Keep your friends close, but keep a professional freelance web designer closer


One of my very first clients asked the very reasonable question “what happens to my site if you decide you don’t wanna do this anymore”. Sometimes people equate the term “freelancer” with “hobbyist”.

Mostly on faith (since I was just starting out), that good egg decided to entrust me with his project. I was able to reassure him that web development was my passion, and that even if for some crazy reason I was giving it up, I would make sure to house his files with a reputable company. I made it clear that I was committed to him as a customer, even if at some point I was going to stop being committed to the web industry. Though it’s not likely to ever happen, that made him feel better.

Walk softly and carry a web developer

It’s a good idea to keep your web professional on a retainer. I offer this option to my clients at very reasonable base rates, and if that rate needs to be supplemented due to an inordinate amount of work one month, the client is informed before any extra jobs begin.

The point is, as the world becomes more and more connected via the internet, the more chummy you’ll want to be with your top nerd. When hiring a web contractor, you should both consider your arrangement to be a long-term relationship. It’s all about getting that “warm and fuzzy” feeling. If you don’t feel that a good working relationship is being forged, you probably have the wrong guy, or girl, or agency. You should see this as a partnership, and the geek you hire should have the same attitude. If you fear that your success is secondary to them, perhaps you’ll need to keep looking.

Keep the lines of communication open

It’s important for web folk to be detailed in their communications, but it’s just as important for clients to be clear about their needs and expectations. Given that we’re all just people, sometimes that clarity is lacking but it’s the consistent effort that’s important. Your web contractor should be clear about what products and services will be included for every dollar you’re spending.

Equally important is that web clients do their homework, and ask lots of questions. You should have a good understanding about what your paying for. You should also try to marry your expectations to that understanding.

Sometimes, breakdowns in communication can happen on both sides, and it can get…awkward.

Are we going to be able to do our own updates?

Here’s an example of “scope creep”, but really late in the game.

After discussing a website gig with a client, a detailed estimate was drafted and accepted. A design concept was created, and also accepted by the client. Details about functionality were discussed, determined, and agreed upon.

In this example, let’s say that it was a very simple, brochure-style website, that was really just informational, and included a small photo gallery of their work. The broad lines of what a site visitor might need to know about the company were represented on four or five relatively short web pages. The client didn’t really want or need anything more than that.

The launch is a success, the client is pleased. About a week after the site goes up, the client calls. This is completely normal and expected. Sometimes little issues involving content aren’t really problematic until the client has had some time to get cozy with their copy, as they read and re-read it on their computer screen. Unfortunately, this call doesn’t involve anything so simple.

Here it comes…the question that makes me squirm in my seat while I try to find a polite way of explaining a new price tag. The client wants to know if they can make simple content updates themselves.

This is where the web pro has to try to politely manage a client’s perceptions. Sure, these folks have composed emails before, maybe even built some very impressive Power-Point presentations for work. How difficult, then, can it really be to change the words on a web page? To do this involves a little more than a level of comfort with the graphic user interface offered by email software or a word processing suite.

Then the question comes about “that CMS stuff” I mentioned before. Sure, that would definitely make it possible to manage the content, but this site wasn’t built using a CMS! The client’s budget didn’t allow for that, so it was agreed that since changes would only be sporadic and fairly rare, they would pay a small fee when updates were necessary.

I’m all about “teaching a man to fish”, but converting a site to a Content Management System is a whole new round of web development work, and it’s going to cost.

If the option of doing their own updates is very important to the client – and it’s nailed down early, then it’s no problem. A discussion is then possible regarding the added price of development, and the training necessary to acquaint the client with the software.

Good communication: the onus is on everybody!

This is why web clients really need to do their homework and ask lots of questions. They need to ensure that they’ll be getting what they need, and what they pay for.

Web freelancers and agencies also need to ask, confirm, and re-confirm a client’s requests in the beginning stages. It may sound like badgering, but getting a client to be clear about the same things over and over again can work wonders. They may hear you asking the same questions multiple times, but they’ll also hear themselves answering the same way again and again.

Even in a case where communication is very clear on all sides, it’s still a good idea to keep an egghead in your back pocket. Even if you’re doing your own minor content updates, anything beyond that should be left to a professional. Just as you shouldn’t try to cut your own hair, nor should you try to overhaul your own website. Technology is just going to keep streaking along, and you’ll need someone who can help you navigate it. While you’re busy keeping up with innovations and changes in your own industry, your egg head partner can be keeping up with the world wide web so that you don’t have to.

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