Don't go back to the drawing board. The trick is to never leave it in the first place.

Everyone’s been there before. A project is shot and edited and is now sits in the client’s hands. The time has come for that most dreaded of dances: video revisions.

Revisions are a necessary part of delivering a product that a client is happy with. In video, so much of what we do is subjective or open to interpretation that it’s easy to miss a few marks with clients. This is why planning, plotting and storyboarding, as well understanding clients’ needs through meetings, briefs and mock ups are all so important.

Even shooting to the most exacting blueprint can leave certain aspects of a video to chance. Maybe a graphic is too large or small, a light effect is too drastic or the narrative track is being drowned out by music. Whatever the detail, if it misses the mark with the client, they’re going to want it fixed.

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What you, as a freelancer, want to avoid is an endless loop of passing a video back and forth with a client with little or no regard for your time or the original budget. As we all know, this can happen, and it can take a fun, quick turnaround gig and turn it into a less-than-minimum-wage disaster.

Here are a few things to try to avoid falling into this trap.

Underpromise, Overdeliver.

For this one, just really try to deliver the best version of the video the client is looking for. This is obvious, but don’t fall prey to rushing, cutting corners, skipping steps or using a shortcut. If the work was quoted properly and you’ve budgeted enough time to do it right, do it right. Take whatever time is necessary and deliver what you agreed to deliver. If there are details that can fall within the scope of the project but don’t add a lot of time, such as choosing a cooler font for text or adding a bevel to a graphic, do it. Remind the client why they hired you by doing better than expected work.

Deliver the video properly.

This one can be interpreted in a number of ways, but one good way to gauge the success and amount of revisory work that will be needed is to book a screening. Get the key stakeholders together and view the draft properly. Use a location that is easy and convenient for the client and can display the video in a format that does it justice. Your client’s boardroom is fine, but try to use a projector and speakers or a large screen of some sort to ensure that the video has more impact than what they would have watched it on if you didn’t present it: their laptops.

The cool part of showing the video to the client for the first time in person is that you can instantly receive feedback on the overall impressions of the draft, you’ll learn quickly to achieve a base level of first draft quality, as you don’t want to be embarrassed in person, and you can easily offer an interactive discussion session where the broad strokes of the upcoming changes can be covered.

Another benefit to the screening is for you to explain creative decisions you might have made during editing, which is truly important. If a client is left to interpret a draft on their own, creative license may be interpreted as a departure from their vision, which can be seen as negative, or, in some cases, insulting. Remember there are two or more creative egos on the line during any project. Do enough of these and yours should harden up like Komodo Dragon hyde, so it’ll just be your clients’ that you need to be thoughtful of.

The last bonus of doing a screening is that the client will see first hand how valuable you see this project and them as a client. The more white glove the treatment they get, the more prestigious the projects you get. It’s a win for both of you.

Use a review and approval tool.

While screenings are an excellent choice for debuting a video to a client, it’s not always possible. Key stakeholders are often busy, the client may be in a different state, their facility may be a dungheap, your facility may be your mom’s basement.

Regardless of the reason, it’s important to have a professional alternative to meeting in person. A good option is to use a cloud-based tool for review, collaboration and approval. 

Of course, for all of these tools to work, it’s still the job of a professional, whether freelance or with a staff of a hundred video experts, to run the company like a business, beyond simply making a nice product. Lay out revision guidelines in a quote and have a rate associated to the project for hours billed over and above the revision allotment. Be as specific as it takes to keep the scope of the job in check.

There’s nothing wrong with saying: “The client is entitled to two rounds of revisions at the quoted project rate. Each round of revisions can equal a total of ten small changes, to be assembled and delivered in one single communication to the producer. All changes beyond the allotted revision schedule will be billed at a rate of $85 per hour. Missing features, errors, glitches and mistakes on the part of the producer will not count against the overall revision allotment.”

I’m sure many of you have extremely clear guidelines for managing revisions, but to those who don’t: now is a good time to start. Be thoughtful about how long changes can actually take. Be more thorough than seems necessary at the onset of the project to avoid confusion at the end of it.

Nothing stings more than proudly delivering a polished masterpiece, only to discover it’s not even close to what the client is looking for, but remember: we’re in a creative vision. Stake your reputation on delivering high quality, but don’t stake your self-esteem on the opinion of the client. Your job is to deliver what they want. Do it as well as possible, and don’t take revisions personally. Take them as part of the job, and — if you’re doing it right — the ones who go bananas nitpicking your excellent work are simply going to pay more in the end.

Good luck, and happy editing!

(REVISED March 19, 2015)

Russ Fairley is a producer, editor and motion graphic designer who enjoys writing for Videomaker. He has also written for About.com (Lifewire.com), RedShark News, Modern Drummer Magazine, and others. He is an Adobe Certified Expert, Adobe Community Leader, and co-founder of After Effects Toronto, Canada's largest motion graphic user group. Fairley is the creator and editor of ProductionWorld.net, a popular production news website.