you believe in, because we don’t tell them we’re not honest with them and that this is not what you would do and so therefore, so any problems with that design become your problem, because you are technically presenting it back to the client going, there we go. That’s a resolved solution. So if you don’t believe it is resolved, don’t present it back to the client. Just say it didn’t work. You have to be clear when changes that they are making are not working.
And it is about confidence and being brave. And we’ll get into that in a little bit more detail. Because as lovely designers, we know that a lot of designers are people pleasers, that you’re worried about upsetting the client, you’re worried that you won’t get any more repeat business from this client. Or even worse, maybe they’ll leave a bad review. And that’s really scary. And I’m seeing examples of this fear a lot in Facebook groups. Some nasty pieces of work out there have even threatened to leave a bad review if you don’t make these changes. So it can be scary.
Yeah, that’s just awful. Absolutely. It’s your business on the line. So I know there are times when we pop our business hat on and go, you know what, I’ve just got to do this, I’ve got to suck it up, and you know, make the changes. But if you have beautiful systems and procedures and boundaries in place from the get go, then you’ll never be sucking anything. You will never ever have to have this problem.
Yes, because the client is going to respect you. They’re going to respect your opinion, they’re going to respect your processes. And you’re going to minimize all of this. So we’ve got some examples of scope creep here. Because you might be thinking, what is this scope creep? So an example could be, you’re designing a lovely postcard, and then it turns into three different kinds of postcards.
Yeah, and that and they think that’s not too big an ask, you’ve already done the first one. So we’ll just roll out an extra couple. But that’s not a part of the original brief, or a part of the original costing.
Yeah, one that often happens is with websites, it’s so easy, just to tack on an extra page, “I just need this extra little page”. So all of a sudden, you know, you quoted on a three page website, and it’s turned into a five page or more website.
Or it’s a three page website. But the three pages are really extensive, when they were going to be a simple little website, “it’s a simple little website”. But before you know it, you’ve got this ever scrolling, never ending website. And there’s so much more work in it. So just be really mindful about the amount of content that you are receiving from your client when it comes to website design. We love receiving all the content prior to a design, so that then we can scope it out and understand what’s there. And we can actually forward think what the changes might be or what the extension on that project scope might be.
It could be something like you’re doing an eight page booklet, and all of a sudden, it needs to become a 12 page booklet. Because, as Donna was just saying they’ve actually supplied all the copy and all the content that needs to go into this. And there’s no way it’s going to fit into an eight page booklet.
Yeah, that’s right. We’ve just had a project fairly recently, where this was the case, it was exactly that—it went up by at least four pages. And it was a quick conversation, “This is going to be a bigger job. This isn’t there’s more to i”. And we explained what it was and we were able to put a revision in immediately, because we could understand what the scope of the job was from the beginning.
When kind of sneaky way that it can happen, especially branding is “Can I just try this color, or this color, or I want to see what it looks like if the font, is a serif”, you know, things like that. It can just be like little little changes that keep on going and going and going and they never seem to have it into them.
That one in particular is the biggest bugbear for me. I think that this is a real example of where the graphic designer needs to be in control. You were paid for your knowledge on color theory and color palette and typography and typesetting and combining two different typography. That’s your secret sauce. That’s who you are. And it really doesn’t take a lot to compromise the integrity of what you have done by just swapping a color out. And it sounds simple. It sounds like “isn’t there just a button that you can click and it’ll change?”. But the theory and the conceptual thinking that goes into that color palette really does extend to a whole extra lot of time on that project. And typography, again is so intricate in the way that we consider it. And we take such a deep dive into pairing up typefaces and creating a beautiful synergy between icon and typeface that changing from a serif to a sans serif. For me, I jumped on my soapbox about this, but for me it’s a little bit insulting. It’s like, argh! It’s a vast difference. And there’s a real reason why I’ve delivered the typeface as a serif for sans serif for whatever. So that one can create lots of angst and I think, where we were talking about the beginning—that’s where it can really diminish your confidence and your self esteem and your worth as a designer, because it really gets you second guessing your decisions. So it really hits hard—It hits it hits me hard, anyway, when when I’ve spent so much time really thoughtfully considering typography and layout. And it’s like, “oh, can we just swap that? Can we just can we swap that typeface?” And it’s like, arghh!
It can undermine the entire project.
Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. Especially with branding, because of all the thought, and the deep dive that you take to deliver a thoughtfully developed discerning brand. So making sure that our clients really appreciate the process. I think that helps our clients to be respectful of the boundaries that have been set, and not to flippantly make those type of changes.
