There’s a natural cycle you and your client go through during the life of your project. It’s actually not all that different than any relationship really.
But when the project comes to completion it’s important you finish on a high. This is the key to building client relationships that continue to produce recurring work over time.
The problem is, if you’re like most of us, the entire development process can take a toll on everyone involved. By the time you get to the finish line most everyone is exhausted, and they don’t have the enthusiasm they had in the beginning.
How do we rekindle that magic and wrap up projects on the right terms—the kind that make clients shout your name from the rooftop, lead to referrals, and recurring revenue?
The key is making sure you over deliver every step of the way.
Keep an eye out for our Website Owner’s Manual freebie in this article!
A Good Ending Starts at the Beginning
Long before the end is ever in sight, you need to start planning how a successful project is going to look. This starts at the very beginning of your relationship.
There are all kinds of reasons business owners and entrepreneurs seek out our services. It could be to establish an online presence for the first time. It could be to increase sales through re-designed funnels. It could be because they have run out of time to do it themselves.
No matter the reason, knowing and having a full understanding of what they want to get out of the project is crucial— not only for how you go about planning their proposal or project, but how you can quantify success when all is said and done.
There’s one simple question that I ask any person who inquires about my services. It might not sound like much, but it actually works wonders.
“What problem(s) will having a website solve for you?”
Notice this isn’t a question about what the website does, or what it looks like… it’s a fundamental question that gets to the “why” they are talking to you in the first place. What it looks like and what it does all hinges on the answer to this question.
This question forces them to see the website as a solution, a means to an end, and an investment in their business— not a shiny object. This instantly increases the value of what you can bring to the table.
But the reason I really love this question is because before we even agree to work together I’ve already positioned myself as someone looking to solve their problem— not just a button pusher.
Button pushers have to compete on price, a long race to the bottom to find the person willing to do what they’re asked for the lowest bid.
Problem solvers, however, are the people charging 10X for solutions that deliver real results for clients.
Establishing Clear Expectations is Crucial
In the end, “over delivering” is a completely relative term. How your customer feels about anything you do can only be measured by what their expectations were in the first place.
There are 5 main categories I like to set expectations on with my client. The key to this is setting expectations that your client can agree to, and that sometimes look different for each customer.
Communication is actually the biggest thing that can make or break a relationship with your client. Due to the nature of our work, which is somewhat technical, we don’t always end up speaking the same language as our customers.
From the customer’s perspective this is really hard to deal with. When they don’t have a clear understanding of what you’re telling them it can be a huge put off, and it can make expectations very blurry.
Each client’s level of knowledge of our industry is different, and while you don’t want to be condescending it’s good to start very small and gauge how your customer responds. I often finish emails or conversations with “Do you have any questions about this?” and / or “If I’m over explaining just let me know”. This gives your client the opportunity to give you feedback on your communication.
On top of making sure you are communicating clearly you need to establish clear expectations about the mode and frequency of your communication. This is where finding a good balance with your client is important.
I let all my clients know up front that the best way to catch me is always going to be email. That’s MY preferred method, and I like to put that out there as the first option (obviously yours may be different). If you have any pushback, like those clients that like to do everything over the phone, be accommodating but give reasonable expectations of how that may work.
For instance, my “phone call clients” know that if they ring me up randomly they will absolutely get my voicemail. Why? Because I let them know that right up front. I also let them know that it’s not because I don’t want to talk to them, it’s because I am almost always focused on a task, not waiting for the phone to ring. I also give them easy ways to book a phone call or let them know if they leave a message I will return their call as soon as I become available.
The key is to set those expectations, no matter what they may be. If I didn’t tell my client they will get my voicemail, that could easily put them off. However, if they EXPECT to get my voicemail then leaving a message isn’t a dissapointment.
Setting timelines for your project is an important step in setting clear expectations. But this doesn’t just apply to the completion of the project, but for almost every step along the way.
