WordPress Developers: How To Deal With Clients Who Think They Are Designers

Posted on June 14, 2015 by in Tips & Tricks | 57 comments

WordPress Developers: How To Deal With Clients Who Think They Are Designers

Do you imagine that anyone sat down next to Picasso or Monet while they were painting, all the while providing them with advice on colors or textures or how to make their artwork feel more alive?

No. Probably not.

Nobody with an ounce of creativity in they body likes to have someone else tell them how to express that creativity. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a freelancer or working in the capacity of an employee, this is a problem you’re going to have to learn to deal with.

In this post we’ll talk about the best way to deal with clients who know (or think they know) a little bit more about design than we’d like them to. Keep in mind that although I am referencing WordPress developers, you can safely assume that everything I am writing applies to any creative professional – whether you’re dealing with development, design, U/X or a simple logo.

The Experienced Undesigner

Yes, I made that term up, but it fits like a glove. Typically our problems begin to unfold with something as simple as an email. We know it’s coming, but that doesn’t soften the blow. It still hurts as much the fifth time as it did the first.

As a developer, you’ve spent a lot of time on your craft. You may not be perfect, but with every day that goes by, you get a little better. Your sole objective is to continually improve the value you bring to your clients. You take a lot of pride in the work you do and carefully consider every idea before sending it off to your client for approval.

Shipping a draft to a client for approval is probably one of the most stressful parts of the whole design or development process. It’s like gathering up the courage in high school to ask your crush out on a first date. The thoughts of potential rejection abound and taking the final leap – clicking the send button – can require mustering every ounce of spare courage.

That’s why it stings so much when you finally get an email reply that looks like this:

Client email

Attention: The above email and scenario are based solely upon fictional characters and circumstances. Any similarities to real people, companies or situations is purely coincidental.

Please note that I’ve spared you from reading points 6-10 because I think you get the point. These emails can cause you to break into a spontaneous cold sweat, question your existence as a developer, and wonder if there is any way of doing your job without involving clients!

Five Potential Solutions for Clients That Are Designers

We have all dealt with this type of client, but here are five potential solutions for this sort of situation:

1. Have Fun and Don’t Take It Too Seriously

You’ve probably gathered from the tone of this post that it’s not always a good idea to take this part of your business too seriously. Dealing with clients that are convinced of the fact that they were designers in a previous life can be just as humorous as it is frustrating, providing you look at it in the right light.

It’s easy to get your back up when someone points out something they don’t like about your design. But it’s just as easy to let it roll off your back. This isn’t a problem that’s going away anytime soon and the quicker you come to grips with that, the easier life will be.

One of the things you can do is to work on relaxing the situation. It’s not all that difficult to reply to the above email in a way that’s both fun and respectful. It’s perfectly fine to have some fun with your clients. And really, if they take your rebuttal too seriously, do you want to be working with them anyway?

2. Avoid the Problem Altogether

Of course, sometimes the best way to get out of a problematic situation is by avoiding it altogether. Though you can’t always filter out the bad apples, you can certainly reduce their rate of incidence.

You could achieve this by:

  1. Creating a thorough pre-onboarding process where you’ll have a chance to interview potential clients. After interviewing and working with a few clients, you’ll start to get better at identifying problems earlier in the process.
  2. Set guidelines that are crystal clear. ConversionXL states on their website “We will not argue over personal preferences. Seriously”. They make it clear upfront that their contract contains the clause: “if we disagree about a design element, we have the discretion”.


You need to decide what you’ll tolerate and what you won’t. Then, tell your clients up front so they understand how you work.

3. Have a Heart-to-Heart

Sometimes clients think they know better (and sometimes they do!), so instead of fighting them on every change, give them what they want and then reassess. It’s possible that those fuchsia accents look great in their head, but once they see them on the screen they’ll understand why you thought it was a bad idea in the first place.

If a client is continually bringing design ideas and revisions to the table, maybe it’s time to have a heart-to-heart discussion about putting some faith in your expertise.

