Design Domination Podcast Episode #138: 12 Ways to Motivate Clients to Send Content

Getting content from clients is definitely high on the list of complaints from designers. Find out 12 ways to motivate your clients to send you content, so that you get projects done on time and profitably.

Show Notes

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In this episode of Design Domination, I’m digging into getting content from clients—specifically wrangling the content from their hands and lighting a fire under them.

As designers we must deal with managing projects, and it can be a huge pain. Getting content from clients is definitely high on the list of complaints from designers. It can be like pulling teeth.

Most clients are well-meaning people who don’t have the intention of derailing a project.

They simply may be wearing a lot of hats in their job or have a lot going on professionally or personally. Or they may not be blessed with being so organized.

They also may procrastinate on writing something because they’re not sure what to write or they’re perfectionists and don’t think the copy is quite ready yet.

Maybe they’re new to the publishing or website world or aren’t very technically savvy. So they are unsure of what to do and when.

We as the design experts who do this work every day can guide and assist them where we can—or where we want to, depending on how busy we might be and how much handholding we want to or can give.

I’ve actually been waiting on a client to send me final copy for a book for five years. Can you believe that?! That was before I was enforcing terms about this. I designed the book cover. It was approved. I was told many times that the content was being proofread and would be on its way soon.

Why Getting Content Late or Piecemeal Is a Problem


You feel like a babysitter, sending emails here and there asking for the content. And then rinse and repeat.

It takes a lot of time to do this and to keep tracking where things are in the process.

Plus, it takes a lot of mental energy.


You spend some time on the project and then you go work on another project.

It’s so inefficient to constantly switch gears and go back and forth working on a project while you wait for more copy to come your way.

In fact, I have certain parts of my process that I will only do once I have all of the copy because otherwise I’d need to redo those same steps every time they send copy.

That messes with the very process I have in place to make jobs more profitable.

Mental Drain

Having to beg for content from clients can put you in an awkward situation. You feel like a nag.

You wonder how forceful you should be. After all, it’s their project. They’re paying you. Should you be telling them what to do?

The answer is yes, by the way.

Rushed Schedule

Another thing is that you’d think clients would understand that the project won’t be on time if they drag their feet. Surely they will revise the schedule to make up for the delay.

You know the saying, “Hurry up and wait,” right?

Unfortunately, in my 25 years in this industry, that almost never happens.

Clients often still expect you to make up for the extra time they took and still meet the original deadline. If you don’t, then they expect the printer or someone else at the end of the process to.

Now the project is a rush, and that means you should be charging more. But at this point, you’re so aggravated and just rushing to get it done. Besides, there’s no time to renegotiate the fee and redo the contract. That took long enough the first time around.

Reworked Design

Another thing that happens when clients are late sending content or when they send it little by little is that they expect you to get started on the design.

Sometimes you go ahead and do that but by the time you get the rest of the copy, the design needs to be reworked.

Now you’re almost starting from scratch.

That’s just more of your time and profit down the drain.

Delayed Invoicing

Then there’s the fact that you probably won’t be able to invoice them again until you get to the next stage of the project. So they’re holding up you getting paid too.

It’s super frustrating. Babysitting is not what you signed up for when you became a graphic designer.

Enough Already!

If you can’t do your usual amazing work working under these circumstances, then don’t allow them to happen in the first place or reduce the likelihood of them happening.

We designers must manage the process.

You’ve got to help yourself and set yourself up for success. Making things as streamlined as possible helps us and our clients.

It’s important to have processes, policies and potential “punishment” in place to help prevent these scenarios.

I don’t really mean “punishment,” but if it’s going to make you hurt to get it done, then it needs to hurt a little on them too—like that saying, “You can have it fast, cheap or good.”

Motivating Clients to Send All Content

So let’s get into some things that I include in my estimates, proposals and/or contracts.

1. Explain Your Process

Set expectations by explaining the process of working with you and what is expected of them, what is their responsibility.

If you don’t want something served, don’t put it on the menu.

I have a page in my proposals that details:

  • What information I need, especially if it’s for a website, where there is a ton of info to get;
  • Preferred file formats for text and images, especially if an image is for print (I don’t want low-res or copyrighted images they found on the internet);
  • The number of revisions or drafts included;
  • How I want to get edits. For me, for documents, that means a marked-up PDF where I can see where something is in the actual layout, not an email with requests to change a word in the fifth paragraph on page 7, which is no longer the fifth paragraph on page 7 after making the edits that appear before that one. For websites, it may be commenting in InVision—again, where I can see the edits, as opposed to needing a map to find them before I can make them. And P.S. please never send a new Word file unless I ask for it.
  • How I want to get passwords for website credentials—WordPress login, hosting login, domain login, etc. You don’t want clients emailing them. You can tell them how to send them via LastPass, 1Password or another secure method. Put a page in your proposal or send them to a page on your website with specific instructions—a how-to with step-by-step with screenshots or videos to make it easy.

You can also explain the benefits:

  • This will keep the project on schedule.
  • They won’t get nagging emails from you.
  • This will keep costs down.
  • This will save them time too.

2. Set Expectations

Add a clause in your contracts that says that you expect “final, proofread copy.”

I know from experience what happens when you don’t state this up front. It invites draft copy. It invites piecemeal copy.

It invites that dreaded phrase, “I am sending you this copy to get you started.”

Graphic designers everywhere just groaned.

3. Create a Project Schedule

Create a schedule, if they did not create one already, and include it in your contract:

  • when they should send you copy,
  • when you’ll send a first proof,
  • when they must send feedback,
  • the print date or launch date,
  • and so forth.

