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How to Deal With Your Web Design Clients – Handling Extreme Cases

The saying goes ‘The customer is always right’. However, many web design agencies (or any other service providers) interpret the meaning incorrectly. We, at Kinsta provide managed hosting services for WordPress based sites, but we were designing and developing WP sites for clients for 8 years before. We know how important clients are.

Indeed, customers are the soul of a web design company, and I do think they have to be left satisfied and their complaints taken seriously. The point here is client satisfaction which doesn’t mean you have to give up your rules and principles for the sake of a new and seemingly top notch project that will turn out later not to be perfect anyway.

So brace yourself and do everything to make your customers feel satisfied and absolutely right, by keeping your common sense about how the project will become ideal for both of you in the end. We fell into loads of traps over the years, even on our own sword, so here’s a list of advices that might come in handy to avoid common mistakes when it comes to dealing with a web design client and project:

Keeping You and Your Clients Happy

1. Fix the details at the very beginning and quote only after that

Why is it important? I think every company who has ever had one single client should know that. Both parties have to be aware of the other side’s expectations in advance, so taking time for an in-depth discussion about the project itself is the very first thing to do before mentioning any costs.

Having an already developed plan about your company’s pricing method is also highly recommended. You can work for a fixed price or charge hourly rates depending on the project’s characteristics, you decide. Both ways are tricky, and whichever you choose, be sure to ask for a deposit before you start working.

Working for a fixed price requires at least (!) 50% down payment from the client. I’m not kidding, we thought nothing could happen when a client already paid half of the amount in advance and the project was on track. We were wrong. He simply disappeared before paying the second installment and we haven’t heard back from him since then. Well, he never got the final designs, it didn’t end up well for him either, but that didn’t comfort us, we literally worked twice as much as we were paid for.

How to Deal With Your Web Design Clients – Handling Extreme Cases

The solution? Always have a contract ready close at hand. Define the payment method, turn-around time, working process, and complete it with the client’s exact expectations (design- and development-wise, including even the color scheme, sample sites and every little task you will be doing for them). Clarify all the specs of the project, this way you won’t find yourself working on loads of tiny new requests that have never been discussed and not knowing how to charge for them afterwards.

2. Multiplayer story – Be careful!

“I’m partnering with a company who has a client who has a friend who wants a website done. Are you interested in the project?” Uhm, wait a minute… no, thanks. Not unless I can speak directly to the partner’s client’s friend. As we have experienced all the downsides of this type of cooperation, I cannot even imagine how much money or well drawn-up contract should I see to give it a go once again. Okay, I’m biased because of bad experiences, that was long ago in our early years. So of course, it can be done. As usually these kinds of projects cover outsourced works which require keeping the “communication chain”, here are the two most important things you should make sure the contract includes:

  1. Turn-around time broken down into milestones – Today one guy had something more important to do, tomorrow another one will. Everyone is waiting for someone, then suddenly the client says it’s deadline, and you have to finish up the website in no time, all by yourself. Prevent this.
  2. Settlement of roles, hierarchy – Mainly in the situation where everyone in the “chain” has their own tasks, and these tasks are linked. Avoid hesitation about what to do when one tells you that he heard the other one tell the third one that you should change the color scheme of the website. It will come out later that it was not true. Everyone has to have a permanent contact person, and only their words should count.

3. The more options to choose from, the more troubles

When you make design drafts, avoid providing numerous versions at the same time, particularly if you have allowed the client previously to ask for changes. The more versions you make for him simultaneously, the more likely you will confuse him and make your own job harder. “Combine the header of version 1, the buttons of version 3 and the fonts of version 2, and add this and that, then, hmm, we’ll see how all these look together.” – You definitely don’t want to hear this, because you have a feeling that he doesn’t have a clue how this will look, and after the changes are done, he won’t like it for sure.

Once you have laid down both the number of revisions, and all the exact details of how the website should look in the contract, make one (!) sketch as carefully as you can. As the client is aware of the feedback limitation, he will think twice before asking for a modification, and when he does, he certainly won’t change his mind later.

When a customer doesn’t know exactly what he wants from the very beginning, then agree on the right directions, make three drafts for him, but only allow him to choose without requesting any changes.

4. What makes a revision? – Define it!

What is a revision and when to make it? – it’s high time you define these specs in the contract. Revisions are to be made in the period of working on design drafts, and only then. Gone are the old days when we didn’t have a contract and worked believing in a gentlemen’s agreement. Unwritten words come and go. We found ourselves sweating over the tons of changes until we arrived back to the version from where we started. Bang!

Define Revisions

Explain the working process to your client in advance in the contract. Make him understand that after he confirms the last draft version and you’re already coding his site, changing the color scheme might seem over-simple to him, but you have to spend hours with it by going back to code.

And the most important: What is a feedback exactly? “Change the color of the button to red, and get rid of the sidebar” is a feedback, but “this style is kind of s**t” is absolutely not!

5. Keep the deadlines and expect the same vice versa

Respect has to be mutual, and the rules have to apply to both parties. Simple as that. If you work according to the schedule you agreed on, your clients must keep themselves to this also. We used to have clients who didn’t respect the deadlines. And we used to have these clients at the same time. Total chaos! We were waiting for all of them one week and then received tons of feedback all at once on the following week.

Help your clients understand that they’re not the only customers you have, or even if so, you also have a time schedule, and predefined deadlines are there for respecting the other party’s time management.

6. Choose a smart way for further cooperation

Future cooperation in the world of web design/development is a complicated question. What are future services about? Making a new design for the website again? Probably not, at least not within one year. So when clients ask you to work with them in the future – I speak from experience – it usually means the following: doing some minor changes on the website when they want to update it or add things to it, and/or fixing bugs when necessary. It can only be a useful and profitable partnership for you if you lay down the rules again: work on the updates and bugs for an hourly rate, and maybe later (if it seems these tasks come quite regularly) for a monthly fee.

Choose a smart way for further cooperation
Image credit: Bigstockphoto

Be mindful of one thing: When a problem occurs on the site, be clear whether it’s your fault (wrong code etc.) or because of the client’s incompetence. Duplicating the final version of the site right after your design work is done is highly recommended, so when something goes wrong later and you cannot restore files within the admin interface, you can easily copy the latest version to his domain again.


Keeping to these simple rules will help you make even the “hardest” cases profitable for your business. Never forget, even if there are complicated projects or clients, you should try to make every one of them count!

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