4. Fire the Client

I always consider firing a client to be a last resort. Most problems can be resolved, except for the most serious of issues. The primary indicator that can determine whether or not you should continue working with a client is what I call your “client anxiety level”. If you see your client in the grocery store and find yourself diving behind the vegetable counter in an attempt to hide, you’ve got a problem. But seriously, if you’re ever avoiding dealing with a client, there is a pretty good chance that they are bringing negative energy to your business – and makes the relationship one that’s not worth maintaining.

When the time comes to let your client go, try to stick with the “it’s me, not you” approach. Clients change (and sometimes they don’t), management changes and priorities shift. You never know whether the opportunity to work together in the future might arise under different circumstances.

5. Create a Second Version for Your Portfolio

There are times when your pocket book is the one making the decision about whether or not to continue working with a high maintenance client. There are also times where the experience of working with a particular client takes precedence over all else.

In these situations, sometimes the ideal solution is to use your version of the website for your personal portfolio and create the client’s version for their own use.

This might cause some issues if your company is credited in the footer of the website. We always want to put our best foot forward, and if a client makes changes to their site you’ll have to ask yourself whether or not you still want to stamp your name on it.

This is a great leverage tactic as well! Discussing with your client that you’ll need to remove your footer credit can serve as a strong signal that the decisions they are making are not necessarily in line with what you would present as a professional. Sometimes, that which goes unsaid delivers the strongest message.


As long as there are clients and developers working together, situations will arise where the two just don’t see eye to eye. Clients love to give design advice whether they have the appropriate experience or not.

We tend to be hard on clients, but in all fairness they often have a vision for their project but lack the skills to bring that vision to life. That’s part of the challenge of being a developer or designer – learning to take the client’s thoughts and translate them into something tangible, all while exercising an above average level of tact and customer service. It’s not easy, but most of the time it’s not impossible.

Have you ever had to deal with clients continually making small design changes despite being unsure of how it might affect the overall project? Share some of your more interesting experiences in the comments below!

Image Credit: VIGE.CO / Shutterstock

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  1. Exactly!

    Feel like printing this out and stapling it to certain previous clients foreheads 😀

    The email regarding the changes is frighteningly accurate. When I get a more hands on client nowadays I learn not to make it too “design correct” or spend as long as I used to on it before sending. They’re just going to tear it to shreds anyway. It’s important to be brave and get on your hind legs; explain why something won’t work or even that it flat out will look tacky. I promise 99% of the time the client will respect you more. The days of me being unable to put my name to something are getting less and less 🙂

  2. It is seriously very difficult to handle such clients. In case you are a startup then you can’t dictate your terms the way ConversionXL did in the above example.

    My way of handling such clients is different. Before setting up the first meeting I request the contact person to make sure that all stakeholders are present at the meeting. And at the meeting itself you can clearly sense if the client is cooperative or too dominating. Once I get to know that, then after the first meeting I somehow try to skip the project if I sense a bad experience is on the cards.

    This way I try to filter out the bad apples but still if destiny has some other plans then bad apples will anyhow land in your basket 🙁

    • Hi Imran,
      If you meet before you give the quote you can often raise the price so high that they say no. I only did that one time but it worked so the client did not feel I had rejected them.

      I have also told committees that I add at least a thousand dollars extra for each person on the committee. In reality that is about what it costs me in extra time even if there is one POC. (point of contact)

  3. Uggghhh that’s exactly what I’m going through right now lol! It rarely happens, and I really wish every client would actually read my FAQ. I specifically list reasons why I might not be the right designer for them and the first one is this:

    “If any of the following describes you I may not be the right designer for you.
    – You’ve dabbled in web design so you know a bit about the process and “how it works” {There’s only room for one cook in this kitchen *wink*}
    ….. ”

    I of course mean to cover anyone who thinks they’re a designer, but this happening from time to time is inevitable.

    • Outstanding! I think I will add that one to my list if you don’t mind!

