5 Things Clients Say and What They Really Mean

Found this article by Brian Yerkes:

5 Things Clients Say and What They Really Mean

Working with all types of clients on a daily basis can be as challenging as the actual design or development work that they are hiring you for. As a freelancer or a project manager, you are on the front-line and even though there shouldn’t be war between you and your client, it can sometimes feel like a battle!

Over the years, I have heard clients say a lot of things, and some of them are more clear in their message than others. For those starting out in the design industry, whether it is at a firm, or as a freelancer, this list of “5 things clients say and what they really mean” will surely help you to be educated when interacting with various types of clients.

1. “I designed it myself and just need you to …”

99.9% of the time, if a client says this to you when they first inquire about your services, and ask you for a quote, they are really saying, “I know enough to have an opinion on YOUR profession, and I understand what it takes to do what you do. I don’t really think your skills are anything that hard to do, I just don’t have the time to do it, or I don’t have the little amount of time it probably takes to learn it. Knowing all this, I won’t be paying you that much to do this work as it shouldn’t take you that long at all…plus I’ve already done most of the work for you.”

2. “Can you do it for $xxx now, and when we become more successful, we will pay more?”

This is a pretty easy one. What they are really saying is “I probably have the money to pay you fully for what you quoted me, but I’m gona try and see if I can make a deal and get away with paying you less than what you want. After all, you seem like a bit of a pushover….I don’t plan on paying you more when/if we are more successful, because your work isn’t really the thing that made us successful so why would we feel obliged to pay you again months after the project is over?”

3. “I don’t agree to your contract terms. Please remove section 1a …

Red flag. This is like meeting a girl in a bar who talks about her daddy issues for 2 hours, and ends up crying in your arms while I drink as much whiskey as possible in the hope that I may secretly pass out with my eyes open, standing upright, but not able to hear her myopic whining…..wait, whoa….sorry, back to the article.

It is probably a fact that a large majority of freelancers / design firms have fair and honest contracts. There is rarely any reason for a client to question any of the terms in the average contract designers use, so when a client requests different terms  and changes to the wording of the agreement, this is a serious warning sign. By rejecting some of your contract terms, depending on what they are, the client is really telling you, “I don’t really trust you or your company that much at all, so I am going to try and get this contract to be much more favorable for me before I sign it. Due to the fact that I don’t really trust you that much, this project is going to be a struggle to get completed, and while I will blame you for the delays, it will really be my fault because I continue to fight for the power in this project, and I really don’t want to give you any sort of control or power. Oh, and that 50% payment you want just to start the project…make it 25% and you’ve got a deal. I’ll pay the remainder when the project is done…in 2 years.”

4. “I’ve never hired a web designer so I’m not sure about this whole process, but you guys are the experts …

Lovely. Time to be happy and smile. What this client is really saying is “I honestly think you are the expert, and realize that I know absolutely nothing about the skills that you have. I can’t even imagine trying to do this myself. It would be like trying to build my own house, or telling the air conditioner technician how to fix the air condenser. I will be a good client to work with as I value your expertise and I will not request that many revisions during the project. I figure that you do this all day everyday and have a successful career out of it, so who am I to tell you to what to do.”

5. “We need a website built, my Husband’s cousin made one for him but he is in Detroit …”

This is pretty similar to #1 above. Most likely, what this client is really saying is “My Husband’s cousin is a receptionist and she has Photoshop on her computer (or she is a granny from Tennessee), and she put the site together using Go Daddy’s “Website Tonight” service. We really like that website and want something similar.”. Unless her Husband’s cousin is an actual experienced web designer, chances are that the website she developed for her Uncle is pretty bad. If the client says she likes the site that was created, it pretty much means that she doesn’t understand the difference in quality in web design. As a result, she will probably choose the cheapest web design firm she finds. If she doesn’t understand the quality difference, why would she pay you $5,000 when someone down the road quoted her at $500? She will get a $500 website, and will be happy with it, until one day when she realizes that her site isn’t getting any leads and nobody ever compliments her on it.

Ok, how about a 6th! “Make the logo bigger”

When clients say this they actually simply, and sadly always just want their logo bigger! Perhaps you need to stock up on some “Make my logo bigger cream

Well, that’s it! “5 things clients say and what they really mean”. Most clients are good people, and great to work with, but there will always be those that make life a little more difficult, for whatever reason.  With some education, and understanding, you can turn even the most high maintenance clients into decent, profitable ones. Client management is an underestimated element of being a designer or project manager, and the successful ones are able to handle each level of communication that they have with clients.

I would love to hear about any additional experiences you’ve had with clients, things you’ve learned about the different types of clients etc. Please discuss in the comments below and let’s start the conversation!

7 thoughts on “5 Things Clients Say and What They Really Mean

  1. Lol! Spot on man! I’ve encountered ALL of the above and a whole lot more. I think many web designers/developers, particularly freelancers neglect the area of client management. As a result they either end up getting shafted, bad reviews or worse, tied up in an everlasting project.

  2. I can tick off all five of those client interactions. Sometimes you have to pick your battles – it’s not always worth expending the energy to try and ‘educate’ the clients. You know it’s uncanny – these days if any of these ‘come up’ in the first conversation I am almost always completely booked out at the time 😉

  3. How about; I’m going to have to put the project on hold for a while (and never get back to you) but I DEFINATELY still want you to do my website but something’s come up… Meaning – I didn’t realise that websites cost that much, and as it can’t be THAT hard and I don’t value my business, I’ll just make my own website with a copy of Paint and FrontPage and a bunch of crappy clip art?

    Rant over lol!

    Good post!

  4. Great article – I particularly agree with your summary statement:

    “Client management is an underestimated element of being a designer or project manager, and the successful ones are able to handle each level of communication that they have with clients.”

    I’ve encountered each of the points you mentioned to some degree, with a few variations.

  5. lol, good list 😀

    I had a client asking for last minute copy revisions a week before launch; they asked me to change a paragraph, so I duly did, then a couple of days later, the same person asked me to change it again, and what they asked me to change to was exactly what it was originally!

  6. Excellent article!
    I’ve heard #2 a few weeks ago for the Nth time. The guy wanted me to build him a website for free and he would give me 20% of the site’s profits for the duration of two years once his business takes off (in a couple of years). 😀

  7. Samuel, very true. It is one of those things that a lot of designers, freelancers especially never get a chance to really learn, and they gain the experience when it is too late, and they are stuck in a nightmare project. Thanks for your comment!

    Lisa, I agree, that’s probably something I should have finished with…that most of these red flags are reasons to not accept the project or take on the client.

    Martin, that just happened to my company recently. We were kind enough to give the potential two face to face meeting during the sales process, the second meeting was even after we gave them a price! And they they did the “Something came up, we have to put the project on hold.”

    It’s never fun to to go that length during a sale and not get the business. Two face to face meetings are quite an expense for my business when we are busy, and have deadlines etc.

    Ann, thanks for your comment!

    Dan, I just went through that exact same situation. Changing the same paragraph about 5 times. Especially when revising design work, it seems most of the time the client ends up reverting back to the first rendition, and is happy with it after making you go through several revisions.

    Marko, even though it is rare that this will turn out well, it can sometimes be a great deal. It’s basically like investing in a company, if you think the idea is a good one and the people behind the idea are decent business people, it can be a great opportunity.

    Cameron Johnson (a multi-millionaire entrepreneur) started an online business when he was a teenager and needed a programmer to create the site for him. He had no money to offer, but gave the programmer a stake in the business. Ended up being sold for millions, and both of them became very rich!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.