When design clients come back from the dead

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Doesn’t it feel great when you complete a major project for a client on time and without any huge hang-ups? Of course it does. But what do you do with clients who come back from the dead? Just so that I don’t get in trouble with the law or scare any clients away, a dead client is simply one with whom you do not currently have an open contract. This article will discuss the best practices for the occasion when past clients come back to you and ask for more work to be done.

Assess the situation

Before you can take action and address the client’s request, it’s important to assess the situation. Below are a few possible reasons that clients might come back to you after their contract is fulfilled and completed.

THEY WOULD LIKE TO START A NEW PROJECT
This is, by far, the best reason for a dead client to contact you. You obviously did a great job the first time, and they are excited to begin a new project with you. The best thing to do if you are in this situation is to contact the client as soon as possible, set up a meeting time, draw up a contract, and get to work. There is nothing better than a good repeat customer: you already know how to work together so starting another project should be a great experience.
On the down side, if the client wants to start a new project and you’ve had a bad experience in the past, consider what you can do to improve the client-designer relationship before you totally ignore his request for more work. If he was bad at paying you at the end of the project, consider a pay-as-you-go method. If he was indecisive, make sure to limit his revision number in your contract. Many designers are eager to simply disregard past “stressful” clients when they return for more work. Give them the benefit of the doubt, explain your concerns in a professional way, and make plans to fix any problems you may have had last time.

THEY WOULD LIKE TO MAKE A CHANGE TO THEIR PROJECT
This is a difficult situation to be in for many new freelance designers. After the project has been completed and paid for, the client returns and asks for revisions or changes to be made. In hindsight, one thing you could have done to help this situation is have a client approval process/form where the client signs to approve all the work is completed and satisfactory as per the contract. If you haven’t had your client fill out such a form, however, there are a few other steps you can take.

First, you need to get to the root of the problem your client is facing. If its a simple fix, it might be worth your time to just do it quickly, get it off your plate, and generate some goodwill with the client. If the revision is more complicated, you may want to consider kindly reminding the client that adding to the project scope will cost extra money. Usually when this happens, I write up a contract and charge the client on a per-hour basis instead of a per-project basis.

THEY HAVE A PROBLEM WITH THE PROJECT
This is by far the worst situation that could happen. The client comes to you with a problem concerning the project you completed for them. Whether they are dissatisfied with the cost, the end result of the project, or something else, it is hard to satisfy an angry client who feels like they didn’t get the final product they were expecting.
Many times this occurs during the design process, but can also occur months after a project is completed. All it takes is one respected friend businessman to tell your client that they think the design would look better “in blue” or with “a cooler font” and your client comes to you complaining that your design choice was not the best option. This situation can be an enormous disaster, but there are a few things you can do (starting clear back at the beginning of the design process) to avoid it.

What you should have done

We’ve already discussed what to do if a client comes back asking for a brand new project to be commenced and completed. Those are the easy situations to handle. But what about the clients who are angry, dissatisfied, upset, or dissappointed? Here are a few things you should have done the first time around in order to avoid these headaches in the future. The following suggestions will make it easier on you, the designer, and your clients as well.

  • Make sure you have a contract in place that describes in detail what you will accomplish, what the client will accomplish, how long it will take, and how much it will cost.
  • Include the client heavily in design decisions and make them feel like an integral part of the process. Ensure they are pleased with the results throughout the design process.
  • Use a client approval form as a follow-up to the contract. When you complete the project and the client is satisfied, encourage them to sign the form signifying their approval and satisfaction with the project as-is.
  • Kindly explain to the client (and include in your contract) that more work above and beyond the agreement will result in the need to draft another contract and will cost more money.

Your turn to share.

Have your clients ever come back from the dead? What do you generally do to ensure good client relationships before, during and after the completion of a project? Share your thoughts and tips with the community here.

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About Preston D Lee

Preston is a web designer, entrepreneur, and the founder of this blog. @prestondlee

Comments

  1. Great article! As a fairly new freelancer I have recently encountered this exact issue. A client I created a logo for about two years ago sent me an email stating their dissatisfaction with the logo that was created. After getting them to meet with me to discuss the situation, I discovered that the owner had sold the business to his store manager. The original project was completed when the original owner was running the business as a sole proprietor, with the expansion their needs changed. I brought the design brief, contract, and the client approval forms with me to the meeting. After seeing the project paperwork they agreed that this would be considered a new project. Through my organization, I was able to salvage the potential disaster and was able to build a relationship with the new business owner.

  2. These are good tips. There are a lot of clients that think they can change the project 2 months after we finished it. But, like you say you gotta write it down on the contract and easily avoid these problems.

    I´ve been following on twitter for a while and if you want to follow us, here´s our link http://www.twitter.com/creces. We´re customer service consultant company in Mexico.

  3. That is one cool picture of that hand coming outta the grave. Sure beats creative commons licensed pictures. :0

  4. Yeah, cool picture!

  5. Don’t let your clients “die” ! Convince them to sign a contract on a yearly basis to accomodate future changes and fixes on their website once the project is completed.

