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How to Handle Client Change Requests During a Project

How to handle client change requests during a project

We’ve all been there. Your client emails you three weeks into a project and requests a major change. This isn’t the kind of change that requires some minor copy edits or design tweaks. No. This is the kind of change that necessitates a complete redesign or a total revision of the project scope.

Client change requests can either completely derail the project (and perhaps the relationship) or be a great opportunity.

You can’t stop clients from requesting project changes, but you can turn them into opportunities.

The bad news is that you can’t stop this from happening. All clients will inevitably change their minds at some point during a project. But, you can set expectations and mitigate these changes so you keep your sanity and save time.

Here are four ways to handle client change requests:

Be prepared for changes! It is important to have a process in place to handle any potential change requests from your customer. The best way to prepare for change is to always ask the question, “What if?”

Set Expectations Early On

Make sure to clearly articulate the scope before you start doing work. Ensure everyone understands the deliverables and the amount of time it will take you to complete each task. Many times, when customers ask for changes mid-project, they just don’t know how long that change will take, so educating them about the process will help reduce big changes. Write down all these details in a scope of work and have your client sign it. It’s also a good idea to add a clause to the document about your change process. Perhaps you have a rule that you do not accept any changes after a certain date or that you only accept three rounds of revisions.

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Don’t Be Afraid to Negotiate

Your client’s change request does not mean that you have to do it. If the client really wants something added, you have some leverage. You could trade one task for another, letting the client know that he or she cannot have both things. You could also increase your fee for the project so that if you do have to do more work, you are benefiting from it. You don’t have to make a big ask if you are worried your client will walk away — just make sure that you aren’t getting taken advantage of.

Make More Work for Yourself

If the project’s changes become too big and time-consuming, suggest a “Phase Two” for the project. Work with the client to identify the top priorities for the project within the original timeframe, then suggest that you delay the less urgent features until the next phase. Tell the client that you want to make sure he or she is happy, but you don’t want the project to go over the deadline, so you can do the other tasks later once phase one is complete. This is a win-win for both of you — your client gets exactly what he or she wants and you create more work for yourself!

Be a Consultant

Your client hired you because you are an expert in your field, so don’t just do great work, share your expertise and knowledge. A common reason that clients ask you to change a bunch of stuff is that they are just clueless. They don’t know the best practices or what is the most realistic to maintain. You need to guide them. Take responsibility for being the expert, not them, and educate your clients about why the suggested change is not the best idea.

Customer Change Request Scripts

Feeling stuck about what you should say if a customer or client requests a change to your agreement? Consider these scripts:

If a client requests a change to the original agreement

It’s important to communicate openly and professionally with the client. You could say something like, “I’d be happy to make that change for you. However, it’s important for us to update the agreement to reflect the new terms. Can we please take a look at the revised agreement together to make sure we’re both on the same page?” This approach lets the client know that you’re willing to accommodate their request, but that it’s important to update the agreement to ensure that both parties are clear on the new terms.

If you don’t want to make the changes

If you don’t want to make the changes that the client is requesting, it’s important to communicate this to the client in a professional and respectful manner. You could say something like, “I understand your request, but I’m not comfortable making those changes to the agreement. Is there a way we can work together to find a solution that works for both of us?” By taking this approach, you’re letting the client know that you’re open to finding a solution that works for both parties, but that you have concerns about making the changes that they’re requesting. It’s always a good idea to try to find a compromise that works for both parties, rather than simply saying no to the client’s request outright.

What if you can make the changes, but the client doesn’t want to pay more?

If the client is requesting changes to the agreement but is not willing to pay more for the additional work, you have a few options. You can say something similar to, “This is outside of the scope of work we previously agreed to. We both see the value in making these changes and I believe it is in line with the purpose of the project. Please recognize that it will require me more time and effort to make these changes. As such, I need to be compensated.

If that isn’t feasible, consider suggesting alternative solutions, such as:

  • Replacing the new request with work already agreed to, but not yet done
  • Letting the client decide the priority (I can do X, but that means Y will need to wait until next month)
  • Use it to negotiate a longer-term contract or retainer agreement
  • Negotiate in more than just the contracted dollar amount – consider accepting products from the client, relocation allowance, transportation/bus/Uber fund, cell phone stipend, memberships, licenses, or access to industry events or groups

Creativity can really go a long way here, it is up to you to suggest alternatives if the client is resistant to increasing the contract amount for the changes they requested.

What if the client relationship cannot be saved? Do I fire a client?

If you need to end a relationship with a client because they are not a good fit or the client keeps changing their mind about the project. It is important to communicate directly and professionally. Consider, “I’m sorry, but I don’t think we’re a good fit for each other. I’ve enjoyed working with you, but I think it’s best if we end our relationship. I’ll make sure to wrap up any outstanding projects as quickly as possible and provide you with all of the necessary materials. Thank you for the opportunity to work with you.” By taking this approach, you’re letting the client know that you’re ending the relationship, not casting blame or giving the opportunity for argument. You are maintaining your professionalism by ensuring you’ll do your best to make the transition as smooth as possible.

What if I am the client and need to make changes to my own project? How do I request this?

If you’re the client and you need to make a change to the agreement, it’s important to communicate this to the freelancer in a way that is clear and concise. You could say something like, “I’d like to make a change to the scope of work. Can we please discuss the revised terms and make sure we’re both on the same page?” By taking this approach, you’re letting the freelancer know that you’re interested in making a change to the agreement and that you’re open to discussing the revised terms.

I’ve found that, in most cases, change requests can be easily accommodated by both parties. The friction is usually in communicating how the change impacts the current agreement, timeline, and budget. If you are doing the work, it is wise to have these expectations written and agreed upon before starting a project.

ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS get the change request and agreement in writing.

Next Steps to Tackling Change Requests

Clients will always have feedback and request changes to a project. However annoying the changes may be, always focus on the solution, rather than arguing over who is right. When your client submits a very large change request, take the time to ask questions and truly understand the root cause. Talk about why you disagree and your proposed alternative. If you make it a discussion about creating the best project, together, the changes won’t seem so daunting.

With a process in place, you will minimize the need to re-prioritize tasks. You’ll be able to stay focused on your goals and objectives because you’ll have a repeatable system to handle change requests.

How do you handle change requests? Do you have a plan for handling client changes? If not, let’s talk! We can set up a process that results in happier clients, peace of mind for you, and more revenue for your business.

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