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"I hate clients" – How to handle negative feedback and graphic design revisions.

Proven strategies on how to deal with difficult freelance clients and protect yourself from getting into complicated situations in the future.
November 2022 · 3 mins read

by Jamshed Kasimov

Dealing with difficult clients

Working in the creative field is always accompanied by ups and downs. Today you have great reviews from clients, but tomorrow you may face some clients who will ruin your mood with feedback like this: "I don't like it. I want a different design".
In situations like this, you will be required to either make changes or completely redo everything. Here, the number of revisions as well as the money issue will be the most sensitive aspects. The situation gets even worse if the client has not made a pre-payment - that means he can simply refuse your services and you will be left with nothing.

If you've ever had to deal with such situations, this article is for you. We will share with you the strategies on how to deal with difficult clients and avoid getting into such situations in the future.

You design for the client's customers, not for the client

When you get negative feedback, the first thing you need to do is figure out what the problem is and what the client didn't like. Being on the same page is the best way to get things cleared up and resolve any misunderstandings.

Second (and the most important thing): politely, explain to the client that his personal preferences are welcome, but his audience always goes first. Let him know, that you have done a market analysis, as well as research on trends and interests of their customers. And your design is based on all those factors.

At the end of the day, it is the client's customers who will generate the revenue. And your job is to make sure that the design attracts those very customers.

Keep in mind though, that you don't have to start a war with your clients, trying to change their minds at all costs. Being their design teacher is not a good idea. After all, you don't want bad feedback on a global level that will undermine your reputation.

How you should start the project as a freelance designer

When you start a new project with an existing client, or especially, a new one, you must have a specific strategy. It will help you:

  • have a better understanding of the project;
  • protect yourself from situations where you are caught off guard by a client's negative feedback.
From a project perspective
  1. Require a specific brief. This is your priority because, without clear and complete terms of reference, you will not have a complete understanding of the project.
  2. Ask for preferences. Your clients probably have certain design references that they would like to see in their projects.
  3. Show intermediate stages. If you present only the final version to your clients without any interim stages and they don't like it, you are entirely to blame. You should provide drafts at intermediate stages so that the details can be worked out when they are simple to modify, rather than doing a complete design rework.
  4. Make several final versions. The clients should have a choice between 2-3 different options. This way, you reduce the chances of negative feedback.
From a contract perspective
  1. Always demand a 50% advance payment, especially on big projects and especially with new clients. This is how you protect yourself from the very beginning in terms of money, and also show the client that you are the real deal in terms of business.
  2. The terms of the deposit invoice should specify that the client will pay the full amount within 30 days of receiving the original project files, regardless of the requirement for changes or corrections.
  3. Include a special design revision policy clause. Some clients can make just one change to a project and be happy with it. Others will be constantly trying to fix something. And if there is no clause in the contract about revisions, they will use it to their advantage. That's why you must stipulate all these nuances in your contract to ensure that you are paid for delivering the assets that you and your client have agreed upon, as well as to protect the scope of your work.

Revision for free? It depends on your experience

The client still stands his ground and demands that you make changes. The key factor in whether you do the work for free or not will be your experience and reputation.

If you are an experienced designer with a wonderful reputation - then you can surely demand money for making changes (detailed tips are listed below in the next section).

But if you are just beginning your career in design, and every client is worth its weight in gold to you - then you probably will not charge for revisions. At this stage, think more about leveling up your skills and increasing your client base.

Nevertheless, keep in mind that there may be situations when you will need to fire clients. For example:

  • Clients want unlimited revisions – i.e., they don't know what they want, sucking both you and themselves into a production hell, where you will go around without actually achieving any results.
  • You are doing great and throughout the process, every presentation that you've been given was approved by the clients, but after some time (after meeting the board of directors, for instance), they dislike the design again.

Immediately terminate the relationship by saying:

"I don't think you are the right client for me. I will refund your money. There are some other designers who might be able to help you, but I am just not that person".

Conditions for revisions and complete rework

Revisions can be different: from something small like spacing, color, and extra text ("EST. 2022") to large-scale stuff, like changing the whole concept or even adding new assets. Here is how to make the "Revisions and additional work" clause in a contract a win-win for both you and your clients.

2-3 free iterations on the project are a sweet spot to go with. Some designers go with just 1 revision (which is fine), but if you want to give your client more flexibility, then 2-3 rounds are a golden mean.

After that, you can charge hourly. And if your hourly rate is high enough, it will be a good motivation for clients not to delay the design revision process and be reasonable about the extra work.

As a result, the revisions section in your contract may look like this:

"A designer will create a website design for a client. 3 rounds of revisions are permitted by the designer. More than 3 rounds of revisions, rework or the development of additional assets are considered to be outside the "Scope of Work," and the Designer will charge an hourly rate of [$$/per hour] for any further work".

Conclusion

We hope that you found this guide useful. Here is the recap that outlines the main points of this article:

  • You need a contract that will protect you from scope creep or losing money;
  • Work with the client in intermediate stages to avoid misunderstandings at the end of the project;
  • Always take 50% of the total contract amount up front;
  • Remember that you design for the client's customers in the first place;
  • Normally, 2-3 revisions are free of charge. After that, start billing hourly;
  • If you don't have much experience - don't be afraid to make more than 3 iterations for free. Just don't go to unlimited revisions.
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