Say this when you don’t know what to say.

We’re not born knowing how to wrangle client expectations, but we can learn them. Here’s a quick and dirty list of scripts you can learn so you have a sharp response to even the toughest requests and demands.

Billing rate


Client request

What’s your hourly rate?”

Response

We actually don’t bill at an hourly rate. Instead, we look at the issue you’re having and determine the best approach to fix it. Our estimate covers the anticipated time, resources, and complexity involved for us to finish the task and we calculate a range to 90th% confidence so you can anticipate the time your project scope will take to complete (nine times out of ten). If this is an urgent need, we can look at providing you a tighter turnaround with a rush rate. Just let us know.”

Business goals


Client request

“We saw another company do this: we want to add a giant pop up on the home page that tells people we’re the best at home carpeting.”

Response

“Let’s go back and see how this idea supports or hurts your business goals. If it makes sense to do it, we’re on board; otherwise, let’s brainstorm some other ideas that will take you closer.”

Change requests


Client request

“We don’t like that colour. Why did you use it? Can we make it black?”

Response

“Here’s why…[explanation based on business/project goals]. Is there a reason we shouldn’t use green? Will it hurt the project? If so, let’s spend our next set of revisions nailing down the right look and feel. If you’re still not feeling it, we can estimate more time to get it just right.”

Firing a bad fit


Client request

“It’s just a drawing. How hard can that be? This invoice is way too high for the work you’re doing. My cousin could do that better.”

Response

“I guess we have to disagree on that one. Look, [client name], It doesn’t seem like we’re a good fit for you. I’ll end the contract immediately, and send over all work you’ve paid for.”

And if you’re really brave…

“Based on your response, we want to let you know that you’d be considered a ‘red flag client’ in the design industry. It’ll be very difficult for you to have a healthy working relationship with another agency if you don’t trust and respect the design process. It’s not easy to tell you this, but we want to be honest because it makes our industry better and helps our clients understand the outline for how to do great work together. We hope you find a great fit.”

Late deliverables


Client request

“We need to launch. We’ll get you the updated content and photo assets next week.”

Response

“Unfortunately, no. We need your help & commitment to approvals to launch on time. We’ll work as fast as we can, but we can’t compromise the quality of your project. That makes you look bad and it makes us look bad, too. Let’s do this together the right way.”

Late payments


Client request

“We have to keep moving to meet our timeline. We’ll mail your cheque as soon as the design is done.”

Response

“We recognize it’s really important for both of us to stay on top of deliverables. We know you understand, too. Payment is another type of deliverable. We’ll gladly restart your project just as soon as we receive your outstanding payment. Is there anything we can do to help expedite that?”

Respecting the process


Client request

How many hours will this take to finish? The fix looks pretty straightforward to us.”

Response

When we’re looking at the best approach to fix a problem, we have to move away from talking about hours. Sometimes the tasks that seem the easiest involve a lot of behind the scenes work or they affect other parts of your project. Sometimes that means new information or new steps are needed. If we skip these steps, we could end up taking dangerous shortcuts with your [online presence/ positioning/userflow/other affected part of the project]. We’d be happy to walk you through the process of what’s involved with these steps. Let’s make something that is better for your audience by giving these tasks the time they need to be done right.”

Scope changes


Client request

“Can we add a blog to the site? We’d really like a blog.”

Response

“A blog? Do you have resources that will commit to writing regularly? If so, that’s an interesting idea. Let’s go back to the team and find out how much time that will take and how much it will cost.”

After:

After chatting with the team, here’s what we found out: This [feature/request] is out of scope and will delay our project schedule and launch [by x days]. To keep us moving forward, we can tag it as a nice to have and treat it as a separate item/feature to estimate in time for our next release or”—if you’re too far into the development schedule—”We’ll add this to our backlog and estimate it along with our other feature requests in our next phase.”

Sudden meetings


Client request

“We need to discuss some new information with you. I’ve like to have a meeting with your team today at 2 PM.”

Response

“We’d love to chat about the project direction with you. That’s pretty tight for time. Let us look at some times that are available for the whole team and I’ll reach out to you ASAP.”

Tough conversations


Client request

“What do you mean, we’re going to go over budget? I’ll lose my job if this goes over. You need to handle this. Oh my god. I can’t be having this conversation.”

Response

“I know this is tough. We need your help. You asked for this [feature/project/request] and based on our agreement, we created it, but it doesn’t look like it’s what you need anymore. The work has already been completed (and needs to be paid for), but now we need to change direction. These are our options now: [outline A and B]. What is the best way for us to move forward? Let’s figure something out together.”

Written communication


Client request

“Dear [agency point of contact], here are all the assets as promised, but I have a few questions. Can we chat? Sincerely, [your client] —an email sent outside your chosen communication channel.

Response

“I think the whole team would get a lot out of this conversation. Would you mind posting it in [tool of choice] so we can take some time to respond?”

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