Dealing with clients who don't give you what you need

Hi all,

I’ve been working B2B doing graphic design and branding for about 5 years now. I have never had any problems with deadlines or progress before. However, this new client that I have keeps complaining about how long the design is taking. To be fair, he gave me the project about 3 weeks ago. The problem is- his secretary is an absolute idiot. She is incapable of conveying basic information in a comprehensive manner. I will send the client himself an email asking a few questions about the design, and the secretary will respond and find a way to answer none of them. Despite being given the project 3 weeks ago, I was only given the list of products to design about 6 days ago. I still do not have all of the photos that I need, and I have been sending emails to them asking them to make sure that I have all of the pictures for the last 3 weeks.

The client himself decided to call me and was complaining about how long it was taking. I can’t really tell him that his secretary is the problem, can I?

How should I deal with him? Should I drop him altogether? Should I just charge a pain in the ass fee?

First of all, keep all emails and document everything. Secondly, I don’t think it’s bad to push back a bit and let the client know that, for example, you just received ABC a couple of days ago and you’re still waiting for DEF. The other thing you can do is to rough something up using placeholder copy and black boxes to stand in for photos so they can see what they still owe you.

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It requires diplomatic skills that carefully split the difference between directly blaming the secretary and letting the client know that you’re not getting the information you need.

Both you and your client want to move forward with this. If your client is unaware of the problem and blaming you, yes, you need to carefully tell him about the problem you’re running into.

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I don’t see why it would be a problem to “throw the secretary under the bus”. To a point. As long as you’re diplomatic and professional about it. I would simply mention that you’ve been working with the secretary but that you have not been getting timely responses. I don’t see why that is a problem. There’s no point for you taking the blame for something that was out of your control. That’s my 2 cents.

I think you should be honest and tell him his secretary isn’t getting things to you timely. That’s not throwing her under the bus. Ideally, I don’t start on a project until I have all of the components for this reason.

All good adviCe so far, especially Steve-O’s point about saving the paper trail.
hopefully during those 3 weeks and the days to come you keep constant contact regarding the missing pieces.
Many clients I work with are extremely busy otherwise, and if i don’t remind them, the project won’t get done.

Also, if you have the main contacts e-mail, or phone number, try to reach out to the client directly, if it’s by e-mail, CC the office admin as well, as not to exclude and previously involved party. If you can only reach out by phone, politely ask to streamline the process by e-mailing proofs directly.

I wouldn’t go as far as pointing out any incompetence in their staff. I’ve learned from my brief time in the sales world, that this secretary, is what you call a gatekeeper, and you should do well to keep this person happy. As they have the power to dictate whatever they wish to the main contact, as well as squelch you entirely.

It could also be that the secretary was doing this “creative work” until YOU were hired.

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You could avoid the negative by saying that it would be “much more efficient, timely and clear” if you could work directly with him. If you have to get into further detail, you could then state where the delays have been. Avoid any emotion, just be matter of fact.

If you want to continue working with this client and he refuses to change how he works with you, you can charge more and put up with it or you can move on. It’s totally up to you.

I’d first try Steve-O’s suggestion and not throw anybody under the bus just yet.

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