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Illustration of a monkey making endless client edits within Photoshop.

Illustration by Stacy Nguyen

Don’t Say Yes to All the Edit Requests!

Written By Stacy Nguyen | Aug 14, 2018

Years ago, I was an in-house designer at a company and I was tasked with redesigning a service overview sheet for an arm of the company. Under the direction of a Creative Director, I made something real cool. We were both excited about it. When we showed it to the stakeholders — mostly biz dev people — they were similarly excited.

They were like, “This is great! Just what we were looking for! Can you guys make a small tweak, though?”

We said, “Sure!”

The tweak was minor. An icon needed to be swapped out in order to ensure the information was accurate. It made sense to us, so we gladly made this change. In the course of this, the biz dev team started circulating the sheet deep in all of their ranks and started compiling all of the minor edits that they wanted, debating back and forth among themselves about the merits of this or that, and — you already know where this is going, right?

Yes. By the time this one sheeter was ready for print, many months had passed (this was originally a project that was supposed to have taken mere weeks) and the file that I appended “_FINAL” was edited from “_DRAFT39.” No joke. It took 39 drafts and many, many hours of work stretched over too many months. I think between me and the Creative Director, this single 8.5×11 sheet of paper probably cost the company like, more than $5,000 worth of work.

That is crazy, right?

Well, that is what happens when you say yes to all the edit requests!

Nowadays, I work for myself, and I certainly do not say yes to all of the edit requests because some requests are frankly a waste of time, effort, and money — either my own or my client’s. Because of my past experiences, I have learned the value of saying no. Let me break down why sometimes you just have to (politely) put your foot down and how to make it go smoothly.

If you want to charge serious ca$h money, your value needs to be in your brain, not your hands.

Okay, so serious cash money is subjective, but I just mean if you want to be more than just a performing monkey who is good at Photoshop, you need to position yourself more as a consultant than just a graphic designer.

Early in my career, a lot of my clients just wanted me to be an illustrator who digitized an idea that they already had in their heads. Their problem was that they didn’t know how to use design software or else they’d totally just blast their paradigm-shifting design out into the world with chutzpah and pizzazz. Thus, I was hired for pennies to bring their genius to life. To them, my value was in how my hands knew how to move a mouse.

I found this dehumanizing. I felt that I had more value than this. So over time, I stopped taking clients who used trigger phrases that I had burned into my mind. Stuff like, “It’s just, I don’t know how to use Photoshop or I’d do it myself,” or “I just don’t have the time, or else I wouldn’t need to hire you.” When I hear this stuff in the initial consult, I make a mental note to remember to GET THE FUCK OUT.

Try to bid per project rather than rely on hourly rate.

Charging an hourly rate is good when you are starting out and are unsure of how long things take or how much they should cost overall. An hourly rate is also good for small one-off projects or maintenance projects.

However, relying too much on an hourly rate will position you as a “laborer” to your client. Psychologically, your value to them will be your hands, not your brain. A client will feel this pressure to art direct you in order to hyper-efficiently use their time with you.

Conversely, if you give a per-project cost and scope it out with good detail, the client can relax and treat the process as a partnership. Your client will solicit your opinions and your expertise a lot more because they are paying for a deliverable or an end product, not your time.

I have a rate exclusively for bullshit edit requests. I mean, I don’t tell clients that I call it my bulllshit edit request rate. I just tell them it’s my hourly rate for production work that is out of scope.

If someone is asking you to do something you think is crazy, talk it out.

I really believe that if you filter out the obvious problem clients after the initial consult, your roster should be pretty solid and anyone who is left will generally be a pretty reasonable person. So these days, when one of my standing clients comes to me and randomly says, “Stacy, you know what our brand needs more of? Fire. Can you make it look like it’s on fire?” the first thing I do is refrain from responding to their email right away because I usually have all of these urgent emotions when I get a request that seems totally batshit.

I give it a few hours to percolate. And then I get back to them with, “Hey, let’s talk about this. Can we set up a call or meeting in the next few days?”

Ideally, I like to talk face-to-face or voice-to-voice with a client in these moments; it helps to see their face and hear their voice. I feel like long emails come across as defensive. I like to lead with a sense of questioning openness. I find that, often, clients get excited and they can jump from problem to solution without engaging their designer in the process. And this oversight is typically accidental.

Like, sometimes a client wants their brand to be more dynamic and feel more urgent — and they saw a cool poster and decided that “more fire” is the silver bullet. When I sit down and chat with them, I stand a great chance of figuring this out. When I know, I can be like, “Okay, so I hear you. I hear that you like fire because it is attention-grabbing and bold. I think we can bring the heat to your brand in a few ways …”

If someone really insists on edits you don’t agree with and you can’t say no, charge them!

I have a rate exclusively for bullshit edit requests. I mean, I don’t tell clients that I call it my bulllshit edit request rate. I just tell them it’s my hourly rate for production work that is out of scope.

When faced with the prospect of paying beyond the original scope, small business and nonprofit clients will wake up a little bit and scale back on edit requests. They will get a little more organized in gathering feedback within their organizations in order to save everyone time, because time is suddenly costly to them. This makes me really happy.

And I have had clients with really deep pockets — and they have gladly paid at my bullshit edit request rate. It is still really shocking to me when people are pretty blasé about a project going significantly over budget, and there’s a part of me that does not feel proud of what is happening — but I get paid for it so I am still pretty happy!


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