Ten answers to common client questions

When clients are thinking about hiring a web designer they come with a lot of questions. How you answer those questions will decide whether you win the work or not.

Hiring a web designer or agency can be an intimidating undertaking. Many clients have had bad experiences in the past or heard stories of people who have felt ripped off. Things are made worse because there is so much of the process they do not understand. That makes them feel out of control, which in turn makes them more apprehensive.

If we want to win the work, we have to reassure the client that we have their best interests at heart, rather than just making a quick buck. That means taking the time to patiently answer their questions.

Below I outline ten of the more common questions we get asked at Headscape and how we go about answering them.

Hopefully seeing how another agency goes about tackling these questions will help you when next you are challenged by a client over these issues. I am not claiming these are definitive answers, they are just how we approach things.

Of course, it isn’t an exhaustive list, but we can go on to discuss other questions in the comments. Think of these as your starter for ten.

How do I know you are any good?

Very rarely is this question asked directly, but it is the unspoken question that all clients ask and one which must be clearly answered.

You could write an entire book on how to answer this question, but at Headscape we focus on the following areas:

  • Experience: We talk a lot about previous, similar pieces of work we have undertaken. We refer to our successes and the lessons we learnt along the way. In particular we emphases our long experience in the industry (approximately 50 years between the three founders) and our knowledge of specific, related, sectors (such as higher education).
  • Reputation: We also play heavily off of the reputation we have built over the years. Reputation within the web community, but also with the clients with whom we work. We always tell prospective clients that they are more than welcome to talk to any existing client we have worked with, not just the few we use a references.
  • Quiet confidence: How you talk and behave goes a long way in establishing your experience. Try and sell yourself too hard and you come across as desperate. We approach a prospective client with quiet confidence as peers, rather than a supplier / contractor relationship.
  • Processes: We talk in depth about our processes. This shows that we have done this many times before and we have proven approaches, which have been shown to work. This not only demonstrates our expertise, but also helps the client to understand how things work and so feel more in control.

Why do you charge so much?

We are often perceived as relatively expensive when compared to others in the industry. Many clients struggle to understand the big price differences between web designers.

We answer this question by focusing on return on investment. Because of our experience, expertise and in-depth processes we believe that we generate a higher quality product. This in turn is more likely to generate a higher return on investment. Yes, you pay more upfront, but ultimately we believe this cost should be more than covered by the return generated from the site (either as financial return or meeting business objectives).

Why do I need to pay for research and strategy?

Some clients can accept the higher rate we charge, but then quibble over specific areas built into our proposals. One such area is research and strategy. In fact these are two separate areas that are often lumped together, but need addressing separately.

Research

We always include a hefty research component, because that is how we get to fully understand the business. Clients may feel they know what they want, but if all somebody wants is an implementor then Headscape is not the right company. People pay for our knowledge and expertise. We recommend alternative solutions that are more cost effective or generate a better return. We can only do that if we spend time researching the underlying issues.

Strategy

Again clients think they just want a new website, but fail to consider the bigger picture. We add in time to help them form a digital strategy because we have come to understand that a fancy website is useless if there are not the internal resources to manage and grow it. If a client just wants a brochure site, there are cheaper companies. That is not a market we wish to compete in. If they want something more, then strategy is a key component of achieving that.

Why pay for user testing?

The implication of this question is that they are paying us for our expertise, so surely we don’t need to test with users. Surely if we are the experts we already know what users want.

Here the emphasis has to be on the fact that our expertise lies in understanding what processes produce an effective website, and that user testing is a key component of this.

We explain that those working on the development of a new website (including the client) are too close to the project to remain objective. User testing can provide the subjectivity required to ensure the right solution.

Finally, we also emphasise the benefits of user testing in resolving differences in opinion, which is particularly appealing to larger clients with multiple stakeholders.

Why should I pay for project management?

For some reason clients don’t like to pay for project management.

We try to explain that ultimately project management pays for itself by ensuring that projects remain within budget and on time.

We also tend to emphasise that every project needs management whether it is shown as a separate line in the proposal or not. Many web designers simply bury the figure in their daily charge out rate, but we prefer to be more upfront and transparent about the amount of time we are dedicating to this task.

How long does a project take?

This may seem like a ridiculous question from our perspective, but if your a client trying to plan a project, at least some indication of timescales is required.

Of course the answer is entirely reliant on the size and complexity of the project, something that we don’t always know when this question is asked.

Many web designers are unsurprisingly reluctant to commit to timescales so early on. We overcome this problem by using other similar projects as a benchmark. We will tell them how long a typical project of roughly their size and complexity has taken in the past. In our experience this is enough to keep most clients happy.

How much does a website cost?

As with the previous question, there are so many variables involved that this is nearly impossible to answer.

Once again the best approach is to refer to previous projects to give ballpark figures. Where that is not possible (because of confidentiality) we will often provide a best guess, but emphasise that it is exactly that.

If even a best guess is not possible, we give the client a typical price range for the projects we work on. This will give them an indication of whether Headscape is suited to their budget.

We believe it is important to have this discussion upfront, because it saves a lot of time when the client’s expectations are not in line with yours. Better to find that out before you put too much work into putting together a formal proposal.

Why should I tell you my budget?

When a client asks us how much their website is going to cost, we often turn the question around and ask them what their budget is. Many clients are uncomfortable with this because they fear that we will come back with exactly their budget even if the project could be done cheaper.

The reason we try and encourage clients to share their budget is so that we can tailor the right solution to that budget. The way we often describe this is by comparing it to purchasing a house. When purchasing a house the budget dictates what type of house you can afford. Unless your budget is ridiculously low, you will certainly end up with a house that meets your basic specifications. However, your budget may determine the quality of fixtures and fittings, furniture and even the area that the house is located in.

Discussing budget allows the client and web designer to decide where the money is best spent and where savings could be made.

Why won’t you do some speculative work?

I have written before about why Headscape does not do speculative design. However, our main argument is that speculative design does not fit with our design process.

At Headscape we work closely with the client to understand their business, users and requirements through a collaborative process. This is in order to produce the most effective website possible. This collaborative process is simply not possible until a contractual arrangement exists between both parties. Only then can we work with the client to really dig into their requirements and the underlying business objectives. How can we produce a design if this collaborative process has not yet taken place?

We understand the client’s desire to see the quality of our work, but we encourage them to speak to our existing clients and look at the websites we have built rather than asking us to produce pretty pictures with no real substance behind them.

Why can’t you meet my deadline?

It is not unusual for us to tell a prospective client that we cannot meet their deadline. This often comes as a shock to clients, who are used to being promised the world by web designers desperate for their work.

We explain to clients that we are uncomfortable making promises to deliver unless we are 100% sure we can meet those obligations. We want to build trust with our clients, and committing to a deadline that we are not positive we can meet is not the best way to begin a relationship.

We also explain that we have made commitments to other clients and that we are unwilling to risk failing to deliver on those projects in order to squeeze a new client in.

We find that most clients are impressed by our honesty and the fact that they can be sure their project will not be bumped when a future lead comes in. It also never hurts to let a client know how busy you are because that shows them that he must be good!

So it’s now over to you. How do you answer the above questions? And what other questions do you get asked? Let’s continue the discussion in the comments.

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