- Maureen Dillon 06.22.2015
You may be a newbie freelancer or a company with a lot of experience in web design and development, but the one thing we all have in common is the fact that to keep your business running, you have to keep your clients happy. There is no magic formula for this, sadly. It is a long and continuous process that starts when you first meet your client, carries on through your project, and, if you want to retain your client, doesn't end with the your project's completion.
Your clients may know exactly what they want and may be able to convey it to you effectively; they may have a general idea but may not be able to communicate it to you; they may have no idea of what they are looking for and have poor communication skills. But all of your clients are important and it is essential to establish a good working relationship with every single one of them.
Putting aside everything else, your client is the source of your income. They not only help you make ends meet, but also to satisfy your desires. In return, it is your duty to help them make their ends meet and satisfy their desires. The one surefire way to keep your clients unsatisfied is to be unresponsive to their concerns. It is not just sufficient to take their concerns into account while working on your design, it is very important to assure your clients that you are, in fact, doing so and also to let them know how you are doing it. Communication is key.
Besides simply keeping the client in the loop and reassuring them that you are aware and concerned about their needs, communicating with your clients also has benefits for you. While you may feel that you have a solution to a concern of theirs, you can’t know whether that solution will generate other concerns. You can simply avoid new issues with your proposed solution, and save a lot of time and effort, if you make your clients aware of the steps you are taking to address the problem. Any potential issue can be stopped before it crops up.
Many of us don’t have of benefit of having clients who can clearly identify and communicate a concern. Often your client may be unaware that they are or should be concerned about something. Or, what if your client knows what they are concerned about but assume that you know the problem too and are working on it? What if your client decides that their concern is not actually a concern but just a part of the specifications of the design which they have already given to you? Particularly in cases where your clients only have a vague idea of what they want, they may not know what they should or should not tell you. In any case, you still have to address something that may or may not be an actual point of concern. In cases where clients are not what they want or need to convey, they need you to proactively probe for possible needs, concerns, and goal. They may talk about it very briefly or mention something in passing. You need to be listening attentively enough to pick up on these subtle asides and then tease them out. Listen to every they have to say and if you have any concerns regarding what they communicate, speak with your client about it; never assume anything.
It may so happen that your client requests opinions from you regarding certain features of the project. They may give you a few options and ask you to choose one or they may ask you to create a completely new feature in very vague terms. In the former case, give your opinions honestly and back them up with data, if necessary. One thing to note here is that you shouldn’t focus on technical difficulties that you may face in one choice as opposed to another unless it will impact the deliverable. Talk to your client honestly about the various degrees of difficulty in implementation if that will have an effect on cost, timeline, or finished product. But, of course, don’t take your own convenience into serious consideration when scoping a task. If your client is willing to pay for a product in both time and money, then deliver it regardless of whether it’s the easiest for you. Unless you literally cannot provide the product. In that case honesty is a must and it’s your duty to advise the client to look elsewhere or to explain why the request is impossible for anyone. Give your opinions and lay out the pros and cons of each, but let the client make the final choice.
It’s also great for your client relationships when you are proactive in developing solutions for them. You may find yourself working on one project, and see an opportunity for even greater effectiveness somewhere. Maybe a totally unrelated, but valuable idea springs up. Jot down those ideas and proactively bring them up to the client. You’re the expert here. There are many things that you would notice or understand that your clients are completely unaware of. This will build trust and demonstrate that you are an advocate for their best interest.
Developing a good professional relationship with your client is also very important. And many things can sour your relationship. One potential relationship spoiler that is especially common in the tech community is the failure to practice proper professional etiquette. This one is fairly easy to overcome, however. Respond to your clients, dress professionally when you meet them, speak cordially, so on and so forth.
Another problem, and usually a more serious one, is working without clearly defined terms for the project. Whether your client wants you to design an entire website from scratch, build a mobile application, or just create an infographic, you must always work with a contract and ensure that both you and your client fully understand all the terms. Everything from costs to deadlines to payment methods to client needs to your expectations from your client must be on the contract. Sometimes, your clients may take certain things for granted, like daily progress reports. All expectations should be clearly identified and written out in a document executed by both parties. If you can get legal advice for your contract, so much the better. Make sure your contract has no ambiguity and have your contract in place before you start working. Regardless of your personal opinion, when it comes to businesses, customer is king. Keeping them happy starts with helping them identify concerns and ends with alleviating those concerns and being a constant source of that relief as future concerns arise.