A client's work is never done

Paul Boag

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.