Helping our Clients Test

If you’ve trained your testers properly. and you no doubt have, then they will be giving you bug reports with detailed steps to reproduce the bug. That, my friends, is programmers heaven. (emphasis mine)

I’ve been reading The Career Programmer and while there are lots of things that make me remember ‘bad clients’ and ‘bad bosses’ today I was struck by the quote above.

I know I have complained about clients giving me terrible feedback, but they don’t build sites on a regular basis so how can they know what good feedback is?

Next time you’re complaining about a bad bug report from a client stop and ask if you’ve trained them to provide good bug reports. If not then you’re the one with the problem.

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5 Things A Client Should Ask a Prospective Web Designer or Agency

Man and Woman Dancing

Man and Woman Dancing
Man and Woman Dancing

Evaluating a company or person to build your website is a tricky thing. What do you expect? What things do you need to know? Here are 5 questions that a client should be asking all companies in the running to build their next website.

  1. Have you worked on any similar projects? While it is possible that the designers and agencies you are talking to about your project have never worked in your specific field before building an e-commerce site for a canoe shop or for a place selling paintball equipment is very similar. The target market might be a bit different but the issues that you will need to deal with are the same. Find out what projects they have done that they feel have similar issues to your site.
  2. What type of communication can I expect? Communication is key. Sure it is an often heard motto, but really how often does a company really take that to heart? My experience from working full-time in-house and contracting out work, is that many companies don’t really take communication seriously. At one point I sent enquiries to a number (link) of agencies in BC and only heard from 2. I’ve also dealt with a company that would, seemingly, drop off the face of the earth for a few days (10 at one point). Not the type of communication I would allow.When I work with a client I touch base at the very least on Friday and Monday of each week, while a project is active. Sure a late Thursday email counts as well but the point is to wrap up the week, setup what you’ll be working on next week and then on Monday communicate again about the goals of the coming week. All it does is let the client know that they are a priority. Make sure that heading into a project you know what type and how frequent communication will be. Make sure that you establish your communication needs.
  3. What is the design process? Will you see a wireframe? How many design options will you see? The reality is that there are many differing opinions on what is needed in a design process. I do wireframe. Some project get a lot of wireframing. Some projects start with a bit of sketching, then move quickly onto wireframing then get into Photoshop. That wireframing may have only been to sketch out ideas and may really not be anything to show off. Sometimes in the middle of a project I’ll start sketching out some elements on a page to get my creative ideas solid. Just because I went through all of the items above on a project doesn’t mean that I end up showing the client each little stage of the process.Make sure that you know what the creative process is and what parts you can expect to see. As I said I do wirfeframes sometimes. If at the end of a full wireframe I’m not sure about content layout then I show it to a a client. This probably only happens on about 20% of project. Often I get part way through the wireframe and the content layout gets solid and I start thinking of the visuals. In that case the client probably will not see the wireframes. Just be sure you know what to expect and make your expectations know.
  4. Do you have the capacity to meet the deadline? Just because the agency you’re talking to employ’s 20 people doesn’t mean they have the time to meet your deadlines. It is entirely possible that all of the staff are tied up with other clients already.One note for clients though, an average blog project easily takes 4 weeks from contract signed to finished. If it’s anything more than that you need to add time. While you may have a preferred finish time (asap is typical) remember that it may not be a realistic one. Use this question to evaluate how they schedule themselves as well as how many staff (or hours in a week) they will devote to your project.
  5. What are your pet peeves in web design right now? This is a great time to listen to the web designer talk about the pet peeves they have in web design right now. Some will talk about the design of forms, some will wax poetic about elegant code. Don’t ask them this to judge them on the specifics, ask them to hear their passion. Ask them to make sure the things you see as issues with your site are issues that your designer is passionate about.Remember that just because they don’t express your specific concerns as their passion doesn’t mean they don’t have strong opinions on them. As with anything passions and pet peeves run in cycles. While they may not be passionate today about the things that bug you they may have been bugged by those same issues 2 months ago. It’s always a good idea to read through their blog (if they have one) and to ask them questions specifically around the items that are of concern to you.

Wrap It Up

Really figuring out who to work with on a web project is a bit like getting a new dance partner. You need to communicate up front to make sure that you’re both in sync.

Freelancers Make yourself Accessible

A number of my readers are freelancers. We are always trying to find ways to get more work in the door with the least amount of effort. Often for freelancers that means using email.

I would often much rather talk to a client via email than over the phone. It’s quick and I can fit it into my schedule when I have the time. Emails don’t have to interrupt you when you are in the middle of some ‘flow’ for a design.

Is email always the best for your clients though? I don’t really think so. I am sure we have all had a long email conversation over a few days that still really didn’t resolve a problem. Did just keeping the conversation to email really save you any time. Better yet did it make your customer happy?

Could that same conversation have been had in 10 or 15 minutes and then been done. Yes it make have taken you more time but would you have been able to finish the project faster therefore get money into your pocket faster. If the answer was yes then why didn’t you just pick up the phone?

I think that freelancers today rely too much on email and online forms of communication that are ineffective for our clients. That’s not to say that there aren’t some good ways to use online communication more effectively.

Right now, really as I write this post, I am using google chat in ‘guest’ mode with another freelancer for some development work. I don’t have this set up he does. I didn’t even know you could do this but is it effective? Hell yes. I am able to send links and respond in near real time to his questions while I do other things. This is way more effective for us than emailing back and forth a number of times. Think there is usually a dely in replying to emails (or we’d never get any work done) but if you blocked out time each day and told clients that you are online for chat if they need anything then you may server your clients better.