Notebook in classroom to represent educating web design clients

How to school your clients on streamlining success

6 min read
Lisa Stambaugh

Remember the first day of school? It started with rules. Your teacher rattled off classroom expectations and the consequences of noncompliance. The goal: Get everyone on the same page to assure the best possible experience for you, your classmates, and most certainly, your teacher.

What works in the classroom also works for web professionals and clients. To streamline success, you must set clear expectations and clear consequences to achieve the optimal outcome time and again.

But how? Read on for my top three tips for experiencing higher productivity, improved results, and long and gratifying relationships with your happy clients.

1. Assume nothing, except that we are all adults.

You’re dealing with grownups. Even if your clients have not previously worked with a web designer, WordPress developer, or the like, you can assume they will (at the very least) act like adults. Your rules might be different, and they might question your expectations. However, it’s fair to assume that most of them will behave most of the time.

That’s not to say rules won’t get broken. Occasionally, there will be sustained inappropriate behavior, unwillingness to follow instructions, and meltdowns. Not only are we adults; we’re human. Know that pushback is normal, beneficial even, as it can help each of you get even clearer on your needs and expectations.

Find the communication method that works best for you both. Then, get rolling. If, at any point, things get unruly, consider a time-out — either for you or your clients — until you feel confident you can work through the obstacle by using your words.  

2. Create expectations based on common goals.

Identify the situations that require you and your client to get clear on expectations and goals. Set aside time to get on the same page, and also demonstrate the benefit to the client. For me, I establish expectations early on to enhance my productivity and efficiency. But for a client, he might not really care about that until I explain how this relates to him and his budget. For example, if I can demonstrate how creating expectations based on shared goals will expedite the delivery of his website at a lower cost, then suddenly he cares. Go figure.

Know that every web pro’s expectations differ. I’m a web designer, and therefore, mine fall into the following three categories:

  • What can and cannot be done. Limitations based on technology, my skillset, and the client’s budget and timeline constraints.
  • Communication methods and processes. How (and from whom) I am willing to receive change requests, my commitments about response time, frequency of project updates and status reports, and our mutual promise to each other of “no surprises.”
  • How deliverables change hands. How I deliver work, present invoices, and expect to receive materials, feedback and payment.

Now, make the effort to figure out what works for you, then share with your clients. And no, it’s not cheating to copy mine!

3. Articulate and document. Then document some more.

Sharing your expectations with your clients is one thing. However, ensuring they are in full agreement is another. That’s why it’s imperative to have a verbal agreement, email confirmation, or an approved proposal or contract before moving forward. Don’t assume until you confirm.

In the classroom, the expectations are displayed on a wall poster, shared with parents, and reinforced by the teacher on a daily basis. In business, discuss these by phone or in person. Better yet, get them documented in the proposal and subsequent communication.

What can I say? I’m thorough. I created web pages where my clients can conveniently refer to this information. For example, I mention (and summarize) my Invoice Policies in all proposals, and note this web page in the footer of all invoices.

Shared expectations in school and business

Still not convinced these have a lot in common?

Wait your turn.

In school: Wait until the student ahead of you in line is finished, or until the teacher is ready for you.

In business: Wait until I’m available and ready to help you. Be prepared to get in line behind other clients who asked for my time first. I commit to answering every email within 24 hours, so you will know your place in line. I’ll either confirm that the request is done, or I’ll tell you when it will be done.

Listen and follow instructions.

In school: Do what the teacher says. It’s OK to ask for help if you don’t understand the instructions.

In business: Please do what I suggest, when it relates to your project. You hired a professional for a reason. Questions? Ask away!

Respect others’ possessions.

In school: Don’t take or touch toys, books, or snacks of other students without permission. Don’t bully classmates. Don’t sass the teacher.

In business: Don’t take text, images or collateral of others without permission or purchase. No bullying or sassing allowed here either.

Ask permission before speaking.

In school: Raise your hand. Don’t interrupt the teacher or your classmates.

In business: Don’t phone or text with your request unless it’s an emergency. Send requests and questions by email, allowing for clarity, a time-stamped paper trail, and an easy method for response. If you think a conversation is needed, email me and I’ll gladly schedule a call.

Complete your assignments on time.

In school: Turn in homework when it’s due.

In business: Deliver content, photos, decisions, feedback, approval and payment within our agreed-upon timeframe.

Noncompliance has consequences.

In school: Consequences could include missing recess, a note home to parents, or a visit to the principal’s office.

In business: I’m willing to forgive a first offense, and usually the second. But, all bets are off when it comes to the third. As dreaded as that trip to the principal’s office, my last resort for repeat offenders is asking them to find another web designer.

Have you encountered these similarities? Or perhaps, you have some tips of your own to share. Please show-and-tell them in the comments below.