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How To Deal with Slacker Clients

How To Deal with Slacker Clients

Mike Lenhart

You’ve just landed this heaven-sent project. You know that this one will be perfect for you to show off your skills. You’re also stoked because this project is something you really believe in. And, the best part, there’s a budget for it. When things are too good to be true, are they really? Sometimes they can be, especially when the client isn’t as stoked as you are.

Sometimes what starts out as the dream scenario turns into the design project from Hell. Yours truly has had a few instances when the initial client meeting and consultation went extremely well and I was really excited to get to work. The brief was accepted, the terms of the contract were great, and the client seemed on board with the timeline and deliverables. Then, he sort of disappeared. Things took a turn for the worse faster than you can say “concepts”.

Nightmare Project

The deposit was delayed in being sent – and received. The client was thrilled to see the comps for his project, but never got back to me for feedback or a decision. Well, ‘never’ is a little dramatic, but this delay caused the agreed upon timeline to fall behind and also cause problems with other work in the pipeline. After I finally heard from him and got some sort of feedback, I made the revisions according the terms of the contract and sent the final piece back to him.

Then the delay got longer. I got nothing. I did get the “I’ll get back to yous” and the “We’re almost theres”, but really didn’t. This dream project turned into a case of my feeling like I was forcing a design on a client so he could generate the increase in business he was looking for in the first place. Talk about a reluctant winner. We finally completed the project, behind schedule, I got paid, really behind schedule, and to this day don’t know if the project was ever carried out. Another one of life’s little disappointments…


The suggestion to avoid this type of thing? Get project milestones, or phases, in the agreement. Put dates when things will be delivered and dates when they should be returned, with fees, whenever possible, if the dates aren’t met. That means you need to meet your stated deliverables as well. Proper and consistent communication with the client through the entire project must be done. We can’t assume our way through things and think that the client knows what you’re doing or vice versa. All of this can be a pain in the ass but we’re not working on projects at school anymore. This is the real world. If you’re lucky enough to work for a firm that has project managers dedicated to each project, then you’re off the hook (most times). Many of us aren’t, so we need to eat a slice of assertiveness pie and get on it ourselves.

More Help

If you’d like to get more information on client communications and dealing with slackers, you can join an industry association like the AIGA or Graphic Artists Guild. These organizations not only have meetings and events where you can commiserate and learn about this stuff, they also have great resources on their Websites – some only accessible by members – that can help a great deal.

Another idea is to look into Small Business Administration (SBA) classes that cover business issues, like client communications, and are usually offered free of charge. You can also ask a favorite instructor from school or a mentor who has dealt with this stuff before. Ironically, they don’t usually teach this stuff in design school. But, there is no need to go through this alone. It’s OK to ask for help. Once you get the solutions and strength you need, you can then pass it on to someone else. That’s the karma and yin and yang of this business. So, Om…

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