Dealing with clients who won't follow your process

Hey guys, I’m new to this forum so I apologize if I’ve posted in the wrong place!
I need some sound advice on how to deal with clients who hire you to do a specific job, agree to your terms, timeline and process, sign your contract, and then immediately do weird things to hinder that process. I’m currently frustrated by a new client that is trying to take the lead and direct me around instead of following my design process. AITA for feeling like I’m being rubbed the wrong way already?

I just recently was hired as an independent contractor to design and develop a website for a client. The client is a former coworker (he was a real estate agent at the office where I was a designer for the marketing department) which is how he knows about me. He contacted me to build a website for his side company. The company is new, and has no existing digital assets or branding. We spoke on Zoom about his needs, and he expressed that he would like a basic website with not a lot of complex functionality. I sent him over a beautiful proposal detailing the timeline, different deliverables/milestones, cost, etc. He emailed back saying that after reviewing with his business partner, they’ve decided they would love to work with me. He also mentioned he would ‘link me into conversation’ with a designer who ‘does a lot of their copy work for his business partner’s other ventures, and that this designer has some HTML background so he can be used as an additional resource’. I didn’t think much of it and was excited to get to work. He signed the proposal and then I sent the contract. He signed the contract and made his deposit for work to begin.

Here’s where the fun starts. Before kicking off the project, I agreed to meet with the client another time to discuss what role the other designer going to play so I could plan accordingly. We also were to talk about the first step outlined in my proposal…creating the sitemap. Instead of following my lead, he in instead told me that the aforementioned designer had created a mockup the other day (after signing my proposal) and some sort of sitemap. Why did he hire me to create these things for him but ask someone else to make a mockup as well? He presented the other designers work to me, and it was a whole mockup and sitemap, skipping over the Wireframing or any UI planning. I told him I didn’t feel comfortable copying another designers work, but asked him if there were any elements he liked or disliked that I could incorporate into my own sitemap or wireframe. We chatted for a bit and I felt like I had a good idea of what pages he actually needed built, what he wanted on each page, what info was most important, and what he hoped to accomplish with the website. I asked him about the other designer’s role in the project, and he kind of just told me he’s some old guy who’s a designer in another state that they’ve worked with before and maybe he could provide some input on things, but was not a decider of anything or the primary contact by any means. I told him I was still confused about what I would need to contact him for then. We eventually agreed that when structure and design was decided on & we got to the content phase of the project, the other designer would just provide me with the written copy for the website and that’s how he could help. However, at the end of the conversation, I concluded by telling the client I would deliver a wireframe and sitemap over the weekend…and then the other designer was mentioned yet again. He said he wanted to link us together via email, and suggested the other designer and I could link up over zoom sometime this weekend and he could set that up for me. For what?? I just laughed and said sure you can introduce us over email and we will go from there, but it is not necessary for you to schedule a zoom meeting for us this weekend. We ended the call, and I got to work.

Fast forward to Sunday… I sent him the wireframes and sitemap I promised, and asked for his feedback. He responds with an email connecting me and the other designer. In the email, he tells the other designer when I am most available in the evening, and says he’s attached the wireframes I’ve put together so he can see them and have starting point. A starting point for what? And why is he sending my concepts to other designers that have no stake in the outcome and are not a part of any the website build? And why did he just assume that I was available at 5:30 everyday and could share that information with someone else and tell them to contact me during those hours?

The other designer replies all on Monday morning, and says nothing but “Hi! Do you have an half-hour-ish that we can chat today? Let me know a time window or two, if you do, and I’ll send you an invite.” What? Am I missing something? I can’t imagine what he’d possibly need to chat with me about. I need feedback from the client, not some outside ‘resource’ designer requesting meetings with me. I was hired to do this job, and I know what I’m doing. I don’t need the other designer’s advice or hinderance in my process. I don’t need the client behaving as my supervisor either. Am I looking at things all wrong or are these the telltale signs of a difficult client on the horizon?

More importantly, what on earth can I say without sounding rude, to reframe my clients thought process and stop trying to bring the other designer in & let me do my job that we agreed upon?

I have no idea what’s in your contract, so I have no idea whether your client is operating within the contract terms.

I’m not sure what this guy’s age has to do with anything, but as long as you brought it up, most of what you’ve written might suggest that you’re a relatively inexperienced young guy who doesn’t realize these sorts of client issues are run-of-the-mill problems.

You haven’t explained your area of expertise. Does it include copywriting/editing? Does it include HTML/CSS? Could your client possibly think you need help in these areas from someone he felt might have something to offer?

Does it matter, though? Unless your client has deviated from the terms of the contract in ways that will affect your total payment, this other person’s involvement might come as a surprise and be a little annoying. Still, it’s also an opportunity to work with someone else on a joint project that could produce longer-term benefits.

From everything you’ve written, you see this as your project. Unfortunately, it’s not your project; it’s the client’s project. You’re just the person hired to do some of the work. You might not get the chance to create the website you have in mind, which is annoying, but that’s a secondary and non-critical issue. The point is to do your best and get paid for your work.

Clients are the single largest problem in almost every project. Clients almost always throw obstacles in the way. They delay. They rush things. They do stupid things. They change their minds. They inject their bad ideas into the mix. And they do totally unexpected things along the lines you’ve described. It’s par for the course.

Three weeks ago, an organization contacted me to design an ad campaign that would appear in various regional newspapers. Since I used to work at a newspaper, I know the routine, how to arrange ad placements, and how to get agency discounts. After arranging ad placements with two papers, I got an email from someone they hired to handle the remainder of the ad placements, unbeknownst to me.