After they submit a project inquiry, the thank you page tells them when to expect my response.
When I tell them I’m going to prepare a proposal for their project, I tell them when they should expect it in their inbox.
My invoices have a clear due date on them.
This continues throughout the entire development process (more on that later) with a clear timeline for each and every step along the way.
Clients feeling like something is “taking too long” is a VERY common complaint, but that doesn’t mean that something actually took too long, it could very well mean their expectations of how long it would take and reality were not in alignment.
Including timelines in your communication is something that is great to get in the habit of, even when it’s simple as “I got your email, I will have a response to you by Monday”. Try and always tie anything on your to do list to a specific time-bound deadline— but most importantly communicate that timeline with your client.
We end up working with all kinds of clients, but typically I can put these into two different buckets:
- The client who has never developed a website before and has no real idea of what it will “be like”
- The client who has worked with another developer and has a preconceived notion as to what the process will be like.
No matter which bucket your client falls into, it’s important for you to clearly explain what the entire process will look like— which gives them a clear expectation of what they are in for.
This is actually not only a great way to set expectations for clients, but having a set of processes (even if they are a bit “loose”) can really work wonders for making you more efficient.
I provide a chart (which I TOTALLY lifted from Laura Elizabeth from her fantastic Project Pack) on my website. It’s a very simple, high-level look at what the journey of developing a website looks like.
While I encourage everyone to set their own processes (it’s a very personal thing), here’s a look at what mine looks like so you can have an idea of what I’m talking about.
1. Project Discovery Form
You’ll fill out my project discovery form so I can get to know more about your project and goals.
2. Follow Up Call
I’ll most likely have some followup questions for you after you submit your Project Discovery Form.
3. Project Estimate
Based on our conversations, I’ll provide you with an estimate (or estimate range) for your project.
A comprehensive meeting to discuss everything in detail & write up a scope of work document.
5. Written Proposal
Based off your new Scope of Work document, I’ll provide you with an official proposal for your project.
6 . Visual Design
I’ll provide you with your new website design, including templates for each type of page you’ll need.
7. All Content Due
At this point, all of your content for the site is due before development can begin.
With the design and content ready, I will begin the development of your entire site.
9. Revisions & Approval
You’ll provide me with feedback so we can make the final tweaks to the website before we launch.
10. Testing & Debugging
Your website will go through 75-point checklist to ensure everything is functioning as intended.
11. Website Launch
Your website will now get published on your domain—ready for the whole world to enjoy!
12. Free Care Plan
You’ll have full & free access to our Website Care Plan for 1 month—ensuring we didn’t miss a thing!
There are a few things about this process which are done very intentionally for my client.
First, the entire thing is written in plain language directed directly to them personally. It’s in first-person and sounds just as if I’m having a one-on-one conversation with them. This makes the entire thing easy to understand.
Secondly, if you see this chart on my website, or within my contract, you’ll see that each step is color coded showing who will be involved in each step. This is a combination of things I will be responsible for, the client will be responsible for, or steps where we need to work together.
Combine a clearly defined process with a reasonable timeline, and your client will no longer need to “guess” what’s in store. As long as you can deliver on the promises your process makes (which you should!) there is little room to not meet your clients new (informed) expectations.
Okay, I’ll have to admit, I’m REALLY terrible at this one— but that doesn’t mean it’s not extremely important. And I’ve taken note from a lot of people who do a fantastic job setting these expectations.
Because many of us are one-man shows, and often operating from our home clients somehow equate that to being less of a “real” business. While they wouldn’t try to call their dentist at 11pm, I’ve had a LOT of clients do this to me.
It’s important to establish a clear understanding of what your working hours are— but more important to stick to them!
You can set these expectations very easily by including your office hours in your email, on your voicemail or even on your website.
When you DON’T make these working hours clear, it’s easy for a client to expect you to answer their needs at any time.
