Talkin’ Client Side Part 2


Let’s do a refresher. Clients need to be taught. They need to know what you are building for them, how it works, how you are paid, what work you will be doing, etc. The client is not going to understand all of this, because the web and web development are new business concepts to most. Most clients have not been involved in web design prior to their involvement with you. By keeping clients “in the know” you will be keeping them happy. Keeping clients happy is paramount to your success. To educate clients you will need to speak about concepts they understand and use analogies that they can relate to – in other words you will need to SPEAK DUMMY©. This is not to say the client is dumb. Rather it is a way to educate someone, by talking to them using analogies. It may seem dumb to you but it will really make sense to someone because they will understand it based on the concept or analogy.

My favorite analogy to use is Building a House is just like Building a Web site. I will use it throughout this article. This is the best analogy I have found to use for walking clients through the process of building and designing a web site.

Initial Contact/Meeting

Whether you are called to meet with a client, they call you, or you call them.

Scenario #1 – The client asks, right away, “How much do you charge to build a web site”…. uh oh. This is not a good start.

Scenario #2 – the client gives you a brochure and says “put this brochure on the web”. … better, but not quite enough information still.

As always, first impressions will tell you a lot about a client. A lot of web developers would steer clear of scenario #1 for fear of having to deal with a client who is clueless, but remember how clueless you were at one point. Some clients need a hand-holding and, better yet, will pay for it.

The best thing to do in a first impression and initial contact situation is to take control of the situation and begin educating the client. Going back to the above situations, both Scenario #1 and #2 can be handled by explaining to the client that you will need to talk to him/her about what they need for the site to do. If he/she persist for pricing information (which most will do), use the home building analogy – Ask this, “When you ask someone to build you a house, do you call the person up on the phone and say how much will it cost to build my house” The builder will need more detailed and relevant information rather than just “I need to build a house” just like a web developer needs (and should require) more information than “I need to build a web site”

Explain to him/her that “there is a process of building a site similar to that of building a house and you will need to meet to discuss things further”. After that, it will be time to explain the process of web development and to REALLY EDUCATE ‘EM.

The Details

Once you explain to the client that you need more information, it is time to get that information, so that you can give him/her an estimate on your costs. This is also the time to run through the process of building a web site. It is in your hands to figure out what the client wants and how exactly to build it for them. Along the way, you will have to teach them what you are going to build, why they need it, how it will work and how much it will cost.

Going back to the Building a House Analogy, a builder will want to know things like “how tall, what style – A-frame, Ranch, Bungalow, what material – brick, etc.” These are similar to the things that you will need to know in order to build the client’s web site. Ask the questions that will help you put together an accurate estimate. Asking these questions will also get the client to really think about the web site and what they will be doing with it. Find out – what style he/she likes in a web site; have him/her show you examples; what functions do he/she want; how many pages do he/she want to build; how many photos; will artwork be supplies or will custom art be needed.

At this point the client may still look at you with the “deer in the headlights look” when you ask him/her these questions, so now you will need to teach him/her how to answer these questions. Show him/her a site with a form. Ask, “Do you think that a form like this will help your customers contact you? If so, I can include it in the estimate” There are so many details to work out in this stage that it is important to show the client different things that you have done on the web or things that are being done. Similarly, when a house is being built, you look at other homes, magazines and any other places to see how other people built their homes. Why reinvent the wheel? A casual walk-through of a site you have built, while explaining its functions, will help the client understand what the web site could be. Features that are new to home building or ways of building a home need to be explained before they are specified by a builder. Back in the days, no one would have bought aluminum siding without some explanation of its benefits.

One other area in the details stage is your final estimate. The information that the client gives you will allow you to make an estimate on your time and service. All clients needs to be made aware that the estimate is an “estimate”. You should detail out on the estimate exactly what the client has specified and make a note on the estimate, as well as inform the client verbally, that any changes to the specifications on the quote will change the final costs. If the client doesn’t understand this concept, using our analogy, explain to them that a builder does the same thing. If a builder estimates that it will cost $50,000 to build a 6 bedroom, 10,000 sq. foot home, and the building is redesigned to have 8 bedrooms in 5,000 sq. feet, there will be major price changes.

