We are all consultants
I have never been the type that has been overly pushy about my opinion. In a lot of ways that has helped me in regards to my business, as there have been times where I disagreed with a client I was able to quietly sit back and do things their way rather than offend them and potentially damage our working relationship. However this is to their disadvantage as well.
As web designers (regardless if we are part of an internal department or freelancers) it is pretty easy to fall into a “well I will build what you tell me to build” sort of mindset. Because people use the internet day in and day out they tend to gather a whole list of things that they think they want on their website, with out really much thought that goes into it.
The result is you get a list of items “We want blah, blah, blah blah, and blah…” of course the easiest thing to do is to simply nod, smile, and build it the way they want it. After all, battling and educating the client / boss / etc is really just unpaid time and frustration.
This is even more difficult when you are a freelancer, business owner, or sales person. As you could spend hours working out what the potential client really wants, only to have them take your spec sheet to a cheaper firm.
Despite some potential draw backs, we are all consultants when it comes to the web. We all have a much better understanding of what will work, what is/isn’t a good idea, and the best way to make a website a success than anyone who would be hiring us. It is our job to consult, recommend, and make suggestions every step of the way. Even if it results in unpaid hours now, it will further your career later.
I have found that several potential clients love the initial process of suggesting, recommending, and discovering what they really need in their website. It has helped seal jobs before, as they felt not only did I better understand their needs but I had a level of creativity that the other firms did not.
A tricky aspect of this situation is a joint worry about scope / price creep. You obviously don’t want to do more work than you get compensated for and the client doesn’t want the price to rise indefinitely. Especially at the start of an engagement, it is very comforting to know that X dollars will be exchanged for X specific deliverables.
I have started a new process of engagement that protects the client and yourself from scope and/or price creep. The normal meetings and proposals are pretty typical and standard, I issue a price that states “If nothing else changes, this is exactly how much you will pay for these items. However we will do an initial kick off meeting to dive into your company, brand, customers, and needs that could change this scope to be larger or smaller.”
The reassuring factor for the client is that they know they can always just choose to do what was originally on the table. However if a great idea comes up in the kick off meeting they can opt to incorporate it as well. The reassuring factor for you, is that if you suggest a change you know there is an understanding that it won’t be free.
This also includes shrinking the scope, as needed. There have been times where I have suggesting removing pages, features, and functionality because it wasn’t going to make an impact compared to how much it was going to cost. A lower price is always a welcome surprise from a clients perspective.
So next time you are about to start a project don’t consider yourself the builder, consider yourself the architect. It is your job to use your expertise to ensure the website that is built is as effective and successful as possible.