When it comes to designing websites, distance doesn’t matter

Paul Boag

Do not base your selection of web design agency on their location. Skills and relationship matter more.

One of the main reasons we lose work at Headscape is because prospective clients feel like they need to hire a local agency. Ironically, this is especially true of London clients who are only an hour and a half down the road from us! All the more ironic when you consider we work with clients on the other side of the world.

Don’t misunderstand. Face to face meetings are important. I fly around the world to spend time with our clients. It’s just not as important as finding the right agency. Somebody who fits the personality of your organisation and has the best skills for your needs.

To prove the point, allow me to share with you some of the tips and techniques we have developed over the years. These techniques ensure a smooth working relationship with more distant clients.

Meet at least once (if at all possible)

Paradoxically, my first piece of advice is to meet up in person at least once. We have run projects without ever meeting the client, but it makes a world of difference if you have at least one face to face meeting.

Face to face meetings gives you the chance to build a personal relationship with the client. If the client is overseas we try and go for a few days. That way we get to know the client, but can also work on initial design concepts, wireframing and IA.

If there is not the budget for meeting up in person, do not despair. Good, regular communication can work almost as well.

Communicate often — even if there is nothing to report

Regular communication is important for all projects, but especially with distant clients. We believe in talking to clients about their projects even if there is nothing to report.

Silence worries clients. They fear that they have fallen off of your radar. A simple email saying you are still on track is enough to reassure them. It is important to send these emails even if you haven’t been working on their project that week.

But, don’t always rely on email, Basecamp or instant messaging. This is especially important if there are problems.

Don’t let technology replace speaking to one another

Electronic communication is impersonal and it is easy for their to be misunderstandings. The telephone better communicates feelings and also provides an opportunity for small talk. This helps cement relationships.

Notice that I talk about the phone rather than Skype. Skype is amazing, but it can suffer from lag and other technical problems. This can make conversation feel stilted. Where possible use a landline instead.

Although phone is better than the written word, video can prove even better.

Make use of video

When I am talking about using video, I am not referring to video conferencing. Although that has its place it can often suffer from the same problems as Skype.

I am talking about pre-recorded videos to show clients and stakeholders work in progress. Instead of sending clients an image or a website url, record a video. This has several advantages over static comps or even development websites…

  • You don’t have to worry about what the design looks like in their browser.
  • You can talk through the design, ensuring that nobody can see it without also hearing your thinking.
  • You can show the site working responsively.
  • You can ask for specific types of feedback and guide the viewer to consider the right kinds of things.
  • A video of you presenting personalises the process and ensures all stakeholders get to see and hear you.

Video presentations are invaluable. So often clients show your design work around the company or have meetings about it that you don’t get to attend. A video ensures you get your say and that everybody hears it.

But don’t stop there. Use screen sharing too.

Screen share often

Nothing makes a client feel more engaged with the process that watching you make changes in real time. That is where screen sharing comes in.

When clients request simple changes over the phone, fire up an application like Join.me and make changes while they watch. This works well when discussing minor design changes. It leads to solutions much faster than going back and forth by email.

This kind of close collaboration is so important when working with remote clients.

Include the client in your team

Close collaboration is essential for any project, but particularly so for remote clients. Allow them access to work in progress and all project communications. Seek their opinion often. If you do, they will feel much more engaged with the project and the project will benefit.

It is easy to hold remote clients at arms length, focusing instead on just getting the work done. This can be dangerous. If you misunderstand their requirements it might be days or even weeks before you spot the problem. That makes corrections expensive.

If you are going to work with clients on the other side of the world you need to be honest and transparent.

Be honest and transparent

If we are having a problem with a project it is easy not to tell the client immediately. We think that we can fix the problem and so don’t want to worry them. This is particularly easy when they are a continent apart.

This would be a mistake. Clients don’t like surprises and even less so when they feel removed from the project. If you even suspect there might be a problem coming up, warn the client. By warning them, you can only surpass their expectations by fixing things before they become an issue.

By sharing problems you also build trust. I am yet to meet a client who didn’t appreciate this kind of honesty.

Not easy

I won’t pretend that working with remote clients is always easy. Sometimes you just long to sit down with them and bash through an issue. This is particularly true when business hours do not overlap between parties.

Yet, if the agency is willing to work the odd evening and use tools like video or Basecamp, it can work.

It therefore makes little sense to allow distance to be a major part of the decision making process when selecting supplier.

“the destinations” image courtesy of Bigstock.com