Every once in a while, we all come across a client who knows nothing about websites and has never even owned one. And although this introduces some unique challenges, we still want to help, right?
However, if we decide to take on such a project, it will force us to put in some extra effort. Well, at least if we want to make it successful on both ends (ours and the client’s).
So here’s a possible strategy on how to go about this and create a seamless experience, in five steps.
1. A contract is a must when dealing with first-time clients
Let’s start with a safety policy, so to speak.
While some might argue that contracts are not necessary in certain situations, when it comes to first-time clients, they absolutely are.
Basically, due to the fact that the client is not experienced with how websites work, what the lifetime of the project is and so on, they can approach you with a number of unusual requests or complaints. For that reason, you need to have a document that clearly states your responsibilities, how the result is going to be delivered, and most importantly, what’s not part of the project (for example, unlimited support for the next five years).
And I don’t mean that you should use the contract as a way to talk yourself out of every request that the client might have. Naturally, most of the time you will try finding a more satisfying solution, or just explain things calmly and in a friendly manner.
Just treat the contract as your last resort. If all else fails, the contract is your last shield and your last way of explaining to a client why something happened and how you can both deal with it.
2. Spend additional time setting expectations
The issue of “now knowing what I want exactly” is very common among design clients in general, but probably even more so with first-time clients, which shouldn’t be surprising.
What you need to do here is spend some extra time working with such a client to discover all of their goals and name what they want to achieve with the website specifically.
Most of the time, they will come to you with a general “I’m a [INSERT PROFESSION/BUSINESS] and I need a website.” At that point, it’s basically your job to keep asking “why,” “what for,” “how,” “when,” and all sorts of other questions that will help you discover the real reason why a client wants a website.
And not only this, but it will also allow you to suggest specific ways in which they could grow their business outside of the standard business-card like purpose of a website. After all, they have very little experience, so you’re almost certain to suggest something interesting in this area.
Let me emphasize this again. You should probably spend 1.5x to 2x more time discussing the goals and the purpose of a website with a first-time client, than you would with a client who’s already owned a website in the past.
Although it makes the initial phase of the project longer, it will pay off later on as you’re saving yourself from comments like “I thought this would look totally different!”
3. Don’t force them to use your project/client management software
Some clients will appreciate you using an advanced client management or project management software. At the end of the day, thanks to such software, you can communicate effectively, share some mid-way results of your work, brainstorm over ideas, and etc.
However, if you’re working with someone who’s getting their first site built, it will seem like a massive undertaking to them and if you can’t do anything to make the project seem simple, it can have a negative impact on your image as a professional.
If the client feels overwhelmed, the only thing they will tell their friends about working with you will be “I didn’t have a clue what was going on the entire time!”
You don’t want that.
It’s therefore much safer to stick with your client’s preferred way of communicating and handling all the project management stuff internally (without showing it to the client).
For instance, if the client is used to weekly consultations over the phone, let it be. Just include this additional position in the contract and the price of the project. If it’s email they prefer, that’s fine too. You can handle client email through a tool like Highrise anyway.
4. Offer a guarantee and some free support
I don’t know about you, but if I were a first-time client, I’d be very worried that I won’t be able to handle the site on my own once it’s sitting there on the web. And I would probably be much more likely to sign a contract with someone who can guarantee that the site won’t break down anytime soon.
This may sound odd, but to some extent, getting a website built for the first time is much like buying a car for the first time.
You don’t know much about how the engine works, what exactly happens under the hood, or what to do if the car doesn’t start. Naturally, you want to get a long warranty and a phone number you can call when something is not right.
Basically, we need a similar sense of security when buying anything else, websites included.
So in your proposal, be sure to mention the guarantee and also how long the client will have free technical support, as well as what happens after that period.
5. Be careful with WordPress
This will probably not sit well with you, but WordPress isn’t a particularly easy-to-use platform.
For instance, just take a look at what the Dashboard looks like on a standard installation with a handful of plugins:
Giving your client access to something like this will only lead to a lot of questions being asked.
There are two things you can do about that:
- Prepare a quick start guide for them. Something simple that will lead them through the basics of publishing content, uploading media, and anything else that they will be doing on their site on a daily basis. You can use the WP Help plugin to build such a guide and place it in the Dashboard.
- Simplify the wp-admin in a way that it only displays the essential blocks – again, the ones that the client will be using on a daily basis. Feel free to visit this post to find out how to do this.
About this quick start guide. Keep in mind that trying to teach your client everything there is to know about WordPress isn’t the best of ideas. For example, you can safely skip topics like installing new plugins or themes, as well as experimenting with widget areas, footers and so on.
First-time clients aren’t really interested in those possibilities most of the time. Besides, they did hire you to handle this for them, didn’t they?
Just keep things simple, and then if they want more, you can introduce some additional info and probably also do some more billable work for them.
What’s your experience with clients who know nothing about websites?
That’s it for my methods, but I’m curious to know about your experiences with first-time clients and working on their projects. Did you come across any unusual problems or challenges?