Managing Client Demands

Last night I went to a talk by Arthur Irving from Skylark. The talk was organised by London Web.

The talk was about managing client expectations. It was an insightful talk, with ideas that I hope to incorporate into my business practice.

Arthur described the process he used to work with clients and tactics he used to dealing with clients. He said that he had made every kind of mistake with clients, and so he was in a position to give advice. He said that initially he blamed the client for problems such as not getting paid on time, but then he realised that the only person to blame was himself.

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Arthur’s way of avoiding issues with clients is to stick to a process that works, with a little flexibility. He runs projects in phases, starting with a research (‘discovery’) phase. If there is no budget for this phase, he does not take on the project. I admire that rule – I have found that when research is not valued, the standard of work that comes out is lower.

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Then they make a ‘scoping’ document, which I interpret to be a sort of agreed brief with the client. It includes details of the design broken down into elements.

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The next phases are mood boarding, the design phase, and sign off. Clients can be heavily involved in this and contribute ideas, especially at the early stages of the process. Arthur recommends including everyone in the initial stages, but having very few people in the later stages to make the sign off process smoother.

He recommends submitting just one design, rather than the industry standard three. At university they told us to show three contrasting options to clients, so that they could pick ideas that they liked the best. Arthur described his experience of focusing his attention on one design, and ending up creating two extra sub-standard designs, encouraging the client to pick the one he liked best. He found that creating these extra two was a waste of time and energy. It makes sense to me – if you’re the kind of person who invests in one idea heavily, just submitting one idea is time efficient. I’m not always like that – sometimes I have multiple ideas that just can’t be combined, so that way of working wouldn’t always be right for me.

Arthur asks for 50% of the fee upfront for a project. If new specs come up during the project, he re-budgets – he asks the client for more money to design in the changes. This encourages them as clients to give all their requirements upfront, and reduces inefficient and annoying extra requests during the design process. He takes the attitude of gently educating his clients to become better clients with his process.

With retainers, he only works for the hours paid. His aim is to not work evenings and weekends, and not do work for free.

He won’t work on a project that he would be ashamed of. That’s a good rule to retain integrity – but doesn’t always work for people that really need the money.

Clients that try to do these things are the ones to avoid:

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I have experienced working with clients that do some of these things. I still seek to understand the wider context of why they behave in this way – maybe sometimes it’s to do with anxiety over expense, or feeling that their control is challenged. Arthur’s way out was to avoid working with these people at all. I’m actually quite interested in learning how to work with these people in a way that will encourage them to be more efficient, confident and collaborative, resulting in higher quality work… I’m such a sucker for a social challenge. The path to less stress would be to not work with people like this… but the path to a more harmonious world would be to encourage clients that exhibit this behaviour to behave in an alternative way.

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