Building Websites in Collaboration With Clients, Not in Spite of Them

It takes more than compelling content and sharp coding to build a great website. A successful relationship between a designer and a client is, perhaps, just as imperative.

Take a look through your portfolio. Are there any projects in there that you weren’t quite happy with? If so, think back to your relationship with that client. Were both parties on the same page, so to speak?

Over the years, I have found that some of my best work has been done in collaboration with clients, not in spite of them. Working with my client as if they are a teammate, rather than someone ordering a sandwich from me at a fast food counter, often means good things are in store for their website.

On the other hand, there have been clients who have been more difficult to work with. Or, perhaps it was me who was more difficult to work with at that time. Either way, the quality of the finished product tends to suffer in these situations.

Find a Balance of Power

As designers, some of us (myself included) tend to think the world revolves around our opinions. After all, we’re the experts who have been hired to do the job right. Sometimes the very mention of a certain idea from a client sends a chill down our spine. The more arrogant among us may even make an ill-regarded comment about it.

The trouble is, at that moment, we’ve tried to shift all the power to our side. While it’s certainly nice to have a lot of say in the design process, the relationship between designer and client can be harmed.

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Be humble. The key is to listen to what your client has to say. Then, try to figure out what they are trying to accomplish with it. As the expert, try and take what they have suggested and build upon it in a way that makes sense for the project. If you’re not sure what their intent was, don’t be afraid to ask them to provide more clarity.

The bottom line is, the client must have some say in the process. How much say really depends on the individual(s) involved. Some people are more hands-on than others. The idea is to form a relationship where both sides can speak honestly about their ideas.

Be Accessible (Not Just in Your Code)

There are a lot of people out there who are a bit intimidated by technology. When they hire you to create an amazing new site for their business, they may not know how to communicate with you. As a designer, you may also have problems communicating with someone who doesn’t know WordPress from GoDaddy.

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A lack of communication with your clients can lead to a lot of misunderstandings and revisions of your hard work. It’s important to try and explain things as plainly as you can and let them know it’s ok to ask you questions. Show them examples of the ideas you’re presenting.

This can take a lot of patience, but it can really help your client to feel empowered. If they feel more confident about what’s going on, they’ll be able to make better decisions.

Be a Tour Guide, Not a Professor

There are times when you may have to train your clients to use a CMS or some other software. Probably the worst thing you can do is to sit down at their desk and just start clicking away at features.

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Instead, try letting the client "drive" the demo. Explain different features of the software and politely ask that they click on specific areas of interest. Think of yourself as a helpful passenger who is pointing out landmarks in a city.

Again, this is about making your client feel more at ease with what is happening. It helps build their confidence and their trust in you as a "tour guide".

In Conclusion

I’ve found that, when I’m exceptionally busy, it can be hard to take the time to work on that team atmosphere with my clients. Sometimes, it’s easy to feel like just getting the project done is the goal.

Still, even for the stressed-out among us, taking those extra few moments to engage our clients can have huge benefits in terms of how well you work together. I often find that doing so brings more of the human element to a project. And that, in turn, can reduce stress.

Chances are that you and your client will still work together long after their new website is launched. Remember to make that extra effort to become a part of a team. You’ll both feel better, and their website will be better off for it.

All images via Bloomua’s Portfolio on Shutterstock.

Comments

  • Yes! That’s all good stuff; all true. Thanks.

    That said, perhaps I and my close colleague are dipping into the wrong client cookie jar, but there are plenty of clients with a traditional top-down “STFU I hired you” mentality. Okay, perhaps I’m exaggerating a bit ;) In any case, much like the tango, collaboration takes two (or more). And plenty of clients prefer to be the boss and dance alone. Then what?

  • Ademola Oladipo

    Lovely.

  • Nice article Eric! Besides just in making each project a success, I think having a good relationship with clients is especially important in building your reputation, getting referrals, and in keeping clients over the longterm.

  • Luke Pettway

    I stand my ground. Remember that the client hired you because you are the expert and in the end the work that your produce reflects you and what you stand for. I’ve had clients say “fine I’ll go elsewhere” because I wouldn’t do something that would cause the product to fail, only to have them come back a week later and say “You were right because agency X made it look horrible”. Check out You’re My Favorite Client by Mike Montiero, I swear by it because it gives similar advice on dealing with those types of clients.

  • caroline

    Really interesting read. I appreciated your thoughts on taking a personal approach and finding the balance of power. I will recommend this to the Webydo community as they work to shape their own businesses and forge relationships with clients.

  • Yes. I’ve done that. But my point is, that’s not collaboration. Trust me, I’ve fired plenty of clients :)

  • Olivia Smith

    Really good article.. I agree to the points you have shared and definitely going to use them in my workplace. I think establishing a good rapport with your clients is really important for the growth of business