Dealing with client/developer conflicts

Working on a website with a like-minded client can be a thing of beauty. There’s a mutual trust in each other’s ability to make decisions that will benefit both the client and their customers. The client asks for your opinion on what’s best based upon your experience and expertise. The site comes together nicely and everyone’s happy.

While that type of scenario is possible, we know that life doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes there are simply going to be conflicts. Whether they are based in fact or opinion, they need to be resolved in the best way possible.

As the experts in our field, we designers and developers can sometimes have a bit of an ego that prevents us from thinking about another person’s perspective. After all, we know what’s best, right?

Let’s talk about these conflicts and think about appropriate times to make some concessions.

Types of conflict

While I’m not an ivy league trained psychiatrist like Frasier Crane (or even Dr. Phil…), I have been a web professional for over 20 years. In that time I’ve worked with a lot of clients. Here are a sampling of different conflicts I’ve run across and how to deal with them.

Personality clashes

It’s no secret that the citizens of Planet Earth don’t always get along so well. This also applies to client/freelancer relationships. There will probably be people out there you just don’t like and vice-versa.

What to do

Usually you’ll be able to spot signs of a personality conflict early on. If you are already contractually obligated to work on the project, just do your best to remain calm and produce the best work possible. If you’re under no obligation to do the work, then can you can politely move on.

One thing I will also note here is that sometimes you may very well misjudge someone. First impressions can be a big deal, but shouldn’t always be a deal breaker. Then again, I’ve also gone against my own better judgment a few times! The point is, think it over and do what will make you happy.


This one can certainly go both ways. Being stubborn can (sometimes) be a good trait in business. It can mean that you have a vision for something and won’t let anything get in your way. At the same time it can also mean refusing to listen to someone when they just might have a better idea or are warning you of potential pitfalls.

What to do

If your client is insisting on something being done a specific way and you disagree, ask them why. Maybe they have a perfectly valid reason. Maybe they received advice from someone who had no clue what they were talking about. Either way, it’s better to start a dialogue about the issue and provide a well-thought-out counterpoint.

This is an area where we have to check our egos at the door. It’s easy to say “I know better”. And maybe you do in fact know better than the client. That said, handling a situation like this requires tact and a willingness to listen.

The goal is to do what’s best for the project. If what the client is proposing just isn’t a very good solution, it’s fine to stand your ground (up to a point). If your resistance proves to be futile, then you can always state that you’ll be glad to give it your best shot (and charge for a redo if it doesn’t work). I’ve found that some people need to see a design or a working demo to really understand your perspective.

Budget battles

While it’s prudent to be budget-conscious, it can be maddening if your client has set unrealistic expectations for your work. We’ve all received the request to “make it work just like Amazon” on a shoestring budget.

What to do

Some clients will truly try to skimp on everything. They’ll go for the absolute bottom of the barrel hosting plan. They will question the need to spend a few extra dollars on a plugin that does exactly what they need.

It’s of course the client’s choice of how much they want to spend on a project. Part of your job is to explain the benefits of using a good web host or the right software for the job. You also need to lay out the consequences of skimping on important items.

In the end, all you can really do here is make the client aware of all the information and let them decide what they want to do.

Too many cooks

Nothing seems to muddle up a potentially great site like an organization that tries to please everyone on their staff. Everyone gets input—which is fine—but just because they get input doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to act on every single suggestion. Often times one person’s suggestion will contradict another’s idea, but you’ll be expected to implement them both.

What to do

This is where you need to (very politely) inform the organization’s leadership of your concerns. Ideally you’ll want someone to act as a filter for suggestions and not worry you with the ones that aren’t as good.

It’s great to give everyone a voice. There may very well be some fantastic ideas brought forward. However, the project will go more smoothly if you have only one person to answer to rather than a dozen.

You did your best

Conflicts can arise at any time during a project. Unfortunately, there’s no magic spell to get everything you want. Instead, taking a professional and common-sense approach to the problem can at least give you a shot to get your point across.

Whether or not the conflict is resolved to your satisfaction, you can at least know that you did things the right way and be proud of your efforts. Your client will respect you for caring so much about the project’s outcome.

The good news here is that you can always take these experiences and learn something valuable from them. That will help during the next one you face!

Eric Karkovack is a web designer with over 20 years of experience. You can visit his business site here. In 2013 he released his first eBook: Your Guide to Becoming a Freelance Web Designer. He also has an opinion on just about every subject. You can follow his rants on Twitter @karks88. More articles by Eric Karkovack
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