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Convincing the Ones That Have Been Burned

In this line of work, a common theme rings from the mouths of potential clients frequently. It makes it difficult to turn their potential into payment and long term clientele. Unfortunately, this theme exists and no matter what the rest of us do, will continue to exist as long as there are those who continue to do what they do that causes the problem in the first place.

The problem? The potential client has been burned by a web designer and/or developer in the past. As a result of this, they feel that they will be better off doing the job themselves regardless of their skill and/or experience (or lack thereof). They feel that anything is better than what they have already experienced and been through. They do not want to go through it again with another designer. They have already been through it with one or more designers or developers. They feel that they cannot afford to do it again or do not want to take the risk of another failure.

It would appear to be a losing battle that is all uphill with a cliff at the edge and there is no way to convince them to “see the light” so to speak. I am not convinced that this is the case, however. I firmly believe that even those that have been burned can be convinced to trust again. There are some that have the trust issues and then those you should probably just walk away from, but those that are worth the effort will yield a rewarding business relationship over the long term. The work now pays off.

I will not say that the effort it will take to convince these potential clients to trust you will be easy. Many will walk away from you out of frustration as they will feel pressured and will not want to deal with you any more. This is their choice to make. You should respect that. However, those who do not walk away are demonstrating some sort of interest in you as a person or in your products or services. They are the ones that you should continue to work on and if you are patient I imagine you will find them to be your best clients.

The problem with clients does not fall entirely with the client. Designers and developers like to jump straight to the client when placing blame. However, the client is not 100% at fault. It takes two to tango so to speak. It also takes two to fail in a business interaction such as web or graphic design. In such a line of work, there is a level of communication that must take place in order for the best work to take place. In most failures, this communication breaks down. This breakdown cannot fall entirely on the client. If the designer or developer does not learn to communicate with the client on their terms, it does not matter how frequently communication happens as the message is never delivered in a form that the client understands.

The communication breakdown cycle will continue if this communication and interaction process is not mastered, mostly on the part of the designer and/or developer. If the client tries to ask questions or convey information to the designer or developer and they fail to listen to the client and gather the information in its fullest form, then the failure is not the client’s. There needs to be a happy medium – a balance. The key is figuring out the balance and at what point that balance is reached. When is communication at its best?

We all know that we have to communicate with each other but what do we need to communicate? That is the million dollar question in this type of interaction and relationship. It is a question that I often find myself wanting to find a closet somewhere to scream at the top of my lungs over because it should be obvious. This is not rocket science, this is web and graphic design. I have been searched out for a project and have provided an estimate for a service. We are down to the potential client stalling over the bottom dollar line item and ultimately what they want the project to do for them.

I want to tell the client, “This is your website, not mine. This is your information, not mine. This is your responsibility, not mine.” However, this accomplishes nothing. It communications nothing. It throws up a brick wall in defense and communications shut down. Frustration then starts and it goes downhill from there. If I were to do this, I would simply be butting heads with someone who simply does not understand the importance of what I am asking of them. They would feel like I am also taking advantage for them for the contents of their pocketbook. This is the whole reason we have the potential client stalling to actually engage in the service in the first place.

Of course, the communications over what the project should do for them is not exclusive to the potential client that just cannot engage because they do not trust that you are any different from any other designer before you. It is an universal issue with people who simply do not understand the magnitude of the project. I have struggled for many years with clients who simply do not get it. How do I make them understand? I do not think that there is anything that will make them fully get it. I have found ways to better get to what I need, but nothing beats simply communicating with the client and asking questions, “If this, then what about this?” We break it down into bit by bit pieces and eventually get to an end piece that is nearly what they envisioned.

I am sure that it varies from clientele niche to clientele niche, but I have found in the niche that I cater to that many of the clients that I have they simply do not know much about websites outside how to get to one using the internet. They know that they want a website and need one to some degree. They do not fully understand what a website will do for them or their business, but they know that they need one for their business because it is the “thing to do.” They also know that if they do not have one their business will be left behind. They are willing to pay for the website and the monthly hosting, but outside of that they pretty much want to forget about it. They have not fully grasped the concept or the impact of a website and what it can and should do for their business.

There is a breakdown in common knowledge. This knowledge is common among the web design industry. The knowledge does not always translate to the clients. How do you share that knowledge with your clients? How do you help them understand how big of an impact this website will have on their bottom line? How do you help them understand why it is important that it be done correctly the first time and be updated on a regular basis?

