7 Tips on Communicating with a Web Graphics Client

More successful web projects through improved communications

3 people in a client meeting

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The most successful web designers are the ones who can not only produce a great looking webpage and write the code necessary to bring that design into the browsers, but also be able to effectively communicate with the people who hire them for their design and development skills.

Improving client communications is something that will benefit all web professionals — from designers to developers to project managers and more. The challenge in figuring out how to make those improvements is not always easy, however. Let’s take a look at 7 tips that you can apply to the communications you have with your web design clients immediately.

Speak Their Language

One of the most frequent complaints I hear from web design clients who are unhappy with their current provider is that they “cannot understand” what that provider is telling them. Those web professionals speak too frequently in industry jargon, sometimes in an attempt to come across as more knowledgeable than they really are. In the end, this rarely impresses anyone, and more often than not it actually leaves people frustrated and confused.

When communicating with clients, be sure to speak in a way that they can understand. You may need to discuss technical aspects of your work, like responsive web design or the best practices of online typography, but do so in layman’s terms and with a minimum of industry jargon.

Agree on Project Goals

No one who kicks off a new website project really wants a new website – what they actually are looking for is the results that come from that new site. If the company runs an Ecommerce site, their goals for the project are very likely to be improved sales. If you are doing work for a non-profit organization, the stated goals for that project may be increasing community engagement and monetary donations. These are two very different kinds of goals, and the methods you would use to achieve would obviously be different as well. This is important. You must always remember that different clients and projects will have different goals. Your job is to determine what they are and find a way to help meet those goals.

Put It in Writing

While verbally agreeing on goals is great, you must also put those goals in writing and make the document readily available for anyone working on that project. Having goals written down gives everyone a chance to review and really think about the focus of the project. It also gives anyone coming into that project late a way to see these high-level goals and get on the same page as everyone else quicker.

If you have had a great kick-off meeting and decided on a number of important points, do not leave those conversations to memory alone — get them documented and make those documents centrally available to everyone on the project teams.

Provide Regular Updates

There are periods in web design projects where there is seemingly not much to report. Your team is busy working and while progress is being made, there may be nothing tangible to show your client for a period of time. You may be tempted to wait until you are ready for a big presentation to reach back out to that client, but you must fight that temptation! Even if the only progress you can report is that “things are moving along as planned,” there is value in providing regular updates to your customers.

Remember, out of sight means out of mind, and you do not want to be out of your clients' minds during the course of a project. To avoid this, provide regular updates and stay in touch with your clients.

Don’t Send That Email

Email is an incredibly powerful and convenient method of communication. As a web designer, I rely on email very often, but I also know that if I only use email to communicate with my clients, I am making a big mistake.

It is very difficult to build a strong relationship through email communication alone (more on relationship building shortly) and some conversations are much more effectively had via a phone call or in-person meeting. The need to deliver bad news absolutely falls into this category, as do complex questions that may require an explanation. Going back and forth via email is not the best way to have those conversations, and bad news should never be delivered electronically. In instances like this, do not hesitate to pick up the phone to make a call or to schedule some time to sit down face-to-face. You may be hesitant to have that face-to-face meeting to deliver bad news, but in the end, the relationship will be stronger because you addressed a problem head-on and confronted it properly.

Be Honest

On the topic of bad news, when you have something unfortunate to discuss, do so honestly. Do not skate around a problem or try to hide the truth hoping a situation will miraculously fix itself (it never does). Contact your client, be upfront and honest about the situation, and outline what you are doing to address the issues. They will likely not be happy to hear that a problem has arisen, but they will appreciate your honest and open communication.

Build a Relationship

The best source of new business for many web designers is from existing customers. Smash Magazine has an article on building strong relationships that explains this really well. This goes beyond just doing a good job on the work they hired you for (they expect you to do a good job, otherwise they wouldn’t have hired you). Building a relationship means being pleasant and personable. It means learning something about your customers and treating them not like just a paycheck, but like a valued partner and even a friend.