You may also need specific items not included in your estimate to build the site as the client specifies and it is important that you tell the client that they will need to supply these items or you will be sub-contracting these services. A builder is not a roofer, so he hires a roofer to do that work. You may not be a good writer or photographer and will need to have the copy supplied or photos shot. Let your client know this early on so that he/she is not surprised that you, personally, are not programming or writing. If you are counting on the client to supply things that you can’t build the site without, he/she needs to be aware that they are an important player in the building of the site. In the building analogy – If a builder was not given the building permit or if the roofer, that was hired, did not show up, the home could not be properly built.

The estimate should also be signed so that you can begin your work. Having the client sign something insures that he/she read it and are aware of what you are building.

Planning the site

This is a no-brainer step. You can’t build a house without a plan. You can’t build a web site without one either. Planning of a web site should also be explained and classified as a separate type of work. Most sites that I have built are 50% planning, and I bill the time as a line item so the client sees the amount of planning necessary to build their site.

Planning the site involves figuring out how to build what the client wants, so that it works best. These include: planning how a viewer will navigate through the site, how many pages will there be, how will the information be broken down and organized, where will the information be found, how the viewer can contact the business, etc. This is similar to the architectural planning of a house – where you put the door, which way the door goes, how you get from room to room, how many rooms, etc.. This plan should be signed off on by the client so he/she is certain that you are building what they want. Once again, having a client sign something insures that he/she has read it.

Sites without a good plan, just as a house without a good plan, will not look as good, will not function as good and may turn people away.

Building the site

The building of a house is usually in stages. Just as a site design follows stages. Depending on how you work, these can vary. A foundation to the site is built with the basic HTML and site structure. This is built using the plans that were created above. It is the way each page links and the basic layout of the pages. Once the foundation of the site is laid out the details can be added. Photographs and detailed text can be dropped to put the finishing touches on the site.

The building stage is also the fine tuning stage, in which you present different amounts of work to the client for his/her approval. Showing them things as you go insures that you are building the site as planned and that the final product is what they want. Signing off on these stages will also make sure the client is aware of the way in which things were built and insures that you are building as specified.

Most sites that I build are started in a non-live directory so that the site is not viewable by the general public. The client will probably want this but you may need to explain to him/her how this works and why he/she would want this. He/She may want something up as an index page temporarily. In the home building analogy, you would not invite people over to your home, with no floor built yet. So, in the meantime you would tell them to drive by and take a look. This is a similar concept to having the web audience view a temporary page while the rest of the site is built in the background.

Another important part of the building is sub-contract work. During the building phase a home builder sub-contracts things out and sometimes even lets the client help build the house. In a similar fashion, the building of a web site may take the help of other professionals: writers, programmers, artist, photographers, etc. Like I mentioned earlier, others will be depended on to do work to complete the site and the client needs to be aware that without this work the site can not be built properly.

Going Live and Maintenance

Once the site is built as planned and according to specifications, you can put it live. Just as when your house is done being built, you move in. The site should now be built and look exactly as the client specified.

As people browse the site and use it, it will become obvious that their may be flaws or areas that should be updated. When a house is built, you quickly learn that things like a doorknob look good where you placed it but are not practical in every day use. Some things can be left out and not planned for and may need to be modified after the first build. The site may get heavy traffic in one area and need constant updates. Just as the front entry to a home gets heavy traffic and often needs to have the floors redone.

Clients can hire you (and hopefully they will want too) to maintain the site, they can do it themselves or you may suggest a subcontractor. Either way, maintaining a site is critical to its success.

So, do you think they get it all? I doubt it. I am just skimming the surface on this, but walking clients through these steps will teach them about what you do and how a site is built. Hopefully it will also help to enlighten them on why they are building their web site and how their web site can help them. If you teach them these things, they will be much happier during and after you build their site. They will be happy having been actively involved in their site and having a web site exactly as they want.

Contributed by Adam Strong, C.E.O. of Strong Visuals

Author: Adam Strong
Copyright Strong Visuals