Thoughts on branding, design, writing and life by Kevin Potts. Established 2003.

Eight Ways to Save Your Client Money

Part of being a good web designer is accurately scoping and fairly pricing a new project for a client, but part of that conversation has to involve educating the client on how not to waste their own money on bad communication, fruitless design efforts, and delaying the delivery of key assets.

Part of being a freelancer is helping clients understand precisely what they are getting themselves into when it comes to contracting a designer or developer. You can write a great proposal with a competitive estimate. That’s step one. But once that estimate is in hand and you’re discussing the exact scope of what they will receive, another conversation needs to happen. You need to help clients keep their costs down.

This may seem counter-productive at first. But clients are not designers, no matter what they think, and it’s your job to explain how they can spend their money in the smartest and most efficient way possible. There are few hard costs in building a website, so most of these tips revolve around keeping billable hours to a minimum, and avoiding the miscommunication and scope creep that can inflate the project cost.

1. Provide a Detailed Project Scope

Ensure the scope of the project is clearly defined from day one. No matter what written documentation you provide the client before signatures are slapped on paper — a scope of work, a response to a proposal, detailed meeting notes, whatever — make sure it completely and exhaustively outlines what will happen when, and how it will be done. D. Keith Robinson wrote an excellent piece on scoping web projects a few years ago, but it is still relevant today.

2. Meet the Client in Person

I’ve written before about meeting clients face-to-face, and to this day I cannot underestimate the value it brings to a working relationship. Once you shake a person’s hand, look them in the eye, and discuss expectations at length, so much personal ambiguity is cleared from the air that even long e-mail chains are bearable because you understand, just a little more, who you’re dealing with on the other end. Obviously this can’t happen every time — geography is a bitch — but for local clients, there’s nothing better than collaboration over coffee.

3. Keep the Design Phase Realistic

In my experience, a huge percentage of the project’s hours are spent in design. I explain this up front. This inevitably leads to a conversation about the design itself, which helps get a lot of ideas and expectations out on the table. It also keeps the client from diving down design rabbit holes, and avoiding useless iterations “just so they can see it.” One of the hardest things some people have to do is trust their designer. (And sometimes they never get there.)

4. Build a Turn-Key System

One of my key selling strategies for new clients is explaining that I build websites that clients can administer themselves. This is the beauty of content management systems. Once they discover that they can edit and create their own content, even manage content workflow and assign publishing privileges, all without getting a web developer involved, it’s like they’ve fallen out of Kansan tornado into a new world of color and talking animals. Websites should be scalable and adaptable, taking advantage of the dynamic nature of the CMS to empower the client. (Also, provide good documentation. The importance of this cannot be overstated.)

5. Get Visual Assets Upfront

In almost all cases, a website has some visual elements that are proprietary to the client: their logo, a particular illustration or diagram, photos of their headquarters, or photography of whatever it is they do or sell. Getting these assets upfront can shorten design time. Without them, mockups are riddled with pixilated logos or FPO images. Part of the proposal process is figuring out whether these assets need to be re-created (like product photography), and pricing accordingly.

6. Get Content ASAP

There is no doubt that any seasoned web designer out there can relate only too well to stories of clients lollygagging on content until the 11th hour. This always seemed odd to me. It feels like a lot of companies want this grand new website full of flash and dazzle, but only a small percentage have thought through exactly what they want to say. This inevitably drags the project to a halt. I have sat on fully built websites for months before the client finally got around to providing content, only to have that content redefine the navigation, costing them more in development time. My only suggestion is to apply pressure early and often, and cross your fingers.

7. Advise on Third-Party Services They Actually Need

This is a simple one, and will build trust with the client. Always advise on services they actually need for their website infrastructure. Hosting is a classic example; a Rackspace account is clear overkill when GoDaddy will work just fine. E-mail is another one. If a host’s off-the-shelf services work fine for simple POP accounts, they do not need an Exchange server. If a solid open-source solution works just as well as a complicated paid solution, explain — honestly — the pros and cons of adopting either one. Sometimes a paid version will have a lower cost of ownership because the time and effort needed to self-support an open source solution becomes too expensive over the long run.

8. Clarify Your Contacts and the Approvers

Always understand the personnel landscape you are entering. You need to know two important things: who your main contact is, and who approves the work. This is rarely the same person. Insist on a single point of contact within the company, otherwise communication will unavoidably get jacked up. Ask point-blank who will be approving the work. You may never cross paths with this second group, but knowing who to please is just as important as knowing how to please them.

Again, a lot of these tips center on keeping billable hours down. Explaining these things upfront can do wonders in not only managing expectations for the project, but will make the client think twice before throwing a wrench into a project and wasting everyone’s time. Are there any other tips you guys have?

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commentary + criticism


wrote the following on Saturday February 7, 2009

Great tips. I know where you were going with the title. But anyway, it’s not only about money. It’s also time frame and essentially success of the project. I think the big challenge lies in trying to balance between ability to grow site with CMS and getting access to content as early as possible. In many cases clients can’t find the middle ground.

Márcio Toledo

wrote the following on Friday February 13, 2009

Really great advices! Thanks a lot for publishing this.


wrote the following on Monday February 16, 2009

I have run into these problems over and over again. I make sites for small businesses usually and when a company gives me logos, photos, wording, etc. up front, I can design it in not time. I have a couple sites that have been waiting on content for literally a year. I have to just design around it and I can only spend so much of my time prodding for content. Thanks for the list, this is great. I will probably pick up on a few things in a blog entry of my own soon.


wrote the following on Wednesday April 15, 2009

These are some really useful tips. I really agree about meeting with clients in person, I think that as often as is possible, this is really conducive to building good client relationships. I honestly think that that is what it comes down to – mutual trust between designer and client. I think it’s also very important to keep the client informed of the time frame of the design process. Another way to increase customer satisfaction is making things as easy and simple as possible for them. I came across a great solution provided by Digital Lizard ( – they provide you as the designer with a portal from which your client can order prints of your designs. It just eliminates all the fuss.


wrote the following on Wednesday August 26, 2009

Good points. How about using microstock images for comping instead of RM or traditionally more expensive photos?


wrote the following on Saturday September 5, 2009

Todd — excellent suggestion. For truly unique advertising images, RM is a good option. But it gets very expensive very quickly — especially for web work — and very few clients I’ve worked with have a budget for that. (If they do, they’ve usually spent it on custom photo shoots.)

Blind Acre Media

wrote the following on Thursday October 1, 2009

This is a great list, and one that we follow closely to. I definitely agree that explaining to CMS is and how they can add/update parts of the site themselves always makes them feel better!


wrote the following on Friday October 23, 2009

This is great information. I can’t say enough about a face to face meeting (with a sketchbook). It can save soo much time.


wrote the following on Friday March 30, 2012

Excellent list and something I will have to pay close attention to moving forward. I agree with the CMS logic. As always content is king.