Road trips with clients

Not so fast, you forgot the map!

I like to think of web projects like a road trip. You and your client hop in the car, put on your shades, throw on that smooth trippin’ with clients playlist, and hit the gas. Thing is, you’re not going to get from A to B by putting your finger to the wind and following the sun. You need a map.

Let’s wing it on the open road!

If you’ve been at this for a short while, you are probably familiar with this scenario: You get an email from a lead telling you they need a website. You get on a call in which they share the list of things they want while you stay mostly quiet, mustering up the courage to ask for their budget. You get through it, hang up, sift through your hurried notes, and cobble together a proposal, which is essentially the bullet list of tasks and features they dictated ending with a price tag.

That amazing road trip is likely to end up being you and your client doing donuts in a parking lot. I’ve been there. It’s not pretty.

I filled the tank.
What do you mean you’re not coming?

Perhaps you’ve been at it a bit longer. By now you have learned by that taking time to really figure out what goes into a project is critical to a successful outcome. So you make the additional phone calls and emails, maybe even a meeting or two, to really get to the heart of the project. You brainstorm strategy and do some research on possible platforms and frameworks.

Two, five, maybe even ten hours later, you’ve come up with a map that’s like a route buffet for your client and you can’t wait to hit the road!
Then it happens. They cancel the trip.

So what’s the solution if the only obvious choices are a) quote blindly or b) do all the research and roll the dice, hoping your client will commit? I think first we need to, you guessed it, identify the problem.

Would you go on an extended road trip with a total stranger?

I’m selling the map

We can see there is an inherent catch 22 in the common approach to closing the deal: clients want us to offer the most creative and compelling solutions for their problem before they sign. We want them to commit before we pour too much time/effort into their problem. Both positions are completely justified, but it’s a silly dance rooted in fear, and it serves no one.

Clients want us to offer the most creative and compelling solutions for their problem before they sign. We want them to commit before we pour too much time/effort into their problem… it’s a silly dance rooted in fear, and it serves no one.

  • I am no longer doing what could be considered mental “spec” work. This helps cement my clients’ perception of me as a partner and consultant, rather than a technician.
  • I get to feel out the workflow and communication patterns with my client on a smaller scale. If it makes me sad to imagine a long-term relationship with this person, I can deliver the plan and refer them to a colleague whose personality may be better suited to execute it.
  • As I am being compensated, the time pressure is off. I can be more spontaneous and creative, focussing on my client’s needs rather than wondering if they will sign in the end.
  • This approach weeds out clients who can’t see the value in reflecting and planning. If a client balks at paying for this work they will balk all the way through. I prefer to pass on that kind of relationship.
  • By the time we officially start the project, a huge chunk of work has been done and we can really hit the ground running.

When proper resources are allocated to discovery, we can team up with our clients to conceive the most creative solutions to their problems. We will not only identify roadblocks, but discover alternative routes we might have otherwise missed.

Check out the second post in this series.

Psssst!

I’m putting together a service to help freelancers write better proposals…

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Independent Front-end Designer | Educator | Kayaker @luclemo | lucaslemonnier.com

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Lucas Lemonnier

Lucas Lemonnier

Independent Front-end Designer | Educator | Kayaker @luclemo | lucaslemonnier.com