For me, the hard part is sticking to these hours. This is mainly due to the fact that I often work really screwy hours. But I shouldn’t let that impede me. I have picked up a few tricks that have helped me at least give the appearance of only working during business hours.
- If I do write an email outside of office hours I make use of Boomerang in GMail to schedule sending the email later. If you don’t have a way to schedule your emails, you can make good use of keeping a clean “drafts” folder and save those messages for your working hours.
- Don’t publish changes you make on their site when working outside of your hours of operation— use the “save draft” function. At some point your client will have the URL you are working on, and there’s nothing worse than them looking over your shoulder. Make use of saving drafts!
- Set calendar reminders so you don’t forget things! I often think of something, come up with an idea, or plan something out at the worst times possible. A simple solution is to set calendar reminders to follow up on that idea with your client during your business hours.
Talking money with your clients really shouldn’t be that hard, but we often feel uncomfortable doing it.
Relax, and remember that you run a business and your client fully expects to pay for your services. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked myself out of money because I didn’t want to tell the client I was going to “actually have to charge them for my work”. And I know I’m not alone.
The key to getting over this hump is to explain to your customers how your billing process works. Tell them ahead of time when invoices will be submitted, how they will come to them, how long they have to pay, and what methods of payment you accept.It’s also a great idea (while you’re at it) to explain if there are any additional terms tied to your invoicing (ie. “we won’t begin phase 4 until your invoice has been paid”).
Most of the time the awkwardness of talking money is only in our own head. A solid process and open communication about how your billing works will give you confidence to address this topic in a non-confrontational way that any reasonable client will understand.
Do a Little Research
This key is something that has worked wonders for me, and it was something I didn’t even realize I was doing until I learned that other people WEREN’T doing it.
I spent about 15 years in the print industry in a retail environment. Over that time I did designs for thousands of companies and a hundred different industries. While I didn’t have the over-deliver attitude when I was “working for the man”, it was just through lots of experience that I started learning a LOT about all these different businesses.
Whether you work in a specific industry niche or not (actually, more so if you’re in a niche) it’s important to have, at the very least, a basic understanding of your customer’s business. Each industry has unique challenges, norms, and operations. Because many of us end up working for clients in lots of different industries it can become hard to really understand all of them (another reason why niching is valuable).
But learning about these companies and industries isn’t hard, and it can pay off big time.
Even if I do feel like I know about the prospect or customer’s business I always do some basic research. Some of this occurs before I even write a proposal, some while we are under development of their project.
This is extremely valuable to do before you ever have a conversation with your prospect (like if they send an email or a message through your website). The easiest way I’ve found is to just simply spend 5 minutes Googling the business. You’ll be amazed at what you can learn in a very brief amount of time, and having this knowledge coming into a meeting is going to make you look a LOT more prepared than your competitors.
Keep an eye out for any background information like an About page, Staff page, or Bio or History information. This can tell you a lot about the key players in the company and some information about how they got to where they are. Going into a meeting with this knowledge (that they DO NOT expect you to have) makes you look really smart, and it wont go unnoticed.
Competitor research comes in handy before and after you secure the job. Before you have an agreement in place, knowing what the company’s competitive landscape will give you a good idea of the size of the mountain you have ahead of you, and also what customers in that industry expect. It also gives you ammunition to go into a meeting with an idea of key opportunities (specific to their market) that you can help them take advantage of.
When it comes to the development part of the project, looking at your customer’s competitors will help you build something that stands out from the pack. You can pick up on trends, see what works well, and where they fall short— then use all of this data to your advantage.
When you know what you are up against you’ll know what things are going to require the most attention in order to deliver results.
Social media, love it or hate it, can be a great tool to better understand your customer. I almost always try to find out a little bit more about who I’m working with. Not that knowing more information about them will change who I am or my processes, but it can give me some key indicators as to what kind of values your prospect or customer holds dearly.