      • yes … here’s a morphed version of the title, more suited to clients:

        “WordPress Clients: How To Deal With Programmers Who Think They Are Designers”

        : >)

    • Great approach – both humorous and to the point.

  4. Thanks Tom.
    I agree with your approach & try to do the same.

    Thanks & Enjoy Life 🙂

  5. Thank you for this great post! I already got the experience of exactly what you are talking about. And your thoughts will help me to deal with it in a great and respectful way. I will definitively follow your suggestions.

  6. Oh boy… I’ve been going through this recently.

    I did a website for someone, had a great time doing it, they loved what I did, the whole experience was positive.

    They liked it so much, they were very excited to work on their website, update it with new content, add an extra slideshow, etc. That’s cool, I was glad to see them enjoy their site and approach it with interest.

    But… the content they’ve added themselves doesn’t put into consideration any sort of design elements – white space, balance of items, color scheme, anything and everything that I put hard work into laying out in the original site. Now it’s starting to look crammed together and messy, and the site I was so proud of, I no longer want to include in my portfolio because I don’t want potential clients to think I did that with someone’s site.

    I’ve tried to tell myself that once it leaves my hands, the website is no longer mine and if that’s what they want to do with it, that’s fully their choice. They own the website. But it’s so hard to look at it and feel my eye twitch with the need to fix things that I think could look so much cleaner and more appealing.

    • All I can say is I feel your pain! This happens to most websites where we give clients control. No matter how much training you give them they will eventually screw it up. Just recently I had a client use all H1 text for a blog post. Luckily I was updating their site plugins and noticed it. Another one changed hundreds of images on their rental property pages. Now the page jumps up and down and has many grainy images because they did not know how to resize images properly.

      I try to give everyone the option of paying us to keep their site updated. Many do not like the small $99 per month fee for one hour of updates and hosting on our dedicated server. Bundling is a great idea when it works.We have several clients that pay us that much and more. However, most clients think they can do it themselves.

    • Hi Sherry (and Mike)
      Yes, that is one thing that happens quite a lot when a CMS site is left in the hands of a client.
      Mike suggestion is a good one, if you have the time to be able to update it for them. Unfortunately, many freelancers don’t have the time to do that, as it means spending less time on new work and getting in new business.

      If you don’t have time to update is for the client, the the suggestion made in the article may be for you: create a copy of a couple of pages, with content that fits the design and put that in your portfolio. Perhaps remove any mention of your name/company form the live site, too.

      Another option is to lock down the templates so much that the client can only edit certain regions within it. That will take more initial planning, but will help protect the design more. If you know the workings of your CMS well, you can also apply restrictions to file size uploads and display dimensions. This can be done either in the code or the CSS.

      Good luck!

    • Maybe for portfolio work once you’re done, take a screenshot of the main pages that you want to display. Then you have something that you’re still happy to put in your folio and doesn’t matter so much if the clients go and break it.

    • Hi there!
      I am an ex programmer that is using a theme ’cause I can’t design!
      (although I have been known to play with designs a little. Guilty 🙂

      I understand your frustration.
      On the other hand I would have thought that a good style definition for posts and content would have solved the problem of ending with a badly designed page, ie lack of white space, cramping etc.

      Some of us can’t initially afford the monthly maintenance fee. But I would love it if once a designer designs something for me to have some strict guidelines in the way of a style definition and some templates for different types of content.

      Maybe you need to be more open with your clients and just say simply “the fuchsia will look awful!”

      Hope this helps.


  7. There one big problem with this article. In my experience, a large number (perhaps even the majority) of “developers” are not very good designers. If a company is comprised of one individual … a “jack of all trades” … then it is unlikely he/she will be both a great developer and a great designer. In my opinion, these two crafts require different mindsets. A really great artist/designer rarely has excellent programming skills, a vice versa.

    It would be interesting to do a survey of websites created by individual developer/programmers and have them rated for design integrity, artistic innovation, etc. Quite often, developers create website that work really well, but that look blocky and uninteresting.

