How to avoid making a bad impression with web design clients

Common mistakes web designers make

You only get one shot. But often times, web designers blow their first impression with websites that fail to wow, and ultimately send potential clients walking. Wondering if your site beckons a bounce? Read on for the most common (and costly) mistakes that keep web pros from landing their next big gig.

Mistake No. 1: Sending the wrong message

You do great work, right? You pay painstaking attention to detail and keep up with the latest in web design? Then, double (and triple) check that your own site isn’t sending the wrong message.

I’m not talking about spelling, grammar, punctuation, and formatting flubs; those errors are unforgivable in our business. What I’m referring to is the fact that you aren’t being honest and transparent about your experience, qualifications, and body of work.

How you’re giving the wrong impression

Potential clients might get the wrong idea about your web design work if:

  • Your site offers no biographical information about you (or your team).
  • Your content incorporates a vague use of “we” instead of “I,” giving no indication of the actual team composition.
  • Your web design portfolio features screenshots or images, but no links to live websites.
  • Your site makes mention of “great work I can’t show you because it’s behind a firewall.”
  • Your clients’ sites (which you should be linking to from your portfolio pages) give you no design credit.

Anyone can claim to be a web pro, and the average reader has no way to determine the validity of that assertion. When no certification, licensure, or board exam is required, who’s to say you’re as amazing as you claim to be? Speak the truth about yourself, and you’re sure to deliver to the standard you set.

How to send the right message

Include a bio that covers your background, education, training, and experience as it pertains to web design. This might even include your path from a previous career or details on how long you’ve been in this or related industries — as long as it still sells you as a web pro. Anything that doesn’t, save for your LinkedIn profile (to which you should also be linking). As for your portfolio, focus on live websites that users can visit for real examples of your work (with design credits).

The idea is to allow potential clients to quickly and easily learn about you and your work. My bio includes a few tidbits going back to childhood and grade school, because I’ve framed them as relevant to the work I do as a web designer. For example, my class of ‘75 high school peers voted me “Most Organized,” and on my site, I have the sweater vest to prove it.

Mistake No. 2: Saying “yes” to everything

You know a ton. You’ve invested loads of time and money into becoming the web designer you are today. But you might feel pressured to be everything to everyone. Don’t. Not only does this water down the things you do really well; you might cause users to second-guess your expertise.

How you’re giving the jack-of-all-trades impression

Users might raise an eyebrow about your ability to be a web master (versus a webmaster) if you:

  • Claim specialization in “all things Internet,” including design, development, writing, maintenance, app creation, social media, SEO, e-commerce, advertising, and expertise with every major CMS including WordPress, Joomla!, and Drupal.
  • Use excessive technology-speak coupled with every flashy technique you’ve ever learned.
  • Include every project you’ve ever completed in your portfolio.

Why is saying yes to everything a no-no? You think you’re presenting yourself as a widely accomplished expert across a broad spectrum of activities, and perhaps you’re hoping that if you cover every possibility, more work will come your way. But instead, you’re inviting skepticism with your tap-dancing frog routine. No one has the bandwidth or brainpower to stay up-to-speed on all areas. Everyone wants to invest time in learning the latest and greatest, but if you truly specialized in everything, you’d spend all of your time learning and no time working.

How to reel in yourself (and more clients)

Don’t show off everything you know. Figure out where you excel, and focus your brand there. Start by carefully selecting portfolio work that highlights your strengths. I know, you’re proud of everything you’ve ever created. Just like your mom who saved every one of your drawings from Kindergarten, you feel a special attachment to each completed project. But if you want to come across as a master of your craft, you must curate your portfolio with a critical eye. Then, for all other complementary skills that don’t make your services list, you can offer to connect clients to your team of Power Partners.

Once you narrow the scope of what you do well, make a case for your expertise. One way I do this on my own site is by making mention of the tools I use and the processes I’ve established to make me an uber-efficient web designer. Not only does it allow me to showcase my proficiency, this tactic helps me relate to the client. By additionally detailing solutions for what I know are common pain points, I can more easily sell myself as a must-hire.

Mistake No. 3: Being too generic

Clients want a customized solution from a pro who will take the time to learn exactly what they need. But if you give the impression that you’re a turn-and-burn operation, it gets harder to charge what you think your work is worth.

How you’re giving the dime-a-dozen impression

Potential clients might question whether your solution will meet their specific requirements if:

  • Your offering is one size fits all.
  • You list generic pricing, such as a flat per-page rate or fixed-price packages with a set number of pages and/or features.
  • You give a price or quote without an actual discussion (“submit this form for a free quote”).
  • You provide no good-faith sharing or demonstration of your knowledge.

Being efficient is one thing. But when it appears that you are less focused on providing the best solution for each unique client in order to save time and effort, you could be giving the impression that you’re lazy or not worth your rate. The key is offering value.

How to offer value before getting started on a project

Emphasize that before you can offer any proposals, you prefer to meet with the client (in person or by phone), and that you want to understand the goals for both the client’s business and this project. You can outline your process, but demonstrate that you believe in an investment in the web design pre-work that provides the best possible, most accurate proposal.

You can also show potential clients that you’re a contributing expert in your industry by:

  • Creating a free download.
  • Publishing an e-book.
  • Conducting a survey.
  • Creating a tutorial or checklist based on a recent successful project.
  • Filming a video tip and uploading on YouTube.
  • Creating and selling (or giving away) templates, themes, or plugins.

This shows you willingly share tidbits that help the audience at large, without the need to monetize every pearl of wisdom.

Making a fantastic first impression

Will Rogers said it best: “You will never get a second chance to make a first impression.” By maintaining your own knockout website — one that successfully highlights your wow-worthy ability to create and contribute — you will make that first one phenomenal. Keep in mind that you’re the one who creates that impression. You’re in control, so make it reflect the professional you believe you are, and the one that clients want to hire.

Got tips and blunders to share with the web-design community? Leave them in the comments section below so we can all better frame our best selves in an accurate, honest, and hire-able light.

Image by: Photo Credit: marfis75 via Compfight cc