If you feel trapped in a nightmare game of Whack-a-Mole because your client keeps changing their mind, it’s time to fix that.

You’ve been working to address the issues they contracted you to solve, but now they tell you their needs have changed, or they want to add new elements, or they mention offhand a critical requirement that was not part of an initial discussion.

When clients can’t decide or keep changing a project, it’s frustrating and wastes time. It’s especially challenging when they expect you to mind read and automatically know what they said was not what they meant. Endless rounds of revisions make a project drag on and make you wish you had never said yes in the first place.

Stop the flow

You might be stuck right now, but make sure you don’t continue to have this issue in the future. Review your contract format and make sure it clearly states the number of changes or revisions covered in your fee. Then, when you submit the first design or plan, remind them by saying, “Just a reminder that our contract gives us up to three rounds of revisions.” And if they reach that limit but still want more changes, let them know the rate applicable to further revisions. It’s always good to outline those fee details in your contract, but you can also set limits after the fact once you’ve met the obligations you both agreed to in writing. Depending on how much you want to keep them as a client, you can generously offer an extra round at no charge, telling them you’ll need to charge for any additional work after this last amendment. There’s a good chance the client will accept the next version.

Brushing up your contracts helps avoid issues in the future, as does implementing another helpful tool.

Set the tone for success

Creative industries such as copywriting, marketing, event planning, editing, graphic design, home design, and décor use a practical tool to clarify the necessary information. It’s called a Creative Brief and contains many elements equally beneficial for all contractors, regardless of industry. Guiding your client to provide essential details helps you produce work in line with their specifications and reduces the likelihood of misunderstandings or significant changes. Many contractors develop their own Project Brief to gather crucial details from the client before starting work. There are plenty of examples of both approaches online and are well worth the time spent. Look at it this way: any tool that helps clarify goals, expectations, and project parameters will help make a smooth experience for all stakeholders.

What to do in the middle of a project

Now that you’ve adjusted your contract format to protect you in the future, and have adopted a
template to capture details, you can still get things back on track if running into problems with a current client.

If your client requests a complete change of scope and the changes are substantial, and you’ve already spent hours on their previous vision, ask for a meeting to discuss costs. Provide them with an accounting of hours already spent and an estimate of how much more time will be needed, with a calculation of the extra cost their changes will incur. Unfortunately, sometimes a client can forget you’re not an employee but an independent contractor and can get carried away experimenting with possible approaches. Reminding them there’s a cost involved sometimes brings them back to see the merits of their original design or minimal additional changes.

When your client wants to go ahead with their new plan, always get the latest details in writing – try
writing a new Project Brief, as mentioned above, and don’t forget to note the number of further changes you are willing to include in your adjusted fee. Make sure they sign off.

Should the client balk at paying you more and expect you to complete more work at no cost, it’s time to evaluate the pros and cons of continuing your relationship. Most clients are reasonable and respect the value of your work; however, occasionally, you’ll come across one who expects much more than is reasonable. Don’t be bullied. Try breaking down the new design into components and presenting a cost for each section. Perhaps money is tight, and by providing them with an opportunity to cut out extras, you may end up with a streamlined project versus losing the entire book of business.

Indecision and uncertainty are often the result of stress and pressure. Being professional and objective when affected by a client who constantly changes directions overrides an emotional reaction every time. Your value and self-worth will continue to grow when you’ve done your best to help yourself, and them.

“Indecision may or may not be my problem.”

Jimmy Buffett