Getting content from your clients (and putting it in your contract)

Almost every website job that gets delayed is because of content.

It is a big decision for a client to commit to paying you to build them a website. For them, it can feel like they’ve already done a lot of hard work just to get to that point. They often forget that this is only the first part, and there is still a lot of work ahead in creating content.

I can totally understand that. I’ve definitely been guilty of signing up to something and immediately realising there is a bunch more stuff I have to do.

As a web designer, it’s an important part of your business to make it easy for clients to provide content in the right format, chase them up without being a pain, and protect yourself contractually for when things go wrong.

To make things easier for yourself, there are lots of different things you can do as part of your process or contract.

Note: We’ll be talking contracts in here. I’ll let you know what we do, and what some other businesses do. When it comes down to making changes to your contract, you should get an actual lawyer involved (read: not me) to make sure it holds up in your area.

content contract

Make it clear

The most important thing is that your clients know just how important it is to get content to you on time.

Clients often don’t understand that content is the most likely thing that will hold up their website, so tell them!

While we have contract clauses that say what happens if we don’t receive content, I’ll also make it really obvious in the non-legal part of the proposal. This way they know what to expect.

Just because you have fine print that says they’ll need to pay you after a certain deadline, doesn’t mean they’ll read it. If they missed it, they’ll still get mad at you if they didn’t know. So just make it as obvious as possible.

1. Websites built in order content received

first in first out website queue

In our proposal, we’ll give them a start date for their website. This start date only applies if we receive all the content in a web-ready state by a certain deadline.

If they miss that, there is no guarantee of when we will be able to start their website.

(On a side note, we do the same thing with design feedback.)

We simply start website builds in the order that:

  1. The deposit is paid
  2. The content is received

When we receive both of these, they go into a queue. Just keeping it simple.

2.Get paid no matter what

In your contract, make payment dates very clear. One of the most common structures for small to mid size websites is 50% upfront and 50% on completion.

A simple fix to account for content delays is to give a hard deadline for that second payment. So instead of “on completion”, it becomes “on completion or [INSERT DATE], whatever comes first.”

gotta get paid

You still need to get paid, like this guy

This is of course provided the client did not hit deadlines that you set. If you are at fault for the delay, then you should push the payment days back as well.

You can do the same thing if you have multiple payments, like 30/40/30%. Give each installment a deadline.

If you get some push-back from the client about this, you can let them know why it is the way it is (you’re a small business and can’t be accountable for them not delivering). Tell them if they get content to you on time, then none of it will matter.

3. Lorem Ipsum date

Sometimes a client will get you all of the content on time. Sometimes they’ll get only some of it to you. Other times you won’t hear a peep.

Setting a date when you will resort to placeholder content can effectively deal with all of these.

In short, this means that if the client doesn’t get content to you, then you’ll drop in a paragraph of Lorem Ipsum. This could be the entire website, or just the Call To Action at the bottom of the home page – whatever it is that they haven’t provided yet.

You’ll need to make it clear that if this deadline passes, any changes to content will incur a change fee. It’s just like them asking for a content change after you finish the website.

waiting for content

Don’t wait as long as this guy

Making it easy for clients to give you content

Aside from building all this into your contract, it helps to make it easier for your clients to give you content. The less work they have to do, the better.

The number one thing is to provide a logical, clear structure for the content you need from them.

This might mean a series of Word or Google Documents with defined headings & sections. They can then fill out content below the relevant heading. For example you might have a home page document with spaces for an image, a headline, a logo etc. Then another document for the about page. You could put it all in one big document for smaller sites.

I can basically guarantee you that some clients will still manage to mess it up, or add horrendous formatting within each section. You would still be better off than if you provided no guidance at all.

If you find yourself doing similar websites regularly, you can reuse the document templates between clients.

One way to make it easy is to use a tool like Content Snare, of course.

Dealing with changes

There is only one thing more frustrating than getting the content 2 months late… and that’s getting some new content the day before the website is due to go live.

Change requests and limitations need to be built into your contract.

We allow for a single “small” content change after we receive the main content. This allows for spelling and grammar corrections submitted as a single list – not across multiple emails.

However you could also say no changes, or two revisions, or whatever you like. Choose something that won’t make you hate your life if a client takes you up on it. Don’t say 2 revisions and then get cranky when the client sends through 2 revisions.

but it's just a small change

The “it’s just a small change” facepalm

How do you currently handle content?

Do you have an effective way of getting content from your clients? Do some of your clients drive you insane? Drop your story into the comments!

James Rose

James is the co-founder of Content Snare and Aktura Technology. Once a web designer, his new priority is to help web designers and developers regain their lives, work less and get better clients.

He does this by writing helpful posts, building software and working with web designers to deliver the complex web development that they don't normally handle.

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4 thoughts on “Getting content from your clients (and putting it in your contract)”

  1. Timely article! I generally don’t like to get what I was terming “petty” but this latest client is testing my patience and I realize that there are two parts to a contract: the terms and the reinforcement. The reinforcement is a tough one when you get a client who expertly navigates my polite requests with refusal to comply or just a “no”. I’ve never had to pull out the signed contract before to stress and enforce the terms, but after this experience, I may have all new clients initial every line. This is definitely a good learning lesson. Again.

    • Oh that sucks. You could also emphasise just that one portion of the contract verbally and require an initial for that.

      So many people just don’t read it all, so you kind of have to force them to read the important bits.

      Have you offered to write it for them, for a fee of course?

  2. James, good article. We actually write our clients’ content ourselves (I’m a copywriter) but we’re actually still encountering delays getting approval for that content when we send it to clients to review. I’m going to look at your suggestion of deadlines and see how we can work it into our terms.

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