4 Tips for Limiting the Frustrations of the Feedback Cycle

Whether you're a freelancer or a full-on creative firm, getting through a revision cycle with your clients when the deliverables aren't 100% objective can be...stressful.

Not like pizza.

Pizza is easy. The customer wants a cheese pie, 16", cut into eight slices, and that's exactly what you deliver, period.

Now, that one particular customer may not like the way you make pizza, in which case they won't be coming back again, but there's no, "I thought my pizza would, I dunno, pop a bit more," or, "sure, that pizza's great, but what if you used four completely different kinds of cheese and instead of tomato sauce you used, like, mustard? Can we try it that way?"

In the pizza world, that kind of customer is crazy. If you were a pizza chef, you'd never have to put up with things like that.

You decided to be a smartypants and get into the creative contract work game, though, and now catering to your clients' not-always-crystal-clear desires is taking up a HUGE part of your day, every day.

It's not that some give-and-take is a bad thing—it's expected, and it can help everyone hone their skills and get as much value as they can out of the deal. They get the creative work just how they envisioned it (or better), and you get to try some new things, perfect your craft, and earn a nice living…

...as long as you can keep that revision cycle under control. If you've ever felt like your revision cycles are getting out of control, eating away the value of your contracts and giving you evil thoughts about otherwise lovely clients, try a few of these tips and see if they hit the spot.

1. Be Clear on Your Revision Deliverables

"Unlimited revisions until you're satisfied." This used to be among my promises to my clients, and it took awhile for it to bite me in the ass. Bite it did, though, and it only took one client for me to see the error of my ways—by the fifth time I had rewritten the same homepage for her website, a quick one-day job had stretched on for over a month and I was working for less than minimum wage, all said and done.

The desire to see satisfied clients is important, of course, and if you're brand new than the whole "unlimited revision" thing might not be bad. Once you have a portfolio of professional work for clients to peruse, though, that ought to be enough for them to know that your style works for them. If you're clear on what they want and they're clear on what they can expect, revision needs should be minimal, and if you're upfront about that most clients won't have a problem.

Let your clients know the types of things that can and will be changed following an initial delivery, and that if they want brand new information included, or changed their mind on structure, or have specific design elements in mind that weren't initially discussed, there will be an extra charge. Again, if you're open about this from the beginning, few customers will balk at this entirely fair proposition.

2. Use the Tools You Have Available

Make the revision process as easy as possible by using whatever tools you have available in your specific niche. For freelance writers, Google Docs and similar file sharing services are a great boon, allowing clients to leave comments (or even make edits) directly on the document, making the change sthey want made far easier to understand while giving them a greater sense of control over the project, too. Similar tools exist for graphic and web design, audio production, and even video production, so make use of them and make your life easier.

3. Set Communication Deadlines for You and Your Clients

Just like you should set clear deliverables in terms of what you'll revise and how many times you'll go back-and-forth on things, be clear about how soon you'll deliver requested changes—and how long your clients have to request them. I've had clients contact me literally months after their checks are cleared and I've assumed everything is hunky-dory only to ask for a complete overhaul of a blog article because the new CEO doesn't feel it properly reflects the brand (don't you love the startup world?).

When you're first nailing down terms, give your clients a reasonable timeline to let multiple parties review the work, discuss it, and get in touch with the revisions they want made, but don't let it stretch out indefinitely. When you deliver the first draft or rough cut of the work, reiterate the timeline with a nice request: "Please let me know what if any changes you'd like made by 3pm Wednesday to make sure I can get this back to you before the weekend," or something similar (some clients need a firmer hand, but I always start out gently).

It's your call how you want to handle revision requests outside the deadline, of course; it's rarely worth losing a client over, but simply having the deadline in place will make many clients more responsive.

4. Follow Through for Better Retention

This tip is less about easing the revision cycle itself, and more about making sure the revision cycle is working for your business rather than against it.

Whether everything's gone perfectly smoothly or you hit a few bumps in the road, always follow through with an email after final delivery to make sure your clients are happy with everything the way they have it. Do this even if you received a confirmation email from them that they're satisfied, and ESPECIALLY do this if you never received that word—it could be that they simply overlooked sending you an acknowledgement, and it could be that they still aren't thrilled. No matter what, one more brief contact that shows them how dedicated you are to their happiness with your creative work can only work in your favor, and can turn one-off contracts into long-term gigs with happy, well-trained clients.