Episode #96: How to Reduce Client Revisions

Smiling black female designer.

Excessive design and text edits from clients can be frustrating and a time suck for graphic designers. They can derail a project and make it less profitable. Find out 9 ways to reduce client revisions and have a happier client relationship.


Show Notes


Hi, and thanks for tuning in. I’m Colleen Gratzer, and in this episode of Design Domination, I’m going to give you some ways to reduce the amount of revisions with client projects. Stick around to find out how you can say goodbye to the days of “final-final-final” files and wrangling with tons of revisions and have a happier client relationship.

Excessive client edits can be frustrating and a time suck. They can really derail a project and even eat into another project’s schedule. Not only that, but they can quickly make a project less profitable or unprofitable depending on how you priced it and scoped it out.

Getting a lot of revisions from a client can mean many things.

  1. It can mean that the client isn’t organized.
  2. It can mean the client doesn’t have a copy editor or proofreader.
  3. It could be that they simply won’t have certain information available until the last minute.
  4. It could mean they just feel the need to exercise control.
  5. It could also be that they feel like they’re getting more for their money when they ask you to make them. (I’ve actually been told this by a client before!)

On the other hand, it could be you. Maybe you didn’t lead the project well or at all. Maybe you didn’t do your best work, or maybe you need to up your skills.

How to Reduce Client Revisions

Regardless of the cause, it may surprise you that there are quite a few things you can do to help prevent tons of revisions.

1. Ask the right questions.

The first is to ask the right questions up front. That also puts you in a proactive position of leading the process, instead of the other way around. When you’re in that position, the client views you as an expert, not an order taker.

When clients nitpick and art direct your designs—for example, the client asks you to make something bold or red or whatever, rather than leaving it up to you how to decide how to best resolve the underlying issue—it’s often a sign that you didn’t ask the right questions up front, if you asked them at all.

A lot of these requests may be based in their opinions and personal preferences, instead of something objective, such as the creative brief.

But it could also be a sign that your design missed the mark. When you ask the right questions up front, you know who you’re designing for and why.

If you don’t know what questions to ask, be sure to get my free guide, 17 Questions You Must Ask During a Design Consultation.

2. Set expectations.

The second thing you can do is to set expectations of what you want to get. Remember: you do this work every day, clients don’t. Clients are usually well meaning and want to help, but they need guidance. Let them know what you need.

If you want final copy, ask for it. But you must define what “final” means, because, as you know, what we say and mean is not always what they say and mean. So it only helps both parties to be really clear.

Otherwise, we know how that can go. How many times have you had a “final-final-really final” file or been sent draft text to “help you get started”?

I ask for “final, proofread copy.”

The other thing is what constitutes a revision? Some clients may think that means any type of edit. Others may think it’s OK to rewrite everything or send a whole new file after the layout is done.

3. Limit included revisions.

Another thing you can do is limit the amount of included revisions in your agreements—by number of drafts or time to make them, for example. Anything outside of that is at a cost.

Now, I know some designers who don’t do this or offer unlimited revisions, and that’s fine. If it’s profitable for you, that’s what matters.

If you’ve worked with the client before and they don’t make excessive edits, then you could do this.

For most projects, I include 2 rounds of revisions and say “of decreasing complexity.”

I changed my contracts to say this immediately after a nightmare brochure project.

The client decided on the second round to send all new copy for the brochure. I don’t recall if I didn’t put my foot down because, technically, my contract didn’t preclude them from doing this, or if they pushed back to say that. To them, it was just another round of revisions. To me, it was a whole new layout.

So now, saying “of decreasing complexity” lets them know that the number and complexity of edits should decrease with each proof, not increase! No redesigning on the second draft, for instance.

4. Limit the number of contacts.

The client may need to have others review a design proof. But that doesn’t mean you want five people to send you edits.

What I’ve seen happen in these situations is that the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. Someone inadvertently goes rogue and makes edits that another point of contact disagrees with.

It never ends well.

When you limit the number of contacts who are in charge of sending you edits, that leaves it up to them to compile them and go through which ones are OK or not.

5. Check your work.

Earlier, I mentioned how a client might nitpick or art direct your designs if you didn’t ask the right questions up front.

Design and Technical

But it could also be because your design work is not up to par from a technical standpoint. Maybe the styling you used for body text is inconsistent in some spots. Maybe you almost lined up some boxes on a page but didn’t quite get there.

Tighten up your technical skills.

Clients shouldn’t have to point out these types of things and tell you to clean up your work. You’re supposed to be the expert, and they’re paying you for that expertise—not to tell you how to do your job.