    The best solution? An individual developer/programmer should perhaps partner up with an accomplished artist/designer? Or at least have one in the wings to interact with clients who are unhappy with proposed designs.

    • Well said. I also laugh and cringe at the same time when someone tells me their I.T. person is going to develop their website.

      • yes … here’s a morphed version of the title, more suited to clients:
        “WordPress Clients: How To Deal With Programmers Who Think They Are Designers”
        : >)

        • Sorry … I accidentally put my comment in the wrong thread.

    • Absolutely! I’ve always been fond of working with complementary skills (back-end) so that we can both benefit.

    • Hey, You know that’s why there are themes like Divi!
      It fills in gap between developers and designers.
      Developers can make more stylish website and designers can make more functional website.

    • OMG TY for posting that comic Michele! I saw that like 7 years ago when I started my company and I was looking for it the other day to no avail as we have one of these clients currently. I love the “bakesale flyer” part lol.

    • @Michele…. LOL! Love it!

  8. Wow! This one hits the nail on the head. I’ve been in business for 13 years and have had too many encounters like this. You would have thought that I would have learned by now.

    I recently had an experience with a redesign for a interior designer. She had been a hosting client for years and finally asked us for a redesign. I gave her 5 mockup front pages to look at. I knew she would want to see variations from the start.

    After she asked for several things (almost identical to the email image you posted) I explained it could be done but it would cost a little more as it was time consuming.

    Rather than going with me she started from scratch with a local girl she knew. The site ended up being almost identical to one of the mockups I provided. The main difference was their was a patterned background. I do wish I had kept the mockups on one of my WordPress Network sites so I could show an example to friends.

    I LOVE that statement “We will not argue over personal preferences. Seriously”. I absolutely am going to add that to ALL future contracts.

    I have often given the famous quote to clients “Opinions are like butt holes. Everyone has one.” They usually chuckle and we move on. I do explain that the little things they think will look better does not matter to most people.

    Here is one of my tips. Ask your client when they are visiting websites if they nitpick the design or if they are visiting for content. The answer is almost always content. You will then often see the light go on in their eyes.

  9. When I do initial consult with clients, I make sure they know one thing: I want open communication with them. I tell them that if they hate the first design I give them, I don’t care. It doesn’t hurt my feelings at all. Knowing what they don’t like gets me that much closer to knowing what they do like. Of course, I try to figure out exactly what they want through a questionnaire and consult before I build anything.

    I also tell them that as long as they don’t attack me personally, we are good. Sometimes I present a design element to them and they want something different. In that case, if I truly believe what they want won’t work or will hurt them (e.g. lower rankings, people getting turned off by the website, fewer conversions, etc.), then I will tell them exactly why I used the element, why I believe it will work better than what they are proposing, and that I strongly recommend my element. However, they decision is ultimately up to them.

    Getting all of that out in the open before I do anything makes working with my clients much easier. I have only had 1 or 2 clients that I have had to “fire”. Most of them have been very good to work with.

    • Good for you, Kate. That sounds like the attitude we all should have. And I’m an IT person who’s trying to learn design.


  10. You can bet if Picasso had had a patron who was paying him to paint a faux edifice of imagery to display to the patron’s public that they (the patron) would be telling him what goes where. Such is the nature of money. Now Picasso being Picasso may take the money and paint what he needs to paint for the project to sing.

    Will the patron be happy? That is the unpredictable part of the story that only history will know for sure.

    If you are not Picasso (in any way you choose) then Tom’s advice about not taking ourselves too seriously is good medicine. Remember, there was a time before Picasso was “Picasso!”

