How to Get Design Approval From Clients

by Marcus Varner
, 5 min read
As a creative director, project manager or the like, securing design approval from clients can be a time-consuming practice. You need to ensure that your work is up to the client’s expectations and your team’s vision, and very rarely — if ever — are projects fully approved on the first attempt.

After working with more than 2,400 creative and marketing teams at major brands and agencies, we’ve created a list of five tips for how you can accelerate the sign-off and approval process. We also asked some of our agency clients to contribute with thoughts of their own about how they systemize their proofing and approval process with clients.


Want to get an online proofing solution for your team? To get the ball rolling, download our ebook "How to Build a Business Case For an Online Proofing Solution."


1. Set Reasonable Expectations and Milestones

approval stamp

When clients understand up front that a project will require a few revisions and X number of hours to complete, they’ll internally budget that time and be more comfortable throughout the process. If you skip over this part and just hope your client understands or somehow intuitively knows how long each step in the process should take, your client almost always will have concerns about the process taking too long and will question whether you’re prioritizing their account.

Paul Pantzer, Project Manager at Hill Holliday, said:

“Talk about the process up front with the internal team and then with the client. Tell them what is going to happen, get them to talk about it, internalize what they need to do, and think through the best way to do it; don’t assume it will just happen.”

Setting the tone up front is absolutely critical for a healthy client-agency relationship.

2. Understand What’s Important to Each Stakeholder

When working with a company, whether it has five employees or 5,000, you’re still working with people who have problems, goals, and worries just like anyone else. So, instead of focusing just on the “big picture” and how it will be great for Company X, remember to convey how it will help stakeholders advance their respective careers, improve their workflows and allow them the ability to focus on their core competencies, rather than worry about the work you and your team are managing..

When each stakeholder can internalize how it will help him or her, every stakeholder will get on board to help you — and then everyone wins.

3. Involve and Educate Your Client from the Start

It can be tempting to want to jump right into brainstorming mode and start creating your deliverables only to push the sign-off process with clients until the end of the campaign. But involving the client from the start and working in an agile, iterative state is actually much more efficient for both sides.

By creating an open, collaborative environment and taking the time to understand your clients’ specific goals from the start, you’ll reduce the distasteful and painful process of having clients review your work days before its expected completion date only to have major revisions and overhauls requested to ensure the work is aligned with their vision.

Also, in the fast-paced, always-on environments to which many of us have become accustomed, it can be easy to forget that your clients turn to you not just for your creativity and execution abilities, but also for your professional guidance.

Many of you have gone through these processes countless times, and it’s practically second nature. But that’s often not the case with your clients, who may have limited experience with a particular project or department, or working with agencies in general.

For instance, Headscape, a digital strategy, web design and development firm, provides its clients with a PDF document on working with designers and what they value within their own organization, which gives way to an understood client-agency relationship from the start.

When you take the time to properly educate your clients, they’ll naturally be much more receptive to your professional feedback as you’ll gain their trust, which segues nicely into our next point.

4. Implement Feedback

This goes hand in hand with No. 3, but they’re not necessarily the same actions. While the first step of implementing client feedback is to listen and involve the client, the other equally important step is to actually execute on the client’s feedback.

Implementing feedback isn’t always so straightforward, however. If your client wants, say, a specific design change that may be unfavorable to conversion rates or what you’ve researched through trial and error, you should first explain (preferably with insights!) and then ultimately allow your client to make the final call.

Often, creative review and approvals tend to enter a chaotic stage of constant revision that’s neither productive nor efficient, and often sourced through an archaic means of approval such as paper routing or inefficient and limited processes such as email threads, in which implementing feedback can often be a major undertaking. To successfully implement feedback and collaborate in real time, it’s important to have the right set of tools.

In an effort to better illustrate this point, we reached out to Harold Shields, Workflow Analyst at Ivey Performance Marketing, who said:

“Using Workfront allows Ivey to deliver proofs to our clients instantaneously. Our workflow system loads proof files to Workfront immediately after the QC process. Clients with Dashboard access can see a concise summary of proofs needing their attention and counts for proofs that are late or in danger of being late. This helps the clients prioritize their reviews.”

Ensuring that your team has the necessary programs in place to effectively collaborate with your clients is critical. Otherwise, you’ll be left with an overwhelming amount of feedback from various sources and without a systemized way to present your contributions to your clients.

5. Thoroughly Explain Why You Did What You Did

Most of the time, clients will trust your professional opinion as long as it makes sense to them. Your job isn’t to attempt to impress your clientele through jargon and fancy terminology; instead, break down your doings and explain them in layman’s terms, which not only will promote a healthier client-agency relationship, it also will force you to find flaws in your research and thought process. If you cannot confidently back up your work with data, research or some other citable piece of information, you’ll likely fail to produce a successful piece of work.

Streamlining the Review & Approval Process Makes All Parties Satisfied

The loop of involving your clients, educating them through research and your expertise, then delivering on their more informed decisions is what makes all parties successful and satisfied. With the proper programs in place, managing the review and approval process in an efficient manner between you and your clients should be seamless.

Just like everyone else, your clients want to feel in control and that they’re being valued by you and your agency. The more value you can provide your clients by working alongside them and educating them throughout the process, the more of a trusted advisor they’ll consider you to be, rather than just a service provider.


Want to get an online proofing solution for your team? To start making your case, download our ebook "How to Build a Business Case For an Online Proofing Solution."

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