lessons learned: how to keep clients from wasting your time

how to keep clients from wasting your time

The past 3+ years have been an incredible learning experience for me. I’d gone from working at ad agencies where I had little to no direct exposure to clients (account executives and creative directors were always the go between), to a world where I’m the one and only person doing the designing, billing, project management, and client relations too! I’ve definitely made some mistakes along the way, and continue to refine my process (and contract) as I go. I hope you can take advantage of this experience and avoid making some of these mistakes on your own. Mind you, the vast majority of your clients will not waste your time on purpose, but setting clear expectations and boundaries can really help. Without further adieu, the cleanline studio list of time saving client tips, after the jump…

1. Craft a rock-solid contract OR bill hourly
This is really a personal choice, but if you bill per project, make sure your client knows exactly what they’re getting for that price. I’ve been doing this for long enough now that I know approximately how many hours it will take me to create a logo, website, etc., but within each of those packages is a set amount of design comps, a set amount of revisions, and that’s it. Clients can assume that anything that isn’t specifically included in the contract will be billed additionally, and will be reminded of this policy if they try to take advantage. If you aren’t sure how long it will take you to complete a project, you could always bill hourly. This approach is sure to keep clients from wasting your time since they know they’re paying for it, but in my experience, hourly billing can make clients uncomfortable (and maybe even turn elsewhere).

2. Charge time consuming clients MORE
This may sound harsh, but it’s just business, baby. It will take some time to gauge exactly who is going to be a time consuming client (I actually wrote a previous lessons learned post about this here). In addition to the things mentioned in that post, I’d add clients who approach you with unrealistic deadlines, disorganized or indecisive clients, and clients with tons of ongoing questions to the list. If you get the sense that they’re going to be a pain off the bat, they probably will be. I think the best way to deal with them is by charging them more, as much as 50-100% more than you’d charge an easy peasy dream boat client. They may disappear after you quote them, or they might just make you work twice as hard for the money (so good thing you’ve asked for more).

3. Be very clear about how clients may contact you, and what they can expect as far as in-person meetings
Decide how you want clients to contact you and make them aware of your policy for communications throughout the project. My policy is that before a client signs a contract with me, they are entitled to one in-person meeting that’s an hour or less (including travel time), or a phone call/skype session that is an hour or less. I call this the initial consult. Any face-to-face meetings or phone calls beyond that initial consult are billed at the same rate as I would bill for design work. They can of course email me at any time with questions, concerns or feedback. If there’s something complicated that would be easiest to discuss over the phone, I would suggest a call (and then not bill for it). This policy is to just keep clients from taking up my time with multiple phone calls a week (time that I would be spending on billable design time), not to deter clients from communicating with me altogether! Again, this policy may sound kind of harsh, but if communicating with your clients is preventing you from actually getting the work done or making it take significantly longer, your time is being taken advantage of. And FYI, in the past three years, I’ve only had to enforce this policy twice.

4. Be aware of how quickly and when you respond to your clients emails
If you happen to see an email from your time mongering client at 3AM Tuesday morning or noon on a holiday, wait until normal business hours to respond. If you know that the same client will likely email you 3 or 4 more times throughout the work day, wait until the end of the day to answer all of their questions at once. It’s important to communicate with your clients, but the last thing you want is for those client to feel like you are constantly available to them.

That’s all I’ve got for now! Do you have any time-waisting client lessons you’ve learned, or horror stories you’d to share? I’m all ears in the comments section below!

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3 thoughts on “lessons learned: how to keep clients from wasting your time

  1. Sam

    I am struggling with this a bit at the moment – I actually had to fire a client yesterday. I really like the tip about being clear about how clients can contact you!

    1. Sarah

      I’m sorry, Sam. That really is unfortunate. I’ve never “fired” a client, but there have been a few times where I’ve come away from projects feeling like they weren’t worthwhile by the time I considered all of the extra hours that went into them. I think with experience, you grow not only as a designer, but also a business person. It can be really exhausting to feel like you need to constantly reinforce your policies to prevent a difficult client from taking advantage of you, but you also learn a lot from those experiences.

  2. Justine

    Excellent advise! I have many horror stories but almost all of them are because I didn’t have clear boundaries with my clients from the beginning. As you say, it’s difficult for only one person to do so many things as a freelance but I think the points you give can actually save some time in the future (and pain and headaches haha). Number 4 is golden, I learnt it the rough way haha.

    Thanks so much for sharing!

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