  11. Wow!! Your email example could have seriously been taken from one of my client emails recently). Did you hack my computer. Lol! Almost verbatim. Haha. I thought I was the only one with that sinking-gut feeling when sending off a mock-up or proof for approval….getting ready to hit that send button sometimes feels like I’m about to hit the launch button for the next unmanned rocket to space. Hoping that I spent long enough on the initial mock that they will love it, with no need for revisions. Not likely. Fortunately, my client is as nice as your example. But what I try to do is implement those things that I understand will help and not hurt the the design from the clients list of suggestions. Hopefully, it’s maybe adding space and not more content or changing the whole look. The kicker is when clients ask, “How many revisions do I get”? I tell my client about this process when they don’t see every change. If they are atomat about the changes I will make a copy of the file and work on it. I will send it to them just to prove a point that I know what in doing and mostly of the time they agree with my decisions not to implement their “sounds good in my head” ideas. This is a great article.

  12. This is very entertaining as this happens in real life. At least, back-end guys gets less of these.

  13. I have had this experience many times but the problem lies on both ends of the relationship. Lets not forget that the client is paying for this and they have every right to expect a product delivered that meets their expectations (within reason of course). Its not my website, it is their website. Its my job to offer my expertise to clients and suggest what I consider the best way to do things but there really is no best way, just different opinions on what best means. Obviously there are certain boundaries to this in terms of what actually works and what is possible within the agreement but I find that most clients do not push things that far (if they do then they should be fired).

    Developers can get a little arrogant as well with feeling like things need to be done their way and that constitutes poor customer service. This brings up the issue of customer service and many freelancers and tech people could use a dose of humility as well as an understanding of how to maintain a client relationship. But in the end it is the client’s money and its the client’s website and if the end result does not meet the client’s vision the relationship has not succeeded in the most fundamental way.

  14. After years and years of dealing with clients I found they all eventually fall in one of three categories/attitudes. Client 1. You’re the designer so I’ll leave it up to your judgement; Client 2. I have quite a few ideas and have written them down for you with a few links to websites I like; Client 3. The person that starts of as Client 1 and morphs into Client 2 (but a much worse version).
    I told one restaurant owner that I didn’t tell him how to cook sea bass so he needs to stop telling me how to build websites. He agreed! You don’t send your car in to a mechanic and then stand over them telling them what to do.

    Point 3 (of the post) is what I used to do (do their amends and then show them how awful it looks) but sometimes clients just say “well I like the revolving gold pebbles on the home page and Comic Sans in the logo”.

    Be firm but fair and if they start messing you about it is highly likely they will continue to do so. In my experience sacking a client (which I have only had to do twice in fifteen years) is sometimes the only resort, but walking away early with a little white lie such as “I’m really sorry but I can get your website done for at least eight months” gets both of you off the hook. Unless they come back eight months later!!

  15. Tricky stuff. We’ve had the full range of client’s experience levels through the years. My philosophy works pretty well. All of this happens (below) in the sketch stage, before the coding/building begins.
    I don’t confront them with disagreement. If they want to experiment with specific changes, I either give them a sketch with their requests, or something further in that direction. We are flexible. By discussing some of the finer points with them after they’ve seen their requests, and comparing it to our revised version that addresses the essence of their requests in a version that we have made work, they usually feel respected, and feel they are participating in the process. Trust and good communication are the results. 95% of the time they like our version better, and thank us for the collaboration. This is client relationship building/maintenance. Now they’ve got a designer with talent who understands their needs. Twice, my process hasn’t worked in years past. Turns out I wasn’t thorough enough in my pre-interview, and missed that they knew exactly what they wanted. In both cases after a few rounds, we clued into this, gave them what they wanted, and they still sing our praises to this day. Every project is the beginning or continuation of a relationship.

  16. I guess, sadly, we all have tons of these stories. But the one that had me gritting my teeth most recently was the nice woman who came back to me after we’d finished her site, saying, “Oh, if you don’t mind, I have a list of changes here from my daughter.” Her daughter is 12. “She has a very good design eye,” the client assured me. Yes, I was able to charge her for the changes (I cajoled her out of most of them), but still.

