A few years ago I started offering web design services to those in need of a web site. Ever since, It’s been a constant learning experience. When I advanced from website coding to directly interacting with clients, I was taking a pretty big step. It was hard enough trying to understand this crazy markup language, and now I had to learn how to interact with clients? Sheesh. Thanks to trial and error, I’ve come to understand a few things about establishing and maintaining the best possible relationship with my clients.
My clients shared the same technical background: they had no idea how the Internet works, how websites work and what exactly it is I did. As far as they were concerned I waved my magical wand and poof, a site is born. Wouldn’t that be nice? Unfortunately that isn’t how it’s done (well for me at least). Because of my inexperience, I set myself up for a few nasty headaches. But I also learned a lot of valuable lessons.
“Hi Kevin, you know i see where that link is and well, can you make it blue instead of black?” Sounds innocent enough right? When you have a backseat designer who is continually revising the design, it can be a little frustrating. Especially when they liked your markups, then had a change of heart after you already coded everything. Getting calls a dozen times a day is also pretty tiring. You’d think your client would have the common sense to not call this often. Think again. When you don’t set guidelines and establish a clear work-flow, you’re just asking for trouble. Have your client sign off on the final mockup before moving to the next step. Define how you want to go back and forth regarding revisions.
“How’s development going on the site? What? Of course I’m awake why wouldn’t I be? You were sleeping?” We don’t all keep the same schedule, and this is especially true if you’re dealing with someone that lives in another part of the world. Then again even when my clients lived 10 minutes away I was still getting calls at the strangest hours. Your client is paying you to get something done, and if you don’t state otherwise, expect them to need to talk to you at the most inconvenient times. If you give out your contact info, make sure you explicitly state how to contact you, and what time(s) are acceptable.
“Hi Kevin, how are you doing? How’s the weather? Are you wearing shorts? I called to ask a quick question about the site and I’ll keep you on the phone for a while talking about general stuff not relating to the project at all” Having a good relationship with your client is important, but remember to keep it professional. Your working on their website, not becoming their new best friend. Socializing with a client isn’t bad, but it can become an issue if you don’t set clear ground rules. When you’re socializing, you’re either not working or at the least, distracted. If you have a time-sensitive project this can become a major issue. Make sure you clearly establish the purpose of your communications, and keep them on track. I’m not suggesting that clients and developers should avoid a social and professional relationship. I’m saying if you don’t set some ground rules it can get out of hand.
“The site looks great, but can you add an image gallery to it? I forgot that I wanted that before” Clients are notorious for wanting more work done than originally anticipated. I can’t remember a single project where the client didn’t want something new added as the project came to a conclusion. It’s natural – if something rattles around in your brain it’ll eventually spit out some new ideas. Since I agreed to make the client a website, I guess I agreed to add whatever they wanted right? Wrong. I failed to outline a specific scope, and as a result got stuck in a loop of additional work. Clearly define the scope of the project and what requirements need to be satisfied to complete the project. If they want to add more work after the fact, simply tell them that it’s not in the contract. Offer them the option of revising the project with added labor and a later completion date.
“Help the site is down!!! You suck at hosting!!!” I used to host my clients and charge them a few bucks for it. I figured hey why drive business elsewhere when I can offer a complete solution? Well that worked out well until my host started flaking. The site would be down once every week or so, and the people who I hosted weren’t too happy with it. I couldn’t blame them. I was angry at my host too. I’d constantly get calls about the site being down, call my host, and either get a machine or no answer at all. Now the obvious problem here is that my host sucked, but for a few dollars a month I was also being held responsible for something not in my control. I decided the profit wasn’t worth my reputation. I did explain that the hosting problems were beyond my control, but that didn’t make their site magically work. If you host your clients make sure you’re ready to accept the responsibility when something goes wrong. I do think hosts, for the most part, are more reliable now than 3 years ago. They are also cheaper now too. I refer my clients to the web host I use. I think it’s mutually beneficial that my clients deal with their host directly.
I never completed a project for a client without doing everything I could to completely satisfy them, but I sure did have some tough situations. Most of my work comes from word of mouth, so I place a lot of value on each individual client I have. These aren’t all my adverse situations, but they are my most memorable. Do you have any of your own? I’d love to read about them.
Oh, and not every single client can be satisfied – some people are just unhappy. There are other ways of dealing with them 🙂