5 Things Clients Should Know Before a Project StartsWednesday August 13th, 2014
Over the years I’ve picked up on a lot things that I now stress to clients before their project starts. With these five things, I can guarantee any project will run smoothly, be more effective, and everyone will feel the project was a success and worth the investment.
I’ve been managing projects and clients at Brolik for five years now. I started as an intern, then was hired full-time time as an Account Manager and now as an Account Executive. Over those years I’ve picked up on a lot things that I now stress to clients before their project starts. If considered before work begins, these five things in particular help projects go smoothly and help clients get more for their investments. Spoiler alert, truths ahead!
1. Establish Primary Goals
It’s imperative to establish the client’s primary goals up front. Questions such as, “What need(s) is this meeting? How will this benefit my customers? How will this impact my bottom line?” come to mind. If these goals aren’t set, how can anyone – agency or client – meet them later?
These goals should be clearly communicated to everyone involved. This helps set the tone and align the project’s efforts. Taking this step makes it easier for everyone to stay on task and understand the project’s primary goals versus its secondary or tertiary goals. Strive to make these goals as specific as possible. Rather than stating, “We need a new website,” think about the reasoning behind that. “We need a new responsive website because we need to optimize for mobile and tablet.” Or, “The digital strategy campaign should more accurately track the leads funnel.” This provides a great jumping-off point for research efforts.
When a project is near launch, it’s not uncommon to see tensions rise as people realize that things are drawing to a close. If I were a client, I’d probably get tense also, and that’s okay. It’s understandable. What’s frustrating is when last minute changes are thrown into the mix. This is a sign the project has lost sight of its primary goals. Try not to focus on perfection. The web is continually changing and perfection doesn’t exist in 2014. When ‘perfection’ is the goal, small tasks become the focus and often the primary goals get lost.
2. Learn the Lingo and Trust the Agency
If you’ve hired an agency like Brolik, this isn’t their first rodeo. Every project is unique, but best practices can always be applied. Phrases such as ‘best usability,’ ‘clear calls to action’ and ‘site hierarchy’ come to mind. We use these types of explanations to help our clients understand what we’re trying to achieve. Just as an agency needs to make the investment to understand their client’s business, the clients should make an investment to understand the agency’s guidance and perspective. In my experience, this always makes projects more successful.
Approach your project with the understanding that it involves a collaborative process rather than a one way street of directions and orders. Projects can become derailed when clients view their opinions as absolute truths rather than being willing to have a conversation about the objectives. As a digital agency, it’s our job to relay and apply the information we know so that educated decisions can be made. If that can’t happen because the expertise falls on deaf ears, achieving the optimal outcome becomes very difficult. People start barking to be heard and tensions build. Instead, try to be open to the advice of people that have done it before.
As the agency, we also need to remember to lean on our client’s knowledge because they know their business better than we do. Both parties can then communicate freely and maybe even learn a couple of things along the way.
3. Voice Comments, Concerns and Suggestions
We take pride in knowing that our process is iterative and collaborative while still being able to maintain its structure. We refuse to develop a website or launch a digital strategy campaign that hasn’t been vetted and signed off on by all decision makers, on both sides. To make that possible, we need to hear everything our clients have to say, good and bad. As an Account Executive, it’s my job to encourage everyone to dig deeper and make the project better.
Sometimes this may seem as though I’m being forceful and pushing folks off. I frequently ask follow up questions to initiate a back and forth until everyone is 100% clear. What I’m trying to do is get everyone thinking critically about what’s going on and to make decisions together, rather than in a vacuum. The larger our projects become, the more I realize how many decisions need to be reached before moving onto subsequent phases.
Remember, the agency wants the project to be successful just as much as the client does. Ultimately an agency can’t survive if it doesn’t produce a quality product. It’s my job to make sure that happens, and sometimes to do that I have to ask tough questions that inevitably pump the brakes. It’s much better to take the time to make sound choices instead of making snap decisions only to realize later that those choices were wrong and the project needs to backtrack. That just wastes everyone’s hard work and money. It’s much better to avoid this situation all together.
4. Do Your Homework
Clients are making a significant financial investment, and as the agency we understand that. Along with the monetary investment, clients should also be prepared to devote their time and energy. Much of our process requires clients to think critically and produce materials such as documents, revisions and content. If you don’t submit your homework, how can it be corrected for the better?
Think of it like a building a house. You wouldn’t say to the architect and builder, “Build me a house,” and then walk away, expecting to come back several months later to find exactly what you envisioned. That doesn’t apply here either. The reason we push our clients to put effort into their projects is really for their own good. We know that participation allows clients to have a greater impact on the final result, to feel more comfortable because they know exactly what’s going on and to have more influence along the way.
Few things are worse than failed attempts to get a client involved only to have them come back and be unhappy with the progress. “What color will the dining room be? How many bathrooms? Let’s talk about the flooring.” We can apply the same concept to developing a website or digital strategy campaign for our clients.
5. Know Your Business and Customers
As obvious as this is, it often goes overlooked. Brolik starts each project with a thorough discovery session where we ask lots of questions and talk through all aspects of our client’s business. During this discovery, the goal is to leave no stone unturned. It’s important that the client not only be proficient in answering these questions but also that they are able to reciprocate and keep the conversation going.
Over the years we’ve formalized this discovery process and done tons of discoveries in all different formats. In my experience, though, the discovery sessions that go the best are the ones where the client is knowledgeable and excited and we ditch the script for a free-flowing conversation about the business, its goals and its future. Don’t worry, we’re still taking notes and we’re good at multitasking, but this is the best way to turn all those stones.
Whether it’s web design and development, brand development or digital strategy, knowing who the project is trying to target and the core competencies of the business is always important to establish right off the bat.
Simple, right? With these five things, I can guarantee any project will run smoothly, be more effective, and everyone will feel the project was a success and worth the investment. I’d love to hear your thoughts and if you think there are more things clients need to know before jumping into their next project!