The Way We Work
February 27, 2012 by Julia Camenisch

Have you ever felt that — despite your best efforts — you and a client have really struggled to connect? This situation can lead to frustration on both sides. Sometimes it is a personality issue or difference in communication styles, but sometimes what you really need is an information bridge: Your client may know exactly what they want, but has no idea what it takes for you to accomplish what they have hired you to do.

It is up to you to bridge the gap.

A successful business is composed of many elements – so many, in fact, that it is rare for one person to master them all. That is why your client has hired you — they are relying on your expertise. But your work may be a completely unknown process to them, and as such, they may have unrealistic expectations. That is why they need a user manual — a user manual for you. Here is how you can shape your next proposal for a smoother process for you and your client.

1. Differentiate between an experienced client and a newbie.

This is an important first step. If your client has been working with graphic designers for a while, they probably know the ropes. Trying to educate them about your field is likely more than they need (or want) to know.

2. Start with the money.

In other words, do not just submit an estimate — explain it. When you say you’ll have to spend approximately 30 hours coding, detail the steps of the process. Then compare your rate, hours or quality against the competition. Help them see why they will receive good value by working with you.

3. If necessary, educate them about your craft.

Is this the client’s first time working with a contractor in your field? It can help them tremendously to understand the basics of the job. During your first consultation, be prepared to share some of this. What makes for good SEO? What are the fundamentals of good web design? If you have no idea where to start on this type of presentation, search for a relevant infographic; someone has probably already done the hard work and created an outline for you.

4. Speak their language.

Just as your doctor should avoid overwhelming you with purely technical language, you need to avoid using industry buzzwords that the client has no hope of understanding. Instead, explain your work in terms even your grandma can understand — they will appreciate it. (Note: Be clear, but avoid sounding condescending.)

5. Provide an example.

A portfolio is useful for more than just showing off your talent — you can also use it to both explain your work process and to clarify pricing. Example? Say the client wants a social networking feature on their site. Show your previous work on this type of project — the results — then break that project down into understandable steps. Having a visual reference will help your client understand what is involved on your end of the process.

6. Tell them your limitations.

This point may seem counter-intuitive; it might feel like the best option is to promise the client the moon and then work your tail off to deliver. But first, carefully evaluate what the client is asking before you promise it. If you are not sure you can perform the exact task or finish in the exact time frame they have asked for then tell them. Better to under-promise and over-deliver than to disappoint.

7. Tell them how you can help.

Take the time to understand your client’s vision, then look for ways you can strengthen their idea through your work. Avoid critiquing their idea, but offer suggestions that support and reinforce their goals. Often, clients do not know what their options are. By offering relevant suggestions, you can help them take their end product to a new level.

8. Be client focused.

With all this talk about helping them get to know you, remember that the end goal is to use your skills to better help them. Your work process, your skills, your ideas – all these are important in this situation because they serve the client. Keep an open mind — you might discover that a client’s “wacky” request is really a good idea. Remember, they understand their business better than you do, so come alongside and help make their good idea great.

Do you take time to educate your clients about your work? If so, what are the best practices you’ve used for accomplishing that? Share your input in the comments section below.

Julia Camenisch

Contributing Author

Julia Camenisch is a freelance technology and business journalist. She also works as an editor and copywriter for a wide range of clients, including national magazines, small businesses and nonprofit organizations. Julia brings to Upwork a passion for empowering small businesses through the innovative use of technology.