    • @Valery,
      A nice strategy in theory, Valery. But I think most clients would hesitant to sign a yearly contract even when the project is completed.

      Do you have any suggestions or experiences on this topic? I’d like to hear them.

      • @Preston D Lee,

        Yeah, it also doesn’t let YOU dump THEM if they turn out to be a massive pain in the rear. ;)

        Great post, thank you.

    • @Valery, my web updates is kept track of online, simply make a pdf with your hourly rate, date the corrections and updates were implemented and total. With it you can have your contract displayed on the second page. Clients can refer to this pdf online or it can be a jpg report. they will know how much they are charged when and what was done. The contract is there also as a reminder :)

  6. Codephase says:

    very nice article!

  7. When a previous client comes back, I just charge my usual rate. I don’t sign or make people sign contract either. I hate contracts.

    • I use to hate contracts as well, Long. But I found myself in trouble a few times so I decided to implement them and things have run much more smoothly ever since.

      • @Long Nguyen, With small jobs I don’t get a signed contract each and every time but I send my quote through email and ask for their confirmation. An email is as legal and make sure you keep all correspondence. Zip them at the end of the year and store them away. You never know when you have to refer to them :)

        • @behzad, Email contracts are great for small jobs; however, I would still suggest client approval forms once the project is completed. Emails can be hijacked and sent by someone other than the owner of the email address. Judges that know this have over turned an email quote disagreements between a construction company and a client in my area before.

  8. Very valid point Preston. Generally I provide a months free back up alongwith new website for any minor changes. I have never signed any contract or NDA so far and generaly my clients had paid me for every minute of extra work even later on. When client ask to do some changes after months, I first check if it is minor work like change two pics or two lines of text or links that takes hardly 10 mins. For that I never charge anything. But if work exceed 30 mins then I apply my hourly rate which clients happily pay.

    I remember I made a site for photographer in full flash and advised him that it is not google friendly. But he was adamant on animations in flash. After full year he came back for a html css site as google was not indexing his site properly and paid me again for the same job without any fuss. So if you provide options and educate the cients right from the beginning such problems rarely arises.

  9. Preston, this is a good topic and offers some quality solutions.

    Also, freelancers aren’t the only ones with this issue. An in-house creative services department might actually come across this issue more frequently based on their clients and the projects.

    If you think about it, having a graphic design staff on campus could cause clients to take advantage of the service if they are not reigned in properly. I come across these situation all the time, let me know if you are interested in a follow up piece to this article that explores similar situations and how I deal with them working in-house for Fox Chase Cancer Center.

  10. This stuff is great. I too once had client who pays pooorly and he needs a wordpress project to get done for 125$.He was begging like he dont have extra fund, so i decided to just to one page design. The design was done and after 1 month he came back asking the design needs some iterations and he is not willing to pay more. He was saying ” I have paid you earlier itself, and its a must you have to do the iterations else i will move legally ! ”

    Guess what, I fired my Client :)

  11. This is mostly just good practices, but I do disagree with the bit in which you say:

    “Include the client heavily in design decisions and make them feel like an integral part of the process. Ensure they are pleased with the results throughout the design process.”

    My very job is to make those decisions, expanding the influence of the client beyond the briefing and research phase is a very dangerous practice in my experience.

    I think this was best put by Paul Rand (Quoted on a Steve Jobs interview):

    ‘I asked him if he would come up with a few options. And he said, “No. I will solve your problem for you. And you will pay me. And you don’t have to use the solution. If you want options, go talk to other people. But I’ll solve your problem for you the best way I know how. And you use it or not. That’s up to you. You’re the client. But you pay me.” And there was a clarity about the relationship that was refreshing.’

    The interview is up on YouTube and it’s all about Paul Rand:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xb8idEf-Iak

    I also like Andy Rutledge various articles on this very topic:

    http://www.andyrutledge.com/dog-and-pony-show-design.php

    http://www.andyrutledge.com/compromised-design.php

    http://www.andyrutledge.com/dumbest-guys-in-the-room.php

    http://www.andyrutledge.com/design-process.php

    On a completely unrelated topic: very nice theme!

    • @Thiago Cavalcanti,
      Thanks for the great addition to the conversation here. I love that quotation by Paul Rand. This is obviously one of the many things that set Paul apart from other designers. I greatly appreciate the comments and thoughts you left here. Thanks for sharing!

      (Oh, and thanks for the theme compliment. Glad you like it.)

  12. To keep clients involved in the design process is a good thing, but often they get over-involved which is even worse. Also, many of them have time constraints that prevent them from being heavily involved.

    What we’ve started doing is involving them through a usability testing tool we set up at http://intuitionhq.com – this way, we can just send them the updated designs, and ask them to take the tests – this only takes a couple of minutes of their time, and provides us with lots of really useful information about what part of the sites are or aren’t working.

    It works really well for us, and impresses the clients too. And of course, business people love it when we can show the the raw numbers of things that are working, and things that need changing. It makes the whole process a lot smoother for both us and them, and means projects can be completed quicker too.

    That’s my 2 cents anyway. Thanks for the article!

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