    (This post & comment thread reminds me a bit of the laugh/cry stories on the Clients From Hell site. http://clientsfromhell.net/)

  17. Good article.

    My way of solving the ‘I’m the client and I’m always right’ attitude is to include a sentence in my list of terms that reads,

    “Fee quoted includes 2 virtual comps; additional virtual comps are $75 each.”


    “Fee quoted includes updated website with layout, graphics, and HTML coding; changes necessitated by client revisions and/or additions following approvals at each stage (virtual layouts, graphics, web development), other than for Designer’s error are billed additionally at $75 per hour.”

    I remind them of this when they start cherry picking and that stops them in their tracks. Otherwise, I’d be more than happy to take their money.

  18. Wonderful article! I have worked with some clients who have been a bit of pain though, remember working on about 3 or so websites with one particular client who said he was a designer and at each minute was just changing design styles and inputs whenever issues of money rose, he got flared up and complain. I think the FAQ about why i might not be your favorite designer is one best way to go. Admittedly there can be two cooks in the kitchen unless they are team and this is something that designers by find it difficult to do, because design is a critical logical though process which requires a lot of single time spent together with your concept and thus after a while the designer is emotionally attached to the design such that sensitivity becomes the issue when a client who presupposes he/she is a designer tries to comment might hit the wrong belt! However i believe an art of communication is be learnt on both sides of the coin.

  19. Yes!!!!
    Clients from hell.

  20. This article is nonsense.

    I am actually a CLIENT and I can talk out of my experience where the project is a success.

    – “Have fun at it” – do not take it too seriously, do you think such a project will be a success? – I don’t think so. Any developer I hired and who does not take my tasks seriously – they don’t survive long.

    – Avoid the Problem altogether – such problems cannot be avoided as such things will come up. Best strategy is to be upfront and seriously address it from the start. This will create trust and align the parties.

    – “Have a Heart-to-Heart”. – I had this. Relying on the developer then just resulted in unusable code which had to be redone. Any developer is not as good as he thinks he is. He also can’t do it on his own as he does not understand the business process.

    – “Fire the Client” – Yes happened to me and I was fired. What happens next is I found a better developer and the one who fired me missed out on a very long and lucrative project. Bad strategy!

    – “Create a Second Version for Your Portfolio” – What a waste of time and energy which could have been spent on the project! Do you want to work with such an inefficient person? – I want to work only with a smart guy who works efficient and precise.

    In summary, the strategies you are mentioning are all destructive and I have seen only the inexperienced developers applying them. The good ones have a very different approach.A good developer will do the research, get best practice examples and works with the client to get the best solution. He acts like an advisor, not somebody who just executes a script as there is no way to get the script or the specs right from the beginning. Only hard work will do it.

    So guess what, do you really think I would hire you?

  21. Whoa! I have been on your side as a partner in a desktop publishing business in the early years of digital production. Now, in a different life, I needed branding, a website & a social media presence. I know enough to know that young people who grew up with the web can do this better and faster than I. But do they know better than I the image I want? I am delighted with the end result, but I had lots of input. Fortunately, I selected an agency that doesn’t have an inflated ego. They listened to me. Sometimes, my choices have proved wrong, and now I am paying them to go back to their idea. Fair enough. But I am the client, it is my website and I’m paying for it. In your arrogance you can fire your client. But she can also fire you.

  22. I take your points but wonder if you’ll also be writing the sister article “How To Deal With Designers Who Think They Know How To Run My Business Better Than Me”


    • Exactly Christopher Rose, I can completely understand that it must be hard for a professional designer to have to deal with clients who aren’t happy with the work they’re doing.

      However, from a consumers point of view. It’s very hard to find a designer who actually knows what they are doing and get a good design completed.

      I’ve tried various design companies who have great portfolios and so far have mostly received extremely poor work in return.

      As recently as two weeks ago I paid $1,000 to have a 4 page document designed. I provided an example of a design I liked and the content I wanted to use.

