Over in our Support School on Facebook this week, we’ve been engaged in some pretty in-depth conversations about struggles with clients. Just like our students, Krista and I are all too aware of how prevalent miscommunication is with clients, and how easy it is for scope creep to reek havoc in web design projects.

Hey, if I could strike the word “simple” and “just” from every email from a client, perhaps my design life would be just that little bit simpler!

We too have ignored glaringly obvious signs of trouble on the project horizon and ended up working for practically nothing in order to just get a project over and done with so we can break up with a client politely – and move on with a clear conscience.

As one student expressed, I got so exasperated by that last client of mine, my freedom and sanity was worth way more important than the $ I refunded her.

Krista and I, and the other Support School students, have been championing our comrades in the midst of these client struggles. Whether it be one of Krista’s beautifully worded email scripts for the student to send to the client to address various problems, or perhaps even a little sympathy, the advice and friendship is invaluable so that we all know we’re not alone in this solopreneurial adventure:

I’m sure all will turn out well and great lessons for all of us. I’m sending good vibes, prayers, and everything else good your way. Is it too early for you to have a red or white snack? It’s 5:00pm somewhere, I’m sure!”

I am repeatedly impressed by how our students handle these client challenges, and how they recognize the situation as an opportunity to evolve their own best business practices so that they can try and prevent the problem from happening again.

My biggest wish for you right in this moment is for you to slow this all down and find your center!  You have amazing intuition and sense of right and wrong.” Shelby continued, “Gonna say it again… It’s time to slow this down and pull this tangle apart, break it down into parts!

So on that note, I wanted to share some of the information I present to clients in my own web design and development proposals in an attempt to be clear about the scope of the project, and what happens when said scope changes.

1. Right after I present the project fees:

The proposed project total reflects a good faith estimate based on existing understanding of the objectives and priorities of your website. If the project scope changes to an extent that substantially alters the specifications described in the original estimate, a proposal revision memo will be submitted, and a revised or additional fee must be agreed upon before further work proceeds.

2. Design process:

You are allowed up to two rounds of revisions for the designs. Additional revisions will incur an hourly rate. If, at this point, you’re not completely delighted with what I’ve created for you and would prefer to go in a different direction, I’ll be happy to refund your <insert cancellation fees>. No questions asked. I’ll definitely have more work into the design than this amount, but really want you to be thrilled with your new website.

3. Outlining Pages and Posts:

This section is tweaked for every client, depending on whether it’s a new site, and old site, and/or how many posts and pages they already have, so this is an example:

I will transfer existing posts, categories, tags from your old WordPress website to your new WordPress website. I will review the five latest posts so that they conform beautifully to the new design. Additional post edits will be charged at an hourly rate of <insert hourly rate> and I will add one new blog post as part of the launch.

I also list out the core pages of the site that I know will need to be built, followed by:

Approx 8-12 pages included with this proposal. It’s impossible to quantify all the pages you may need for your new website. This list is my preliminary guesstimate. We will import all of your current pages and blog posts, and will re-design and edit the most important ones for your re-launch. This proposal caps the page quantity to protect us both from scope creep. Additional pages can be created at <insert hourly rate>. After launch, you will be able to create any new pages you like, and you will be able to add/remove them from your nav menu as needed.

When it comes ecommerce stores, I put a cap on the number of products I will set up as part of the launch (for example, five products), and then I can either train the client to upload the remaining products, or do it for them for an hourly or project fee. I also outline the pages required to set-up as part of the shop set-up, such as account, purchase confirmation, cart, check-out etc.

When it comes to courses, I explain that I will set up the core course pages, such as the course dashboard, account page, payment pages, sample course home page, lesson page, topic worksheets etc. I detail that whether I am setting up a specific course (or courses) and my expectations, based on our previous conversations, about how many lessons, topics, worksheets etc. there may be. I am essentially preparing a course template with all the building blocks for the client to use to iterate new courses and lessons in the future.

4. Website Proofing and Editing

I will do one round of basic text-editing and basic in-page layout changes (change headline order, fixing spelling errors). Any further content error fixes will be charged at an hourly rate.

5. Post Launch

After the final deadline and launch, I’ll fix things related to the original coding (aka bugs) identified within 30 days. Any issues identified after that time frame is unlikely to be an original bug and will be fixed at my hourly rate (unless it falls under the long-term maintenance service package).

In conclusion…

Now, it may sound like I nickle and dime clients and charge for every little extra detail, but the truth is, I don’t. I fall back on terms like these only when I feel that the boundaries of the project are being pushed too far. They’re my safety net.

One of the most important lessons I have learned is that if we charge enough in the first place, we don’t mind a little variation here, an addition there. When we’re cheap, we feel cheapened.

I don’t like to blame clients for challenging working relationships. Yes, there are some incredibly difficult people, but I believe they are few and far between. More often than not, we can circumvent a lot of these tricky situations by doing our homework in the first place: Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions. As my dad says, “Assume nothing. Check everything.” When trouble arises, be brave and assertive. And make a note to tweak your client communication process next time!

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