Why clients struggle with revisions and how you can help

Creative work involves a cycle of review and revision that ought to be pretty simple and straightforward. We do our best work… present it to the client… and then happily make a few minor revisions before moving on to the next aspect of the project. Sounds easy peasy, right? The reality, though, is often much…

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Creative work involves a cycle of review and revision that ought to be pretty simple and straightforward. We do our best work… present it to the client… and then happily make a few minor revisions before moving on to the next aspect of the project. Sounds easy peasy, right?

The reality, though, is often much more challenging. We present our work to the client and then wait anxiously for feedback… sometimes crossing our fingers in the hope that we’ve “got it right” or that the client will “like most of it, with only a few minor changes.”

And then we brace ourselves… because we know the revision cycle is one of the most stressful times in the life of any project.

I know exactly what it feels like to watch a project unravel at the point of revision. Been there, done that. 🙂 Out of a desire to avoid this in the future, I’ve asked my clients to share what the review/revision process feels like for them. I think you’ll be interested in what I’ve learned.

My clients said…

I feel overwhelmed. There’s so much to review and it’s difficult to take it all in and provide clear, helpful feedback.

This was one of the most common responses I received. My clients (and yours) often feel overwhelmed by requests to review and provide feedback. Why? Because…

  • Rather than providing our work in small chunks, we tend to ask clients to review the project as a whole.
  • We ask them to tell us if they “like” our work… making the feedback process feel personal and emotional rather than objective.
  • Rather than allowing time for them to process, we often present our work and expect an immediate response.

There is a simple solution to the problem of feedback overwhelm. First, ask for feedback at multiple times throughout the process. In Christine’s process, for example, she asks for feedback on a basic wireframe in a process step that’s separate from styling or from home page concept. By breaking feedback requirements into manageable chunks, she reduces feelings of overwhelm.

Second, give a clear context for how you wish to receive feedback and the types of comments you’re anticipating. In my work, I ask that feedback be given inside Google Drive using the comment feature. I ask clients to share how the text I’ve written makes them feel, what they think might be missing, and what they really like. I direct them away from specific word choices and guide them to consider the overall message and tone of my writing. By guiding clients in this way, I make it easier for them to process the text and share their thoughts.

I feel disheartened. Things aren’t what I imagined prior to our work together and I’m not sure how to fix them.

Creative work is iterative. We know that… and we’re comfortable with the back and forth collaboration that is a part of any creative project. We expect to make changes, fiddle with our work, and refine it based on the feedback we receive. In other words, this process is natural for us.

Our clients, however, may have a completely different experience. They may not know what to expect, and may have difficulty receiving a design that isn’t completely perfect or website copy that seems a little off or a little wonky. Clients hire us because of our expertise, and often they expect something close to perfection from our first draft.

So, what can we do? We can set clear expectations. We can guide our clients through our collaborative process with gentleness and humor… and let them know that we will figure things out together as we go along.

Christine likes to refer to each project as a puzzle she and her clients will figure out together. I create a project timeline that clearly defines a first draft followed by revision cycles, and I invite the client to share feedback openly with me. Both of us set the expectation that our work is a collaboration. The client (as the expert in their business) shares vital insight that informs our work and allows us to ultimately create the perfect solution for them.

In other words, coach them to expect revisions… and embrace them… because the process makes the outcome amazing. No reason to be disappointed or disheartened. We’re just getting started… 🙂

I’m stressed and anxious. What if I choose incorrectly and regret it later? What if I can’t decide what I like or what I want?

From the client’s perspective, this new website is a huge deal. They’ve made a significant investment of time, energy, and resources just to engage in this process. For most, a lot of hopes and dreams are tied to a successful launch.

Maybe your client is finally launching a business she’s thought and dreamed about for years. Perhaps your client is upleveling his brand – moving away from the DIY site he started with to one that reflects his professionalism and expertise. Or possibly she’s launching a new book or stepping into a new role or simply expanding her brick and mortar store to the online marketplace. No matter what the circumstance, it’s a big deal.

Take a moment and think about the emotional weight of that. The pressure to get it just right… to make a big impact… to be confident in this new space. Time for your client to be “seen” in a new way and in a new light. Can you feel the stress? No wonder there’s anxiety.

This anxiety is why clients delay and drag their feet when giving feedback.

It’s also why they change their minds, vacillate, and ask for more and more… and more… options. They don’t want to make a mistake, and they are afraid of getting things wrong.

So, what can you do? Reassure. Calm. Provide expert advice and opinions… and limit options. Did you select a design element strategically? Share your strategy with the client. Do you feel one logo option is stronger than the others? Express your opinion and back it up with logic. Above all, let your client know that there are no “wrong” answers. You’ve already eliminated everything crazy, wonky, or out of bounds. The choices presented are simply options… and your client can relax and trust his gut.

As experts, we must intentionally guide our clients and provide a smooth, simple process for sharing feedback.

Not sure how to do this? I encourage you to take a step back and consider how your current process feels to a client. Brainstorm ways you can offer support and guidance. Perhaps you can add a call to discuss feedback openly and collaboratively. Maybe you can break your process into phases to make it feel more manageable. Get creative about encouraging and reassuring your clients at this point in your project… you’ll be glad you did.

Anxiety and overwhelm are usually the reason design clients drag their feet. Click through to learn how to intentionally guide your clients and provide a smooth, simple process for sharing feedback.

Author: Michelle Hunter

Michelle Hunter is a business strategist and copywriter with a gift for connecting entrepreneurs and their clients using great writing. She is a regular contributer to the DtD blog and co-creator of Designing Success Bootcamp - Helping designers create a strong marketing engine to power business growth. Visit MichelleHunterCreative.com to contact Michelle or learn more.