No matter what profession you are in, you must regularly interact with clients. I know many professionals, myself included, that would much prefer remaining behind their computers, and keeping all client contact to a minimum. However, in order to make a web development business, or any business for that matter, successful, it goes without saying that you need people who are willing to pay you to sit behind that computer and work. Moreover, it is important to keep those paying people happy, so they keep coming back. Here is a list of tips for successful dealings with clients, which I have compiled over my years of professional experience. If you have any additional tips, feel free to add them in the comments section. I hope you find these suggestions useful.
Client is Always Right
This is the “Golden Rule” for dealing with clients in all professions. Many of you may disagree with this, but I think it is an essential element to remember if you want to have thriving interactions with your clients. When I say the “the client is always right,” what I actually mean to say is, “let the client think he or she is always right.” Of course when they request a black background with red text, you may want to cringe, but remember it is THEIR site, not yours. They might be paying you to design and construct something that you feel is nothing short of horrendous; however, they have the right to have a awful site. What I suggest to follow the following tips, and hopefully you will not be put into the situation where you have to do an awful site. And, if you are forced to do a terrible site, just do not add it to your portfolio! Now as you read the next tips, notice how they all link back to the “Golden Rule.”
Turn Down Difficult Potential Clients
So, I just explained to you that the client is always right, but by no means does that force you to make every person that walks through your door a client. In fact, I recommend being selective and turning down potential clients that you get a bad vibe from, or you know will be more headache then they are worth. In being selective in retaining your clients, you may suffer financially at times, but your sanity will more than make up for it. Work with clients that you are compatible with, and you will avoid stressful encounters. Now, I know you cannot always predict whether a client will be problematic, but if you weed out the ones you immediately get a bad feeling from, you will lessen your chances greatly.
Be Reasonable with Clients’ Expectations
I always advise being reasonable with clients’ expectations, and always under-promise what you can offer them. When I first started out as a professional, I wanted to promise all my clients everything, and often I could not deliver on those guarantees. There are times when you cannot deliver on a promise because of time restraints, going over budget, or not thinking every possible outcome that could have occurred. Nothing is worst than having to explain to a client that you could not do what you promised, and if you have a contract, this can get you into legal problems as well. I suggest you under-represent what you can do for any given project, and that way, you always seem like you are giving them more than they asked for, not less. This will always make for a happy client!
Educate the Client
This tip is an extension of “Golden Rule,” because I think it is important to educate and instruct the client, so they know what they are getting into, and they at least understand the basics of good design. This tip will help you greatly with “the client is always right” rule, because with a better educated client, you are less likely to deal with black background with red text requests. Take the time to educate your client about the essentials of web design and what components are essential in a page, and you will have fewer requests for a horrendous site. Moreover, the clients will appreciate your efforts. Additionally, educate the client in all aspects of the web development business, and they will be more prepared for what they are about to embark on. In my experience, an educated client makes for an uncomplicated and unproblematic client thus making your life easier!
Listen to Complaints and Give Alternatives
This tip also relates to the “Golden Rule,” because I do not like to tell a client no. I suggest never telling your clients no, unless you are able to give them solutions or alternatives. A client does not want to hear the word no, because they usually think they know best. Instead, give your clients alternatives that sound even more appealing then their original idea sounded. Moreover, listen to your clients complaints and be ready to provide resolutions to their problems. Web developers are in the business of solutions, and if we can provide the remedies for the client’s ailments, we will appear professional and prepared, and we will make our clients very pleased. And, as I have said, “A happy client can be a lucrative client.” Finally, I have discovered in my experience that the client’s complaints can become some of your most innovative ideas, so be ready to listen and be open to what they have to say, instead of just saying no, no, no.
Communicate, Communicate, and Communicate: Before, During and After!
I know you have heard, time and time again, that communication is the key to any successful relationship. This idea definitely goes for dealings with clients. It is important to communicate before you start a project, regarding what is expected from both parties. Be clear as to what how you conduct business and what you expect from the client. Also, make sure the client clearly communicates the objective of their project, so there is no confusion. Furthermore, it is important to communicate throughout the project, and keep the client informed as to every step of the process. This goes back to the tip that says that an educated client is an easy client, and I cannot stress this enough. Finally, discuss the results with the client, be open to feedback, and always let them leave feeling satisfied.
Document all Verbal Communications
This recommendation goes along with the previous tip, but I feel it is important enough to make it its own entry. Always make sure to document all telephone conversations you have with clients. I know many professionals who have run into problems with this rule, because they fail to follow up with written correspondence after a telephone or face-to-face conversation. I like to follow up with an email saying, “as per our conversation…” This reconfirms any mis-communications that can transpire during verbal discussions and gives evidence about what the conversation was about and that it actually took place
Organize the Time and Place for Client Contact
Many clients think that the only website we are working on is theirs and that every waking hour of our time is absorbed with thoughts of their project. Well, we all know that is not the case. In fact, most of us professional are involved in more projects than they can handle, so it is important to make it clear to the client when and where they can contact you. Make it clear as to whether you prefer go to them or have them come to you. This tip will ease potential tension that can arise when interacting with clients; because it lets the clients know their boundaries.
Make a Clear Contract
This comes from my legal experience, because I never do any business without a contract. I always suggest constructing an unambiguous contract for every client that clearly manifests all the components of the project, the payment, the time frame, deadlines, the requirements, and any other essential elements you can think of. I recommend doing contracts even for friends and family, because this can avoid any possible problems that can emerge. Moreover, I recommend requiring half payment up front, which is non-refundable. This provides some protection for non-paying clients, because you at least will have half the payment for the project instead of receiving nothing. Finally, I suggest adding in the contract that content must be provided by the client, and that you will not begin the project until the client has done so; therefore, the client then has legal responsibility in order for you to start on time and end by the deadline.
Be Clear on Price
This tip is an extension of the contract tip. I advise you to always be very clear on the price, and communicate and show the client exactly what they are getting for the price you have set. Many times, clients have told us they have paid another developer $500 for a site, when we are charging three times that. But, what those clients do not understand is that the other site, by the other developer, was a template, was poorly done, and only contained three pages. Now, they want a completely new original, correctly constructed, six plus page site for the same price. So, be clear and provide an expense sheet if needed, to evidence how you decide a price. Do not let the price determination seem abstract; rather make it clear so the client can see what they are getting for the price they paying. Finally, I recommend showing the client other sites you have done for the price they are paying, so they can see a comparison.
Use High Standards No Matter What the Price
As professionals, we have high aspirations for greatness, and that should not be compromised in the case of the $200 dollar website. No matter if you are doing a $100 dollar, one page site for a client on a budget, or a $10,000 dollar site for a client you hope to make an on-going relationship with, always strive for the highest level of greatness. This is important, because you need to make all your clients feel just as important as the others. When your client feels they got the best quality for their money, they will be happier, be more likely to pay more, be more likely to recommend to your work to others, and be more willing to provide you more business in the future!