Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Educating Your Clients or "Walking the Tightrope"

In my many years of web design, I have often thought my job was to educate the client. Most of the smaller clients I work with are individuals, maybe with small businesses, maybe a local musician or even someone who just wants a mySpace update. Some (most) have a hard time opening their email no less have a grip on the web and what it takes to really be on top of the heap. Generally these clients are under the impression that they just "need a website." In many cases this is true. However, I have found that these same individuals tend to demand outdated design work, functionality and have a basic "out of touch with reality" view on how well their site will fair. I am not saying that sometimes these clients are 100% right, but most are not (sorry clients!) So, how do you educate your clients while at the same time, not belittle them or make them feel as if they are clueless? LISTEN TO THEM!

Anyone who has read any of my material knows that my top rule is LISTEN TO THE CLIENT. No matter how much more you think you know, how much better of a designer you are or how many web sites you've gotten to the top of the search engines, you still need to follow the number one rule. It's hard not to spout off about dynamic this and scalable that or the details of the history of the word pagerank (hey, look that one up - it may not be what you think!) However, if you hear any one of those words coming to the edge of your mouth ready to spill over into a conversation about what color they would like their background to be, just shut up!

You may say "well, this is important information and the client needs to know it." Maybe, in some cases. But for the most part, the client wants to hear "Yes. Excellent, I can do that on time and under budget."

Let's put it this way. If you had an idea of something you wanted to do like say, collecting shells and someone came to you and said "I can help you collect 100 types of shells from around the world... BUT, I will tell you the best shells to get, who to get them from, what color they should be to get the most oo's and ah's, how you need to catalog them so that they are easier to find from an administrative standpoint, how we can use the connections to get more links that will lead to greater shell position on the sea shell club circuit, how each shell can have it's own inbox so that as others see it, they can be alerted when another of the same shell is found by a competing club member."


"I can do all of this in 6 months for thirty thousand dollars, I need half upfront and we may or may not go over budget and schedule because you might change your mind about the scale of the project halfway through because I'm not listening to a word you're saying about how you want a one-page gallery to show off your six prize sea shells..." Ok, take a breath!

Clients who are not generally computer savvy or who see outdated sites or content will have a tendency to look for support when approaching you with their own project. They DO need to be educated, but first you need to make them feel comfortable with your suggestions. The best way to do that is to just close your mouth until they are done describing the picture they have in their head. THEN discuss exactly how and what they really want to do, the actual goals of the site and the image they are trying to portray of their business or project. There's no problem with making suggestions to up-sell or improve their vision - just make sure it's still their vision - or you're gonna have a hard time getting paid!

NEVER (too negative?) use negatives like "That's not how it's done anymore" or "The pink you chose for your logo makes me want to puke." (Sadly, I said that one early on in my design career back in print ad days!) Always, gently guide them AFTER trust is built. As a matter of fact, trust is really what all businesses are (or should be) about, and yours is no different. As the design progresses and they see you are doing what THEY envisioned, they will allow more input for improvement. They may even see it themselves - oh, and don't forget to add this discovery time into your price. Nobody REALLY expects people to work for free - especially when those people are reworking a project to THEIR ultimate vision (the one you have been guiding along the whole time).

I guess the point is, you can show off your knowledge and lose a client or you can say "I can make your idea a reality" and slowly mold and educate as you build trust. More on this in future columns.

Ron Smith is the president of Gorbs Corp., a web and print design and development firm on Long Island, NY. For more on Ron or Gorbs visit http://www.gorbs.com/about-gorbs-corp-corporate-information.cfm.

If you're considering a career in SEM, want to train your in-house web designers on the finer points of SEO or want to just boost your rankings, and you're in the NY area, come to a "Can You SEO?" seminar. http://www.gorbs.com/can-you-seo-seminar-sign-up.cfm - come and sign up for our newsletter and get updates on tools, tips and products or check out www.canyouseo.com (after October 1st).

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