      The work came back looking like it was done by a 10 year old. Very bad design, nothing like I requested and I then had to send it back 3 times explaining each time to use the same design elements as the design I provided on day one.

      Now that same company want me to pay a lot of money to do my website. They have great examples of work they’ve done in the past but from my most recent experience I’m scared to give them a chance…

      Anybody know a good web designer?

      • Sure thing Mark. Head over to Signum Digital (click on my name) and I’ll look after you. 😉

  23. Wow,
    Great article and right on the money with several clients I have had lately.

    In particular I have the I want this to “Pop” or be “Sexy”. I never really understood what a sexy website looks like. Maybe I’ll put up some porn and see what reaction I get.

    I have one plastic surgeon that wanted to make changes himself while I worked on the site I decided to ask him if I could come into his med spa and experiment with his patients as I was a wanna be Dr. He laughed and said no way. My answer was “well lets all do what we do best then and let me work on your website…”

  24. Very real situations you describe here, but have to disagree with at least one point, point 4:

    If we say to the client “it’s not you, it’s me”, you actually validating your client’s “designer” skills, and he/she will continue to make suggestions to all the other guys like you and me and p**s them off.

    I think we ought to send a message out there to clients and educate them if you want, and let them know that as they are good in what they do, we are also very good in what we do, and should let us do our thing by ourselves.

    If we do not educate them, they will come around and haunt us all 🙂

  25. dealing with such client is not worth of the time. at first when I am in a meeting with client and they seems better and enthusiastic than I am, I would rather drop the client rather than in the end you will face a lot of revisions

  26. I’m a freelance illustrator and suffer the all the time. In fact, I think it’s got a lot worse in the past few years which I blame partly on email and partly on committee decision making. It used to be that I would go into town to meet my client and then subsequently work over the phone, or even more face to face. Since email has become the norm I rarely meet the client at all, not even over the phone, and find getting into discussions defending my artistic decisions too waring and distant. Committee decision making is awful as everyone on the committee feel they have to make comments, however unnecessary, simply to justify them being there. It used to be solely up to experienced editors who would make a few clear comments but mainly trust me to do my job well.

    The sad thing is that it can chip away at your soul if you let it because their constant changes can make you feel like the idiot. As soon as I detect a client with this attitude, I just do the job to their daft specifications, and use the money to fund my personal work where I direct my real energy.

  27. I’ve experienced this… but client was terrible..

  28. Great article!

    These are the common challenges which every developer and designer face. A month back i was working on an e-commerce project and my client liked my design but after few days she asked me to revise the design according to her, and it took a week to finalize the homepage design. To be very true the output was not that good which i delivered earlier.
    But in the end she gave a 5 star review as i worked according to her style..

  29. Yep have come across this a few times, get’s frustrating but I think point one – have fun and get on with it is the best answer to defuse the problem. If it carries on have a frank and honest discussion to clear the air, if this fails do you really want to work with this client?

  30. If you are designing websites solely based on your feelings, and if you have no way to articulate the rationale behind your design choices, or why one choice works better than another, then your design education is sorely lacking. It is unreasonable to tell your client not to express their opinion or desires. Rather than fire your client, you might ask yourself why you have a client at all. You are not painting a pot of flowers. You are creating a platform of communication for your client to speak with their own customers.

    If you find yourself wholeheartedly agreeing with the author of this blog post, I recommend that you start reading some excellent books on the design process, and what makes solid design, written by outstanding designers. There are too many of these to list here.

  31. Sometimes clients get so enthusiastic about the design that they involve their entire family, circle of friends, partners and customers. And they all give their suggestions and remarks.
    “You can please some of the people (or even all of the people) some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”
    Quote John Lydgate (a 15th century monk) – I guess he was a designer with a bad abbot.

  32. Obviously it happened to me that I fired clients few times. Many times it made me wonder that I might be so bad in dealing with clients.

  33. I find that the best way to deal with this is to try to “read between the lines.” You don’t have to follow their advice exactly, but listen to them and give them something better. Be able to articulate your reasoning. Then everybody’s happy.