Could you imagine if you hired a painter to come paint a room in your home, and you had to keep telling him he missed a spot? You might be like, but this is his job. Why doesn’t he already see this?

Client Content

The other thing to check with your work is the content.

  • Did you leave out anything the client sent you?
  • Did you follow any special instructions they may have given you?
  • Did you put everything where it’s supposed to go?
  • Did you make sure that words that are supposed to be italics or superscript (or whatever the case may be) appear that way in the layout?
  • Did you check any special symbols or accent marks for words in other languages? We work on a lot of medical publications with Greek symbols that we need to check.

In the past, I’ve often spent more time checking my work than working on the actual layout. Sometimes this can be dozens of hours in a large project.

If you stink at looking for discrepancies between the client content and your layout… Heck, if you already have an eagle eye for details, like I do, I have an amazing solution for you.

PDF to PDF

You can do this by saving client text files, such as Word, as PDFs. Then open the one you want to check and open the PDF of your design proof.

In Acrobat, go to View > Compare Files. Select the PDF of the client’s file for the old file and your layout PDF for the new file.

Screenshot of Acrobat's Compare Files feature.

You can adjust the settings, such as if you only want it to look for difference in text, not styling.

Settings window for Acrobat's Compare Files feature.

Then you’ll get a report showing the differences.

If you don’t use Acrobat, check out Draftable. This works very similarly to Acrobat’s Compare Files feature and is free, with some limitations.

Word to Word

You could alternatively save the PDF of your design proof as a Microsoft Word document, then compare the client’s text document in Word by going to Track Changes > Compare Documents. That may or may not be the same place to do it in the latest version of Word, which I don’t have.

Microsoft Word Track Changes feature.

Microsoft Word Track Changes settings.

Now, with either method, you have to still weed through the findings to see if they are accurate or not. But let me tell you: this saves hours of doing it yourself and hoping you’ll catch everything. This is a game-changer!

So always check your work. And even if you’ve already checked your design work in the layout file, in InDesign, for example, you’ll often spot things in a PDF proof that you didn’t catch in the layout file. It just gives you a different perspective.

6. Present your work.

I have found that presenting the work to a client results in fewer design changes. When you take the step of presenting your work and explaining how it aligns with the creative brief and their objectives, you get less pushback.

I did an entire episode on presenting your design work to clients—episode 24, 7 Mistakes When Presenting Design Work and Asking for Critique—which you can check out.

7. Point out errors if you see them.

If you spot something, question it up front—before or when you send the proof.

For instance, we put notes in the design proof letting the client know we corrected a misspelling. There are four reasons for pointing this out:

  1. Sometimes what you think is a misspelled word really isn’t. I’ve always been a stickler for spelling, but one time I was wrong.
  2. It lets them know so they can change it if they use this copy elsewhere in another publication or on a website, for example.
  3. It reinforces your expert status. You’re being proactive, not waiting for them to request edits.
  4. It shows you care about the quality of your work and helping them, which is something clients will come back again and again for.

8. Get a formal sign-off.

If a client is making what seems to be never-ending edits, have them sign and send back a form. Having them jump through a bit of a hoop can make them think twice about making more edits and taking more time to get all their edits together at one time.

If they balk, say you’re happy to make the additional edits but that it’s your policy to get formal approval after x number rounds of edits, or however you’d like to word that.

9. Anticipate questions.

Another way you can reduce client revisions is to anticipate questions. If you think something could potentially be an issue, bring it up with the first proof if not before.

If you think it may be an issue, they may think so too. But they may not say something until much later in the process. You don’t want to get too deep in the weeds and then have to redo a lot of work later or go through additional rounds of edits if you don’t have to.

Conclusion

I mentioned earlier that some clients just feel the need to exert control over something and will just make excessive edits. If you’ve never encountered this, great. I hope you never do. There’s probably nothing you can do about those types of edits. You might reconsider working with those clients.

But in the majority of situations, there is so much you can do to reduce the number of revisions and maintain control over the project, which means your projects will be more profitable.

Check out episode 71 on how to manage the revision process better.

If this was helpful to you, I’d love to hear from you. Could I ask you a favor? Hop over to iTunes or whichever platform you listen on and leave a review for the podcast.

2 comments

  • Great points Colleen! I know that setting clear expectations about revisions has been a life-saver for me. And I think clients expect some sort of direction and guidance. If you have a firm process, that’s reassuring to most people!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Kate! Glad to hear that setting expectations has worked for you too. I wholeheartedly agree about how having a process instills trust in clients. Great point!

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