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5 Ways to Get Your Clients to Follow Your Work Process

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156609_that_way“Just do your work and then I’ll pay you.” I couldn’t believe what I was reading. My client had told me to just do (my) work, yet he didn’t want to discuss any of the things that I needed to know to get the work done in the first place. He wanted to do away with the needs analysis stage and just get me to write a 50-page e-book based on a vague, one-paragraph description. If there’s a web app for telepathy I haven’t seen it, so he shouldn’t expect me to know how to finish a project after the first two emails.

To avoid this problem in the future, I’m reevaluating the way I work with clients. How do I include them in my work process? Can I improve on my current methodology?

So far, here are some points I’ve come up with:

Include your process on your web site. The first thing I noticed was that I failed to set expectations at the earliest stage possible — on my web site. There was nothing on my site about how I performed a needs analysis, did research and reworked drafts based on client comments. I’m going to create a page about my work process as soon as possible. Some good examples include one from Mount Evans Designs and another from Recopy Studio.

Have a milestone sheet and refer to it often. The milestone sheet includes a table that lists all the deliverables required, along with a corresponding deadline for each item. Since you’ll be needing input from the client, whether it’s comments on your work or additional documents, you should include these in the milestone sheet as well. For emphasis, I use a dark red font color for the deliverables that the client is responsible for. I let her know that these items will be coming from her, and that if there’s a delay in sending out those items, the project will be delayed as well.

When I first sent out a milestone sheet some years ago, I didn’t realize that the client didn’t even read it. Be sure to refer to it often, at every stage of the project, so that your client knows what it is for and how to use it.

Choose only the simplest tools.
For less technically-savvy clients, I stick to email and instant messaging as our main communication/collaboration tools. I find that if I’m teaching my client too many things at once — from how to use a fancy collaboration app to how to improve their web site copy — they become easily confused and frustrated. Which is more important: (a) getting them to use that new app or (b) that they properly utilize your expertise to better their business?

If use of a specific tool will make a big difference in the quality of your service, then go ahead and teach your client. It’s usually much better if you can find existing video tutorials so that she can learn how to use those tools on her own time, isolated from her consultation with you.

Let them know the consequences of deviating from the process. The first time a client doesn’t follow your process, be clear about what consequences this had on the project. They have to know that if they insist on doing things their way, you won’t be able to meet your deadlines or give them your best work.

End with the important stuff. Whether you’re talking to a client on the phone or sending her an email, always finish with a list of the important things. Let them know what you’ll be submitting next and when they can expect to receive it. You should also go over what you require from the client, and when. Don’t let important details get lost in the middle of a phone call or email.

With that said, it’s always important to keep your cool and remain polite. Don’t sounding bossy or get angry; it will just irritate your client. Remember that your process is about giving the best customer service possible. It’s not just about following a flowchart.

Do your clients respect your work process? Are there any apps, tools or techniques you use to make your work process clear?

Image by Marcel Hol from

9 Responses to “5 Ways to Get Your Clients to Follow Your Work Process”

  1. The first bullet of this post really struck me. Of course! Why would I NOT have the typical steps of a project on my site?? Seems so obvious. I’m off to work on this right now…

    Thanks for the helpful tip!

  2. At the beginning make an appointment so that they know they have to give you some of their time to complete a plan, then when completed email it to them.

    If you have a consultancy agreement then include it in the agreement.

  3. Nice post. Adding on the “face the consequences” part of it, as a project manager I can’t stress enough the importance of periodic, well documented sign off meetings. This is the best and only way to ensure that you will not waste dozens of hours re-working on what you thought was agreed and set in stone.

    Make sure you get approvals in writing, and that you outline the cost (economic, that is) of changing anything. Change doesn’t have to be impossible, but it ALWAYS has a cost.

  4. We use ActiveCollab and it works well for us when communicating with clients but they have to be somewhat web savvy to use it.

    It’s important on large projects becuase communication can break down very quickly if you don’t have a central location to manage the conversation. Thanks for the great post!