By Alyssa Gregory

How to Work with Indecisive Clients

By Alyssa Gregory

Indecisive ClientYou’ve created an amazing mockup, exactly to the client’s specifications, and you submit it to the client two days early. You just know that it’s a slam dunk; you expect to get the go-ahead and start development right away, so you make sure your schedule is ready to go.

But two days pass…then a week. You’ve followed up twice, and the client says he’s still looking it over and trying to decide if it’s what he wants. Two weeks, seven emails and two phone conversations later, you still haven’t gotten the client’s approval, OR any modification requests. The project is officially stalled.

Sound familiar? This is a pretty common scenario in business that can be extremely frustrating. But there is a way to handle it.

Understand Underlying Factors

Often indecisiveness is caused by lack of confidence. If the client is hesitating and not able to provide a specific reason for his uncertainty, he may simply be worried about the new endeavor he is undertaking. Completing this project you’re working on for him means he is one step closer to his goal, and that can be a scary situation for someone who doesn’t completely trust himself.

The client may also be facing indecision if he hasn’t spent the necessary time to outline his plan, identify his goals and think through the big picture.  While you’re mockup may be exactly what he asked for, he may not even be able to recognize that because he is still two steps behind.

There are many other reasons why the client may be at a stand-still. Ask questions that will get to the heart of the matter and then offer a solution – whether it’s breaking the project down into smaller and more digestible chunks, or giving the client time to step back and regroup.


Provide Limited Options

If you bombard the client with a lot of choices, it can be overwhelming. And on the flip side, one option can feel restrictive. It’s a fine line between giving the client an opportunity to compare and make a choice (and feel like they have more control over the process), and giving them too many or too few options to consider.

One way to handle this is by providing the client with one solution (the one that most closely mirrors what he said he wants), and then offer 1-2 suggested modifications to that solution. This provides some flexibility to the solution you’re providing, and also gives the client direction in requesting modifications. If he can envision an alternative, it’s easier for him to determine what will work best for his needs.

Use a Timeline

At the start of the project, you probably discussed some dates for the work with the client. But how much structure followed that discussion? One way to keep things moving along is to use a timeline that not only lists due dates for different elements of the project, but also outlines responsibilities of each party. Make sure the client has a copy of this document and that you reference the individual due dates of each task as you’re working on it.

While this isn’t a fail safe way to keep the project moving, it can be more effective to have a timeline with milestones, and consequences for when a deadline is missed (i.e., the project launch will be delayed). Sometimes a specific date and an idea of the big picture is all a client needs to move toward a decision.

What has your experience been with indecisive clients? What do you do to prevent a project from stalling?

Image credit: Bob Smith

  • Pam – Ryvon Designs

    I think this is a topic long overdue. Something we all deal with. Waiting for a client is ok, but when it makes it hard to schedule it begins to impact your effectiveness for every client. Unfair to you, and to those who are coutning on you.

    What we have done is include a clause in our contracts. Indicating a time for feedback, and that past this date items are considered accepted if no feedback is received. As well, a second portion indicates that if no feedback is received on any ares for an extended (specified) amount of time, the project is placed on hold, and a fee may apply to restart. This of course is all discretionary, but it truly does help. We have also found clients prefer to know exactly what their role and expectations in the project are, and it makes for a better working relationship.

    Ryvon Designs

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  • cringer

    outline “client responsibilities” in writing from the start, before you engage the client. That may include actions (such as providing materials or copy to you) as well as milestone “sign-offs” every step of the way. Also put a clause in contract which puts the client “on hold” if they stonewall you beyond a certain time frame.

    Lastly arrange it so that you are always working on the client’s dime… i.e. They pay you a percentage up front… followed by a milestone or two, and then final delivery payment at the end. Tie the milestone due dates into their own participation in the process. Therefore if a client does fizzle out on you… you are not owed any money for work already performed. I hope I explained that clearly. It’s an effective way to protect yourself from this type of behavior.

    I basically agree with Pam above, about informing the clients exactly what their role is. I work that way also and put it (along with everything else) in writing.

  • just…b

    Great post and confirmation of the process I just did with my most recent client – especially the Timeline. I also kept the options to a good minimum that gave them choices without confusing them.

    The Timeline was crucial and I outlined it for them with what to expect and gave them “homework” which essentially included them in the process. They were able to see each stage an understand it without feeling overwhelmed. The lines of communication were kept open, the project met its deadline and I was paid on time as well.

    I see how helpful this process was as for both myself and the client. Outlining it all in the contract and adding a faq/design process section to my web site has been incredibly useful for clients as well.

  • Jasconius

    Article title implies that some clients are decisive.

  • It is worth asking “Are you ok with paying up front?”

    If they trust you enough to hire you, than this shouldn’t be a problem, although you can also arrange a certain percentage up front if they think it is unreasonable. Once they commit money to the project, it is easier to convince them that they need to finish the project to get a return on their investment.


  • Another good topic. I have had clients tell me; “this is exactly what we want”. Slam-dunk for sure. Yeah right. Sometimes there are people that get involved in the process after the initial meetings that throw a wrench in the works. I’ve had it be a wife, a kid, a partner. They have a different vision or don’t understand why you did things the way you did. If I sense this is happening, I’ll call another meeting with everyone. Once everyone gets onboard things usually move along.

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