Design, Startup

5 Ways to Keep Revision Costs Under Control

Nothing kills the good feeling of deploying a great looking product to your audience than receiving a bill far higher than you had anticipated. Sure, there were some revisions but the back and fourth for those final little changes didn’t seem like it took too much time. If you’re not mindful of it, revision costs can cost you hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Most studios, agencies and freelancers bill by the hour – every little colour change, type movement, image swap – is logged on a timesheet, and those little tweaks can add up fast. It doesn’t have to be this way, here are some tactics to help keep your revision costs in check, and also streamline communication with your creative team.
General practice is to provide a couple rounds of revisions – two to three – included in a quote, with anything beyond those being billed on the clock. A good account manager or freelancer will alert you when the clock starts ticking, however it’s never a bad idea to ask. A revision round is considered any change made to a file and is generally present in the file name of any creative work being sent for review (PDF’s, JPGs, PNGs, etc…) with a filename looking similar to this, sample_card_v4 (or sometimes r3). So when you see ‘4’ showing up, the clock is probably running. A good practice when working with a new studio, agency or freelancer is to understand how their billing time works; by the minute, quarter, half or full hour and when the clock starts ticking, like when a file is opened for example.
Looking for tactics to keep your company’s revision costs down? Here are five tips to help you and your team avoid extra rounds of revisions.
1. Define project goals
Although this article is about how to keep revisions under control, like most things in life, setting a project up for success at the very start always proves to be invaluable when it comes time for changes. Before any research is conducted or concepts explored, the major stakeholders of the creative project need to clearly and specifically define what the expectations are. 
For example, if a new brand is required, what are the expectations around it? What is a logo to you and your team? Is it an icon? A shape? A word mark? A combination? What does that logo stand for? What is its mission? And these are just the start of the questions on the business side of a brand, there’s a whole other world of questions around your customers and audience, but we’ll get to that in the next point.

The major stakeholders need to conduct internal research on what the project goals are, who they are serving, who will be involved in the approvals process (so they can help define the goals) and who will be the single point of contact between the company and the creative team. Knowing who is responsible for what, and who everything will funnel through can catch errors sooner and save valuable time over the course of the project.
2. Start with the brief
The brief is really where everything comes together in advance of project kickoff. It’s your opportunity to capture everything that you require from the creative team. A good creative brief will not only ask what pieces are required – Five sizes of google ads, Facebook and Instagram ready videos, business cards, and letterhead, etc – but will also explore your customer and audience personas. This is your opportunity to take the creative team on a deep dive into your request. Creative briefs should be detailed enough to give the team a clear focus on what is required while leaving them with enough leeway to do what they do best – design incredible pieces for your company. To see what should be included in a brief, here is a copy of Method’s that you can use as a starting point (here is our additional website brief to compliment the main brief).
Solution: Don’t be afraid of the details. Take the opportunity to provide visual samples (or links) to designs and work that inspires you and influenced this project. Describe the user experience you’re aiming to achieve and show some other companies that have achieved this. Before you submit the brief, be sure to get buy-in from all the stakeholders involved as this will ensure that the project it completely clear on your end helping minimize revisions in the long run. 
3. Assign one point of contact to communicate with the creative team
Studios and agencies have built their client facing department – account managers – around the proven practice of having one manager overseeing an account; being the sole point of contact between the bustling bodies of the studio and the client. This process not only eliminates broken telephone between creative departments but puts accountability for all communications through one funnel. The same practice should be applied on the client side. Consider this; there are four stakeholders on a web design project all wanting to communicate with the design team. Throughout a day, four different emails are sent, saying four different things. This not only takes time to untangle the requests, it often increases the margin of error and ultimately the number of revisions.
Solution: To avoid the phenomenon of ’too many cooks in the kitchen’, establish a single point of contact to speak with the creative team. This individual will be tasked with sorting out questions and opinions internally before connecting passing them on for execution. Sometimes it’s necessary to have a few people involved. In these cases employing the use of project management software like Asana or Airtable which will ensure that everything is logged and minimize miscommunication internally.
4. Consolidate rounds of revisions
Receiving the first version of any design project is exciting! It’s the first time you get to interact with your vision and really see what your creative team is capable of, and how well your team was able to communicate requirements. While you might be tempted to share immediate feedback (praise is always appreciated) it is inevitable that you’ll have additional ideas in a few hours, after sleeping on it and especially when other stakeholders get involved. Rapid fire revisions are not a good use of time, and pretty much instantly eat up your revision rounds. 
Solution: Book a meeting of all stakeholders to review, discuss and consolidate all revisions. Sometimes a project needs to be shared internally (even with the board) for a week or so to properly collect everyone’s feedback. This is also a situation where project management software can help keep track of requests. The added benefit of consolidating feedback is that the creative team will know the timeline of when to expect the revisions and can schedule them into the workflow keeping your project humming along on time.
5. Ensure feedback is specific and exact
When the time comes to send feedback and revisions to the creative team, specific requests that avoid vague or buzz terms ensure a clearer understanding of what you’re looking for. Nothing is worse than requests like, “make it cooler’, or “there’s something here that isn’t working”. Feedback containing really subjective terms such as ‘cool’, ‘modern’, ‘techy’, ‘relaxed’, etc… are catnip for extra rounds of revisions as the creative team is left to decipher just what ‘cool’ really is. The reason is that everyone has a different interpretation of what ‘cool’ means, and looks like. 
Solution: Don’t be afraid of the details. Avoid subjective terms altogether. Similar to the briefing stage, this is another chance to go into more detail by using visual references to explain what ‘cool’ is to you and your team. Having visual references allows the creative team to focus in on what your expectations are, without being mind readers. Don’t worry about limiting designers by getting too specific, we actually love it – it allows us to focus our energy and produce the right solution faster because we’re not guessing or lost down the wrong road. 
At the end of the day, we all want to see a successful project completion, and that includes presenting a final bill that is within the agreed upon quote. Following the tips above you’ll be able to contain overage costs and keep everything on a smooth timeline. The added bonus is that your creative team will love you! While we love billing for every little change, the reality is that doing 25 rounds of revisions is not helping anyone and is only demoralizing both teams. Happy teams produce great work and in the end builds a strong relationship that should serve you well into the future.
This blog is dedicated to my Marketing Director fiancée, who has dealt with more than her share of runaway revisions over the years. Since she has put these principals in place her team has seen great success on projects spanning the print and digital design universe.

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