by Shay Howe
It happens. You finish what you believe to be a remarkable design, pack it up, and send it off to the client. You are entirely pleased with the job you have done. The client, however, is not happy. You dread seeing your inbox the next day. The client believes the design is lacking in some areas and could be improved.
You ask yourself “But how?” You’v spent days refining the design, seeking perfection by combing over every inch of it numerous times. To you, the design was flawless and complete. You are furious. How could someone who knows so little about design have the audacity to question you? Immediately, the project moves way down your priority list. Working on it is a drag. The day you complete it, you feel as though a thousand pounds have been lifted off your back. But it’s finally over… or so you believe.
Working with clients does not have to be a continual struggle. Consistently communicating with your clients and educating them throughout the project can make a world of difference. As a designer, there is more to your job than just sitting behind a computer screen and pushing pixels around.
Client Contributions Drive Successful Websites
Never take client contributions for granted. A client who hires you to design and develop their website and doesn’t say a word during the process is one who will let the website fall flat on its face the day you hand it over to them. Likewise, a client who is passionate about their website and continually providing input is one who is sure to take care of the website long after your job is done.
Before starting a project, inspire the client to provide you with as much quality feedback as possible. Getting a new e-mail every 10 minutes is extremely irritating, so before the client goes overboard, instruct them on how to send you feedback. Let the client know that combining all of their comments and concerns into one detailed email is much easier to comprehend than 100 short emails.
Outline the Client’s Participation
Some clients, while providing great feedback, may not know or understand what else is required of them during the project. If you do not provide guidelines or expectations about their involvement, they will assume that you have it all covered. Chances are, if the project is under way for a month and then you spring an assignment on the client, they will get frustrated. The project may have to be put on hold until the client gets around to their task, and as a result the project may not meet its deadline.
Outline for the client is exactly what is required of them during and after the project. Let them know that they need to determine the overall objective of the website and that they are in charge of seeing that this objective is met over the website’s lifespan. If they are providing the content for the website, let them know when the content is needed and that it is their job to keep the content regularly updated. Providing you with feedback is a good start, but the client’s participation does not end there.
Keep the Client Involved
Nothing gets under one’s skin faster than a client constantly asking for progress updates. The fact of the matter is that you are being paid to complete a job, and the client has a right to know how things are coming along, and their responsibility is to ensure that you are doing what you’re being paid to do. Before a client even has a chance to ask, provide them with some answers: create a project schedule that specifically outlines the dates when you expect to complete certain parts of the project. Also include in the schedule the dates when you will need things from the client—copywriting, for example—to avoid any roadblocks.
Do not wait until the specified dates to communicate with the client; keep them involved throughout the whole process. When putting together a layout and design, send an e-mail periodically to let them know how things are going, and attach a progress report as well. Getting all of their input at the beginning (as we mentioned earlier) will save you from headaches later on. The client will be happy to see the project progressing and will not keep bothering you.
Prove to the Client that You Know Your Stuff
When you are being paid to do a job, the client wants to know that they are getting their money’s worth, and they are quick to size you up. The minute they feel they are not getting their money’s worth, they will take matters into their own hands and start bossing you around. It starts with a simple fix here or there, but before long the client is taking over the entire project, leaving you to wonder why you were even hired in the first place.
Prove to the client that you are indeed an expert and know what you are doing. If a client second-guesses one of your decisions, talk it over with them professionally and work out a suitable compromise rather than blindly following their request. As the designer, you need to advocate for the user’s best interest. Do not let a client overrule you on an issue without apparent reason, especially if it could disrupt the user’s experience. Explain to them how and why you have made your decisions. Show them that you are, in fact, a professional and well worth your cost.
Work with the Client, Not Against
Naturally, a client will have questions about their website. When a client asks a question, do your best to thoroughly answer it in terms that they will understand, and support your answers. Do not take on the attitude that the client has asked a ridiculous question, and avoid industry terms that the client might not understand. Remember that no matter how frustrated you are, the client is only trying to help and ultimately just wants the best possible website.
Sometimes, clients just have difficulty comprehending what you are trying to explain. In such a situation, it wouldn’t hurt to provide them with some examples, case studies or performance metrics to support your answer. You could spin your wheels for days trying to explain something verbally to a client when a simple example would have accomplished the same task in minutes.
Build an Open Relationship
A client should never be afraid to approach you, nor should they feel the need to take matters into their own hands. Typically, when they do take over, the project suffers because the client will be making decisions without your involvement. For example, when clients request that additional form fields be added, they usually have an ulterior motive. Do your best to discover this motive and address their true concern, because there may be a better and more logical solution than that.
An open relationship with the client invites them to come to you with any questions or concerns and fosters a working relationship that combines their knowledge with your design and development expertise. Conversations with the client should go both ways and should neither force nor allow them to make an inadequate decision.
Emphasize on the Value of the Website
The client needs to understand that the value of a website is not in flashy design or pretty pictures, but rather in content and substance. As the designer, you may have to lay the website out for the client in as straightforward manner as much as possible. No one visits a website to admire the layout and design. Users visit websites for their content.
Drive this point home with the client. The sooner they understand the value of the content, the sooner they will begin to focus on the message of the website and not shrug it off. It may even be in the client’s best interest to hire a skilled copywriter. After all, they are hiring you to build a professional website, so why fall short with the content?
Explain How to Maintain and Improve the Website
One of the biggest problems with websites is that they are rarely updated after being launched. They can then become outdated quickly and fall short of expectations. Of course, when a website tanks, the client sees this as being your fault and pins the blame on you.
Explain to the client that every website needs regular updating and that these updates need to continue over its lifespan. When these updates become irregular or stop entirely, the website becomes stagnant and its value decreases. Convince the client to take pride in their website by continually updating it, directing traffic towards it, connecting with visitors and generally putting in the effort needed to make it last.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
Above all else, you must communicate with the client on a regular basis. Communication is the backbone of every successful client relationship and enables each party to openly express questions, concerns and ideas. Without regular communication, projects are often led astray, deadlines are missed and relationships gradually deteriorate.
Speak to clients and keep them involved. Keep them regularly informed of the project’s progress and of any changes happening. Communicate clearly: explain how and why you made each of your decisions. You could also teach the client how to perform ongoing maintenance once the project is completed. Communication can be difficult, but the time put into it can easily make the difference between a thriving website and a desolate one.