How to keep your design clients happy without losing your mind

Keeping all your design clients happy and be a daunting task. If you’ve ever lost your mind trying to keep all of your clients happy, keep reading for a few tips on keeping everyone happy without losing your marbles.

Making clients happy is hard. After all, clients are way to needy, picky, irritable, and all-around annoying. Right?

I beg to differ.

Actually, I disagree whole-heartedly. There seems to be a lot of complaining in the design community about clients who demand too many changes, ask for ugly designs, don’t pay on time, and the list goes on.

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And on.

And on.

But the real problem is most designers have no idea how to manage their clients. I believe ninety-nine-percent of all your client-problems can be solved by working on your project management skills. Let me explain:

It’s all about managing expectations

Have you ever had a client that just expects way too much from you? Perhaps they have unreasonable deadlines, call you in the middle of the night, or expect you to be available for every problem or concern they might have.

Believe it or not, they act this way because you allow them to. It’s your job to help train your client to act like they should.

Sure, some clients come along who are perfect. They never have a problem, communication goes perfectly, and they pay you on time. But it seems like those clients (the ones that act like they should without any added help from you) are few and far between.

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For the rest of them, you need to help them understand.

From the get-go

It’s your job, as a designer and business person, to explain to your clients how things need to work. Extablish guidelines like

“As we’re working on the site, please maintain a list of all the changes you would like to see. Once we are finished, you can submit the list and we will review the changes together.”

Or something else like

“I am very busy with your project and other projects. If something is urgent, please feel free to call me. If you have a question or concern that is less-than-urgent, however, please send me an email and I will do my best to respond within 24 hours.”

Legalize it

If you find yourself facing these sorts of problems frequently, you may want to include phrases like the ones above in your legal agreements.

I, for example, have decided to include contact information in my legal contract. My clients know that unless they call or email me at the phone number and email address found in my contract, I am not legally obligated to respond immediately.

They have no problem contacting me the way I hope they will because they know about this stipulation from the get-go.

Tackle foreseeable problems

It’s always good to tackle other potential problems that you anticipate at the beginning of your relationship. If your first client meeting is full of unreasonable demands, explain the design process to your client so that they don’t continue to act inappropriately.

My happiness disclaimer

Even though you may work very hard to keep all your clients happy and manage their expectations, some might still be angry or annoyed with you. Always do your best to keep each client happy, but don’t sacrifice your personal happiness to appease a client’s unjustified anger.

Not everyone will be happy all the time.

But with this little piece of advice, I hope you can keep your design clients happy without going completely crazy.

How do you keep your sanity?

In order to keep my clients happy without going b’zerk, I manage their expectations from the get-go. What do you do to make sure all your design clients are satisfied with your work? Share your tips by leaving a comment.

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  1. It’s all about COMMUNICATION and FRIENDSHIPS. You get along with those you enjoy being around and talking to. That’s what a client relationship is like. You should work with those that you enjoy working with from the start. Over the past 11 years I’ve worked with relaxed laid back people that need guidance. I’ve worked with people that are agressive and mean and the ones I usually keep around are the ones that respect me and what I do for them regardless of personality. Contracts can do a good job but in the end it’s really about building a common bond and working with those you would think of as friends. You give they take, they give you take. It’s about forming a natural bond and helping each other reach your goals.

  2. Good tips, settings the expectations early on is important. I thought I was the only one that got phone calls in the middle of the night from my clients.

  3. Great post, I can really agree with the secon and third point. You have to handle the things with firm hand, don’t let the situation slip out of your control. Clients can comlpain, and make constant changes, but if you set up groundrules in the beginning than you have a better chance communicating successfully!
    I like these posts, they really make me think and concentrate my efforts in the right direction 🙂 thanks

  4. Thanks for the great post. I agree that the responsibility rests primarily on the shoulders of the designer to lead the client through the process. I have learned this the hard way trying to satisfy my client who, through no fault of their own, have no idea how labor intensive ‘minor changes’ can be. If you set expectations right in the beginning it makes things go a lot smoother.

  5. Dead-on…it’s about managing expectations. That takes a contract or some sort of “scope of work” agreement. To manage expectations on each project, use a creative brief. Without one, there is no strategy to judge the creative against, and it pretty quickly devolved into “but I hate purple” or “it just doesn’t hit me” commentary from the client.

  6. Great post, Preston. You really got to the heart of the matter—managing expectations. Communication and professionalism are huge factors in managing client expectations. If you can be crystal clear on what they can expect from the process (and what’s expected of them) and do it in the most professional manner possible, the greater the chance of a smooth project and ‘good’ client. I’ve also found that if you can really explain your process and how what you produce will help the clients business succeed it helps get the client on your side from the get-go.

  7. You’re right. It’s easy to blame the client, but the fault usually goes both ways. It’s the client’s fault for having unrealistic expectations, but it’s also the designer’s fault for not educating them about what realistic expectations are, and why. One of the most important skills for a new designer is the ability to recognize where problems are likely to arise so you can deal with them preemptively, or decline the project if there’s no way to avoid them.

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