Difficult Web Design Clients: 5 Things to Keep in Mind
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Difficult Web Design Clients: 5 Things to Keep in Mind

Kat Boogaard Kat Boogaard Last Updated:
Illustration of designers working together at a table

There’s the web design client who keeps requesting endless changes. The one who disappears for weeks on end when you have questions you need answered. The one who constantly wants to haggle over prices. The one who doesn’t like your design—but can’t explain why. Sound familiar?

As a web designer, you and your agency have likely worked with your fair share of clients that make you want to tear your hair out.

In the heat of the moment, it can be tempting to scream, cry, or break up with that client once and for all (or, all of the above).

But, rest assured, flying off the handle when faced with a difficult client won’t do you or your agency’s reputation any favors.

Instead, it’s best to step back, take a deep breath, and remind yourself of the following five things.

1. You (Hopefully!) Have Facts on Your Side

You’ve been in the web design business for a while, so (hopefully!) you planned ahead and had your client sign some sort of design brief or project charter before you ever began work on their project.

With that document in place, you can not only rest assured that you and your client are operating with the same expectations, but you can also point back to that document when issues, questions, or unreasonable requests pop up.

When your client asks for additional features or revisions, you can justify additional cost by referring them back to your agreed upon scope of work.

Or, when a client suddenly moves up your deadline by weeks, you can share the evidence of your previously agreed upon end date.

Consider this your friendly reminder: If you aren’t already having clients sign one of these documents, it’s time that you start.

Another smart thing to begin doing, if you aren’t already? Tracking your time. No, we aren’t just saying that because we’re a time tracking solution.

But, if you need to deal with a client who complains about price and thinks there’s no way you’re justified in spending a certain amount of time on their project, tracking your time will ensure that you have a detailed record of exactly what you’re doing during those billable hours.

You’re no lawyer, but the point still holds true: The more evidence and documentation you have on your side when dealing with difficult clients, the better.

2. Your Clients Aren’t Experts

Impossible requests, ridiculous suggestions, and conflicting directions. Your client seems to be heading eight different ways at once, and it’s becoming difficult for you to ascertain exactly what they’re looking for.

That’s frustrating. But, on some level, it’s also understandable.

[ctt template=”1″ link=”qI4dU” via=”yes” ]Your clients aren’t experts in web design—that’s why they hired your agency. [/ctt]

So, instead of becoming irritated when they throw something totally crazy out there, remind yourself that they probably don’t know any better—and then move on to the following sentiment.

3. It’s Your Job to Educate Them

With that in mind, remind yourself that your job isn’t only to design a beautiful and functional website—part of your role is also to educate your clients about effective web design and your process.

Rather than just explaining what decisions were made, take things a step further and explain why you moved forward that way.

Back up any statements or claims you make with facts, statistics, case studies, and evidence that will help to prove your way of thinking.

Aside from only justifying your design decisions, make sure to also educate your clients about your process as a designer.

  • Why do you work in the order you do?
  • When is the best time for them to request changes?
  • When will you invoice?

Your clients aren’t mind readers. The more you can enlighten them about these different aspects, the easier your engagement will be—meaning you can prevent some common issues that crop up.

4. Communication is Key

“Any type of work that is a service to clients will always require communication between the service provider and the client, and web design is no exception,” shares Steven Snell in a post for Vandelay Design.

Even if you’re introverted and prefer to keep your head down in your design work, interfacing with web design clients is an important part of the job.

You don’t appreciate when a client falls off the radar for weeks at a time, and they’ll feel the same way if you do that very thing to them.

There are a few things you should be sure to do to prioritize communication and help to mitigate (or even prevent!) any potential issues with clients:

  • Set Communication Expectations: Will you have a weekly update meeting? Will you send regular email updates? How often do you expect to be in communication? Make the answers to these questions clear to your clients right from the get-go.
  • Have the Hard Conversations: It can be tempting to sweep sticky issues under the rug. You’d rather tiptoe around problems with your difficult clients than address them head on. But, talking them out (preferably over the phone or in person, rather than via email) will make things much easier in the long run.
  • Encourage Questions and Participation: You may be the expert, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re the boss. Remind your clients that you value their questions and their suggestions—after all, they know more about their business than you do.
  • Communicate Frequently: When in doubt, more communication is far better than too little communication.

5. Your Job is to Make the Web Design Client Happy

Are you rolling your eyes?

We know, this can be the toughest pill to swallow—especially in those moments when you believe so strongly in your design and your decisions.

But, ultimately, this website will belong to your client.

They’re footing the bill for it, and they deserve to be happy with it—regardless of what you think about the path that they end up following.

[ctt template=”1″ link=”W5503″ via=”no” ]If you’re in web design, you’re also in customer service.[/ctt]

If a client’s website ends up taking a turn so drastic that you don’t even feel like you can proudly put your name on it?

Well, then it might be time to explore other options—such as not putting your traditional footer at the bottom of the site, or even breaking up with that client if things really turn south.

That old “the customer is always right” cliché might inspire a hefty amount of eye rolls and exasperated sighs. But, here’s the thing: In most cases, it actually holds some water.

Wrapping Up

You and your agency will work with your fair share of difficult web design clients—there’s no way to completely avoid them.

However, in those moments when clients have you laying your head down on your desk, take a step back and remind yourself of these five things. They’ll not only help you gain some perspective, but also identify the best steps to take moving forward.

Kat Boogaard

Kat is a freelance writer specializing in career, self-development, and productivity topics. She's passionate about being as efficient and effective as possible—much of which she owes to her 114 words per minute average typing speed. When her fingers aren't flying on the keyboard, she loves to bake, read, hike, or tackle yet another DIY project around her home.

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