Client services can be a drag sometimes. We can blame the clients and their projects, but that may not be the entire cause of the acrimony occasionally find ourselves in with freelance web projects.
One of those things is that frustrating is the moment when you’re asked to add a pretty big feature to a project that would seem almost central to the function of their business. For some odd reason, the last few times this has happened to me, it’s been about a shop. But it could be anything. It’s the thing you think would’ve come up during your initial sit-down or inventory of their content, but it comes up when the project is at least halfway done.
These are called mismanaged expectations.
According to Ooomf, a collection of independent designers and developers from Montreal, the mismanagement of expectations is the #2 reason web projects fail. It’s a pretty great way to ruin a relationship and let communication breakdown from the beginning of a project.
Fortunately, there are ways to manage expectations better, and it’s through formulating specific solutions for the client, from asking the right questions and communicating them the right way.
Asking the Right Questions
We haven’t asked the right questions when, in the middle of a project, your client needs a shop page. That means, there was something they needed to tell us that never got addressed initially.
Start by asking what goals they have for their site and what exists already. Dig into that topic deeply; this needs to be the preliminary conversation: are they trying to build an audience? Who is their current audience? What action do they want that audience to take? What are they selling? How do they want to sell it?
Content is a huge thing that you need to canvas thoroughly before getting started. You can’t design a website without content. So what kinds of content do they have now? What content needs to be on the new site? Is there more that needs be generated before the new project launches? Who is responsible for creating it? If you’re using a CMS, what parts of it need to be dynamic? How often will they want to update their content? Where are they going to update from?
Walk them through your process & talk about their timeline. When do they expect this site to launch? How would you like to handle communication? Is there someone you specifically need to be in touch with? What amount of content do you need to get started? What goals should you meet during the course of this project? How will you handle feedback?
Dive as deep as you can into these topics. Leave no stone unturned, be as thorough and detailed as you can. Most importantly, get everything out on the table and invite your client to be as open as possible.
This conversation should dictate how much you should charge if you’re charging at a per-project rate.
With those answers in hand, it’s time to do the work you’re being paid to do, with one big difference. This time you’re going to document your solutions thoroughly and explain to your client how they are related to the answers they gave you.
It’s not so much a difference in the work you’re doing as it is a difference in how you go about communicating it. Typically, every time you work on a project, you need approval to move forward. There’s this preliminary stage that we talked about, a design stage where you’re going to present some options, a development stage where you may move into HTML/CSS/JS, and then another when you move into your final stage of development.
With those expectations you gained from your preliminary stage, formulate your design solutions and recommendations for their project. Just reference all the answers you got and make sure those now clearly defined expectations are met in your recommendations. The more thorough you are in this position, the less revisions you typically end up making.
Document that in a pdf or paper for them to have a copy. Then have your client commit to that solution with the understanding that if we have to deviate, there will be more costs associated with their project.
This builds trust on both sides. The client clearly sees you’re working for them, that they have your expertise and you’ve made them feel heard. They’re going to be more likely to trust the solutions and recommendations you’re giving. In this, you’re trusting your client to believe in your work, and that they have purchased your solutions.
You can never be a mind-reader and maybe your client will change things on a whim . But if you do the hard work and get all their needs and desires up front, there should be less waffling in the end.
How have you handled your client’s expectations? What solutions do you have for this process?