A client's work is never done

In my last post I talked in very broad terms about responsibilities, but how does that translate into actual tasks that need to be completed?

I recently wrote a post about the role of the client and how poorly defined it is. This started me thinking in more depth about how clients perceive web projects and how they often fail to grasp the enormity of the undertaking. In this post I want to explore the ongoing commitment that clients have to make to their websites.

Building, owning and running a website is a big commitment if you really want the site to succeed. A lot of people have written in the past about the “build it and they will come” mentality, where website owners are under the impression that people will spontaneously find their site with no work on promotion. Equally I believe there is a “build it and it will run” mentality, where clients fail to grasp the amount of work they will have to undertake to make a website successful.

In my last post I talked in very broad terms about responsibilities, but how does that translate into actual tasks that need to be completed? Even if the client has hired a web design agency to build their site, they will still have to commit a lot of time into making it happen. Here are what I perceive as the main tasks that clients need to invest time in:

Defining the scope

The planning stage of a web development project requires significant time and mental commitment from the client. In many cases they are yet to take on a web design agency and even if they have, they will still need to work through the planning stage with that agency.

Before the web design project even begins the client needs to have established:

  • the business objectives that underpin the project
  • the success criteria against which the project will be judged
  • the pros and cons of the existing site (if it exists)
  • lessons to be learnt from reviewing the competitions websites
  • a clear understanding of who the target audience is and what they want from the site

All too often these fundamental building blocks are not put in place either because of lack of time or resources internally. However, skimping on these areas can seriously undermine the success of a website.

Driving the build

However, the clients work doesn’t stop when the site starts to be built. If anything the workload now increases. Sure, the web designer is doing the technical and design stuff but that still leaves all the content to be sourced. The website owner is almost always responsible for:

  • bringing together content from various parts of the organisation
  • editing the content received to present a consistent tone
  • ensuring that existing content is written in a form that is suitable for the web
  • writing the content from scratch where it does not already exist

In addition to responsibilities for content the client is often involved in:

  • developing the information architecture for the site alongside the agency
  • signing off templates and designs throughout the development cycle
  • managing external suppliers such as hosting agencies or third party content providers

Maintaining the momentum

Even once the build is over there is still much for the client to do. Although I believe that the design agency should be working with a client on a continual basis, the reality is that in many situations the client is now left to fend for themselves. This makes the post launch phase particularly burdensome for the client. Often this is added to because the project is considered “over” and they are expected to attend to other responsibilities beyond the website.

However, the post launch stage of a website project is often the most crucial. It is now that the client should be:

  • looking at ways to promote the site
  • building up a community of regular site visitors
  • keeping content fresh and up-to-date
  • planning for the future of the site

Without that ongoing attention the site will quickly stagnate and die. As I have said before, too many websites go through a constant redesign cycle where everything is thrown out ever three or four years, when in actual fact a website should be evolving continually over time.

Rinse and repeat

The reality is that a web design project never ends. A website is never finished. Even if a client has done all of the work and fulfilled all of the above points, they are still not finished because they should be starting the process all over again. They should be continually redefining and adjusting the scope and role of the website. They should be adding new content, introducing new functionality and they should always be promoting the site and building relationships with their users.

In short; a client’s work really is never done.

  • http://www.nataliemac.com NatalieMac

    I think I’m going to have all my future clients read this article. :-)
    I can’t believe how many people hire me to build a site and think that all they have to do is hand over some money and magically a site that promotes their business will appear somewhere on the web. “Here’s the money, now go build my site.”
    And they’re disconcerted and disappointed when I explain that they’re going to be doing 50% of the work (or more!).

  • http://www.designsbyjohnson.com Kyle Johnson

    It’s amazing how clients, especially small business clients seem to think that a Web page will exist in a static state with no updates and no work, no analysis whatsoever.
    My former employer seemed to be ok with that, thankfully I am not with them anymore.

  • Graeme

    Spot on! As a client who is experienced in working with agencies, I’m under no illusion about how much effort is required from my side, especially where content is concerned. And it’s obviously a big issue as a couple of agencies I’ve worked with recently have been at pains to point out that they could turn work around quickly, but they were concerned about our ability to do likewise.It’s definitely an issue worth raising – I’m always impressed by agencies that approach projects in this level of detail. Most don’t even mention it, leaving the client to sort themselves out. But agencies have the greater experience in these matters and by pointing out the client’s responsibilities up front, you can save a lot of hassle later. Don’t assume they know what they are doing, just because they’re paying!