If you find a profile full of family pictures on vacation, you know that this customer or prospect enjoys their time away from work and is more likely motivated by things that will save them time, take away tasks from their to do list, or give them a better return they can spend on the things they love.
You might run across a profile full of self promotion. Sharing articles about how great their company is doing, their accomplishments, stories from their customers, etc. This is a good indication that appearance is a driving motivator for them. Queues like this can be used for me to strategically cater my conversations and ultimately their project around things that will increase their prestige.
No matter which form of research you use, you can rest assured that the majority of your competitors are not doing this. It’s an easy win to really impress your customer and give them a personalized experience that almost always outshines their expectations.
Use Your Experience to Your Advantage
We are all guilty of being too deep inside of our own business. We take for granted the experience and knowledge we bring to the table. Especially when you spend a lot of time talking with colleagues and contemporary’s who live in the same world as you.
But in reality, something that might feel like common knowledge or simplistic to you, could be a big deal for your client.
There are a lot of ways you can use your experience to impress your clients, and they will thank you each and every time.
Maximize their budget.
It’s rare you find a client that doesn’t care about money and will spend “whatever” (if you find one, send them my way, please). Most people want to get the most out of their money, and you actually hold the keys to this.
But that doesn’t mean you need to lower your prices, or become the cheapest bid. It’s about spending their money in the most effective matter as possible.
You can’t just be an order taker. Clients, for the most part, aren’t educated enough on website development and digital marketing to know what they really want (or need).
But you are.
No client will be mad at you when you suggest ways they can maximize the dollars they have to spend by going at a problem another way. This requires some creative thinking at times, but there is only an upside in it for you.
If the dollars and cents are already set in stone, why not try and get the most out of them? Many times this actually makes your job easier and you can lean on your experience to help you find ways to maximize your customers budget.
Use lots and lots of examples.
Most clients are actually pretty nervous about hiring you. Not only because you might be unknown to them, but also because they might be undergoing a project that they really don’t know much about. Your experience can help alleviate those fears and turn you into the trusted guide they are looking for.
I like to use examples in several ways.
In order to establish myself as an authority, I will often look for similarities in my customer’s project with projects I’ve done in the past. You can use this experience to help clients understand what their project could be like.
You can use examples like “I set a client who had a similar problem up with an email marketing system, and their new leads increased immediately— that’s something I’d like to explore doing for you”.
With an example like this you are letting them know that you have already “been there, done that” and that you produced real results for someone in the same shoes they’re wearing.
Another way I like to use examples is to help customers feel more comfortable and less alone. I talk often about past projects I’ve been involved with that faced the same challenges. A lot of customers feel like they might be “behind” or “less capable”. This is a fear all of us have really— a bit of imposter syndrome. Try introducing stories about other clients (without naming names!) that could resonate with your client. The realization that they are not alone will help them feel more comfortable with the big decisions they are making.
Ask a Customer if You Can Do a Case Study
Flattery actually pretty powerful— but not if it’s blatant.
We all know case studies are great for your own business, much better than a portfolio gallery. But if you’re anything like me you often put them off because they are time consuming and we often forget to start these until after everything is over.
The advantage to asking your customer, up front, if you can do a case study on their project is three-fold.
- It’s flattering to be asked this.
- It shows them you are going to do a bangup job.
- It’s a kick in the ass to actually get a case study done.
The first two work hand in hand. Imagine if someone told you that essentially you were so great and they were going to do such an awesome job helping you that they want to tell everyone?
That’s pretty reassuring!
And as far as number three, now you have a reminder to start collecting data right from the get go. What problems did the customer have? What was the process you went about to solve them? Before and after screenshots? The best case studies are done when you are collecting data the entire time— so get started!
Use the Phrase – “That’s Not a Problem…”
I LOVE this little trick. It’s not just a trick I use on my customers, it’s actually a trick I use on myself too.
