All freelancers have been there – a project deadline is approaching, you’ve been working your hardest, and suddenly your client is consumed with some new feature, service, or gimmick.
“How hard would it be to incorporate this new thing I found?” the client asks.
If you’re lucky, this question comes via email and you’ve got some time to decide what to do. If you’re not, you might be on the phone or (worse) sitting face to face with your client.
You hope the client can’t read your mind while you struggle to come up with a response. Well, I want to jump off a cliff right now if that tells you anything, you think to yourself.
What Just Happened?
Anytime a topic is relevant to someone, s/he thinks about it more and more, especially when money is involved.
For example, my husband and I replaced one of our cars over the summer. Suddenly we were seeing the model we just bought every time we left the house. Did everyone run out to buy the exact same vehicle we did? Nope, but because we were thinking about it, we noticed more.
The same thing happens to clients paying for a new website.
You’ve likely asked a lot of questions during the discovery phase of the project. You’ve got your client thinking about branding, message, calls to action, and layouts. Now when that client browses online, s/he sees things that weren’t really on his/her radar before.
Paying more attention isn’t always a bad thing. However, it can cause the death of an otherwise wonderful project if you aren’t careful.
How Do I Respond?
The way you respond to a client’s request for a new feature can make or break your relationship with that client. You don’t want to come across as rude or impatient, but you also can’t allow the project to derail for months and months (especially when you feel the new addition is unneeded).
Here are five questions you can use to bring things back on track – and avoid a potentially volatile interaction on both sides – when your client loses focus.
1. How does this meet your goals?
Every element of a website should meet a goal. Your client may have an overall goal for a website, goals for individual pages, and even smaller goals for different parts of each page.
Let’s pretend you’re working on a website for a hair salon. The overall goal is probably something like “Get more customers” or “Earn more money.” That’s pretty reasonable, right?
The homepage of the site will likely have smaller versions of the overall goal:
- Give an overview of what we offer
- Introduce our stylists
- Encourage visitors to schedule an appointment
Even with three goals there, we all know making an appointment is probably the closest to the overall goal. Yes, the other information is important as well, but when it comes down to it, the salon owner wants people scheduling and coming into the salon.
Now let’s say the salon owner wants to add a slider to the homepage.
But try telling that to a client who saw one on some random website and just loooooooooves how it looks (amirite?).
Instead, in our made-up example above, I would ask the salon owner to remember the goal for the site and for the homepage. We want people to make appointments. If we start distracting them with things like new products, articles about hairstyles, or “meet the stylist” pages, they may never get to that crucial step of actually scheduling.
By reminding clients of their goals, we can sometimes sidestep a feature that diminishes the user experience or doesn’t contribute in a positive way.
2. How Much Time are you Willing to Allocate to This?
Clients don’t build websites all day – we do. They don’t always consider how long it might take to revise a project that’s already underway.
If you’re supposed to launch in a week and your client wants something that will take a month, it’s time for him/her to choose between the feature and the deadline. In my experience, the deadline usually wins.
Depending on what the client is asking for, it may be appropriate to move that element to a second phase of the project. For example, if the hair salon I mentioned before wants to incorporate online scheduling at the last minute, the owner may need to settle for a third party service to keep the launch date, but we could add something more custom down the road.
3. How Much Budget are you Willing to Allocate to this?
Now we’re getting serious. Nothing halts a conversation faster than the realization that it costs money!
We’ll assume your project had a defined scope from the very beginning. You laid out exactly what was planned and how much it would cost, and the client agreed by signing some sort of contract. As long as you did those things, you’re in luck: You have a documented reason to say no to extra things.
When a client wants something out of scope, it’s easy to get him/her back on task with a reminder of the contract and what it included. Offer to provide a quote for the new feature and, 9 times out of 10, the client will tell you not to bother.
4. How Will This Improve the Visitor’s Experience?
It’s easy for a client to get caught up in things that don’t matter. Maybe she saw a website with a cool hover effect in the menu – that’s not a huge deal to include.
But what if the client sees a website with an autoplay video background or some other obnoxious component that seriously serves no purpose?
Asking about the visitor’s experience is a good way to draw attention to the negative aspects of certain functionality. How does the feature work for mobile? How easy would it be for someone with disabilities to navigate?
In other words, who is the client’s ideal audience (this should have been defined a long time ago) and how will that audience respond to this new, shiny object the client wants so badly?
Now, let’s say the hair salon owner wants a big SCHEDULE APPOINTMENT button at the top of the homepage.
If our goal is to get people to make appointments, that’s a pretty reasonable request. A visitor to the site will see that call to action immediately and doesn’t have to spend time searching for it.
If the client is willing to potentially pay more money to rework the top of the homepage and delay the launch a bit (if necessary) to implement it, this is probably a legit rabbit hole to fall into. Which leaves just one final question to ask…
5. Where Can I See an Example?
If you’re going to add an unplanned element to a site, you need to make sure you know exactly what the client has in mind. There is little room for guessing when you’re changing a blueprint on a tight schedule.
Once you’ve determined that this new request does meet the goals of the site, is within the (possibly revised) timeframe and (possibly increased) budget the client needs, and will make things easier for visitors, it’s time to get a full scope and a detailed idea of what the client wants.
Even when I’ve disagreed with clients on a particular element, if their requests meet the above criteria, there’s no need for me to push any further. Doing so would be perceived – rightly so – as aggressive or belligerent on my part.
Instead, assuming I have the flexibility to move a deadline around or accommodate the request, I’ll bite my tongue and get the project finished up. Knowing when to stop asking questions is just as important as knowing what questions to ask.
I’d love to hear from you – what is the most random request you’ve ever had while working on a freelance project? Did it meet the criteria above? How did you respond to the request?