Turn Stress into Success: Navigating the Tricky Waters of Client Change Requests
You’re scrambling to put finishing touches on a client project the night before the delivery date.
A week ago, you foolishly agreed to some “small” changes your client requested. At the time, you wanted to keep them happy and it didn’t seem like a big deal.
But when you went to make the changes, you realized they are going to seriously derail the completion of the project.
Stressed out, pulling a 16 hour workday to get the job done.
Less confident than before about the quality of the finished product.
Closer to a negative profit margin for the project thanks to the extra time and resources used.
Sound familiar? At some point or another, every agency owner will encounter a client who wants to make these stress-inducing requests. No matter if you’re a brand-new agency trying to build a reputation or have been in business for 20 years, you need to find a way to navigate these tricky requests.
Get to the root source
In some cases client change requests are inevitable. Especially if your agency has regular, repeat clients that you have developed a closer rapport with, last minute changes will happen.
You may have experienced:
The client’s budget or financial situation changes, giving them less bandwidth for your services.
A changeover in their company’s leadership has changed the direction of the project’s mission.
Logistical constraints can change the nature of the client’s offer (thus affecting your work).
These instances you can’t control (but you CAN control how you react to them). But what about clients who request changes just because they feel like it, or change their mind? When this happens, it often is a result of an unclear sales or onboarding process. There are a number of places this can happen. For example:
During the initial sales conversation, when the scope of work was not detailed clearly.
During the onboarding process, when your team was not able to fully understand what the client wanted.
During the creative process, when the client was not being regularly communicated with.
Honestly evaluate every step in your client’s communication journey. Are there areas you can enhance your processes, to eliminate the changes of details being missed? Take a look at some of the most recent change requests you have received, and try to brainstorm ways it could have been prevented. Integrate those changes the next time you start a new client project, and see if you make improvements.
You’ve got to stop working for free
Let’s say you were running a restaurant.
A couple comes in, observes the menu, and places their order. Your kitchen gets to work making their food. About 5 minutes before their meal is ready, they see the next table over receive their order - and all of a sudden they change their mind. Now they want what that table is having instead. When they change orders, the food you were preparing is thrown out.
Would you ever expect to turn a profit operating this way?
Your agency is no different. There is a time and place to negotiate the finer details of a project - the tail end of the creative process is not it.
That being said, there are proven strategies you can rely on to navigate these tricky requests to see a mutually beneficial outcome. When clients are insistent on making changes, their budget needs to be adjusted accordingly. Consider approaching it like this:
“We can definitely make this happen, but there will be some budget implications as this is a little outside the initial scope we discussed. Can we have a quick chat to get aligned on that before we make these changes?”
Now, you have the opportunity to reset expectations on cost and deliverable timeline, and avoid a stressful, overwhelming situation.
What about unlimited revisions?
For every client that loves the first draft of your work and has no feedback to give - there will be one who want revisions that have no end.
While it’s important to prioritize client satisfaction (a KEY element to retaining consistent clients and regularly raising your rates), your business cannot afford projects that go on forever. Again, revisit your sales process. Does your current offer specify that it includes a set number of revisions? If not, consider imposing a cap (and holding your team accountable to it too!), and communicate these expectations during the initial sales call.
Then, if a client is overdoing it on revision requests, just give them a gentle reminder. For example:
“We can absolutely add additional rounds of revision — our fee includes the first two rounds (or whatever your determined cap is), and then after that we will switch to hourly billing.”
Pick a structure that works for your business, and embrace it!
Aim for the win-win
Ultimately, managing client requests is an inevitable part of running an agency. Don’t let a last-minute bump in the road derail the success of a project. When you infuse a proactive, client-first approach into your entire customer journey, you can set yourself up for a win-win scenario every time.