Managing Client Expectations When Building Websites—Offering creative services for hire is at once rewarding and challenging. This is especially true in web development, where the designer or developer works with a client who rarely understands the technical complexity required for such a complex undertaking.

Business owners often have to deal with a project that goes horribly wrong. My first web client knowingly wrote me a bad check, stole some computers from a bunch of people in a Wal-Mart parking lot and moved to Utah.  When you face such a situation, you can’t help but change the way you do things to improve your outcome. Over time, I made note of a number of things that made future projects easier. Here are a few that work well for me.

Put It In Writing—I’ve learned to do everything in writing, even for the most trivial of agreements. While I use contracts for the major deals, I get clients to respond to emails for smaller things. I make sure that my language is explicit and non-technical so the client can’t claim ignorance later on. If you use email, make sure the client responds with some sort of acknowledgement or agreement, just in case the email gets marked as spam and they didn’t receive it.

Divide And Conquer—All web projects require input from the client. Being explicit with what, when, and how that input manifests is very important. Some clients expect the developer to research, write, proof, and SEO all of the content. Others want to send you a big block of text. Both can be appropriate, depending on the job. It’s up to you and that initial contract to determine which one you’re expecting.

Check In—Routine conversations with the client will help keep things on track. I’ve found the client to be the biggest delay in any web project, which often reduces the efficiency of larger teams that block off time to work on a particular project. The more you communicate with the client, the less likely either side will feel resentment when delays arise.

Develop Openly—While it can be scary to let a client see things that aren’t finished, it’s far better than getting 20 hours in only to find out, “Oh, that’s not what I meant.” Having a private, or at least unpublished, web space for the client to monitor progress will keep you and your team honest but also reduce the nagging, “How’s it going?” emails that are sure to surface.

Don’t Be Afraid To Say No—Or at the very least, don’t be afraid to hold to the contract. Last minute changes may seem like a way of strengthening the relationship, but the client rarely understands the position they’ve put you in. I hold off on all but the most critical of changes outlined in the contract until after the project launch. This way there’s a clear divider between what the client committed to initially and what they’re being invoiced for later.

If Possible, Get Paid Up Front—I’ve learned that the clients unwilling to pay in advance for creative work are the biggest challenges to work with. If your portfolio and testimonials aren’t enough to convince a client of your worth, think really hard about whether they’re going to be a good client. If the client doesn’t have a website, but has a long-standing business, it’s probably because they’re a challenge to work with. You’ve been warned!

There are other methods that help keep web projects running smoothly. If you have suggestions or ideas, feel free to email me, or better yet, leave them in the comments below.

Based in Vermont, Jeremy Lesniak is managing editor at and founder of Vermont Computing, Inc. and Follow him @jlesniak or email him at [email protected]

Dino Londis
Based in New York, Dino Londis is an IT veteran, an alum of The National Lampoon and a senior technologist at Contact him at [email protected]
Dino Londis
Dino Londis
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