How to work with clients who micro-manage

3 years ago by

Written by Sarah Ritchie

You’ve created a masterpiece of an event poster for your client. Your client asks you to make the headline bigger, move an item from the bottom to the top, change out the picture and – while you’re at it – change the colours too. All of a sudden your poster (lovingly crafted from strategic thinking and superior design) looks like something created in Microsoft Word.

You know the feeling – we’ve all have those types of clients, or have experienced similar situations. If your client is a born and bred micro-manager there is little you can do, but often you have more control over the situation than you’d think.

Here are the top 10 reasons why your client may be micro-managing you:

1. They are naturally inclined to micro-manage

Sounds like you drew the short straw with this client! There’s not a lot you can do other than be prepared for what’s to come with each new project. You may need to allow more time in your quotes for additional phone calls, meetings, changes…and stress. Sorry, the Magic 8 Ball says you lucked out this time!

2. They don’t understand the process

Educating your client on your processes is crucial for a smooth, happy, client/designer relationship. Once your client understands how your systems work, how the communication flow will work, and how the technical processes work, they will feel more knowledgeable and less likely to want to be involved in every little detail.

3. They do not yet trust you

It will take time for both you and your client to understand how each other “ticks”. Like any new relationship you’ll figure out how each party communicates, expresses approval or disapproval, likes and dislikes, business requirements and expectations. Until you reach that point of mutual nirvana, be prepared for your client to give your work some “extra attention”.

4. You do not know their business well enough

Don’t despair, getting to know a client’s business really well can take many months. It’s only a matter of time and eventually you will find yourself flying without your client constantly telling you what needs to be done. The ideal situation is that one day (especially after your client experiences staff turnover) you will know some of your client’s business requirements even better than they do!

5. Your output is not up-to-scratch

If your design team is turning out work that your client doesn’t like, then expect to be micro-managed. They will want to know what’s happened and then work closely with you to ensure they get the product they expect in as short a time as possible.

6. They have a different idea and they want to be heard

In some agencies the Designer/Art Director/Creative Director/Strategist is a “passionate” individual with a healthy ego and low tolerance for clients who like to creatively contribute to a campaign. You have to be prepared for the “added client input” that this type of situation can create – especially if the two parties are butting heads. Be careful, as sometimes a client will like to become extra-involved in a campaign just to re-affirm who’s actually paying your wages.

7. They are nervous

101 different concerns could be going around your client’s head – none of which may relate to you, like: they want to make a good impression for their boss; they don’t want to be seen to stuff up; they have a big conference the collateral has to be ready for; and so on. A healthy dose of reassurance is required. Tell them that they can leave all the project/campaign thinking to you so they can get on with other things. Your client will feel less burdened and you’ll hopefully get your client off your back (for a while, at least).

8. You didn’t take a good enough brief

No sympathy for you on this one. If you don’t know exactly what you are supposed to do (and why), then it’s no wonder your client is keeping you on lock-down. Don’t expect to be released on parole until they feel confident that you are going to get the output right.

9. They don’t know exactly what they want

Sometimes a design, once presented, becomes a springboard for other ideas. Some clients find it difficult to visualise what they want until you put an option in front of them. This situation can be frustrating, and it’s arguably one of the most common reasons for excess client involvement and a mountain of author’s corrections.

It helps to take a water-tight brief in the beginning. By extracting as much information as possible you’re more likely to get near to the mark on your first try.

10. They like to feel in control

Like the attention-seeking bully in the playground, some clients feel the need to remind their designer who’s boss. With this type of person it’s usually easier to let them do their thing and try to ride it out with as much tolerance as possible. As long as you are protecting your wider team from any onslaught, your tough skin and superior client-handling skills will hopefully deflect the worst of your client’s involvement! If it gets too much you may need to have a delicate “conversation”.

A client micro-managing their agency can be highly irritating and should be unnecessary. You need to try to uncover why the excess scrutiny and involvement is happening, and decide what you can do about it.

Most of the reasons for micro-managing are either avoidable or can be addressed and rectified. For the sake of your sanity, your client’s happiness, and the health of your business relationship, it pays to nip micro-managing in the bud. Go on, you can do it!

Sarah Ritchie has been in the design and agency world for over 25 years. Originally a graphic designer, Sarah has also worked as a design teacher, agency account manager, and now enjoys a wonderful life in recruitment for agencies. Sarah is also the Founder of and author of ‘How to Wrestle an Octopus: an agency account manager’s guide to pretty much everything’, available on and Amazon now.


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