I was reading an article the other day and while it is an older article, I feel that for me and my clientele it still rings very true. The article was describing some of the things that bring me frustration on a regular basis. It does not go into depth about how to fix it, but it points out the issues and it helped me understand that I was not crazy for feeling the frustrations that I was experiencing. The article is aptly titled, “Six Valuable Things Web Design Clients Won’t Tell You” (1) and it goes through some of the things that I have seen over and over. I was sitting there checking off the list and nodding my head.

My focus this past year has been to help keep these things from happening, or guiding the clients to help prevent these things from taking over and becoming a problem. Sometimes it is brutal honesty and some people do not like it, but for me it works. It saves me some headaches.

I was asked recently why it takes me six to eight weeks to do a simple website. There are several reasons. It can take much less than that. The honest truth is that I can do the website in much less time that six to eight weeks. The problem I have found is that it can also take much longer than that. I have found that due to certain repeat issues, I am often experiencing delays and it is just better for me to build those delays into the schedule and just feel like things are going to be delivered on-time. It works.

The article goes on to point out the six items that include:

  1. “We’re not prepared.”
  2. “Our deadline is unrealistic.”
  3. “Getting content from us will be nearly impossible.”
  4. “We’re not very computer-savvy.”
  5. “Our expectations are unrealistic.”
  6. “We’re considering many other proposals.” (1)

I felt that those were fitting based on what I have experienced, especially the first five. While they are true based on experience, they are manageable and do not have to be the end-all for accepting clients that appear to be flaky or frustrating after your first meeting.

I deal with small businesses as my primary clientele. Many of them are sole proprietors. Their primary focus is their business. Many of them do not have business backgrounds. Their day to day purpose is to run their business and many of them are very good at what they do in whatever field of work they do. The real problem is when they demonstrate a combination of two or more of the above issues.

When approaching a web designer or developer, they are often extremely unprepared. They come with nothing more than a whim it seems like. Unfortunately, a whim is not enough to build a website with. This whim can be a good thing if you reel it in and give it focus. A dream can become a plan if you ask the right questions and guide them on how to come up with the information you need to make their site effective.

What is a realistic deadline? You as the designer or developer can decide on that. If they have already demonstrated number one and they are also pushing for a deadline that is extremely fast, then be honest with them. You set the deadline based on the project they need. Explain to them why you cannot meet their demands and what conditions must be met to meet the shortest deadline. I have found this works best.

Getting content from an unprepared client is the hardest thing I have had to do. Short of writing it yourself, there is little you can do but wait. It has taken repeat explanations of what content is best for a website and how much is needed. It has taken repeat explanations of how content updates will be needed to keep the information fresh and how they need information in addition to pictures. In spite of that, I am lucky if I get anything more than a paragraph and a couple of pictures. That is not a lot to work with. I have had to coach clients on how to write up content and what content is needed.

I do not allow clients to give me the lack of computer skills excuse. It is not important that they have computer skills for their website to come into existence. This is why they are hiring a web designer and/or developer. It is important that they [the web designer and/or web developer] know what they are doing, not the client. I believe that most clients can be taught to do some basic things for their website if it is setup correctly. This should not scare them. If your clients are like this, figure out how to cater to this lack of confidence. You will be happier and so will they. These clients are the ones that do not need to be taking on the task of managing a website by themselves and certainly do not need to be tackling site design by themselves even if they have been burned in the past. Help them feel comfortable.

Expectations are often a result of simply not being honest. If you are honest about what can be done and what will be done, there is no place for false expectations. If you ask the client what they expect, then you can dispel any misunderstandings from the start. Honesty is the best policy here.

I have found that many clients use the line that they are considering many other proposals to get away and in actuality they are not. They might have one or two other proposals to consider, but that does not equate to many. If they have truly been burned in the past they will not be considering many proposals, you will be lucky that you got an opportunity to propose your services at all. Take that statement with a grain of salt. Follow up with them at a later date. Chances are they just need a breather. Respect their need for space, but do not let them get too far out of mind.

Of course none of this helps the designer figure out what the client wants, though it does help them understand what they are up against. The question still remains, how does one convince the client that was burned to use their services? How does one get them to feel comfortable enough to get enough information out of them to even begin a project once they have secured the go ahead to begin a project? The biggest key is to make them feel comfortable with you and what you offer. You need to help them understand that you are not going to walk away from them in their time of need. You need to help them understand that you are listening to their wants and needs, even if you are giving them valuable feedback from your professional advice bank. You can advise and provide professional reasoning. It might even come as a welcome surprise to many of these clients. At the end of the day, however, you are being hired to do a job for them and it is still their project you are working on.

1 Six Valuable Things Web Design Clients Won’t Tell You