OK, that title may be a bit of an exaggeration – but not by much. The relationship with my clients is one I try hard to keep on a friendly but businesslike level – not an easy balance to achieve, and even harder to maintain.
While I am in fact an entrepreneur running a web design company, the reality is that my clients are my boss, and they own my time for the duration of the project. But they don’t own me, and they need to respect my role as the expert in this field. Many clients feel that because they’ve created a PowerPoint presentation, or made a poster for the local bake sale with Microsoft Word, that they are as equipped to design a website as I am. I have to explain to them that the formal design and programming education that I have, added to my years of experience, actually do make me better at this than they are, just as they are better at whatever they do than I would be. I would never walk into a dentist’s office and tell them how to fix my teeth – they’d laugh me back onto the street. The dentist is trained, has experience – it’s what they know. I am a designer, it’s what I know.
Another and related problem with many clients, especially in the initial stages of a project, is that they are preoccupied with how they think their website should look. People are way too focused on the appearance of a site rather than the goal of the site. They lose track of the fact that, while they own the site, it is aimed at their target market. no matter how beautiful the site may be, if it doesn’t increase the bottom line, it is an empty investment.
Sometimes I start work on a project with a client who is really expecting something different from what I thought they wanted. I consider this largely a failure on my part to make it clear exactly what the project entails. I try to be very clear about what is covered by the contract – to the point of actually including in the contract an outline of each page of the site and what it may or may not contain – but sometimes the expectations just don’t meet the reality. And when the relationship fails, it is usually due to a failure of communication. This is where things get very difficult, as it often results in an angry client (the very last thing I want) or me doing way more work on the site for the originally agreed-upon price. This is a no-win situation, because nobody is ever completely satisfied with the outcome.
So the client relationship can be a tricky creature, and I have found that the best way to make the relationship work is to keep lines of communication open, and above all, to educate my clients. I don’t mean I sit them down and give lectures or classes (although that actually is one of the services I offer), but to explain, in language they can understand, what it is I need to do to make their site work for them in the best way possible.
If you read my blog, you will see that most of my posts are aimed at doing just this – educating the small business owner about how the web works, and how to use it to their best advantage. I hope that it is useful information – most of the comments I get seem to indicate that it is.
So now I post a question; what do you want to know more about? How can I help you understand something about doing business online that is puzzling you? Let me know in the comments and I will make it the subject of a future post.
I look forward to hearing from you.