  34. I have been lucky, most of my clients give pretty much give a free hand and lots of praise and positive feedback.

    One area where I have run into some issues is with social media management and content creation.

    Have had to explain a few time why it’s not productive to post to facebook every hour :).

  35. Thank you Tom for this. I’m learning real fast how to deal with some client as a fresh informed freelancer. I filtered those clients that want their site to be done like yesterday (unrealistic timelines) with high price. But then, I explained the site they envisioned and analyzed the functionality and give my timeline and promise to report. If they want me, they instantly know what the getting but most backed out for now anyways but continued with those that want Divi kind of site.

  36. Great article Tom, thanks.

    Last year, two thirds of the way through a website build, I heard the dreaded question: “So, why are we paying you and not building our own website on Wix?” The following day they said “We want our website to be more like this competitor’s”.

    I fired the client a week later.

    As much as I love my clients, and harsh as it may sound, I find myself tolerating less BS goal-post-moving from clients.

    I’m in this industry as a businessman, not a whipping boy.

  37. I believe Tom Ewer and most of the other commenters here are missing the point completely.

    In a prior career I was the Total Quality Management supervisor for a major regional employer, and one of the things I learned through that career path is how often workers, especially service providers like web developers, think the job is about THEM! It’s not. It’s about the client.

    Here’s an example that might help you see what I mean. One of the biggest gurus in the quality management industry was addressing a convention of hotel professionals. He started his presentation by proposing each hotel establish training sessions for hotel guests, so they would learn not do to all those things that irritate the staff so badly. The attendees at this presentation jumped all over this, bringing up all kinds of ways they wanted to train their hotel guests to improve their behavior – it was a litany of complaints EXACTLY LIKE I JUST READ HERE. The guru went on to explain how off-base they were on this. The guests, he explained, were the ones who made sure they had a job, and keeping them happy was the number one priority, over everything else.

    Let’s apply this to clients who think they are designers but make you want to roll your eyes.

    The first thing to keep right in the front of your mind is that this client is the reason you have a job, this client is putting money in your pocket. Therefore, the number one priority is making the client happy.

    The number two thing I always keep in the front of my mind is “they are paying me by the hour.” I always try to convince my clients to go for the hourly rate as opposed to a job quote because it’s cheaper for them in the long run, and they can make as many changes as they want without us having to do a contract renegotiation. I charge my commercial clients $100 an hour (it’s mid-2015 as I write this), and so if a client wants me to make a change, fine. That’s another $100 an hour. If a client wants to TALK about making a change, fine. That’s another $100 an hour.

    The third thing I do to provide for clients who “get enthusiastically involved” in their website’s development is tell them at our very first meeting something like this: “I’ll get all your design preferences up front, then I’ll put together something for you that I know from my experience will be a good fit, for your business, for your customers, and for SEO. If you see things you want done differently, by all means, tell me about them. If I agree with them, I’ll be happy to put them in. However, if I disagree with your suggestions, I will let you know, and I’ll tell you WHY I disagree. If after hearing why I disagree you still want to make that change, I’ll do it. But part of my job here is to tell you when I think you’re headed in the wrong direction.”

    I have never had a client disagree with that.

    And even those discussions are billed at $100 an hour, so I make some money telling the client why I think he’s wrong.

    The bottom line here is you will never be able to totally avoid clients who want to take an active interest in their site’s design. Even so, they are still your paycheck, so quit griping about it and just work out a way to keep them happy.

    Besides, if you make more money from it, wouldn’t that make YOU happy too?

  38. Great article! This happens to me as well.
    I guess a lot of people thinks that design is just a hobby. That´s why they think they can do it as good as you (after you have made all research, all thinking, sketching and presenting a mockup, of course…)

    Do you tell a doctor how he will do his job? No, of course not. I think one solution could be that you show your CV and tell them about all your schools and all your experiences.

    Well, I’m not really sure that would do, but it’s a try.

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