Featured Contributor Jenny Sanders shares her early lessons learned in this installment of our “What I Wish I Knew” series, chronicling the mistakes and revelations creatives made during their first years in business. We hope you find inspiration (and we’re sure you’ll find some commiseration!) in these stories. Here are Jenny's top tips to deal with clients who change their mind or are behind schedule.
One thing that I wish I had figured out earlier on in my career as an artist is how to handle things when a client is behind schedule and when their requests change from the original scope of the project. Far too often I would book a client and get their mailing date/completion date on the calendar in plenty of time to complete the project only to have delays on their end that caused us to come down to the wire to make their deadline. This also usually meant that I was doing 100 envelopes or more in a day as soon as they arrived from the printer in order to get them mailed out the very next day.
I don’t know about you but I am not doing my best work when I am rushed and stressed out. There’s a much greater risk of making mistakes or letting things slip through the cracks when you are rushed!
I also found myself in several situations where I had sent an estimate and contract out and then the client wanted to add things, say a thicker paper weight, additional card, ribbon wrap etc. Early on I actually did not change the price for the client when they requested a more expensive option, I just ate the cost. Translation, I lost money for a change that I did not make.
This last year, however, I had a turning point. We were a day away from going to print with a client’s custom suite when they requested that all of the calligraphy be changed to a different style and that hand dyed silk ribbon be wrapped around each set. This meant about $900 worth of ribbon not to mention the time that it would take for us to receive the ribbon, tie that ribbon, re-do and digitize all of the calligraphy and to go through the proofing process for even more rounds.
Before responding to my client – who was very nice by the way, she just had been on Pinterest a little too much too far into her process - I took a breath and thought about what this would mean for me and what the best response would be. I then had my moment of clarity. I realized that when a client is changing things at the last minute and adding additional work and costs to the project that were not agreed upon in the initial contract, that it was not my responsibility to eat the time and the costs.
My new strategy: always say yes but let the client know how their requests will affect the timeline and budget.
Why had I not done this before?? It was incredibly freeing to me because I was taking the control, being accommodating, but giving the client all of the information and then letting them make the decision as to what they wanted to do.
So often, especially when we are just starting out or still are unsure of ourselves, we will do whatever it takes to get a client including agreeing to take on a project at a lower price or with a somewhat unrealistic turnaround time. Unfortunately too often that means undercutting yourself and committing to projects that will take far more time than we are charging for. You have to keep in mind that your time is valuable as well as your money.
We still have clients who are behind on getting us their information, guest list, or revisions to a proof, however I have learned to properly set expectations up front so that we find ourselves in this position far less often. Make sure that you are giving your clients a deadline to ensure project milestones are met. You can do this without being harsh by giving them a reasonable amount of time to get back to you, letting them know when you need their feedback/info, and keeping mind of the timeline.
For example, saying ‘if you could please look everything over and give us your feedback by Wednesday, that will be great. We should then be able to get the next round to you by Friday and have plenty of time to make our print deadline late next week.’ This just keeps everything spelled out so that if they do take too long or request more changes than expected, you can refer back to all of your previous advisements about the timeline and are not blindsiding them that their initial deadline may no longer be able to be met.
Sometimes, as much as we always strive to keep our clients on track, you will find yourself in a frustrating situation but remember to take a breath and not allow yourself to be compromised. Always let the client know how the delays and changes will affect their budget and timeline.
I hope that this helps you as much as it has helped me!
Thank you, Jenny!
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Jenny is a calligrapher, illustrator, and stationer living in Portland, Oregon with her husband and their little white rabbit – and a baby girl on the way in late April! She adores all things white and loves the beauty of simplicity and intentional details. She loves getting to use her artwork to encourage and bring joy to others, either through creating pieces for them or teaching workshops. Foraged flowers, almond milk lattes, fluffy bunnies, and time with family are her favorite things and her heart belongs to her creator.
When you are finished with your photo session or wedding, do you feel a bit like that guy that was recently dragged off the airplane, semi-conscious and bleeding? Because that is basically what it feels like when you’ve lost control of your clients.
The good news is it doesn’t have to be that way. You just need to reclaim the power.
Letting your clients know you’re worth it, and setting early expectations for a fantastic experience.
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