Never Assume what a Client Understands

Creating a site for a client has to be a collaborative process or neither you nor the client will be happy.

I’ve spent the last 5+ years sitting at my computer everyday creating websites for clients. I’ve learned a lot in these years and I’m always learning more. In a business where the technology and best practices change daily, it’s kind of important. It’s just as important to remember what my clients don’t know. They have not spent most of their waking hours in the past few years learning this stuff, this is not their business and honestly for a lot of it, particularly on the tech side, they don’t want to know. That’s why they want to hire someone. When I first started my business, I never thought about what a good small business mentor I would have to become. When you’re creating something for someone else and they don’t understand how it’s done – transparency, training, explanation all have to be part of the process. Creating a site for a client has to be a collaborative process or neither you nor the client will be happy.

Chicago WordPress Meetup
Chicago WordPress Meetup

It’s part of my business strategy to provide and encourage education, that’s why I continue to do seminars at SCORE and run my WordPress Meetup. It can be easy for any Web designer/developer to get wrapped up in what they know and assume the rest of the world is ignorant. Well, I’m pretty ignorant about how my car runs, but if I ask my mechanic a question, the one who gives me an honest non-condescending answer is the one that will get my repeat business.

I sent a quote off to a woman on a charity board the other day. She was happy with the quote, but then sent me this email:

“Hi Becky,

It all sounds very good to me.  I just want to clarify a couple of things…what do you think about the “architecture” of the site (if that’s the correct word)?  Based on this quote, will you make suggestions for the site to look more appealing or to flow more easily?  Will you have ideas about bells and whistles to add (such as drop down menus inside of event pages)?  Or do we need to map it all out and you create it??

When you say “you should have a Google analytics account” does that mean: 1) we probably already have one, or 2) we will need to get one?   At this point, do I need to know what that is?

Will this include helping us to maximize social media and inserting the right words in our content so a google search puts us at top of list??

As you can tell, I’m very new at this.  But when I present this to the board I will need to know how to answer these questions.

OK – my assumptions here were that she understood that she needed to provide content, would know about analytics and that SEO and Social Media services are usually separate add-on services done by people with that particular expertise. Clearly those assumptions were wrong – here’s my reply:

“Hi , 

Information architecture (see, you did have the right word) is what pages/information is presented and how. Think of a corporation organization chart – we start with home, but then where do we go? What do we want the audience to do? (That’s called a “call to action”.)  I can certainly help and voice an opinion on the how and why, but the what needs to come from you. If you have board members who are writers, I strongly recommend getting them engaged now. The explanation of what you do and the “pitch” for donations (that’s your call to action), need to be very strong and succinct. Good writing here, especially on the home page will be your best strategy for the search engines finding you.

Google analytics is a free service that tracks the traffic on your site. How many, where they come from etc. It is not required, but if you want to have an idea of what your traffic is like it’s an awesome tool. I can help with this, but I don’t want to end up being the owner of the account. A brief look at your current site tells me that this has never been setup. It probably would be best to do this now and get it attached to the current site first. That way you have a little window to get a “before” look at how the site is doing.

I can certainly connect your Facebook account to the site, that’s being done now. I’m pretty sure we can even get the FB feed to show up. What I don’t do is actively post things for you and keep these accounts active. There are social media experts that will do that (not cheap), but your best bet is to assign this task to several board members and post something at least several times a month.

Same with search engine optimization. There are experts out there for this (really not cheap) that will do this, but what I do practice is what I call “common sense SEO”. The WordPress structure will give us great page titles, I will setup a sitemap for Google to follow and again – great writing is the best thing you can do. Write well for humans and the search engines will follow. If you are interested in getting help with these services, I can recommend some good people.

Honestly, the thing that’s going to help your site the most? Human networking. Nothing replaces that. If you can get other “sister” or related sites to link to you, that helps greatly as well. Always think of the site as the knot in the middle of the bow, the more you feed to it, the more goes through the knot. New event? Post it on Facebook, but add the link to sign up on your site. Great success story? Brag about it on twitter, but link it back to your site. Going to an event? You have cards with the site address and email to pass out – right? “Build it and they will come” is not a marketing plan – you will always need to drive traffic in a variety of ways, it won’t happen on its own.

I hope this helps.


Almost all clients are “very new at this”. Let’s give them as much help as we can.