For design and development professionals, working with a client while building a new website can be difficult.
Therefore it is important to have an organized process of what to ask and when, in order to efficiently gather the information you need and guide the client to the best solution for his or her needs.
Here are some direct tips to exercise when developing a new client.
1. Let the client talk.
Listen and don’t interrupt. Give your clients enough room to express themselves. Pay attention to how they communicate. Many times you will discover their tendencies and can use ideas that they can easily relate to, such as sports analogies or cooking expressions.
2. Exercise patience.
There will be plenty of times where the clients should be doing the listening, but during the initial stages when you are just getting to know about their business and their needs, be sure to place the most value in listening to what they say.
3. Keep your opinions minimal and focus on the facts and solutions.
Ask their opinions about ideas and usefulness to avoid miscommunication. If you decide to go ahead and give your input, make sure you can explain why you’re giving that advice. Analogies are especially important when explaining things so others can understand them.
4. Demonstrate to clients why they should consider your advice.
Always remember to ask approval questions. This reduces rejection rates of your designs.
5. KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid).
Don’t over explain or be too technical in response to questions. Be prepared to give examples of successful solutions.
While explaining things to clients, remember that this is probably not a portion of their business that they are very comfortable or knowledgeable with. Clients appreciate designers who show patience and a willingness to explain things in a way that they can understand, without insulting them.
6. Remove the jargon.
One of the biggest client frustrations is when designers speak to them with terms and phrases that they don’t understand. Although you are working online all the time and you probably communicate with other designers and developers often, remember that your clients will not have the same expertise, so you should avoid using terms that they are unlikely to understand.
7. Be a consultant, not a salesman.
Start the conversation with something other than business talk, thereby enabling the client to relate to you as someone other than just “their Web designer,” increasing the chance to break the ice and strengthen the relationship before the discussion turns to business.
Starting a meeting off with light, informal conversation helps to minimize any anxiety the client may have and set the tone for the rest of the meeting.
8. Control the conversation by asking good questions.
Integrate emotional intelligence into the conversation that appeals to clients. Perhaps there are color schemes they prefer, or, do not like, for example.
Ask the client how they prefer to communicate (by phone or email).
Devise a quick list of what’s expected of them and email it to them, so that they can feed you the correct information all at once, rather than you having to call them a hundred times to figure out what they want. They will appreciate the brevity.
9. Encourage creative thinking and problem-solving.
Understand their history. Ask, “What have been some of your more successful projects / campaigns / etc. in the past — and why did they work?” You may find out also what did not work, and thereby avoid attempting to sell that idea.
10. Speak in the affirmative.
Avoid negative words like “can’t” and “shouldn’t”. Give examples and tell stories that clients will relate to. Using good examples compliments effective communication.
11. Avoid creating too many solutions.
Offer no more than two alternatives to solve a problem. Don’t be afraid to advise clients based on your professional experience. Most clients will respect your opinions and appreciate that you are looking out for their best interests.
Be creative but stay on topic. Sometimes explaining away a concept or suggestion just doesn’t work through email. Clients appreciate you much more if you can provide real examples. Again, use stories and analogies to make your point.
12. Client ideas are not always bad ideas.
Many times a client has seen something they liked from a competitor’s website and want something similar.
13. Avoid assumptions.
Understand the client’s end vision. Asking, “In the best case scenario, what would be the result of the project?” is a perfectly good question to ask. The client needs to understand the importance and context of the project. You can ask probing questions such as “How does this project (or item) fit in with other goals of your business?” to get a better understanding of what they want to achieve.
14. Understand the client’s style and branding.
Ask if the client is looking to redesign branding or style, or if they want to be consistent with their current vision. Ask for style guides and samples.
15. Don’t take anything personally.
The client will need time to get acquainted with the idea that they are not in charge and will benefit from your advice and expertise. Allow the client to be generous with their input. Remember that there is a learning curve involved.
16. Make the client your student.
Focus on the business results instead of the technical execution required to achieve the results and explain things your client can understand and get excited about.
Remain positive and objective about the project. They will hear it in your voice and feel it in your email expressions.
17. Personalities don’t always mix.
Obvious signs of strained communication in email include expressions of frustration. Misunderstood messages and decisions that contradict previous conversations must be addressed right away.
When you see these emails, do not reply to them to “set the record straight,” which are adversarial. Pick up the phone and calmly clarify any questions.
When communication is already strained, a flood of emails back and forth usually compounds the frustration. By discussing the issue verbally, you stand a much better chance of resolving it and getting everyone back to healthy communication. Focus on the problem, not the person.
18. Assemble your questions together.
Assemble your questions together in one email rather than sending 4 different emails in one morning with one question each. Additionally, make an effort to be as clear as possible when you communicate so there is no need to go back and forth several times just to understand the issue at hand.
19. Send a follow up email that confirms decisions made.
This will remove doubt about expectations, and also secure that you are thorough and professional. It also supports the value of all that you are providing and your price, and provides a record for any legal matters that may arise.
20. Keep an open mind to improvement.
Your way isn’t the only way to complete the task. Read and share what is working and not working as well to further your competencies, and to explore newer and better ideas, techniques, and software. Visit blog sites and forums. Offer your ideas and get more people referring to your ideas. It all helps to build your credibility.
21. Don’t take your work home with you, even if you work from home.
Practice leaving your work behind in order to enjoy your life to the fullest.
If you have constructive ideas to share, please respond to this post.