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“I just want a web refresh”!

Hearing these six deadly words from a prospective client sends shivers down my spine. And any mention of a “web refresh” should send you running for the hills!

Ok, maybe I exaggerate (I’m prone to that). There’s a time and place for a web refresh, of course – for simple visual updates, a logo/branding change, light structural tweaks – as this helpful blog indicates.

But the issue is that in my experience, when a client says they want a web refresh, almost always what they really want is a web redesign at a lower price point.

This isn’t usually intentional but instead comes from a place of ignorance (which is why they’re reaching out to you in the first place. It isn’t their job to know any better!). Because clients aren’t web design experts, what seems like a refresh to them can often require extensive changes to the core code, structure, and functionalities of the site.

Unaddressed, signing a web refresh contract is like signing your death certificate  – because, unless extensively discussed beforehand, it means something radically different to the client than it does to you. This will just cause frustration for both parties. You will likely end up overworked and underpaid, and they’ll end up with a disappointing product they’ll blame you for.

So, you just got hit with those six deadly words. How do you right the ship and save the project?

Step 1: Ask Questions. 

Don’t just take their word for it. Figure out what exactly they’re looking for. Ask what specifically they’re hoping to update. Have them tell you what works on their site and what doesn’t. Determine what they want the end product to look like, visually. Sketch out the project scope. Listen well. 

Step 2: Gently Reset their Expectations.

If, as you suspected, what they are really looking for is more extensive than a refresh, break it to them gently, but clearly. Explain to them without jargon what their desired changes would require, and why it doesn’t fit within the scope of a web refresh. 

Step 3: Choose How to Proceed

At this point, you have four real choices:

Choice #1: Do a REAL web refresh.

Explain what would fit within a web refresh. Spell out what you could and could not do in terms of structural and visual changes. Use your expertise to demonstrate how they can achieve some of their goals within the scope of a refresh.

Choice #2: Compromise.

Offer them a hybrid – something more extensive than a refresh, but falling short of a full redesign, with a price point in between. Again, take a goal-oriented approach, addressing their highest-level concerns. Perhaps this looks like designing in a new WordPress theme (but keeping the structure intact). Perhaps it is redesigning above-the-fold on top-level pages, changing a core functionality, or reorganizing the website flow. Just make sure the agreed-upon project scope is very detailed so you don’t sign a contract with different expectations.

Choice #3: Pitch them on a full web redesign.

Explain how a redesign will drive ROI and help them meet their goals in a way that a refresh can’t. Convince them – without denigration or condescension – why the old website isn’t meeting their needs and provide exciting suggestions for a whole new site. Change their minds.

Choice #4: Walk away.

As a freelancer, it can be excruciating to turn down paying work, but trust me – firing a client is way worse. If they fail to reset their expectations, insist that what they want does count as a refresh, devalue your work, or refuse to negotiate on payment, you’re going to have a bad time. Don’t sign a contract on a project that’s doomed to fail.