Yes. Another little sneaky, one can be those photo editing things, because you might have an agreement that all the photos are to be supplied, and then they arrive, and they are not to the standard that you need them to be for the project you’re working on. So they need some photo editing.
This is a common one.
That takes time, doesn’t it?
Yeah, Or the way that it needs to be cropped, there isn’t enough bleed. So you might have to do some doctoring to create a little bit of bleed in editing. So yeah, those little things tack on time.
They do. So with all of these things, communication is key. So we’ve hinted at it already, it’s about the setting the boundaries, and communicating—being extremely clear from the get go. You’ve got the proposal. You’ve got the contract. And these are two different things. (We could get into that in another episode but yes, the contract and the proposal are two different things). But you want this information on repeat, repeat, repeat. Even if you have a welcome guide, it should be in there as well. All the information, because we all know that these lovely welcome guides are welcome packets, whatever you like to call them…they’re really just boundary setting documents in disguise. “Please behave dear client”.
Yes, “Be good. Here’s the outline of what you need to be doing and what I’m going to be doing, and let’s make sure we honor this.”
Yes. So you’re going to have an extremely thorough brief, which is detailed—super detailed. You’re going to have an extremely thorough proposal, which has everything in there that they’re going to get and not get. That’s the key as well, you need to talk as much about what they’re not getting as what they are getting.
Ah, absolutely. That’s a really good one, especially with websites that Kris was saying, three pages can turn into five, but those five pages with technology with what you have to do to achieve it. It’s massive. So be super clear with everything. ‘
And honestly, the scope and the nature of the project changing might be actually your decision, it might actually be your fault in a way. And that’s okay. It’s not a bad thing, because you’ve recognized strategically that this needs to happen for the project to be realized in its best possible way. And so you just don’t go ahead and do that stuff without getting approval and saying, well, okay, they really do need five pages, not three, I’m going to talk to the client about this. I’m going to put in my revise fee proposal for this—before you do the work before it happens. And run it by them. So we’re going to talk a lot about clear communication in this episode. And being super quick about it. Do not delay,
Do not delay, Don’t get nervous or scared to communicate. Because as soon as everybody’s on the same page, the better. Everybody knows and understands the scope of work—it’s great when that happens, everybody’s clear and expectations are met.
Hmm, you really do need to be proactive, you need to take charge and raise the issue as soon as it happens. So whether it’s your decision, or whether it’s something that they’ve just emailed through, oh, could you just do this extra little thing for me? Because I think there’s a couple of reasons why clients will do it. Some clients will just see what they can get away with. But some will just actually innocently forget the actual scope of works. And they won’t even know that it didn’t include that. Or, you know, it’s been a little while since they’ve seen the proposal. And so they just think it could be part of it. So it’s kind of like, you know, we always like to like in these situations to other industries, because I think graphic designers seem to cop it. I don’t know why, but we just kind of like okay, we’ll do this and that and the other thing or for free, that’s all right. Like so if you were at the vets, you wouldn’t say “oh, while you’re at it, while you are doing the annual checkup, can you also clip my doggies, toenails?”
That’s right. Yeah, you would absolutely expect to pay extra to that. 100%. You wouldn’t even blink.
No, of course you wouldn’t. And they would never have a hesitation in saying, of course, that’s an extra X amount of dollars. And they probably also say, Sure, book it in. Because they honor their schedule as well, because they don’t have time. They haven’t got the doggie’s toenails scheduled in. And that’s something else that we do as designers a lot is just go schedule it in, schedule it in, they need it. So let’s just shove it in, even though I don’t have time.
I’ll keep working. I’ll keep working. That’s right. So it is educating the clients as well. And being really clear as quickly as possible. As soon as any part of the scope changes or creeps, you need to just flag it immediately and be really confident in doing that. And like Kris was saying before, it might be a while since I’ve read that contract or read that proposal. And know, hands up, I’ve been guilty of clicking “Yes, I’ve read terms and conditions” to get to the checkout, when I purchase something. And I haven’t read every single little bit, I’ve maybe given it a bit of a scan, and I understand it. But I understand the essence of it. But I haven’t read the nitty gritty. That was a bit of a confession there. So that may have been the case as well.
I don’t think you’re alone there.
