One of the most frightening processes for any business, especial a small to mid-sized business, is when it’s time to build a website. There are few resources that speak in non-technical terms, and when shopping around for professionals who specialize in web development and design, costs and further technical jargon can make one’s head spin. Still, there are those, albeit a few people on the technical side that understand a client’s needs, both in design/development and how to relay the project in simple, easy to understand terms. The upfront discussions usually will tell both parties if there will be a smooth project ahead.
An Education Few Have Learned
A recent gathering for a program entitled, “Educational Night: The Business of Design,” the evening’s program was hosted by a local design studio that is making leaps and bounds in the local and national scene, so it didn’t take long for the reservations to pour in until there were no more spaces to be had. Both designers and clients were present for this talk, and the difference in approaches were evident by the banter going back and forth before the lecture started.
The account manager started the lecture by relaying his start as a designer and being forced through increasing responsibility to the studio of having to learn to deal with clients. This is not just talking to people but knowing the nuances of negotiations, trouble-shooting, explanations, and everything else involved in running projects as the client contact. He added:
“I’ve held the role of designer, art director, creative director, studio manager, account manager, and wearer-of-many-hats. Dealing with people is hard enough on a daily basis as you drive, shop, and use a public laundromat, so having to maintain a working relationship, bound by a contract, many thousands of dollars, and a process that few, if any, clients understand, is a unique challenge.”
A Clear Process
Tough economics, competition between creatives and studios, and the cost of a web site with certain collateral projects has clients worried… not that they weren’t worried before but now it has become imperative to waylay the client’s fears with a lot of “hand-holding,” explaining what will happen when, how, and why.
There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it makes perfect sense. How often do designers complain about a project going awry because a client injects a want at the wrong time or mushrooms the scope of the project? By explaining the process, in detail at the beginning, both parties should understand the milestones and what can and should be expected by BOTH the client and the creative team. As someone at the meeting interjected, “wouldn’t you want a doctor to tell you why and how he/she was going to operate on you?”
“Having a defined process – and not the type that we brand, hype up and never use – that is engrained in our culture, we not only understand internally exactly how every project will go, but we have the ability to establish the same expectations with our clients,” explained the account exec. “When buying creative services, there is much trepidation around working with free spirited artists. This process removes much of the variability that keep clients awake at night.”
By simply stating, “This is what we do, and this is what it typically costs, is this a good fit?” it eliminates a lot of the needless bartering and wasted time crafting custom proposals for clients. By defining what we do for brands, and what we don’t do, it’s become easier for us determine cost.”
The studio owner related on how this has impacted the studio both in the bottom line of financial considerations, such as profit margins and people hours on a project but also on repeat clients as opposed to one-time clients. “Design,” he continued, “is a valuable services to clients, and conversations about cost shouldn’t be awkward and embarrassing. They also should happen as early as possible.”
“Process allows designers and agencies to streamline their internal efforts, and helps clients have a better understanding of what they’re buying. But on a more broad scale, it allows us to fight the commoditization of our industry. Let’s be honest, designers are a dime a dozen in a client’s eyes. The market is so saturated that our clients are losing the ability to distinguish between us (designers), resulting in competition based on price rather than talent. Bottom line: they think that all designers are the same, so they hire the cheapest one possible.”
“Process represents a chance to stand out,” he continued. “it demonstrates that a designer understands what it takes for he/she to consistently do good work, and depending on the process employed, may allow them to produce more strategic, educated creative than their peers. Clients will notice the difference and usually pay for it, too.”
Process on the Client End
As with any business expenditure, be prepared to pay for quality. If you hire an electrician to wire the power for your office and they quote $7,000 do you really want to chance a beating when you tell them “$200 is all (you’re) willing to spend” or go out and find someone who will actually do $7,000 worth of work for $200? If so, keep lots of fire extinguishers handy and insure your expensive computer equipment for when power surges blow out the processors.
This is not to say you shouldn’t shop around. Perhaps a competent electrician with a good reputation can wire your office for $5,000. Well, you just saved $2,000 and will have piece of mind that you won’t die a fiery death. The same goes for any professional service. A friend of mine was so excited to have bought all of her office phones on a New York City Street for a quarter of what she would have to pay in a store. It would have been a coup if the phones actually had any wiring inside them.
Shop around for a designer but make sure they are wired inside. It’s better to have a reliable source in case there is a problem with your site as a reliable designer will solve the problem right away, saving you income if you depend heavily on your site, rather than trying to go through contest or bidding site channels to get in touch with the person two continents away, in another time zone, to solve the problem… after negotiating another fee and creating the paperwork and contract through that site. Time lost and time is money.
Naturally, the bigger the design firm, the higher the cost. True, there MAY be higher service and abilities (a firm can write content, develop, design, program and come up with branding and a marketing plan… but so can a freelancer in many cases). A freelancer, in many cases, may be freshly out of a big design firm and has the experience to give you whatever you need. Check their résumé to see what other clients they have serviced. Talk to them about how they work and what they see for your own needs. As with any service provider, referral or not, shop around.
Most importantly, you should feel a comfortable bond with your creative provider. Trust, communication and transparency are the utmost in your relationship.
You might need a first web site for your business or just want to update your existing one with some new technology, want to establish or freshen your brand or create some paper or digital marketing material. Whatever you need, there are great design studios or freelancers available to deliver your needs.
For the sake of this example, let’s say you need a new web site. How do you find a competent vendor for the development and design?
- Ask a professional friend with a great web site who they used. Word of mouth and recommendations are the best and safest way to find great talent.
- Google similar businesses as yours and look at their web sites. Is the site well designed? Is the functionality and navigation top notch? If so, scroll to the bottom of the page and see if there’s a link to the designer or design firm that created the site.
- Google “web designer, yourtown, yourstate” and then look at their web site. Call the clients of web sites they’ve designed for a reference. If you use someone local, you help your local economy, are able to meet with them face-to-face and they are available for site updates and will become a loyal vendor.
- Your niece or nephew goes to art school and you think they will give you an acceptable site for free or $50. FORGET IT! If you want a crappy looking site that will make your business look crappy, then go right ahead but if they screw up and something really goes wrong, do you want every relative in the world calling you to scream about how you hurt little Chris’ feelings or spend some awkward family holiday dinners sitting next to little Suzie and her sharp, pointy goth jewelry?
“Ours is an industry that most of us are not truly prepared to enter,” stated the studio owner. “We may be schooled as designers. We may be passionate about our craft, but one day we will all wake up and find that we are under-prepared for what our day has in store. We will realize that the business of graphic design is just as much about relationships, people management, financial decisions, networking and selling as it is about designing. Many will spin their wheels and burn out. The smart designers will adapt and in all likelihood forge the next mold for smart, cutting edge agencies.”
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