Can You Say 'No' to a Client?

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There you are, sitting in a meeting with your client, listening as she reads a list of revisions she wants for the video you are currently producing. With each item, you can't help but cringe a little on the inside, because you're really proud of where the edit stands. When she finally finishes the list she looks up at you, asking for your input. What do you say? Can you tell your client "No?"

The short answer is, "No."

Never come right out and tell your client you refuse to do something. That looks bad on you and you can really damage the relationship you have with your client by doing so. No one wants to work with a difficult person. However there are a few things you can try the next time you're faced with a challenging approval process:

  • Let the client say "No" for you. It's incredibly important that you have a written contract with your client before work starts. And that contract should always include a clause about how many rounds of revisions you're willing to do before the price of the video goes up (usually three). After all, you've budgeted a certain amount of your own time in the original price of the video. If no revision limit has been set, you might find out that you're spending a lot more time on the video that you originally thought. When your client knows ahead of time that she only has three rounds of revisions, she will be more strategic about edits she wants you to make. Then, after those rounds are used up, she might be the one telling you "no," when you politely remind her that any more revisions will cost more money.
  • No, but... There's a central idea in the world of improv acting. It's called "Yes, and..." It means that you should always take what your improv partners give you and run with it, adding to it, building from it. Never close yourself off to your fellow actors, or the scene will have nowhere to go. I would say that when it comes to client revisions, turn this concept into "No, but..." If a client asks you to make an edit to a video that you know for certain won't work, don't just say "No," but instead offer up an alternative. Find out what the central problem is and come up with a solution that the client will like. "I can't do that, but I can do THIS..." For example, you might not be able to crop in on a shot like the client is asking you to do, but you may have another camera angle with the right composition that will work to the client's satisfaction. Always offer up an alternative. After all, you and the client both want the video to be its best.
  • Show, don't tell. Sometimes it's difficult for clients to understand why a certain edit choice won't work, until they see it on the screen. So, if a client is insistent that you make the changes she wants (and you know that it won't work), make the edit anyway. Then when the client sees it on the screen, she'll understand why it was best to leave it alone.

These are three ideas that might help you the next time you're facing a challenging approval process. But, here's one last thing to remember:

You are working for the client.

Ultimately, they are the ones paying you and they are the ones you need to please. Don't take their notes as an attack on your personally, or on the caliber of your work. Revisions come with the territory. Take it all in stride and always maintain a professional, courteous attitude. It will help you a lot in your career.

Do you have any post-production stories to share? What challenges have you faced when working with a client? How did you resolve them? Leave your thoughts in the Comments section.