I have two general rules when communicating with existing and potential clients:
I use these ideas for just about every email and phone call, regardless of how short.
As a freelance designer and developer I get asked to do things many times a day. I try to start all of my replies with ‘yes’ first, even if I disagree with the suggestion.
An example of a request I don’t have a problem with:
CLIENT: Can you make that column wider?
ME: Sure can, here’s an update - let me know how that works for you.
My reply is positive, and requires the least amount of work for them. Notice I didn’t ask how wide they wanted it, I just did a version I liked and sent it back for feedback. If they like it: great - problem solved in record time. If not, I will dig deeper into the request and attempt to get more information about the change.
What about a request I don’t agree with?
CLIENT: I want to replace all the navigation with pictures of cats.
ME: Ok we could do that, although your users might find it very confusing…
I might be thinking ‘that’s the worst idea in the world’, but I prefer to warm up to a statement like that. My reply boils down to “Yes we can, but no we shouldn’t…”.
I need to offer a solution at the end - as the paid expert. What’s my idea to get the clients wants and the user’s needs to mesh together?
“Yeah. Nah. Here’s why. How about this?”.
It’s much easier leading with the positive when you’re getting paid by the hour of course. It’s harder when the budget and scope has been set, and you’re watching the project-clock.
I have to say no at least once a week. Most of the time it’s to potential work: either a request for something I don’t do, or a project I can’t fit into my schedule.
Requests for changes or work that is outside the scope of a project happen frequently too. You’ll know when a request is straying from what’s been agreed upon. For any or all requests that are outside scope I say so - setting expectations with the client.
For example, we might have approved mockups, and are half way through the build:
CLIENT: Can you make the header blue instead?
ME: Yes, that can be done. Seeing as it’s a quick change, I can roll that into the existing quote.
I will bring up the Quote v. Change rule for all requests. As there will come a point where a change will require an additional fee:
CLIENT: Can we add a Team page to the About section?
ME: Sure can. However, as that’s a new page, we’ll need to add $XXX to the project cost. Let me know if you want to proceed…
In my experience clients are fine with the idea that change = cost.
I’ve only had one client in my many years as a freelance interface designer that made that conversation uncomfortable. This client never sent requests in writing, it was always via phone. I make it a habit of replying to phone calls via email (“Here are those updates you requested…”) to ensure there’s a paper trail proof of my productivity. These emails were very valuable for this relationship. I had a record of all the work I had done and proof that we were straying too far from the initial quote.
Leading positive and providing solutions with low client-effort have served me well.
I've been a freelance interface designer, UX / UI guy and front-end developer for over 16 years, and a full-time freelancer since 2006. Contact me if you're looking for a help with your project, or your freelance setup.