How do you tell a client that you can’t rush the creative process?
We often create problems for ourselves by being too efficient. You read that right. We are definitely the kind of people that Get Shit Done. And we want to help our clients, especially when it’s an awesome client, they are in a bind and they seem to really need us.
But there’s a risk that an expectation will develop – an expectation that you will always drop everything, work all night, and ask, “How high?” whenever they tell you to jump. All the client needs to do is act like everything is urgent and critical to their success and they know they’ve got you, sucker.
Why does this happen?
Many times clients legitimately didn’t know of the opportunity with said looming deadline until the last minute, (which begs the question, why is it now unequivocally, absolutely mandatory for continued survival?). Sometimes, it’s because they procrastinated, prioritizing other projects over this one. Maybe they even operate in a state of chaos at all times. And sometimes, maybe most of the time, it’s because they created the sense of urgency themselves – they (or their CEO or board of directors) decided it needs to get done yesterday, and so, that arbitrary deadline becomes a do-or-die. Crazy, right? But not so crazy because you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Why is it so hard to say no?
It’s really damn hard to say no because we’re programmed to be people pleasers and overachievers. We love to be complimented, appreciated, rewarded, commended, recognized, praised. I am personally guilty of repeatedly falling for this false motivation.
It can be especially difficult to push back if you’re just starting your business and really need the money* or if it’s a company that was referred by another client that you love working with.
But, at the end of the day, you have to weigh the pros and cons.
- You make some money.
- You create a solution (albeit temporary, probably).
- You risk missing out on wildly unique ideas and important realizations that come naturally when you don’t rush the process.
- You likely cut corners and remove beneficial steps / deliverables in order to hit the deadline, which may end up not solving for the client’s original issue / goal.
- Other clients are likely to get pushed aside to make time for this urgency.
- Communication is rushed and details get lost.
- You add stress and lose sleep.
- You are not proud of your work.
- And worst, you teeter on the edge of a dangerous client-agency relationship dynamic that can easily become toxic if there aren’t clear boundaries.
*Important: If you’re really worried about losing out on the income, try to remember that if you truly believe that you deserve awesome clients (and you do), you will attract awesome clients. Your vibe attracts your tribe.
Remember that what a client wants and asks you for is not always what they actually need. You’re the expert here. That’s why they came to you. It’s important to evaluate their challenge(s) and come up with solutions that make sense (speak to the right audience, actually deliver ROI, etc.).
Set reasonable expectations by taking their deadline out of the equation. If you had all the time in the world, how would you approach this project? Would it reasonably take you three weeks instead of four days? Would you normally include three more web pages or two more versions of a web banner? Would you make time to do a site audit or hire a copywriter for the campaign? Figure out what it would take to do the job the right way.
Tell the client what you can do (on your terms) and let them take it or leave it. Tell them what your “right way” is and that you would need three weeks to make it happen. If they can’t handle that, let them find someone else. Nine times out of 10, they’ll come back when they get what they bargained for (rushed, sloppy, cheap work that doesn’t help them accomplish their goals). And if that happens, they will respect you more and won’t take your time or process for granted.
Caveats. Because there always are.
There will always be situations in which clients who respect you, value your process and your time, will ask you for help with an urgent need. The key is to make sure you’re offering a valuable solution in the short-term and that you’re not setting expectations that this will be a pattern.
An example would be a client who is going to a trade show and gets offered a full-page ad in the program for free at the last minute. You may not have time to strategize and copywrite the very best messaging or design an award-winning layout… but you’re going to get them exposure, drive traffic to their website and hopefully generate a few new customer conversions.
Think about what the client is asking, what they really need to solve for their challenge, what you can do in the time you’ve been given, and how that compares to what you should be doing if time weren’t an issue. Then, go with your gut. If it makes you feel icky, like you’re going to be doing work you’re not proud of, say no. If it makes sense to get a quick win and you know you won’t be setting unrealistic expectations, go for it.