Focus and the Art of Collaboration
There is no such thing as a perfect client. And, as much as you might like to think so, a perfect designer/consultant/idea/friend/parent doesn’t exist either. If after reading that statement you’re saying “whaddya’ mean? I’m damn near as perfect as it gets..”, you and your business/job are already probably already in trouble.
Thankfully I’m offering up some advice. It won’t be perfect, but with a sprinkle of links and references to folks who have played and succeeded in our space, along with some of my personal anecdotes, maybe you’ll see the error in some of your ways and brainstorm some ways you may go about fixing them.
I’ve talked about how the clear conveyance of instructions by and to a client and/or design firm (or any other business for that matter) is critical to a project’s success in the past. My views on the subject certainly haven’t changed much in the year or so that’s gone by, but neither has many of our new clients’ approaches to job specifications and direction when it comes to a design job.
Over on the Duct Tape Marketing Blog, John Jantsch offers up some excellent points in a post titled: How to Collaborate with a Designer. There is no such thing as too much information when it comes to collaborating with a designer/developer – unless you’re relaying fluff (make this “pop”, or “jazz” this up, etc…). Concrete examples work best – visual if possible.
One of the two hit-me-in-the-face with a big brick of YES remarks John made in the aforementioned post was that as business owner seeking a designers help, it is important that you realize that you are the master of your domain.
The passion for the product or service exists in you. The why of why you want to be on the web and in what capacity lies in your analysis and research. Not your designer’s or developer’s. These people (Heelatch included) are aides. Rung builders on your company’s long climb up the ladder of success. We’re not mind readers. And while some of us believe we know best, the better ones say so only when they’ve been well informed on all fronts about what you do, and then absorb, analyze, and research what has and hasn’t worked for you (or isn’t working) in the pas – and then propose solutions.
John’s other remark that made sense to me, and perhaps to the clueless client was that if you don’t know exactly what you want, at least try and articulate what you don’t want. We’re all guilty of being wishy-washy at times, but offer something up besides “”yeah, like Twitter but better”…please.
Without heaping too much blame on our soon to be unclear, pain-in-the-butt clients (just kidding – we love you and want to help you…I swear!! We wouldn’t go through what we do if we didn’t have an interest in helping you build successful companies), it must be noted that a lot of designers and developers can and should foot portions of the blame for communication that breaks down and leads to delays, arguments, unfinished or unsatisfactory work etc..
We are the experts. We’ve done this before – a lot. The majority of the clients we’ve worked with so far have either never had a website, tried to build one on their own, had cousin Bobby do it, or, in the best of cases have had a first generation website that has sat in obscurity on the search engines forever. What they do know about SEO, or CMSs’, or Blogs and Social Media is typically the stuff they’ve read in a newspaper (people still read those?) OR, and I’m sure it’s the same for a lot of you out there, is a reaction to what their competition is doing – good, bad or indifferent. Tracking, analysis, conversions – what the hell is that?
We have to educate. More and more the client’s who choose to work with us see us as a part of their team because we feel obligated to bring them up to speed. It’s less of a one-stop-shop thing and more of a “it only makes sense” thing for us. Why design SEO friendly sites, or incorporate a CMS if the client a) has no freakin’ clue what SEO is, and b) never plans to make a single site update themselves. These are small fish in a big pond as examples go, but you get the picture.
Take the time to explain things clearly. You’ll be surprised how much fruit those few extra minutes/hours might bare in the future via referrals and/or additional business.
Bet you were wondering when I’d tie in the focus bit eh? Well, not one of my better posts in terms of flow but I thought the two topics went together well.
I’m actually re-reading Tim Ferriss’ book The 4 Hour WorkWeek in order to brush up on some of his advice, as well as in preparation for a book review I hope to share here, and it would seem Tim shares a lot of the same thoughts with Chris Penn when it comes to Focus and focus’ arch-enemy: Multitasking.
Both contend that in order to maximize efficiency and ensure full and total attention to the subject of the hour (project, problem, book, family, etc..), we need to practice concentrating on one task at a time. With all of the gadgets and toys out there, it’s becoming next to possible unless you have the will of Superman
to play this concentration game all that regularly, but deep down we all know it’s a necessary thing.
Clients would do well to abide by these recommendations. If you plan on or believe you need a new website – start first by asking yourself and those within your company the right questions. Understand that such an undertaking is not something you cross off a to-do-list when taking into consideration that a) it should be considered an important and ongoing fixture in your marketing mix, and that b) more often than not, you are going to have to invest a lot of resources in ensuring it gets done properly, conveys the proper messages to your clients, and probably most important of all – achieves the goals you’ve set out for it – WHICH – typically are laid out at the very beginning and relayed to your designer/developer for consideration throughout all the steps of the design and development process.
Once again, not to let us or other service providers off the hook, it’s up to us to steer the client in the right direction. We’ve been in situations where we’ve literally hunted down clients for additional content and images, etc..Some people never change despite how much you try and educate them. These clients will always be out there – and if at the end of the day you part ways without a finished project you’re proud to display in your portfolio – hopefully you’ve learned how to become a better teacher.
Most clients – especially small business owners and entrepreneurs – are like sponges. They soak it up. It may go in one ear, and halfway out the other, but if you take control of the process, and help them focus on the tasks at hand and somehow wrestle a list of goals for the site and some content out of them, you’re better off than 3/4 of the designers out there taking on jobs just to “pay the bills”. And what fun is that at the end of the day?
Would love to hear how you get your clients to focus when attempting to manage a web-related project. Also, through what means have you had the greatest success in steering clients right? (weekly conference calls/updates, file sharing, questionnaires, iron-clad contracts with “We have all control” in really fine print).? Thanks for reading.