How to Deal With an Absentee Web Design Client


Building a great website takes more than just a beautiful layout and slick functionality. It also requires a healthy dose of communication between a designer and their client. Because, without client input, how can you possibly achieve a project’s goals?

Ideally, you’ll have a single point of contact to gather information and discuss ideas with. This helps to ensure that you’re on the same page. It also increases the chances for a successful outcome.

Of course, not all clients work this way. Some are particularly elusive – dropping in every once in a while, offering a dump truck full of information – only to disappear for long stretches afterward. It’s these absences that can kill the progress of your project.

This is where we web designers must take a stand! Let’s look at some ways to deal with those here today, gone tomorrow clients.

What Causes This Behavior?

First, it’s important to think about why a particular client behaves this way. Because, once you understand the reasons behind a certain behavior, you can better learn to deal with it.

From my experience, I’ve found that this scenario tends to happen with people who are both very busy and dedicated to their jobs. These folks are often so consumed with building their brand that they simply spread themselves too thin.

For example, think of an entrepreneur who is traveling the world seeking investors. Or the academic who is balancing teaching and speaking engagements. More commonly, it could be an overworked business owner just trying to keep up with demand.

Prolonged silence from these types of clients is understandable. There are only so many hours in a day, after all. Yet there is also frustration in their inability to consistently communicate with you.

When you have questions or need to bounce an idea off of them, they’re not available. It puts you in a bind. You’re sitting there, just waiting to get the information you need to keep things moving forward. Perhaps you decide to focus on another project in the meantime. That is until your client drops out of thin air with another list in hand.

A sign that reads, "My brain has too many tabs open".

Set Clear Benchmarks and Deadlines

Sometimes, a client will only see what’s right there in front of them. They’re putting out those little fires all around them and ignoring everything else. Perhaps it’s not the best business strategy – but it seems like a pretty normal human reaction.

Thus, one of the best ways to keep a client at least semi-focused on their web project is by calling attention to it. But it has to be done with purpose and consistency.

As you may find out, emailing them after a few weeks of silence likely won’t do much good. Waiting for them to send you that revised content isn’t a safe bet, either.

Instead, look for ways to get your client’s attention right from the very start of the project. Work with them to establish benchmarks for where you’d like things to be at different stages. If they have a desired launch date, take that into consideration.

State, for example, that you want to have the initial design process (and revisions) taken care of in x number of weeks. Building and testing need to be completed x number of weeks after that. A final review must be done x number of days before launch.

This provides everyone involved with a vision for completing the project. When a client can see the light at the end of the tunnel, they are more apt to maintain focus. Open-ended projects, on the other hand, will permit them to drop in and out of the picture.

A person writing on a calendar.

Tell Your Side of the Story

Another factor to consider is that a busy person might become unintentionally self-absorbed. Because there is so much going in their world, they may not have stopped to think much about yours.

But a client’s disappearing act does indeed have an impact on a designer. It’s difficult to wait around for someone to hold up their end of the bargain. Especially so when you have other projects that need your attention.

Therefore, it’s important to communicate how this behavior affects your schedule and your overall business. Kindly explain that you have other commitments and any major delays are going to put their project at the back of the line. Mention that you won’t be able to rapidly shift gears if they’re late in getting you vital assets and information.

In these situations, a client may not fully realize how their actions affect others. But when they have a better understanding, it may be the nudge they need to keep things going in the right direction.

The key is to never assume a client knows your side of the story. You have to tell them.

A person using a tablet computer.

Web Designers Must Keep Clients Involved

Project management is yet another skill that web designers must possess to effectively work with clients. And some will undoubtedly test your mettle in this area more than others.

Clients who randomly pop into and out of your life can be a challenge. It’s tempting to simply accept their behavior and work according to their scattered terms. However, this only encourages them to continue the pattern.

The better alternative is to openly communicate. Tell them what you need and when you need it. Set project goals and stick to them as best you can. And let them know the potential impact of missing deadlines.

Sometimes, all it takes is a little leadership to put the focus where it belongs. By speaking up, you’ll pave a smoother path to your project’s finish line.

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