How to deal with clients who micromanage

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Since Millo is a blog that helps designers build a successful business, I like to keep my eye out for common problems that designers face as they try to be successful in the business world.

As I read forums, answer emails, and (I’ll admit it) even glance through few scenarios on Clients from Hell, there seems to be a client-relationship issue that keeps coming up again and again:


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Micromanagement is when a client wants to have his hand in every single part of the design process and doesn’t trust anything to you as a designer.

He calls every day to follow up on tasks he assigned you the day before, asks you to make changes to the design before the first draft is even completed, and generally becomes an annoyance.

You’ve probably been there.

Today, I’d like to share a few ways I have tried to work around a micromanaging client. Maybe some of these tips will help you out. You might also have some great tips I don’t cover here. If you do, please share them with us by leaving a comment.

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Understand why they are micromanaging & give them a reason not to

The most important step in solving a micromanagement problem is to understand why your client is micromanaging.

Do they not trust you? Are they a hands-on kind of person? Have they never done this before?

As soon as you understand why they are micromanaging, you can work toward solving their problem.

For example, if they have never managed a design project before, you can help them understand how it works, establish some ground rules, and get on the same page — this is called client management.

If they don’t trust you, you can offer references, work hard to make sure they are pleased with your work and always stick to your deadlines.

Which brings up another important tactic:

Establish a schedule and stick to it

When you first sit down with your potential client, establish a shedule. We’ve talked about milestones before here at Millo, now’s a great time to put that into practice.

Milestones will not only keep you on track, but will also let your clients know that every week, 2 weeks, (or whenever you decide to update them,) they will be able to see what you have worked on, and how the project is coming along.

Update them frequently

If you have set milestones with your client, be sure to keep them in the loop.

Most clients micromanage because they are afraid you will take creative license and go in a completely different direction than they hoped for.

If you make it a point to update your clients frequently, they will feel less of a need to micromanage the work you are doing.

Give them access to the web design you’re working on, send them PDF’s of the print designs, or even schedule a weekly meeting just to chat about how it’s coming. All clients want to be kept in the loop.

With that said, be sure to:

Give them limited access

After all, if you thought they micromanaged before, wait until they have 24/7 access to the web site you’re working on. They’ll be checking the status every 15 minutes and calling you every time they have a suggestion.

Allow them access from time to time and then work on the project without them looking over your proverbial shoulder.

There’s nothing worse than feeding the flame of micromanagement, by allowing a client to check up on the work you are doing at any time of the day.

Wrapping up

There are few things worse than a client who just can’t let you work. They think they are doing the right thing by following up frequently, checking up on your work, or pestering you all the time.

Hopefully these tips will help you next time you come up against a micromanaging client. If you have any other tips, please take a second and share them with us.

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  1. This is a great article! I think the key is solving the problem before it becomes a problem! I’ve had a few of these clients and I’ve noticed that their micromanagement comes from really having no idea what comes next. The client gets in contact with you, then what?

    I treat the client/designer relationship as an educational relationship in part. I have learned that if the client has a good idea of what I’m doing, how I get there, and what to expect next, that they tend to “trust” me more.

  2. Very informative post. Thank you very much for this idea. Micromanagement is very necessary when you want to handle many cilents at a single time.

  3. Preston,

    Great article. Micromanagement is everywhere! I think I do it to with Junior Designers (in a good way of course 😉

    Along, what feels like the many years of client interaction, I’ve learnt many things about interacting with clients. When it comes to micromanaging I’ve learnt that they will probably be a short lived client as no designer can fulfill their expectations.

    Although there can be a positive in all of the micromanagement. As I’ve recently blogged about, your worst client can be your best teacher.

    If you can grab a hold of that it will help you through the tough times that come through these types of clients.

    Ask yourself – what did I learn from this? How can I do it better next time?

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