The well-known saying ‘the customer is always right’ may work well in retail (to a certain extent), but it is far from the truth in the web design world. Of course, saying no clients can be a scary prospect. But more often than not, you will be surprised at the reactions you may get providing you do it properly.
As a web designer, you know what does and doesn’t work on a website. You know what will look good, and what would look awful and drive your clients visitors away. Unfortunately, your clients don’t always understand the ins and outs of web design – that is, after all, the reason they hired you. Your job is to find the happy medium between the client’s vision of their ideal site and the site that you want to create for them. Learning the art of saying no can make this a whole lot easier – if you have your client’s best interests at heart, a little explanation will often go a long way when the two of you disagree.
When clients come to you for a website, they will often have an idea in their head of what they want on the site, and most have a rough vision how they want it to look. This is brilliant, as it gives you something to work from. But what happens when your client wants something that you aren’t comfortable giving to them?
Why are you saying no?
First ensure that you’re saying no for a professional reason, and not a personal one. Just because you have a personal dislike of a certain colour, font or design element doesn’t give you grounds to say ‘No’ to a client’s ideas. It’s ok to say no if you honestly believe it’s in your clients best interests.
Sometimes it can be difficult to work out just why you’re saying no, and turning down a client’s request is even harder. Prepare to discuss the implications of going ahead with something you’re not happy about in term of how it may affect visitors to the site, budget, deadlines and anything else you feel it could have an impact on.
Another consideration is if you’re saying not to something because you don’t agree with it ethically. If your client wants you do work on something that makes you uncomfortable for whatever reason, then you should ask them to find somebody else to do the work for them. If it is only a small part of a project, and you want to keep the rest of the work, consider outsourcing the section you disagree with to someone else.
In most cases, you will be aware of any ethical issues before you accept the project, so remember to ask the right questions and really talk to your potential clients before taking them if you have strong principles which you don’t want to compromise in your work.
Now you have to take into consideration what kind of client they are, and how to explain your reasoning without upsetting them.
What kind of client are you dealing with?
If the client is someone you’ve worked with for a long time, and who trusts your opinion then discussing any issues that may arise will be easier than if they are a new client. However, if you still disagree over something, think very carefully before completely refusing them. If you can’t find a compromise, are you willing to lose a long and faithful client?
Many people look at new clients as a different entity. If there isn’t much likelihood of getting more work off them, many will consider sticking to their guns and saying no. If the new client is big, and will potentially be providing a lot more work, then most people are willing to swallow their pride a little and let the client have their way.
While there is nothing wrong with this approach, it isn’t always the best idea to presume that ‘small’ clients won’t bring in more business than ‘big’ clients. Small businesses have the potential to grow into the big business clients that you want, and they will also deal with a lot of other small businesses. If you say no to them for no good reason, they will let other people know not to use your company when they need a new website. If you go out of your way to help these smaller clients, whilst still politely making them aware of why you don’t like an idea, then they will give you great free marketing by word of mouth. Unless you can afford to take on only the big, less frequent clients, make sure you don’t treat your smaller clients badly.
If you’ve come across an area of a client’s idea that you don’t like, and have decided to discuss it with them, having a good explanation to back yourself up with is essential. As I mentioned earlier, if you have a valid reason for not wanting to do something and can clearly explain why you think it’s a bad idea, most clients will at least give it a think. Another reason to talk through it is so you can understand any reasoning of an idea that you may have missed, which helps you understand it and makes into a sensible idea rather than a bad one.
Remember – you are an expert in your field, and that’s why your client employed you. However, they are the expert in their field, so it pays to listen to them before you completely write off their ideas. For you to truly understand what your client is asking for, and why, talk to them!
A way to further help yourself is to think up a few alternatives to present to the client. If they want pink fairies all over their homepage, create some designs that incorporate these elements but in a way you can tolerate: small fairies faded into the background, peeking around pictures or logos with a blush of pink on their cheeks and so on. Although this won’t always make people change their mind, giving them a visual representation of alternatives is better than just telling them you’re not fond of what they’ve thought up, and shows that you’ve put thought and effort into coming to a compromise with them.
A parting thought
The key to saying no is in the discussion and explanation, and this should be a large part of your client communication already. If saying no is something you struggle with, take a look at your communication in general with clients, and make sure that you’re conversing enough with them in general.
Sometimes, your clients will play devil’s advocate, more so if they are bigger clients paying out a lot of money. You might find that there are deliberate mistakes in information passed on to you, to see how you choose to deal with these kinds of situations. Alongside this, some clients expect you to say no to them. If you do everything they say without question, they may begin to wonder how worthy you are of the job they’ve given you.
Next time a client suggests something you don’t agree with, try saying no. By agreeing with your clients all the time, you’re not doing justice to yourself or your work. Remember, saying no isn’t always a bad thing if it helps you and your clients in the long run!