updated: September 23rd, 2009 / Ross Johnson / 8 Comments

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.

8 thoughts We are all consultants

  1. Pingback: Best Virtual Advertising » Blog Archive » We are all consultants » - Web Design Marketing Podcast & Blog

  2. Great post Ross. I have been looking back on the last year over the this week and thinking about how I will move forward for 2009, my big shift in attitude has been towards not presenting myself and my business as a designer / graphic designer / web designer, but as a ‘Communication and Design Consultant’. I feel that if you understand about how to market your clients product, how to deliver a brand and product online, how to create great code that will help an organic google rank – why not charge for all these things. Why not tell your clients thats what you do – rather than just being focused on asethtics – focus on solving the clients problem.

    Also, as established freelancers will appreciate – there is something great about being able to turn round to your client and say ‘I can have that flash work done for you, it is processed by someone who is top of their game’ rather than, ‘I know a bit of flash, I could try giving it a go’. I have learned that clients do not mind you outsourcing work – as long as its done well and they know what is going on.

    Setting your business as a consultancy is a smart move and allows for you to work with your connections as a network to gain bigger contracts – rather than getting stuck in that small business website rut – which is always painful when someone is breaking you on price every meeting / email.

  3. Well said Lawrence.

    Really there is a lot to be gained by more or less rising above the typical “website freelancer” status and moving into the trusted consultant realm. At that point people are paying and respecting your opinion rather than simply hiring you as a builder.

    Those who know you have value to provide for them in advice, method, and procedure will want to give you more money to make sure you can focus on the project completely.

  4. Definitely agree, striking the balance between the two is important. You don’t want your client to feel like their fighting you to get what they want, but you don’t want to be a total pushover either. This is really what the job boils down to in so many situations. There is definitely an art to working with difficult clients, convincing them that you know best, but you are still listening to what they have to say. If we keep our client’s best interest at heart they will be able to tell, even if they don’t always agree.

    Sometimes for a client to see that you’re not afraid to disagree with them and speak authoritatively from your professional standpoint can be a real turning point in the relationship.

    Great write up!

  5. Thanks for that nice web site. At that point people are paying and respecting your opinion rather than simply hiring you as a builder.

  6. Thanks for that nice web site. At that point people are paying and respecting your opinion rather than simply hiring you as a builder.

  7. There is definitely an art to working with difficult clients, convincing them that you know best, but you are still listening to what they have to say.

  8. ı have followed your writing for a long time.really you have given very successful information.
    In spite of my english trouale,I am trying to read and understand your writing.
    And ı am following frequently.I hope that you will be with us together with much more scharings.
    I hope that your success will go on.

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