The Price of Misunderstanding

I’m often called upon by my clients to help them settle a dispute with a disgruntled client. The problem, I find, usually results from some misunderstanding. Initial expectations have not been clearly set or met. The designer and the client have different accounts as to what was agreed upon, be it the design, the schedule, a product, or pricing. Fortunately, these types of disputes most the time can be mediated successfully. In hindsight, however, they should not have occurred in the first place.

One of the cardinal rules of any business transaction is to put it in writing. Moreover, the terms need to be clear and mutually agreed upon. This helps to ensure protection for both parties. Yet, many designers are reluctant to use a contract or formal letter of agreement with their clients, or their documents are not thorough or updated as changes are made during the project. When a problem arises, they have difficulty proving what was agreed to.

Proper documentation begins with the first client interview. Take detailed notes, review them with the client before concluding the meeting, and follow up with a written summary and itemized list of what was agreed upon. When you have confirmation from the client, then prepare your proposal, contract or letter of agreement, and review it with the client, preferably in person. If changes are made during the project, document those and have the client initial their approval. Needless to say, your documents should be as detailed as possible and clearly written for a layperson to understand. If you are using a prepared contract document, provide a cover document that highlights the main and essential points of the agreement in plain language.

Maintain regular communication with the client throughout the project and provide periodic progress reports. Addressing doubts and concerns is one of the best ways to ensure expectations on both sides are being met.

While they cannot anticipate or prevent all problems that may arise, proper documents will help to resolve disputes more readily and fairly. Otherwise, you may be liable for costs or damages, in addition to possibly losing a client and perhaps harming your reputation and prospects for future referrals.

If you need assistance with resolving a client problem, contact me. With my years of experience successfully mediating and negotiating such disputes, I can save you time, stress and probably expenses, too.


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