Back in the day, I was a teacher and there were times, I admit, where I thought, man, this kid is a student from hell. Students from hell are like clients from hell.
They are. Late with their homework but want their A+ the very next day. Kind of like a website.
Before, I'd give up on the student altogether, I'd spend some time reflecting on how I taught and how I managed the class. I'd talk to other teachers for advice and write down ways I could improve the situation. Nine times out 10, taking the time to reflect on what's not working and figuring out solutions, worked. Class got back on track and the student felt understood. Win win.
If you’ve found this post because you have a client from hell right now, let’s figure out why.
What is so hellish about your client right now?
- Isn’t providing you with the ‘right’ kind of content - or any content at all
- assumes you’re a copywriter
- Is asking for excessive or endless revisions
- Hasn’t given you any feedback yet and you needed that feedback 3 weeks ago. And now they’re wondering why you ‘haven’t done anything new’
- Is giving you “I’ll know it when I see it” feedback or something equally vague
- Is delaying the launch by fussing with last minute stuff
- Is writing you aggressive, angry emails, etc
Delays, fussing, assumptions, not giving you content - all this is affecting your cash flow and eating into the time you need to work on your other client projects, market your business, do sales calls and live a balanced life (if there’s such a thing).
You’re frustrated. I get it!
Here are 5 ways to handle your client from hell right now.
1. Take time to reflect on the content gathering and web design process.
Is your client REALLY a client from hell?
Or is it that they don’t understand the web design process?
If it’s the latter, then write down everything that is bugging you and everything that is going wrong with the project. Then determine what kind of solutions would work best to fix each problem. (And keep reading for more ideas.)
If your client really is from hell and email-bullying you, then all you need to do is decide whether or not you should keep working on the project (can you suck it up? Is it worth it?) If not, what legal steps do you need to take cancel the project.
2. Double check your contract.
(Do you have one? If not, learn from this mistake, get that project finished as soon as you can. Then, write down everything that was a problem so that you can add the solutions to these problems to all future contracts.)
I’m not a lawyer, so this is not legal advice, by the way.
I consider my own copywriting and web build contracts a way to set expectations for both my client and myself - who is providing the service.
My contract is a boring ole Google Doc with a bullet pointed list of what I will deliver at each stage of the process and what I require from my client to move forward. Each section has a specific deadline both for me and for my client. Not meeting the various deadlines will delay the project (but not the final payment date - unless it’s my fault that we’re delayed - that’s in the contract too.)
I write something like: “Payment due upon delivery of content or by July 31, 2017 whichever comes first.” (Is this usable in court? I have no idea, but it sets expectations.)
The contract also includes the maximum number of revisions allowed and how I will charge (hourly) for any additional revisions.
Side note: Depending on the project I’m working on, some clients have unlimited revisions within a 1 week or 2 week timeline. So far, that’s also worked well. I’m a huge fan of tight turnaround times. Keeps everyone focused and encourages your client to schedule availability during the project.
It’s hard to ask your clients to revisit the contract, but if you’re not getting the feedback or approval you need to move forward or you don’t have the content you need to design your client’s Squarespace website, then this will delay the project, create scope creep, cause potential cash flow problems, and mess up your new project work schedule.
3. Book a meeting to go over your process.
If your project is going sideways - and it can happen fast - then it’s probably time to book a quick call to clarify each other’s roles and walk your client through your process again.
In my experience, most "clients from hell" simply don’t understand the process of designing a website nor do they understand why they should follow YOUR process.
You’ll probably get some “but that’s not how *I* work’ pushback, so you’ll have to decide where you can be flexible and where your client needs to step up.
I was a junior high school teacher in a past life, so I’ve seen pretty much every single work style out there. Kids don’t change when they grow up, is all I’m saying.
If you can be flexible with your clients and understand where they struggle, by all means, be open to another way of working, but don’t hesitate to get all teacherly on them if you know that your process is efficient and the best possible way to launch on time.
One argument you to try is to ask your client to follow your process to get the biggest bang for their buck, and be firm that if they insist on a less efficient process, that's easier for them, but more disorganized for you, that it will cost them. (Say it nicely, of course.)
If a client says, sorry, I don’t ‘get’ Google docs, I don't want to use it to organize the project, ok, that’s a legit request. But if they insist on using ping pong emails, charge hourly or an additional admin fee for the time you spend searching for emails and organizing those notes. Those hours add up.
4. Use Explainer Videos
I subscribe to the "Show. Don’t Tell" school of thought.
It’s one thing to email a Google Folder link to your client with a short note asking them to add content. It’s another thing to walk them through how to use the Google Drive Folders with an explainer video.
Don’t just show clients the tech skills required to use Google Drive or whatever software you use to gather content. Show your client how to source images for the web or research keywords.
Unless your client has hired a copywriter or paid you to write their web copy, take the time to explain how to write for a website. The last thing you need is a 5-page essay or a bullet pointed list of random thoughts in the home page folder.
“But I did give you the content you asked for.”
“Um, no you didn’t.”
If word counts are your thing, your explainer videos can demonstrate how many words to write and why word count has an effect on design.
Keep in mind that you design Squarespace websites all the time, you know what kind of content you need and you know how it should flow on a website.
For your client, this might be the first time they’ve ever provided content for a website.
Educate them. With Explainer Videos.
Explainer videos help your clients understand that their website is a combined marketing/sales machine. In my experience many clients don’t get that, so they focus on minor design details that don’t make any difference to the ultimate goal of a web page and website.
I like to use Use Loom to make explainer videos (<-- that’s an affiliate link. I don’t get paid, but I get perks like unlimited recording time, etc.)
Here’s an example explainer piece. (In case you need a password: content)
5. Book a specific time and day to work on your client’s Squarespace Website and ask your client to be available that day for content gathering and feedback
You certainly don’t need to schedule a block of time for every client, but if you’re struggling to get content or feedback, then this suggestion can work to get your project back on track.
Devoting a set day and time to tackle a client's project with the caveat that you’re not available on other days to deal with revisions can encourage them to take responsibility for their website.
A website is a sales/marketing machine for THEIR business, not yours, so help them understand this and take ownership.
What I’ve found is that when I schedule a block of time to work on a project, clients make themselves available for feedback and meetings.
(Unless they’re not available so you’ll want to check in with them about timing first, obviously!)
Here's the thing - designers might be focused on the client project whereas the client may have heaps of other work to do for their business.
Who knows? The web design might actually be low priority for the client even though they are paying you.
Encourage your client to set aside time to the make the project a priority and get that darn website launched by deadline!
Let’s recap - The 5 Ways A Squarespace Web Designer Can Handle a Client from Hell.
- Take time to reflect on your content gathering and design process
- Double check your contract
- Book a meeting to go over your process
- Use Explainer Videos
- Book a specific time and day to work on your client’s Squarespace Website and ask your client to be available that day for content gathering and feedback
I’d love to hear what you think?
If you’re a Squarespace web designer, I want to hear from you. What works for you and what doesn’t? Send me an email and I’ll reply as quick as I can.
And if you’re a ‘client from hell’ reading this post, don’t feel bad (unless you are actually one!). Most ‘clients from hell’ aren’t really from hell,
You simply don’t what you don’t know.
It's up to web designers to show you how it all works.
Hi, I’m Kath - author of this blog post (and others like it) and copywriter, editor, keyword researcher and website setter upper for Squarespace web designers and service-based entrepreneurs and freelancers. Team up with me to get your web design projects done, like yesterday.
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