I also have a clause that says that the client must work with me in a timely manner in order to meet all deadlines. Translation: If they drop the ball, that’s their responsibility.

4. Set Calendar Reminders

Once you have an agreed-upon schedule, you can create a calendar in Google Calendar for that project, so that you both get reminders about deadlines throughout the project.

5. Create an Onboarding Email Sequence or Form

You can create an onboarding email sequence that you send to new clients for certain types of projects. You can set this up in some project management systems, or you can create an automation in your email service such as MailerLite or MailChimp.

You could also just create a form on your website or elsewhere and send clients to that to fill out and submit that information to you.

Even if you do different types of work, you could have one form with conditional fields based on the type of work—so some fields for print design projects and then additional ones for websites, where you ask for additional information, such as login credentials for the website, hosting, domain name account, etc.

This saves you time, so you don’t have to repeat the same thing over and over to clients. You just send an email yourself or through the automation with the link to the form.

You might think this is a lot of hoop-jumping for clients. But, really, what this says to clients is that you’re a professional, you do this all the time and you know what’s involved.

But it saves you time, because you set it up once and then you can send it to clients each time without having to recreate the process every time. It saves them time because they can set aside some time to get all the information you need together.

6. Use Tiered Pricing

You could charge a rush fee or penalty for late content, or you could use a tiered pricing structure. They’re pretty much the same in that clients pay more for a rush or late content, except that with tiered pricing it can feel more like an incentive to get the copy finished on time, rather than avoiding a penalty.

What I mean by tiered pricing is that you flat out tell them the price is the least when it’s delivered by this date, it’s more when delivered by this later date and it’s the most when delivered by this date. But specify the amounts and the dates.

Remember when I said it might hurt to get it done?

Well, you don’t necessarily want to put yourself in a position, especially with a huge job, where you’re so adamant on getting all final proofread copy at one time that you box yourself into a corner.

You can still accommodate their needs while getting the job done efficiently.

For example, I had a client for years who had a huge publication who could only start working on certain parts of the copy at a certain time of year, after a specific event in time.

It would not have been smart of me to require that they wait and send me all of their final, proofread copy at once when it was all ready, because that would have left me with the impossible task of laying out and making accessible a document with 400 pages and loads of images, tables and charts to address.

That would not have set me up for success, and they had a legal requirement to meet a specific deadline.

So I accommodated their schedule—some of it rushed—by charging them one rate for sections of copy sent by one date, a higher rate based on sections of copy sent by a later date and a very high rate for the sections of copy they sent in last.

I was able to start on the sections as soon as they were ready, and there was less that I had to rush to do. Some of it was a rush still, but I mitigated that.

7. Charge a Restart Fee

Charge a restart fee that goes into effect when a client goes AWOL for x number of months. A restart fee can be a flat amount or a certain percentage of the project fee.

When the project gets dragged out over many months or a year, you have to keep going back in and reminding yourself of the scope, of what content you have, or what’s still outstanding and then having to go in search of it.

That adds to the admin side of it.

Clients can pay less if they keep on track and a penalty if things go sideways.

Again, it’s an incentive for them to stay on schedule.

8. Be Careful When Basing Payments on Milestones

Be careful when basing payments on certain milestones. When you base payments on certain milestones and then they don’t happen because of a client delay, that means your invoicing will be delayed, or you need to have a conversation with the client about the work that’s been done so far.

You could instead base them on milestones that you have more control over.

9. Designate Time to Work Together

Another method is to designate time to work together. This not only keeps the project on schedule but also holds the client accountable, gives them any handholding they may need and gets you paid in record time.

Some people call this “VIP Days.”

I learned about this from my mind-blowing chat with Sarah Masci, who completely transformed her business on this concept and who teaches other designers an entire process for how to do this.

You and the client schedule a time in advance to work on a project. It could be a day. It could be two or more days. But usually one or two.

They have to prepare in advance to get whatever is needed done by that day, so that they can be available and waiting in case you have any questions, need any additional info or to approve things.

Meanwhile, you work on the project and then send them a proof and they are expected to turn it around right away.

If they drag their feet then the job doesn’t get done. But you’re still getting paid.

Bottom line: They get the work done faster, and you get paid immediately.

It’s a win-win for both parties.

10. Offer a Brainstorming or Copywriting Session

If your client is going to be writing their own copy but find it hard to get started, you could offer them a brainstorming session—paid, of course.

Meet with them and ask them questions about the service or product they offer, the benefits, how it’s different from competitors, etc.

If you offer copywriting as a service, you could then take the info you get from that session and write the copy for them.

11. Use a Project Management Tool or Checklist

You can use a project management tool to collect content or potentially ping a client when something is approaching the due date.

You could also use a Google Doc or Asana to create a simple checklist of what needs to be done. I’m telling you… There is something very satisfying about crossing off something in a checklist—and even not just deleting it from the list, but still seeing it there in the list but crossed off.

Maybe it’s just me though.

You could also use a tool such as Content Snare to collect content. I have many colleagues who swear by this, especially for website projects.

12. Use Google Drive/Dropbox

It can expedite the process of your client sending content, especially if they are technically challenged and not using the same tools that we use every day by setting up a Google Drive or Dropbox folder, sending the client the link to it and telling them exactly how to upload to the folder.


So there you have them—my tips for getting content more easily from clients, so you can get the job done on time, make sure it’s profitable and doesn’t get hit with that babysitting tax, and you get paid sooner.

If this content was helpful to you, please share it. That will really help me reach more designers.

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