We all have stories about how a client drove a project off a cliff by their lack of cooperation or funny ideas about how things should be. The web design world is full of half done projects and dissatisfied clients and irritated web developers. The fault usually lies equally with the web developer and the client. But being a web developer myself I would lean towards advising the vendor rather than the client. The client might not change but we can.
Who is in charge anyways? Stamping your authority on the project.
I recently heard this great story about the interaction between ace designer Paul Rand and Steve Jobs. The following is the essence of what Paul told Steve Jobs when the latter asked for options.
“I asked him if he would come up with a few options, and he said, ‘No, I will solve your problem for you and you will pay me. You don’t have to use the solution. If you want options go talk to other people.”
Steve Jobs paid a lot of money to Rand for one, just one, logo. There was no question about who was in charge. (For more about this do visit this link).
Of course I am not asking anyone to act like a prize ass in front of their clients but you do need to project authority and make it clear from the beginning who’s in charge. Make it known from the start that micro-management will not do.
Believe in yourself and believe in your work. That’s the only way the client will believe too.
I have met many wonderful web designers with amazing work who have shocking lack of confidence. Although their work should speak for them, they rarely speak for themselves. A lack of confidence combined with poor social skills tends to create a shy and subdued person. The more sharper clients tend to take advantage of such persons making them do incredibly stupid things.
I have witnessed in person, weird stuff, like a client selecting colors from a Nerolac shade card while the designer sat with her mouth open in stunned silence. The client who had absolutely no experience in design or creative endeavours dictating colours to a graduate of one of the best art colleges in the country! Happens more than you would like. And its mostly the designer’s fault for allowing such nonsense.
Never tolerate bad behaviour, bullying or any kind of abuse.
I have been very lucky in having amazing, polite and caring clients. And those who aren’t, don’t remain my clients for long. Sounds arrogant but what’s the alternative? Become door mats?
Abusive relationships are not restricted to families and employees only, it can also extend to vendors. Very subtle abuse such as keeping the designer waiting for meetings, not replying promptly to their requests and summarily rejecting work without giving good reasons should never be tolerated. If you are in an abusive relationship with the client – get out, whatever the cost.
On the flip side, clients who respect and support you and your work, should be pampered and given 200% of your effort. They are definitely worth it.
Communicate, communicate, communicate. Then, communicate some more.
Communication is one of the most important and most neglected part of a web designers skill set. Prompt and clear communications can prevent a huge majority of problems that crop up in any project. Misunderstandings occur due to poor communications.
What kind of communication am I talking about?
- Project status reports
- Material received or required requests
- Honest responses to client feedback.
- Explanation of choices or actions taken.
- Polite and relationship building communications like wishing on special occasions.
- Updating clients with relevant industry news and updates.
Can you over communicate? Yes, but most times we fall on the other side of the communication gap – too little.
Create a delivery plan and stick to it. Clients appreciate someone who knows what they are doing.
Clients will not interfere (that much) if they know you have a plan and are following it through. Outline the plan at the beggining and follow it throughout the project. As you reach each milestone share them with the clients (even internal ones). Clients will not get restless if they know everything is on track and in control.
Educating the client during each step of the process is also important. Don’t get too technical or detailed but convey enough to reassure the client. This is of course an off shoot of my earlier point about communication.
Ideally when client’s describe the project in hindsight they should say something like, ‘These guys took care of everything. We really never had to worry about anything. They knew what they were doing.’
You get the idea.
Delivering what you promised is the best way to win trust and improve your credibility.
We can talk all we want about communication and taking charge but if you don’t deliver what you promised then nothing can save you. Nothing impacts your stature like broken promises and under delivery of work.
There is a saying, ‘If you keep your word for long enough, it becomes the law.’
This is a profound thought which I would like to leave you with.