Clients aren’t your enemy

Sick of telling “bad client” stories? I’m sick of hearing them.

Me after a client tells me the site doesn’t “pop”

Hey buddy, I get it, you’ve have a bad day. You butted heads with yet another client out to crush you, hijack your hard work and turn your beautiful website into a Cronenberg of bad user experience and overused bootstrap inspired interaction.

This may be the latest hit to your ego in a long chain of disappointing interactions with the people who, at the start tricked you into thinking they trusted you to use your extensive knowledge of modern web development and design. People who wanted you to transform their modest web presence into something that resembles a bear army combined with Daenerys’s dragons.

“Clients, am I right?” — everyone in our field at some point

So what went wrong? The from-the-hip answer is always “it’s the clients’ fault”, and while yes that can be the case sometimes, its just the lazy answer.

Here’s a simple exercise for you. Map out your last client experience that went bad. Start from the first email or phone call all the way to collecting the bill and going your separate ways.

While doing this, think about your mindset when dealing with this client:

  • When did you start having contempt for them?
  • At what point did you start feeling fed up with this job?
  • When did you notice you were no longer in charge?

While you’re reviewing your timeline also think about the parts of your process that you would like to improve in the future:

  • Did I have a clear defined scope with a written sign-off?
  • Did the client understand the contract I sent them?
  • Am I mad because I’m doing work that I don’t agree with or simply not getting paid for?

For example, if you had sent a design comp that the client really pushed back on, were you on the defensive about what is right for the them? Perhaps this rubbed them the wrong way and turned the relationship sour?

If you’ve kept a good record, I’m willing to bet that your timeline would look something like so:

The reasons for the sudden downhill turn are too many to try and fix for one article. I am instead going to give you some “golden rules” for how I’ve managed to get past a lot of the issues I’ve had in the past.

Don’t be a dick

I had many PC ways of saying this but “don’t be a dick” really sums it up. Point is, nobody cares that you know more about the web than the client. In fact, that’s the reason we have clients. So when you’re emailing, on a call, or at an in-person meeting, don’t be a snob. A client is going to have some bad suggestions for their site, this is a universal truth. How you react to those bad ideas will determine the respect that you should be given.

This extends far past “lets use the blink tag” though. If you’re condescending, and rude to your clients you’re the only one to blame when they stop respecting you. Pretend every client is your mother, and if you talk this way to your mother, you are a horrid person.

What do I do?

It really comes down to just a change in attitude. If a client gives you a crazy suggestion, instead of saying “No, we can’t do that” try “Thats a good suggestion, though here is a more elegant solution that will yield the same results”.

This positive swing goes beyond the actual site though. If a client is pressuring you for release dates you should sit down with them and come up with a reasonable release schedule that you can both agree on. Telling someone “no” all day will not get them to trust you.

Put it in writing

In my time as a freelancer, most of my headaches with clients come when they ask something that I didn’t have a plan for. Maybe I didn’t put hosting costs in my quote, or set a proper review schedule. Maybe I was too vague that additional rounds of creative work will increase the cost.

Not setting clear boundaries or expectations for yourself and your client can quickly come back around to bite you in the ass if you’re not careful.

What do I do?

Do your best to plan for every contingency. My current freelance contract states the project scope and expectations on me in the first paragraph. In the second paragraph it outlines the expectations of the client. For example:

  • I will prototype a layout for your Wordpress theme, giving you the basic concepts to review by 3/1/16.
  • Upon approval (3/7/16 see below) I will begin development of high fidelity UI elements using production ready code.
  • I will deliver 6 template pages with a unifying theme built on a Wordpress backend by 7/01/16.
  • Launch of site is scheduled for 9/1/16 barring no delays on either party.

Then below:

  • Client will provide feedback no later then 7 days after delivery of assets for review.
  • Additional rounds of creative will increase the cost by $xx.xx/hr and both parties will sign off on a new timeline and scope before continuing.
  • Code deployments will only be scheduled for Monday — Wednesday, if a scope or timeline is changed, the new launch date will reflect this rule.

Thats a very basic rundown, but stating expectations for both parties up front will decrease your risk and increase accountability for both sides.

Set clear boundaries

As a freelancer, it was easy for me to work all hours of the night. Mostly because I wanted to get paid as soon as possible so I could afford rent (I wasn’t a very good freelancer).

At times, my clients were emailing me at all hours of the night asking for edits to their site or updates to their ad campaigns because in their mind I was awake and working on their site.

I’m the only one to blame for this. I mean who the hell sends out a staging link at 4:00 AM?!

What do I do?

In your first meeting or even in your contract, state that your working hours and make them hours that sane people work. Lets go with Monday — Thursday 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM, I’ve gone one step further and set my email response schedule at 10:00 AM and 3:00 PM. Any other time, I am only reachable in the case of a site crash or other extreme emergency, not to change the font-weight.

Bottom line?

Be accountable and don’t push your problems onto a client.

It is your responsibility as a service provider to clearly state what is expected of you and your client. Shrugging that responsibility is unfair to you and your client, and also taints the way consumers view our field.

In doing this, you will also find your own workload more manageable and less of a never-ending sprint. You may even be able to go outside and play with your dogs!