Client Communication and Turning Bad Situations Around

As 2009 is coming to a close, it’s hard to not reflect on what has happened over the last 12 months. As I have been going over finances for the year,  putting together end of the year greetings for my clients, etc., I’ve revisited a few of the projects past and lessons learned, and for the weeks following up to the new year, I’ll be sharing with you some of my freelance blunders and the lessons I learned from them!

At the end of 2008 and early in 2009 I took on a project to design a WordPress blog theme for a client who was moving their established blog over from a Blogspot account and wanted a new look to go with their new home!

The project went pretty smoothly! We consulted on the goals for her blog, the content, the audience and talked at length about the aesthetic styles that appealed to her and that would best represent her content. My notes show her using words like modern, simple, and sophisticated.

We went through a few rounds of design and in the end, the client said she was “thrilled” with the result! I was excited to see the theme finally activated after the start of the new year! The client and I exchanged a few emails as she prepared for the official unveiling of the redesign and never mentioned any desire to change what we had done, so imagine my surprise (and a bit of horror) when I went to the site a few days before it’s official launch and saw that it looked completely different! New colors, new background, new header design, etc. Other than the fact that it was still a 2 column layout, and some of the text formatting was still there, the site was unrecognizable from what we had designed! When I mentioned this to the client, I got an email saying, “The site itself is all the same, a friend and I just played around with colors and fonts and swapped pictures. Plus I changed the sidebar – the joys of WordPress!”


Lessons Learned

I really wish that my client could have approached me about her apparent dissatisfaction with the design, but I have tried to understand her reasons. Perhaps she felt bad after so much work had been put in to say she was less than thrilled? Perhaps her friend was really persuasive? I am unsure exactly — but after a day or so of feeling a little bummed on the whole thing, I decided to make something good out of the situation.

Lesson #1: Sometimes things just don’t work out. Don’t dwell on stuff and don’t take it personal.

Since all that was kept from my design was a basic structure of information, (which basically came from my starter framework) I did a bit of retooling and then was able to use the design I had created as the basis for the theme Simple Changes, which I released as a Free WordPress Theme back in March of this year! Something good came out of all this, I’ve been able to give a little back to the community and the greater part of the design can still get out there and have a life.

So, Lesson #2: Even the worst situations can be successes if you are willing to think creatively about them.

Since then, I’ve made a point to use more than words to communicate aesthetics between clients. A term like “clean” can mean one thing  to me while it may mean something vastly different to my client, that is why I have modified my process now to include “mood boards.” After discussing the projects over all style I do research to gather visual representations of that “look and feel” to present to my client so that if we aren’t on the same page, we can address that before even one pixel has been laid down.

Finally, Lesson #3: Clear communication from the start is key!


Did you learn a valuable lesson this year about running your freelance business that you would like to share? Leave a comment! :)


  1. Nic post Liz… one of the largest things I have learned is to have realistic expectations about clients understanding, my abilities, a balanced workload…

    When my expectations go past where they should be… more times than not i find myself more frustrated or in a jam somehow.

    ~ Aaron I

  2. Excellent post, Liz.

    Don’t dwell on stuff and don’t take it personal.

    that statement is so true. Not all of your clients will like your designs and your work, and it is very easy to get discouraged when you hear negative feedback. That is why as a designer myself, I try not to take things personal. I think the key is to turn the negative criticism into something positive. Thank you for sharing your thoughts! :)

  3. I think what I’ve learned now is to not offer a quote without a budget ballpark first. I’ve run into situations lately where I give a quote and end up losing the job because my number was too high.

    With a client budget in mind, I can find out if I am even going to bother writing a proposal, or find a solution that works within the constraints of their budget.

  4. It’s good to hear that there are ways out of communication ruts…. And ways to prevent them!

    I’m utalizing a moodboarf pn a project right now to make sure the client and I both have the same look and feel on mind!

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