Did I get upset? No. I called her, asked how we could work together, and did my best to establish a mutually beneficial working relationship. She’s inexperienced, but the client wanted her involved for whatever reason. Her involvement cost the client an extra $3,500 for the ad placement work I could have done in half the time and, besides, I had already factored it into the fee the client agreed to pay me. Does it matter? Not to me, it doesn’t. It should matter to the client who wasted some money, but that’s not really my problem.

Clients often don’t know what they’re doing. They do weird, inexplicable things that make sense only to them. They’re often their own worst enemies. Sometimes discussing it with them works, and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes, it’s water under the bridge, as in your situation, and you just deal with it. What matters, as I mentioned, is doing your best and getting paid for your work. Everything else is secondary and not worth the worry.

You asked for advice, so here’s what I likely would have done in your situation, as I understand it. I would have immediately contacted the other designer and had a constructive and friendly phone conversation with him. I would have asked him for his take on the situation and figured out a way for us to work together. Depending on the nature of that conversation, I might or might not bring it up with the client to get his take on it.

Assuming this was the beginning of a longer-term relationship, I’d see it as an issue to discuss with the client to help prevent similar misunderstandings in future work. However, for a one-time job, which this seems to be, I probably wouldn’t concern myself all that much with rectifying the underlying problems and misunderstandings. As soon as the check arrived in the mail, I’d be moving on to something else anyway.


I’m coming back to this because of a similar personal story.

A few years ago, I was hired by a government agency as a consultant on a branding project for a new program the agency was getting ready to roll out.

My contact at the government agency said he’d like me to assess the qualification of a retired guy who was recommended to him by a friend in his neighborhood who knew this guy. I was told he had some graphics experience, but nothing more about him.

I was immediately skeptical about any retired guy referred by the neighbor of a client. I figured he had probably retired years ago as the manager of a corner copy shop or something similar. I was also reluctant to put any time into such an obvious waste of everyone’s time when I had plenty of people I knew who could do the work.

Anyway, I agreed to meet with this retired guy if my contact would set up the meeting. The supposedly retired guy showed up right on time. He was very nice. I spent ten minutes outlining the scope of the project. He politely listened and didn’t say much until I began asking him questions.

I asked where he was from. He said California and had lived most of his life near San Francisco before retiring. I asked him if he had any formal design education. He said yes, but it was years ago. I asked him what school. He said Stanford University and The Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.

I was a little taken aback that this guy I was reluctantly interviewing said he had graduated from two of the top schools in the United States.

I asked him where he worked after graduation. He said he worked for Saul Bass. I was nearly speechless at that response, but I managed to ask him where he worked in San Francisco. He said he had retired as a creative director at Landor Associates.

I was completely stunned. I must have stared at him for ten seconds before saying in awe, “You’re Lindon Leader.” He said, “Yes, I know. I introduced myself to you 15 minutes ago.”

I felt like a complete idiot. I had just spent 15 minutes interviewing one of the top brand designers on the planet as though he was a hapless, old retired guy. Obviously, I recommended him for the project and eagerly volunteered to work with him.


If I was your client and I had to repeatedly ask you to do something, I’d replace you. What was that, 3 or 4 times he’s asked you to contact this guy, and you still haven’t? No one wants to be in a relationship with someone who doesn’t listen. You don’t want that as your reputation.

Graphic design is about solving problems. Your client has a problem, and thinks this person has part of the solution. You need to talk to this person and hear what they have to say.

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You do seem to be building a small bump into a massive hill. As others have said, talk to the designer, see what goes.

I would approach that designer let them talk and explain how they see it working. If it works for you, give your thoughts and iron out the details. Job done.

Of course there are times when you are charged to work with people who are just incompetent, then it becomes a challenge. Usually though, it becomes clear to all, including the client.

I have had to push the point once fairly recently working with a self-titled wix developer. Turns out she was a stay-at-home mum with a ‘love of doing art’ and zero ability. She was stubbornly dogged and had no idea that she didn’t know what she was doing. Despite multiple attempts of trying to help her and show her the right way to do something, she’d just dig her heels in with a defensive, ‘No, I know what I’m doing, I’m the expert here.’.

Her involvement was absolutely annihilating the project and costing the client thousands they didn’t need to spend. I played it softly at first, but increasingly, I would request something and you’d get, ‘Nope, can’t be done’. She would Cc the client in to try and make me look like the problem. I started by explaining how it could be done, but as this increased, in the end, I’d just do it and send it back. It was starting to feel like a playground spat and the client was in the middle.

At this point I called what I thought would be a difficult meeting with my client to explain gently that if this project was going to happen, we needed to get a new developer. ‘Thank God’ was the response. She had wanted to get rid of this person for ages, but they were a friend of a friend her business partner. The partner, for some reason was also wedded to the idea of using wix, which was completely inappropriate for their needs. She just needed ammunition to go to her partner with to be able to move on. New developer (actual professional) in place and the project was done in a fraction of the time it took to get a quarter of the way through it.

That kind of thing is one of the rare times you object. I am never comfortable billing hours to a client that I know I shouldn’t be spending because of someone else’s incompetence, so I had to do something. Outside of that, like any other relationship in your life, work with people and not against them and you will get far more out of it.

Six tipsfor dealing with clients

  1. Listen carefully
  2. Build rapport through empathy.
  3. Always lower your voice in talk
  4. Respond as if all your customers are watching.
  5. Know when to give in. …
  6. Stay Calm and don’t be personal
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