No, I don’t think I would be. So reminding our clients for pointing it out, is perfectly fine. They would be like, Oh, I didn’t realize that was there. You’re not always going to be butting heads when you have these sometimes awkward conversations about having to charge more money. It’s just an awareness thing and an education thing.
Yeah, it’s just about having some templates, or some systems ready to go, just some new little canned emails or a little script ready to go for a phone conversation. And you don’t have to be unfriendly about it. It just could be something like, you know, of course course we’d love to do that for you! And then just say as this falls out of the scope of the original approved brief and the original proposal, there will be an additional fee of X amount of dollars. And let me know if you’d like to proceed. And then end it with a positive note like “totally happy to help you out with this” or “Yes, let me know how this sits with you”. But you do need to get that officially approved—that amendment to that quote.
That’s right. An email isn’t an official approval. Especially when it comes to biggest scope change, you need to resubmit a revision to that. And you need to get a new signature on a new contract. So make sure you do that to cover yourself. So let’s just have a little recap of a few things that need that you need to do. So boundaries. Remember, if you allow for the tiny changes, one can lead to another and another. So be firm. And the clients will respect you for it. And also, perhaps even thank you and say yep, awesome. Let’s move on to the next project.
They will respect your professionalism. Absolutely. If they don’t, if you get any kind of aggression or kind of like, oh, how dare you? How dare you want to charge me for that? Well, then they’re the sort of client that you’re going to be like, “Thank you—Next!”, you know, move them on. And also, if you’re allowing the tiny changes and not mentioning them, you are actually the person who is breaching your own terms of contract, and you don’t want to be that person.
Yes, that’s such a good point, Kris. That’s the key! That’s the key point. I’d like to just do a little cartwheels around that point—you are in control. You are in control, only you. Only you get to say “Oh, not another change. I can’t believe I’m doing this again”. If you can’t believe you’re doing it, then stop doing it. Don’t do it. Start to communicate, open up and say “hey, this is not right” and revisit the boundaries. You are in control.
Honestly, though, it does take courage. We’re not saying that it doesn’t take courage to do this. It does—to stand up and stand up for yourself and have the courage to write that email and make that phone call about the issue. But you are deserving and you should not be working for free.
Absolutely. 100%. That is the key. You are deserving, you are worthy. You are a professional. That’s why you are being paid.
If you respect yourself, they will respect you as well. So yes, we do need you to be brave. And it really does take strength to implement a boundary. And that’s what you’re doing here. You’re implementing a boundary and it takes courage and strength.
Yes. So we want you to celebrate the next time you have a crazy change coming that’s outside of scope, or not even crazy, and it’s if it’s a little one or a big one. But we want you to have a little celebration when you implement your boundaries and you get back to the client and you change the trajectory of what was going to happen, previously to listening to this podcast.
You will be surprised at how reasonable clients can be about this. We get so scared of stuff we get so scared of reactions, but you’ll be surprised. They’ll be like, “Oh, yeah, sure. No brainer. Of course.”
A lot of the time, like we said before the clients just are not aware that they’re breaching contract. They really haven’t paid attention to the to the contract terms. So just getting them to revisit that is all it takes.
It’s all about client education, isn’t it? So client education is really the key about educating your clients on what kind of changes and revisions are acceptable, because you might actually have a couple of revisions in your proposal—in your contract, you might say, this proposal allows for two sets of minor revisions. But it’s really important to educate your client on what a minor revision is. They won’t know what that means. What does that mean? A minor revision. We have found it really helpful to state what it does not include, because that can be clearer. So give actual examples: it doesn’t include, SEO if it’s a website, or it doesn’t include printing or print management…there’s a few things that you could have.
Photo editing or add direction and things like that.
Yeah, it should be a big list.
Proofreading is a big one. I think a lot of the time, our clients expect us to be proofreaders and this is a big example of scope creep, because especially doing big multi page documents, and then they’ll go “Oh there was this this mistake, this mistake and this mistake”. And that’s okay, if that was in the copy that was provided, you’re not expected as designers to have proofread and picked up all of the spelling errors or grammatical errors.
So you might be really great at that and you could include that. But a lot of clients are automatically expected to be master proofreaders and master copywriters. So you need to do what’s right for you and for your business.
A sneaky way that scope creep can crawl its way into your design business is through time delays, so clients not getting back to you with information in a timely manner, because they’ve messed with your schedule. And also what happens if you’ve had a big pause for a project, it takes a lot longer to get back into the swing of a job into that groove and energy of a job, when there’s been a major pause. You have to wrap your head around the whole thing again.
