Some of my early work experience was for companies who didn’t understand the importance of clear communication and transparency. Now I’m working for myself, I’ve done everything in my power to exceed expectations in this department.
Too often I hear tales of client’s bad past experiences with designers and developers alike. This post is a collection of my thoughts based on taking responsibility for improving these people’s experience when dealing with me. Included are some of the results and benefits I’ve found from working this way.
Misunderstandings are commonplace. When I embark on a project my aim is to minimise, and if possible eradicate, their occurrence.
Communication in any project is key to it’s success. If a client thinks I am providing one thing, while I think I’m providing another, the only outcome is disappointment and frustration. My client would be unhappy because they’ve spent money on something that isn’t right, and I would be unhappy, because I’d have wasted my time. Who ends up accepting the loss? Making sure there is an understanding between client and designer/developer is fundamental in achieving the project’s goals, feeling good about my work and building fruitful, lasting relationships with my clients. As the service provider, it’s my responsibility to make sure this communication is clear and productive. Clients can’t always express what they need, but I can always try my best to understand them – and make myself understood.
This is the one clear way I can provide an excellent service, because I’ll do exactly what I set out to, exactly what my client expects. By minimising the possibility for disappointment, I’ll pave the way for satisfaction. Then I can beam broadley at a job well done.
So where do I start? The first meeting and project brief planning. But, we’re not finished there. Say you make an agreement, you double check, reword, clarify all the details. You set a deadline and toddle off. A few weeks pass before you contact your client again with the finished product. “Ta daaaar!” you say (you’re really pleased with what you’ve created). But you’re client’s not so happy. Why? You set off on the right foot. What happened?
You can’t possibly know, because you didn’t check. For communication to work, it has to be consistent. It has to be frequent and it has to go both ways. As I see it, the most important skill in my toolbox, is being able to listen. These are the things I set out to do with every new client relationship;
- Listen to their needs.
- Don’t be pushy. The project is about what’s best for them, not what makes my life easier. If it’s not good for me too, then we’re not a good fit.
- Don’t abuse their trust. Work hard, reach deadlines and keep promises.
- Be certain about their requirements. Figure out exactly what they mean, exactly what they are asking for.
- Be clear. Make sure they understand the options I offer.
- Make them feel looked after. Make sure they are glad we’re working together.
- Never make assumptions.
- Always keep them up to date.
Weekly meetings and progress reports are one thing, and for some clients this will be enough, but I like to take things one step further.
For every sizeable project, especially where large sums of money or ongoing hourly rates are concerned, I invite my client’s to join my project board. There are lots of great project management tools to choose from, but I use Trello (and it’s brilliant).
There are a few reasons why I think this is a good idea; My client can see exactly what’s going on, they know how much hard work is going in to their project, they feel they are getting better value, I am more motivated to keep track of my tasks and we can discuss tasks on the board without endless chains of emails.
It’s also a great place to share notes, even assign tasks to the client too (when I need feedback or files from them), and it gives us a central place to continue communication throughout the project. Sometimes there will be technical information that my client might not understand, but they can still see what’s going on and ask me about it if they need to. This removes that level of natural mistrust – which I imagine must be similar to the experience I have when I take my car to a mechanic (I really must learn more about car engines).
On top of this, when I’m working at hourly/daily rates, I time everything through my billing system. My client can log in to see how many hours have been worked on each task and the invoices they receive will be fully itemised with a clear note explaining what was done/completed. They can see what cost them £10, and what cost £80. Each and every minute is accounted for. Useful information to any business person planning future projects or estimating other budgets.
Combined, these acts attempt to add a level of transparency to my work. I want to remove the wool that some seem content to hide behind, and reveal the jellyfish (read: true beauty of my work… and yes, organisation is beautiful).
This model of transparent task management aims to earn trust over money. I put the people first and build a relationship, the rest just follows (of course I get paid, my time and skills are valuable and I charge accordingly). But, I know I’m on the right track, because the response I’ve been getting is astonishing and the repeat business, for me, is proof of concept.