Source: A List Apart
What our clients do with their websites is just as important as the websites themselves. We may pride ourselves on building a great product, but it’s ultimately up to the client to see it succeed or fail. Even the best website can become neglected, underused, or messy without a little education and training.
Too often, my company used to create amazing tools for clients and then send them out into the world without enough guidance. We’d watch our sites slowly become stale, and we’d see our strategic content overwritten with fluffy filler.
It was no one’s fault but our own.
As passionate and knowledgeable web enthusiasts, it’s literally our job to help our clients succeed in any way we can, even after launch. Every project is an opportunity to educate clients and build a mutually beneficial learning experience.
Meeting in the middle
If we want our clients to use our products to their full potential, we have to meet them in the middle. We have to balance our technical expertise with their existing processes and skills.
At my company, Brolik, we learned this the hard way.
We had a financial client whose main revenue came from selling in-depth PDF reports. Customers would select a report, generating an email to an employee who would manually create and email an unprotected PDF to the customer. The whole process would take about two days.
To make the process faster and more secure, we built an advanced, password-protected portal where their customers could purchase and access only the reports they’d paid for. The PDFs themselves were generated on the fly from the content management system. They were protected even after they were downloaded and only viewable with a unique username and password generated with the PDF.
The system itself was technically advanced and thoroughly solved our client’s needs. When the job was done, we patted ourselves on the back, added the project to our portfolio, and moved on to the next thing.
The client, however, was generally confused by the system we’d built. They didn’t quite know how to explain it to their customers. Processes had been automated to the point where they seemed untrustworthy. After about a month, they asked us if we’d revert back to their previous system.
We had created too large of a process change for our client. We upended a large part of their business model without really considering whether they were ready for a new approach.
From that experience, we learned not only to create online tools that complement our clients’ existing business processes, but also that we can be instrumental in helping clients embrace new processes. We now see it as part of our job to educate our clients and explain the technical and strategic thought behind all of our decisions.
Leading by example
We put this lesson to work on a more recent project, developing a site-wide content tagging system where images, video, and other media could be displayed in different ways based on how they were tagged.
We could have left our clients to figure out this new system on their own, but we wanted to help them adopt it. So we pre-populated content and tags to demonstrate functionality. We walked through the tagging process with as many stakeholders as we could. We even created a PDF guide to explain the how and why behind the new system.
In this case, our approach worked, and the client’s cumbersome media management time was significantly reduced. The difference between the outcome of the two projects was simply education and support.
Education and support can, and usually does, take the form of setting an example. Some clients may not fully understand the benefits of a content strategy, for instance, so you have to show them results. Create relevant and well-written sample blog posts for them, and show how they can drive website traffic. Share articles and case studies that relate to the new tools you’re building for them. Show them that you’re excited, because excitement is contagious. If you’re lucky and smart enough to follow Geoff Dimasi’s advice and work with clients who align with your values, this process will be automatic, because you’ll already be invested in their success.
We should be teaching our clients to use their website, app, content management system, or social media correctly and wisely. The more adept they are at putting our products to use, the better our products perform.
Dealing with budgets
Client education means new deliverables, which have to be prepared by those directly involved in the project. Developers, designers, project managers, and other team members are responsible for creating the PDFs, training workshops, interactive guides, and other educational material.
That means more organizing, writing, designing, planning, and coding—all things we normally bill for, but now we have to bill in the name of client education.
Take this into account at the beginning of a project. The amount of education a client needs can be a consideration for taking a job at all, but it should at least factor into pricing. Hours spent helping your client use your product is billable time that you shouldn’t give away for free.
At Brolik, we’ve helped a range of clients—from those who have “just accepted that the Web isn’t a fad” (that’s an actual quote from 2013), to businesses that have a team of in-house developers. We consider this information and price accordingly, because it directly affects the success of the entire product and partnership. If they need a lot of education but they’re not willing to pay for it, it may be smart to pass on the job.
Most clients actually understand this. Those who are interested in improving their business are interested in improving themselves as well. This is the foundation for a truly fulfilling and mutually beneficial client relationship. Seek out these relationships.
It’s sometimes challenging to justify a “client education” line item in your proposals, however. If you can’t, try to at least work some wiggle room into your price. More specifically, try adding a 10 percent contingency for “Support and Training” or “Onboarding.”
If you can’t justify a price increase at all, but you still want the job, consider factoring in a few client education hours and their opportunity cost as part of your company’s overall marketing budget. Teaching your client to use your product is your responsibility as a digital business.
This never ends (hopefully)
What’s better than arming your clients with knowledge and tools, pumping them up, and then sending them out into the world to succeed? Venturing out with them!
At Brolik, we’ve started signing clients onto digital strategy retainers once their websites are completed. Digital strategy is an overarching term that covers anything and everything to grow a business online. Specifically for us, it includes audience research, content creation, SEO, search and display advertising, website maintenance, social media, and all kinds of analysis and reporting.
This allows us to continue to educate (and learn) on an ongoing basis. It keeps things interesting—and as a bonus, we usually upsell more work.
We’ve found that by fostering collaboration post-launch, we not only help our clients use our product more effectively and grow their business, but we also alleviate a lot of the panic that kicks in right before a site goes live. They know we’ll still be there to fix, tweak, analyze, and even experiment.
This ongoing digital strategy concept was so natural for our business that it’s surprising it took us so long to implement it. After 10 years making websites, we’ve only offered digital strategy for the last two, and it’s already driving 50 percent of our revenue.
It pays to be along for the ride
The extra effort required for client education is worth it. By giving our clients the tools, knowledge, and passion they need to be successful with what we’ve built for them, we help them improve their business.
Anything that drives their success ultimately drives ours. When the tools we build work well for our clients, they return to us for more work. When their websites perform well, our portfolios look better and live longer. Overall, when their business improves, it reflects well on us.
A fulfilling and mutually beneficial client relationship is good for the client and good for future business. It’s an area where we can follow our passion and do what’s right, because we get back as much as we put in.
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