Scope creep is a major problem for creatives like us. There are a lot of things you can do to help reduce the amount of scope creep (and I encourage those too!), but no matter how many processes you put into place it’s bound to happen from time to time.
But this little phrase is my fail safe, and it helps ease my frustration when I feel like a client is trying to take advantage of me.
Here’s how it works…
Let’s say a client comes to you wanting to change something that (unknowingly to them) would make you go back to square one. I don’t know about you, but my instant reaction is to say “no!” and get pretty pissed that they would even ask.
I mean, did they not already sign off on this? Are they crazy? Do they know how much work that will take?
Well, first, they probably DON’T know how much work that will take… and yes, they might be crazy 🙂
Instead of banging my head against the wall and replacing with something snippy, I start my reply with this simple phrase “That’s not a problem…” but it’s what comes next that’s important. After the phrase, you need to explain to them what it’s going to take to fulfil their request. This, in most cases, will affect both the timeline AND the budget. You need to explain that.
Client: “Can we actually get rid of all the blue and make it teal?”
Me: “That’s not a problem, however it will require us to go back and redo quite a bit of the work that has already been signed off on. This will add a few days to our timeline, and $XX. Let me know if you want to proceed and we’ll make a game plan”.
If you’ve been hit with a similar scenario you’ll notice how much of a difference this little phrase really makes.
You’re not being confrontational. You’re not saying you don’t want to, or that you’re not, or won’t. You’re telling them that it’s absolutely not a problem- but it’s also not without consequence.
This attitude and approach will ease the frustration you’re feeling (‘cause hey, you’re about to make more money) and it will make it clear to your customer that you are willing to do what it takes to make them happy.
Wrap it All Up in a Nice Little Bow
When you get to the finish line, you need to reinforce the great decision they made hiring you and empower your customer to “take on the world” with their new online presence.
Unfortunately, owning a website (specifically a WordPress site) does require a bit of care from that point forward. You can explain this to customers, give examples, and write blog articles until you’re blue in the face but still, many have trouble fully grasping all that will be required of them to keep their website running smooth. Not only that, how much knowledge they DON’T have to do it effectively.
My goal in most cases is to get clients to sign up for a Care Plan. This is the type of recurring revenue that makes me stress less each month knowing I have revenue I can count on without hunting down new jobs.
But what do you do if the client says “no”?
The more you try and sell it, the pushier you sound and the more resistance you will see. Instead, I’ve found a great little tactic that is both helpful to the client, and also a stark realization of what they are now responsible for.
I wrap all of this into a document I call the “Website Owner’s Manual”. Inside the document I give them all the important info about their site. This includes a lot of the questions customers would inevitably come back and ask me..
Who’s my hosting company? Do I need to pay for my domain again? How do I log into my site?
All of these details come in a nice little chart that keeps all the important technical details of their site in one place.
But it’s the Website Maintenance Overview section that really reinforces the need for a care plan. This section of the document outlines the 6 big responsibilities every website owner needs to consider: software updates, server management, security, backups, technical support, & billing.
In the document I give a brief overview of the importance of each of these ongoing tasks and give them the instructions to fill out who, within their company, is responsible for that task.
It’s a bit overwhelming by design.
But it’s also plain fact, and something they NEED to be aware of.
Many times, customers who once didn’t feel the need for a care plan take one good look at this and consider otherwise.
Honestly, I’m doing everyone a favor. When, inevitability, something goes wrong they will blame YOU had you not provided them with this instruction.
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Over Delivering Isn’t Really That Hard
In fact, in many of the examples I gave today, over delivering isn’t any more work at all. And when you can provide an experience that exceeds your customer’s expectations you’ll have a new fan. One that recommends you to everyone they know. One that can’t wait to work with you again.
Think about some of your biggest customers and what they appreciate about you the most. If you’re not sure, ask. Often times it’s the details, the small gestures, and the fact that you took away a lot of the “guessing game” that makes all the difference in the world.