Get updates when we blog about the business of web development.

You'll get ONE email a week with links to new blog articles AND instant access to our exclusive members area.

If you want your web design clients to treat you as a professional, do these things before project start

If you want your web design clients to treat you as a professional, do these things before project start

Web design and web development professionals make rookie mistakes too. The article names basic business components that make the client perceive you as a professional.

There’s a great discussion in the DesignersTalk Linkedin group, titled My client doesn't want to pay me…, that I want to refer to today. 

Here’s the plot: a client needed a logo designed, urgently. The designer liked the client and wanted to take on the project. She trusted the client and started work immediately. 3 weeks and 15 design iterations later, she invoiced the client. The client refused to pay her fee, claiming to not have expected such a high price from a student. The designer now feels insulted because the client denied her professionalism.

The original poster in the discussion is obviously an experienced designer, but she made a blunder which put her in a tough position: she did not ask to be paid a deposit.

Professionals make rookie mistakes too.

What is it that makes a professional - a professional? Is a clear demonstration of talent and skills enough, or is there something else there?

Being perceived as a professional is not always and all about how talented, skillful and knowledgeable a web designer is. To be perceived as a professional, she needs to act like a professional - like a businessperson. When a web designer ignores certain business components of professionalism, she makes herself look like an amateur. 

Bad clients take advantage of that. They refuse to pay, don’t return their calls, question their skills and knowledge, or ask about the time it took them to complete the project.

What are those business components that make you a professional that you truly are? Here is everything you need to do before starting a project.

Have a conversation about the scope of the project, and put the conclusions in writing.

Let’s say that you meet the client in person to discuss her needs. You’re both enthusiastic about the project, and the client wants to hire you.

Great! You have a hot lead. Now, take your (digital) pen and paper and start writing everything down. Every suggestion, every idea, every expectation, every promise that came up in the meeting needs to be shown to the client, in writing. The client needs to confirm that what she’s buying and what you’re selling is one and the same thing.

For example, state that only the logo will be designed - not the memo, not the business card, and not the website. 

Compile all the notes from the meeting into one document, call it “Project Scope Definition”, and send it to the client the same day the meeting took place: 

”Please confirm that this is what we agreed upon in the meeting so that I can create a quote perfectly matching your needs. If there’s anything missing, or you have additional questions, please let me know immediately - thank you!” 

You want to get the first YES from the client before you send her your next business piece (the sales quote).

Create the sales quote.

Now that you and your client both agree on the project scope, it’s time to make the deal more official.

Use the project scope definition document and attach the following three important details which make it a sales quote:

  1. The price. Don’t let the client guess whether or not the price is final: are there additional taxes and fees to pay? Is the price one-time or recurring
  2. The timeline. Make it as specific as possible. Break the timeline into phases if there are points in which the client must approve your work or make a decision. For example, “First design proposal: 5 working days after the client has met the following conditions: paid the upfront fee, signed the contract, and delivered 100% of content.”  
  3. Payment terms. Define when and how you want to be paid. This is your decision, not your client’s. 

It is good business practice to be completely transparent about your terms of service, so that the client has the chance to accept or decline your offer. Everybody can be enthusiastic about your services in a meeting, but not everybody can afford to pay you. 

In the sales quote, you must additionally describe your service, and be precise about it:

  • Describe your process. How many design iterations are included in the price? For example, tell the client that you do not intend to do more that 1 major revision, and no more than 3 minor revisions of the accepted design.
  • Specify the deliverables. If you’re designing a logo, mention the format and the method of delivery. “Two files, containing a logo in a PDF and PNG format, will be delivered to the client via email.” 

Sign a contract.

It doesn’t matter whether or not the client is in a hurry: all professionals insist on signing their contracts before project start. A contract is the strongest signal to the client that she’s dealing with a professional. Amateurs work without one.

It’s beyond the scope of this article to talk about what to put in the contract, but in short, make sure you limit the time and the scope of your work for the price you quoted, and define what happens if the client does not comply. Here’s a popular template for a web design contract.

Demand 50% deposit.

Demand to be paid before you start working on the project. Period. All professionals do this. Don’t let the client persuade you to start work “because it’s urgent”. If it’s urgent, the client can pay urgently.

Make sure you’ve got everything you need before you start working on the project.

Many professional web designers and even web agencies break their teeth on this one: they let the client start the deadline countdown before all the content (or project assets) have been collected. We’ve written about the risks of not having all the content before starting a web development project before. True professionals insist that clients follow their business processes because it’s the only way to guarantee quality.

Keep your promises and do what you said you would do.

If you say that you will send the client a sales quote, do it. Dont wing it by sending a plain email. When you say “sales quote”, the client expects an attached document. Anything less that that makes you look like an amateur.

If you promise to discuss logo color options with her, do it.

If in the meeting a client asks you to do something for her, and you nod your head in agreement, do what you agreed to do. If you don’t want to do it, simply don’t agree to it. Instead, explain to the customer that her request is “part of a more expensive package”. You can easily spot a professional by how easy she says NO to a client. Clients will respect you more - not less - for getting a NO from you.

Treat business as business.

It’s natural to like your clients, especially if they’re also your personal friends or acquaintances or family.

But a business relationship is no place to look for love, friendship, and liking - although this sometimes happens. If you want love and friendship, go to your loved ones and friends. 

In a business, your mutual interest is a business transaction. Business is about exchanging goods and services for money, not for love and liking. 

By doing all of the above, you make sure that clients don’t get confused about your relationship or your level of professionalism either.

And during the project, make sure you set the boundaries related to your availability.

Now, go and deliver that project spectacularly!

Discuss this post on Google+.

Creative Commons image license: Aurimas on Flickr. Applied changes: cropped.

Subscribe to the weekly Simpfinity newsletter for exclusive guides and tips about the business of website development
Want clients to treat you as a #webdesign professional? Do these things before project start webdev luckyisgood, returnnull