  • http://www.brenclosures.com.au Simon Griffiths

    For a website owners point of view this could seem a little bit negative. I can just see all the clients you may have seeing this and saying that they are not up to the commitment.
    To counter this I have to say that the company I work for have 3 sites, for various divisions of the company, the newest being http://www.brdatasystems.com.au (sorry I had to add that in as I have just made that live and am proud of it, as well as looking for inbound links – what Paul says in action). The company I work for produces metal boxes basically, and sells them predominantly to electricians. Not your typical idea of web users. However by keeping it fresh, up to date and constantly monitoring stats and increasing usability, it probably generates more new contacts than our sales team of 18 people. Yes it takes someones time to monitor and tweak, but look at what a maintained site is doing.
    The tricky bit is then converting those contacts in informational sites such as ours. Unfortunately e-commerce is a bit tricky as we work through wholesale chains, which means that we rely on our sales team to quickly follow up leads, and depending on the person this may or may not happen. In truth the hardest part of the work is often here. Persauding the sales team to embrace the web. For my position this actually takes more time than all the monitoring and maintaining we do, and can be a good deal more frustrating, but just think of the benefits.

  • http://www.armitage-online.co.uk Andrew Armitage

    Excellent article and one that I will definitely share with clients.
    The difficulty with many small businesses is that there’s still a lot that haven’t grasped the concept of a website. This is where as designers/developers, we should be offering help from the outset to educate them so that as our technical workload declines, we replace this with practical support and advice, and clients will keep coming back to us.

  • Johan

    The main problem arises here that designer supposes to be the interpreter, and the client the author. But it is not so in the real world, clients cannot be authors if they cannot support that role, and clients tend toquestion what the designer interprets as what the client needs.

  • Graeme

    Simon – that’s an excellent point you’ve made. Sometimes a client not only has to produce a website, they have to sell it internally too. It seems illogical, but some people (usually senior decision makers that are suspicious of the internet) won’t take a website seriously, despite the clear advantages of doing it properly. To some extent, they can be persuaded by stats and figures, but it can be difficult to manage that internal battle and deliver your responsibilities on a website at the same time. It’s worth doing though – every time I’ve been able to demonstrate increased revenue or productivity which can be directly attributed to the new website. It’s worth remembering when you are wading through designs and quibbling over details in the technical spec, that that’s the most important outcome at the end of the day.

  • http://www.crazypixel.co.uk Geoff

    The flip side to all this, especially with smaller clients is when you educate them in the above they often feel completely over whelmed in the shear scale of the responsibilities that they must part shoulder with the designer/developer in order to produce a successful and profitable venture, in my experience more than often than not, the client then source’s a designer/developer with the promise the end product will be a success regardless, who agenda is in the short term monies to be made.
    The bitter sweetness comes when you touch base with the site and/or client little further down the line to find that their web designer/developer has run off or no longer is able to pick up emails and the site is on par with the late 90′s
    Geoff

  • http://e-okulnotlari.blogspot.com e-okul

    The main problem arises here that designer supposes to be the interpreter, and the client the author. But it is not so in the real world, clients cannot be authors if they cannot support that role, and clients tend toquestion what the designer interprets as what the client needs.

  • http://e-okulnotlar.blogspot.com e-okul

    To some extent, they can be persuaded by stats and figures, but it can be difficult to manage that internal battle and deliver your responsibilities on a website at the same time.

  • http://www.sagliksiz.net tedavisi

    Hi,
    To some extent, they can be persuaded by stats and figures, but it can be difficult to manage that internal battle and deliver your responsibilities on a website at the same time.

  • http://www.eokul-not.blogspot.com e okul

    Simon – that’s an excellent point you’ve made. Sometimes a client not only has to produce a website, they have to sell it internally too. It seems illogical, but some people (usually senior decision makers that are suspicious of the internet) won’t take a website seriously, despite the clear advantages of doing it properly.
    To some extent, they can be persuaded by stats and figures, but it can be difficult to manage that internal battle and deliver your responsibilities on a website at the same time.
    It’s worth doing though – every time I’ve been able to demonstrate increased revenue or productivity which can be directly attributed to the new website. It’s worth remembering when you are wading through designs and quibbling over details in the technical spec, that that’s the most important outcome at the end of the day

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