How to Bend the Rules to Accommodate Your Design Clients


Part of being a web designer involves developing processes. For instance, we have a process for how we go from concept to finished product. Over time, we may even create a process for dealing with a specific type of maintenance task. The idea is that we do things in a certain way in the name of efficiency and perhaps sanity.

However, the business side of things also requires a lot of attention in this area as well. Consider your payment policies or the use of a freelance contract. These processes help to ensure that we’re paid on time, treated fairly and have the ability to keep the doors open for the long term.

While we need every one of these mechanisms to keep things running smoothly, enforcing them isn’t always that easy. Yes, we may require our clients to do x, y and z. But the human element often comes into play and, if we let it, complicates the whole, ahem, process.

Sometimes we bend the rules that we ourselves have set. But should we? And, if the answer is yes, where do we draw the line?

A “Nice” Lesson

The decision of whether or not to make an exception to your rules for a client can be a tough one. Doing so can open up a whole can of worms that might be better off staying closed. For instance, will breaking your rule this time end up encouraging bad behavior?

Beyond that, there are benefits to being more rigid in adhering to your policies. If you don’t make exceptions, you don’t have worry about dealing with them and their consequences. Then there’s something to be said for the peace of mind that goes along with knowing what you will and won’t do.

On the other hand, there are times when someone who has been a great client could really use that break. Doing so can help strengthen your bond and maybe even lead to more referrals. Some people really do remember an act of kindness and are keen to pay it forward.

I have a good bit of experience in this area. One of the great blessings/curses of my career has been my need to be nice. It’s been a blessing because I’ve managed to have great relationships with the majority of clients and colleagues I’ve worked with. The curse is that sometimes my kindness gets taken advantage of.

For me, being nice means that I’m willing to give people the benefit of the doubt. That often leads me to be a little more lenient with things like timelines for payment. In my own mind, it’s the act of treating people as, well, people. And perhaps that means giving them breaks that they don’t receive from others – especially businesses.

But there is no doubt that, in certain situations, I regret going down that path. I’ve been stiffed with regards to payment on a few occasions and was too averse to any sort of confrontation to remedy it. It has taught me to be much pickier when it comes to who I’m willing to show some flexibility with.

Two people sharing a fist bump.

Where’s the Line?

If you do make the occasional exception for a client, it’s important to set some boundaries. Not only should this be done in your own mind, it should also be written out so that your client understands the situation.

For example, if someone owes you a large sum of money and is in some financial trouble, you might decide to let them make payments. It’s a nice thing to do, but it may also be the only way you ever get paid for your hard work. But I digress.

In this case, it’s best to set terms with your client – don’t leave things open ended. Telling them to “pay whenever” may lead some people to never make the effort at all. Instead, establish how much they’ll pay and how often they’ll pay it. If they don’t follow through, let them know that there will be interest or late fees.

When it comes to issues like scope creep, those boundaries have to be extra tight – if you decide to go there at all. After all, arranging for a payment plan is one thing, doing extra work for no additional charge is another.

If you do go ahead with it, come to an agreement that is exact. As in, the exact amount of time you’re willing to spend, the exact amount of content or features to be added, etc. The goal is to leave virtually nothing open to interpretation.

Yellow police tape.

A Business Decision

Building and growing your business requires that you make a lot of difficult decisions. That’s where those processes we mentioned earlier come into play. You put them in place so that you’ll know what to do when the time comes.

In theory, it should be black and white. Yet, because we are human beings, we may feel that there are some gray areas amongst all the rules we’ve set.

The thing is, there’s no universal answer when it comes to making exceptions for your clients. It’s something that you have to decide on your own.

However, there are some criteria to consider. Factors such as a client’s payment history and past behavior should be taken into account. That can at least help you determine whether or not you’re likely to get burned.

Beyond that, my best advice is to think carefully about the decision and the potential consequences. Whatever you decide, it’s important to know what you’re getting into.

This page may contain affiliate links. At no extra cost to you, we may earn a commission from any purchase via the links on our site. You can read our Disclosure Policy at any time.