Yes. And if it’s a big break, like Kris said, it’s a start again, really, you’re not in that zone anymore.
And that’s why it is really important to have an inactivity clause in your contract so that if the client does not supply information within, say, two weeks of your agreed timeline, you can cancel the contract and just bill for the work completed to date. And we have always included a timeline in our proposals as well.
Yep, that’s right. So that everybody has the same expectation when it comes to deliverables. And pushing them out, that’s not okay.
Yeah. Because you have deliverables that you will need to provide and deadlines for yourself. So due date deadlines for presentations, for example, but the client will have due dates as well and responsibilities. So you just need to make it super clear.
One thing to be aware of is, is not to be the guilty party in this.
Unless you are—and then own it! That’s right.
Yeah! Own in. So sometimes designers are guilty of making the scope creep happen. I think we’ve all been there where we get super excited about an idea. For example, at the beginning of this podcast, we talked about one postcard turning into three. Now how many designers can put their hands up and say, yeah, that was my idea. I did that. And then all of a sudden, you’ve got like, three to get print ready, and to manage and all that extra editing and all the extra proofreading. And you’ve just got to make sure that as soon as possible, you get approval for that extra work and just stop and get back to the client about it.
Yeah, that’s right. But definitely don’t be the guilty party when it comes to clients making changes, and it’s client driven changes and, literal shifting of goalposts because that happens, and that is not your fault. You just need to understand what parameters need to be in place, and deliver the boundaries back to the client.
And just the last little point about all of this—it kind of leads in from that last point, there is a flip side of scope creep, which is that you can actually get more work, it can be a really good thing.
Yeah, that’s right. Absolutely. And I think it’s a massive bonus. Yeah, and we want business on repeat. The current clients that we have are much easier to keep then getting new clients. So the balance of making our clients happy and having the right boundaries in place so you are respected with regard to what you’re delivering…that’s all there but nurturing that client, and making sure that you maintain that beautiful healthy relationship is paramount, because that’s ongoing business for you. So just remember, it’s all about communication. It’s all about you saying, Hey, no, that’s been a breach of the contract, we need to revisit, reassess, requote, whatever it might be, you are in control of that—you get to say no.
But the reality is if if your process is thorough—your brief, your proposal and your contract—all of that is super clear and super detailed, you really shouldn’t ever be finding yourself in a position of having to make changes for free.
Exactly. that’s it in a nutshell. If you have really clear processes, then you be right, you’ll never have to worry.
Yes, just not making them for free. There’s still maybe changes. Even if you have the super thorough brief, and everybody’s totally happy with the direction, they can still be changes. And that’s okay—we all want our clients to be just so happy with the end result. But it’s not your job to foot the bill for the new directions that are requested after everything has been signed off on.
That’s right. And you could also pop a little system in where if you have two amendments that you’ve allowed for the proposal, when the first one comes in, in your email communication, you can put XYZ job amendment one, XYZ job amendment two, and then when the client comes back, you can say we’ve hit the limit of both amendments. Now we’re into new ground.
Yeah, that’s excellent.
So it’s a really clear communication tool for you to use as a part of your systems with the client.
Yeah, that’s awesome. It’s all about communication. It might seem like excessive communication, but honestly, it’s better to be super thorough and detailed with this, so there’s no confusion.
Yes. And also, the canned responses are really valuable, because you get to sit down and create those, when there is no emotion involved.
There’s no pressure.
There’s no pressure, there’s no emotion, nobody’s asking anything called you. You’re not feeling resentful. You sit down and with a really clear head, you get to write what the responses might be—create a whole bunch of scenarios, have them on file. And have them ready to go emotion free, you can forward those on to the client.
Yes, and we wanted to give you a helping hand with this. So what we’ve done is we’ve created a freebie for you, which has some canned responses for client changes ready to go. So you can access this via our website—go to designandprosper.co/clientchangessuck. So that’s designandprosper.co/clientchangessuck. We’ll also have a link to this in the show notes in your podcast player. So download that and you’ll have a few to get you started.
All right. If you have a client that you feel is trying to pull a fast one, and trying to get away with too much, let us know—send us a DM and we’ll encourage you will give you a little boost and a little courage to do what you know is right for your business.
Yes, please let us know our Instagram handle is at Design and prosper.co.
And you can email us too: firstname.lastname@example.org. We would absolutely love to hear from you.
Yes, until next time, everybody keep those boundaries firm.
Yes. Have a beautiful week. Bye!
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