This is how we work with clients

I’ve been working on freelance jobs for years. A client calls me and we setup a meeting, discuss what they want me to build and after signing a very short and easy to understand agreement, the project starts. But just before signing that agreement we have the “this is how we work” talk. This has proven to be very helpful. I make sure clients know what to expect and make sure they are satisfied with the level of control we give them during the project.

The method
The key to our method is that we make sure the client can tweak stuff along the course of the project. Every step has at least 2 iterations. After the first iteration or draft round the client comes in, we show them what we have and incorporate any changes.

We also explain the client that anything that does not get revisions or comments from them is automatically approved. This is specially good because it makes clients think very hard and it forces them to be very conscious about the approval process. You see if they approve something it will cost them more to change later. So, they know that if they don’t ask for changes that’s what they are getting at the end. I know this sounds kind of strict but it produces happy clients on the long run, believe it or not.

Once the client has provided comments and revisions for the draft iteration we incorporate those changes into a new version and send it right to the client. This is the final approval stage. The client can make minor tweaks, nothing major and finally approves. Have in mind that the client can always make changes whenever they want. The good thing is that they understand that changing this little process will cost them more and it might mean that we have to delay the project completion date.

The big picture
In order for this method to work we have to split projects in many small goals. The process to complete each of this goals is the one I just explained above. Let me try to make this clear by giving you an example. Let’s say we have to make a website for a corporate client. The first thing we do is split the project into small pieces that we think the client might want to give us feedback on. The process is very straight forward, we do a first draft of something, we show the client, they give feedback, we make recommendations, we improve the work with very clear goals, we show the client again and we are done.

That’s it. That’s how we make stuff for clients. Small units of work with 2 chances for input, comments and changes by the client. If the client requires more than 2 revisions, we charge them more and we’ll need more time to complete the project.

We’ve been using this method with clients of all sizes on many projects. Every time we deliver on time and with a happy client. When the project gets delayed is mostly due to the client changing their mind about what they wanted. When this happens we get to charge more for the project. We have to work very hard to be on time but that’s something we can handle. On the past, client changes of mind drove us crazy and we left a lot of money on the table just because we where not clear about how to go about this situation. Now clients are more engaged during the revision and approval process and we end up with less delayed projects and happier clients.

For some this might seem logical, for others a bit too much but in my experience this is the best way to work with clients. It makes them happy and you are almost always working on what the client wants instead of working on what you think they want.

This works great for us, so we wanted to share it. We are even working on a tool called Blimp to make this process easier to handle and automate. In a future post I will explain a little bit more about that.

If you’re interested in getting notified when we launch Blimp don’t forget to sign up for the beta. We are launching pretty soon.

10 thoughts on “This is how we work with clients”

  1. Great post Gio and thanks for sharing. Prior to starting a project, do you give the client an hourly fee for the extra changes they make outside your process? Have you ever just taken a project on a per hour basis? I recently was reading about a shop that changed from per-project to per-hour because they were constantly leaving money on the table. Your approach seems good hybrid.

    1. Yes, in our “contract” we always establish an hourly rate, but most of the time we produce new estimates for client changes or extra revisions. The hourly rate is in the contract as a safety net in case we can’t get to an agreement with the client.

  2. Great post! Managing expectations is definitely key to a fruitful and happy professional relationship with a client (same goes for vendors, in my opinion). I like your 2-revision system. I’ve never structured it with concrete numbers, which has bit me in the ass a few times, so I look forward to implementing this in my future projects.

    A very important point you touch on lightly is the value of being strict in the boundaries of your client relations. It’s hard to break the habit of seeing clients as having the upper hand, and it’s fascinating to see how well people respond to friendly yet firm leadership. People tend to not want to trample on someone who communicates their terms confidently and without neediness. In your case, well-managed expectations certainly helps your clients be more satisfied with the end result, but what makes them so happy with the process is the fact that you gave them a clear path to follow, a role to fulfill. You’ve established your leadership, and so they don’t feel the need to try to control the situation because an expert has already taken command of the project, so they can focus on being useful collaborators.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.

  3. Awesome post! This is very similar to the system that guild writers use when working with producers. Outline>>>Draft>>>Polish with notes in between. Additional polishes or rewrites incur additional (pre-negotiated) fees. Can’t wait to check out Blimp. Could work as a guild of sorts/help level the expectations playing field for software development. Very cool!

Leave a Reply