Communicating with Indecisive Clients

Web designers will get to work with all different types of clients. While that’s one of the nice things that keeps the job from getting too monotonous, we also have to be able to communicate effectively with people who are coming from a variety of circumstances.

Some clients will know exactly what they want and they’ll communicate it to you clear and up front. Others will struggle to give much input on your ideas and they may have difficulty making certain decisions about the direction of the project. From my experience this is much more common among clients who just don’t have much knowledge of web design or how websites need to function. If you’re dealing heavily with small businesses this could be a big portion of you clientele.

Here are my tips for working with these types of clients and getting the job done right.

1. Get as much info as you can up front

It’s always helpful to have more information up front before you get started on the project. In the past I’ve had some clients that didn’t give many details about what they wanted, making it seem like they didn’t really know which direction they wanted to go with the website. Later, after several hours have been put into the project, it became clear that they did have some specific ideas, they just didn’t communicate to me what they had in mind, and I did a poor job of getting it out of them. Some clients will be very open to your own creative decisions and input, but others may just be quiet when it comes to sharing the ideas and wants that they really do have.

Of course, getting information up front and having a better idea of specifically what they want can save you a ton of time down the road. Save yourself some headaches and take care of things up front.

2. Take time to explain things

Most of your indecisive clients will be pretty unfamiliar with websites and what’s involved in creating a successful one. Often, their indecisiveness is not a lack of ideas or an inability to make solid decisions, it’s just a lack of understanding. If you can take the time to explain what’s involved and what impacts their decisions will have, you will find that they can do a much better job of communicating their needs with you.

3. Use your own judgment

If something is going to unnecessarily confuse the client, you may be better off to just make the decision from your own professional judgment. Throughout the process of designing a website you’ll probably get to know the client pretty well, and you should have a good idea of what is significant for them and what is not. At times when a decision will only have a very minor impact on the design and it will take more time to explain than it is worth, just make the decision based on what you feel is best for the client.

4. Coach them based on your knowledge and experience

Many of your clients will be as interested in your knowledge as they are in your creative abilities. When you see clients making poor decisions that could negatively impact their website, or stuck on a decision that you see as being a no-brainer, give them some professional advice and explain to them why a certain decision should be made. Generally your clients will highly value your input since you are the expert.

5. Avoid flooding them with too many options

In general, options are good. But when clients are indecisive to start with, excessive options can really complicate things. Keep it simple and narrow the options to make it easier for clients.

6. Explain that they need to stick with major decisions

I think all designers who do work for clients know that they typically don’t understand everything that goes into building a website. Some decisions can be changed down the road without a major undertaking, but others would require far more work than should be dedicated to changing something far into the project. When major design decisions need to be made, I like to give the client the needed information and enough time to make the decision, but I also prefer to let them know when it’s a major decision that will take considerable time to change later. I’ve learned that the hard way from having clients change their minds too far into the process.

7. Charge extra for additional changes

While the goal is always to create something that satisfies the client, it’s likely that you’ll run into situations where the client wants to change the scope of your work or something that was not part of the original agreement. In this case, don’t be afraid to tell the client that you’ll do the work, but you’ll also have to charge an additional amount. The price you’re charging is based on an estimate of what will be involved in the project and what it will require from you. When that is changed significantly, you have a right to change the payment terms as well.

8. Early in the process, give them a list of decisions that will need to be made

I’ve found that most clients who aren’t very knowledgeable about web design will often be surprised that the project requires them to get involved. I think many of them don’t really consider the fact that you’re building the website for their business and that you can’t do an effective job without their input. It’s helpful to give them a good idea up front what will be expected of them and what decisions they’ll need to make to result in a successful website. I’d rather give them as much as I can up front than call them every day for something new.

What’s your experience?

How do you deal with indecisive clients?

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11 Responses

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  • Website design Hull, May 6, 2009

    The toughest part of any website process is dealing with the enevitable delays caused by clients. Its usually content/pictures but i have known clients to change their mind all over the place, or even worse take ages to make even the simplest of decisions. I recently re-wrote my terms and conditions in and attempt to tidy the process up a little!

  • NumbSpring, August 18, 2008

    Uggh. I hate dealing with clients who can t make up their minds…find out how to handle this.

  • Mike - Elegance in Design, August 16, 2008

    I agree 100% with #4, coach the client giving weight to your experience. After that, layout what’s included in the contract and make sure they know anything above and beyond they will pay. People like this will keep you on the hook for 6 months with small changes that pile up so fast the project has changed and you aren’t getting paid.

  • Rob, August 11, 2008

    Getting as much info as you can up front is key. I will not even start working on a site until I feel I have enough content to work with. You will just end up spinning your wheels until you do.

  • Email Designer, August 9, 2008

    I’ve been dealing with these types for years, from my web design years, to my current email marketing design commissions.

    I’ve learned that charging for additional changes is key, people have easy access to email, and whenever they think of the smallest thing to change, they won’t hesitate to let you know.

    I’ll offer 1 free round of light edits after delivery, and I define what the light edits are in my terms of service. It’s always good to lay out the specifics for your customers in a TOS so there are no grey areas.

  • Adam, August 8, 2008

    I’m not a web developer but I am a programmer and I know all about indecisive clients, and these steps are as true for programming as they are web dev.

    I generally try to tell them what I would do in their situation and it seems that this often works for me. Clients often don’t know what they want and will take the advice of a “professional” (you) very quickly.

    If a client is dead-set of doing things themselves I’ll tell them to think about it for a few days and contact me later.

  • CHelmertz, August 8, 2008

    A good rule of thumb is to reassure yourself that the customer orders what he/she needs, not what the customer thinks is needed. An in-depth analysis is good to fall back on, even if it’s only used for keeping track on those main goals of a project.

  • hull web design, August 8, 2008

    Almost certainly providing a list of things required for the client is one of the best ways to keep the flow of communication organised.

    Just make sure you don’t say something like “just fill in the details and that’s all we’ll need”.

    Keep transparent about everything, be open and honest, if you’ve forgotten something just say so.

  • Christofer, August 7, 2008

    I’ve been working as a webdeveloper for about 10 years, but just this year started with webdesign more professionally. And working with both it seems much easier to explain to a client what way is the better one when you’re a developer. That has been changing for the last few years though, people have more and more to say about what standards to use and so on. Especially when they belong to the later part of the saying: “There are many winners, as well as obvious losers”.