This is my short list of 10 things you can do to stand out in the dog-eat-dog world of web design, where — as everyone knows — anyone can be (and is) a web designer. .
- 1. Faster Response Time.
- Set the stage for a pleasant experience with a prospective client by returning phone calls or answering emails promptly, at least within 24 hours if not sooner. How you handle a prospective client sets the tone for his or her experience with you once money changes hands and may even be the deciding factor in your being hired above another design firm.
- 2. Better Organization.
- Nothing destroys credibility faster than floundering around with lost emails, misstating facts because you cannot locate that original email or document. Invest in a project management program to help keep you and your clients organized and all relevant information at your fingertips.
- 3. Detailed Proposals.
- Nothing spells disaster faster than an incomplete or vague proposal. The proposal should form the basis of the contract between you and your client and while it cannot, by definition, be ironclad, it should answer the question of exactly what will and will not be provided and at what cost and in what time frame.
- 4. Solid Contracts.
- Never enter into a project without a contract and never do business with anyone not willing to sign a contract. If you haven’t done so yet, you should consider investing in legal counsel (and better yet, counsel who specializes in Internet and IP law) to flyspeck your form contract. Don’t wait for litigation to ensue to discover that your contract is toothless.
- 5. Don’t Be a “Disappearing Web Designer.”
- If I had a dollar for every client who told me their previous web developer “ran off,” I’d be a rich woman. Don’t be such a person. If you cannot fulfill your end of the bargain in the time and at the cost you originally quoted, tell the client right away. If your contract is fair to both sides, there may be a penalty (cost) for you to walk away. But better to do that than risk ruining your hard-won reputation. If you build an “exit clause” into your contract and make it fair for the client, most will be understanding about such circumstances. But if you find yourself making a habit of this, you should rethink your proposal strategies.
- 6. Add a Unique Value.
- The best way to win and keep clients is to add something of value that they cannot get anywhere else. This can be anything you think you do better than others, such as a custom Twitter background, custom desktop wallpaper, a time frame where you offer free tech support. Sit down and figure out what you can bring to the table that no one else can and market it like crazy. It doesn’t have to be something that you offer “free,” just something unique that will set you apart from the herd.
- 7. Deliver an Outstanding Work Product.
- In other words, don’t be lazy, careless or sloppy. I’ve encountered a few professional web designers who are careless with spelling (this is a pet peeve of mine), with fact-checking and with coding. Don’t be such a person. If you don’t know, for example, if it’s “Wordpress” or “WordPress,” then look it up. Validate all your code, CSS and HTML alike. Give the client what he paid for.
- 8. Don’t Assume.
- Everyone knows that old adage, Assume makes an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’ — so don’t do it! If you are unsure about a client’s directive, ask. If you wonder whether he or she has secured rights to use an image that’s been provided to you, ask. You may find out they haven’t so best to nip that problem in the bud. Asking questions doesn’t imply that you aren’t smart. It implies that you care enough to make sure before you proceed.
- 9. Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can Chew.
- If a client’s requirements are beyond your scope of expertise and you don’t have a sub you can run to, then politely decline the project and don’t be shy about telling the prospective client why. One of two things will happen. Either the client will appreciate your candor and honesty, take his business elsewhere and you will be spared the embarrassment of delivering substandard work, or it may be that you and the client can sit down and work out a solution that is within your skill level. Again, it comes down to #8 (Don’t Assume).
- 10. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate.
- If I could only list one thing that you can do to improve service to your clients, it would be this. You’ll know after a few phone calls and/or emails what your client’s “communication style” is, and you can follow his lead. But do update your client with status reports, shoot him an email (or post to your Project Management area) when you encounter a snag. Let him know immediately if something becomes impossible to deliver or impossible to deliver on schedule. Amend your contract to account for the snag and have your client sign off on it. But don’t keep him in the dark.
Do these things and you should have more and better business and more and better (and happier) clients!
Joni Mueller has been designing web sites for hire since 2003, when she first blew up her web host’s server by insisting on running Greymatter. Since then, Joni has designed for Blogger and Movable Type, TextPattern, WordPress and CMS Made Simple. She lives with her cat and shoe collection in a bucolic old section of Houston called Idylwood. For some strange reason, Joni likes to refer to herself in the third person. When she’s not working on web design, she’s ordering lawyers around. And blogging about it. Or both.