A few days ago, I published a post in response to one reader’s question about overcoming fear as a freelancer. The post was such a hit, I decided to tackle another question posed by a designer named Bree. Here’s the request:
I would love to see some reviews or tips on how to handle clients who do not respond or provide feedback in a timely manner.
Well, Bree, today you’re in luck because I’d like to share with you–and the entire GDB community if you don’t mind–a few ways I have tried and tested for handling clients who are hard to reach.
We’ve all been there…
If you’ve been freelancing for more than 24 hours, you’ve probably experienced it: a client who just won’t return your calls, email you back, or doesn’t seem to be at the office when you drop by for a visit.
You’re left asking yourself, “What could possibly be keeping them so busy?”
After a while, you start to ask yourself, “Are they just ignoring me on purpose?”
Finally, the scary question, “Am I ever going to get paid for this project?”
To make the most of a situation like this one, there are a few key steps you should take BEFORE and DURING the design process.
Here they are:
Preemptive attack: before you start
A lot of the problem can be solved before you ever start working with any given client. Before committing to work with a client who may end up being hard-to-reach, try any or all of these tactics:
Include communication guidelines in your contract
I have an entire section of my design contract dedicated to communication guidelines. In essence, it lists the forms of communication by which I will attempt to contact them with questions, revisions, concerns, etc: their email address(es) and phone number(s) mostly.
In addition to means of communication, I also establish deadlines.
My contract says something like “Client has 48 hours from initial communication to give feedback, answers, or any other requested information or all subsequent deadlines are null and void and must be renegotiated.”
This requires my client to stay in close contact with me so they cannot complain when I don’t hit deadlines due to their inability to respond quickly to revisions or questions.
(PS. For more information on why you should include a contract in every design project you work on, download my free ebook 10 Common Mistakes Designers Make With Clients by subscribing to the free GDB newsletter.)
Take note of your initial interactions
Another preemptive caution you can take before ever signing on to the project is taking note of your initial interactions. If you contact the client and pitch your design services and they take weeks to get back to you, beware. They are likely going to communicate like that during the design process.
Warning: don’t write off a client who takes a long time to respond to your initial pitch. (Keep reading to learn more about that) But if, during the bidding process or initial stages of your designer-client relationship, they consistently take weeks to get back to you, think twice before working with them.
Be a human being during the design process
Even though you should always work hard to ensure you communicate frequently with your design clients, it’s also important during the design process that you are a kind human being.
Things happen. Family members get sick. Upper management changes the rules. People get laid off. Natural disasters interrupt lives and businesses.
And people just plain get busy.
So even though you need to make sure you move the project forward, have patience during the process by doing some of the following:
Try a different means of communication
If you can’t seem to get a response via email, try giving them a call or stopping by the office. Sometimes emails just disappear under a heap of spam or internal email. If you can’t get them to return a phone call, send an email. You get the idea.
Kindly remind them of their contract
Some people forget they signed a contract that said they would respond within a certain amount of time in order to keep the project moving forward. And, frankly, other people don’t even read the contract you draft up and they sign.
If you’re having trouble getting a reponse, remind them in an email or phone call that the deadline for the project will have to change if they can’t offer timely feedback.
Try to understand where they’re coming from
Sometimes, we freelancers forget that other people have bosses. And their bosses have other bosses, and more bosses. There are always more bosses.
Sometimes every cook in the kitchen has to give their input before your client can green-light the project. While you shouldn’t allow your clients to give pointless excuses, sometimes there are legitimate setbacks. Be human. Be kind.
How do you handle hard-to-reach clients?
So what have I left out? What sort of things do you do as a freelance designer to control clients who are hard to reach? Leave a comment and let me know. I’d love to talk with you about it.
Also, it’s not too late to submit questions for me to answer in posts this year. Leave your questions or post ideas in the comments of this post or on our facebook page and I will do my best to answer them!