How To Lead A Web Design Project And Build Your Client’s Confidence.

By Jeremy Girard


April 6, 2014


When a client hires you to design a website for them, they are buying more than just your design skills.


Yes, your grasp of color, typography, layout, and composition are important values -- but more than just your design expertise and brilliant execution, clients need your guidance and leadership.


Designing a brand-new website, or redesigning a current site, is something most companies do only rarely. You’ll probably encounter people at your client’s company who have never participated in a website design project before. Because this is unfamiliar territory for them, they may be intimidated or even scared by this unpredictable project they got pulled into. This is a perfect opportunity for you to show extra value: reassure your client with both words and actions. By taking a leadership role on the project, you can not only calm any fears your clients may have, but you’ll leave an indelible mark. This great impression will pay off when they need additional design services or are in a position to recommend you to others.


Let’s take a look at some of the key qualities to embrace as a leader on client website design projects.



Listen First.


Trying to determine the solution for your client’s problems? Hoping to answer their questions and alleviate their concerns? The first step in the process is to listen.


Listening to your client means more than simply allowing them to speak before you roll into whatever monologue you intended to deliver all along. You may know that current best practices mean you should be looking to create a responsive website, and that will likely be a big part of the conversation you have with your new client, but first, you must listen.


Listen First.


Listening means really paying attention and genuinely caring about their needs and concerns. It also means, in some cases, admitting you don’t have the answer right now, but you will get them one. Many designers are afraid to admit they don’t have all the answers, so they fall back on solutions that worked for them in the past. If you ask for time to think about a question when you don’t have an answer, you will find that the solutions you ultimately embrace are better-suited to your client. Plus, your client will appreciate the fact that someone actually heard their needs and listened to what they were saying.



Be Confident.


There is a difference between confidence and cockiness – sometimes a very fine line. In the end, though, your clients want to believe they have hired the right team to design their website. If they are indeed scared about the project before them, a confident leader is a very big plus.


Be Confident.


Think about it. When you’re on a plane and the ride gets bumpy, don’t you appreciate the Captain’s calm voice on the speakers, assuring you everything is alright and you’ll get through the rough patch shortly? That calm voice soothes you not only because it provides the latest information, but also because of the pilot’s confident demeanor. That type of demeanor -- unshaken, in-control -- is what you need to display to worried web design clients. By providing the latest information and showing your lack of concern, you help clients find comfort in your confidence. They know you are on top of the project and leading the way.



Be Honest.


But what do you do when the project has an actual issue? You still need to be confident as you speak to clients, but you also need to be honest with them. Trying to hide problems hoping they will “take care of themselves” is wishful thinking at best and disastrous at worst. Leadership means having difficult conversations and confronting problems that need to be resolved. Hiding from those problems is not the answer -- ever.

 Be Honest


When an issue does come up that you need to discuss with your client, be honest about the problem and how you got where you are, but also use that aforementioned confidence to explain to them the steps you are taking to resolve the issue and get the project back on track. In some cases, these problems may be your doing or someone else’s at your company. In other cases, the client may be at fault, while in still other instances maybe no one is to blame for what went wrong. The point is not to assign blame, it is to acknowledge the current situation and seek the path forward. No one benefits from the blame game and it is, in fact, a great way to damage client/designer relationships.


That being said, if an issue does arise and you are to blame, there is no harm apologizing – just don’t overdo it! Saying “I’m sorry we are at this place in the project” is fine, but be sure to follow it up with: “But here’s our plan to get us back to where we need to be.”


Saying sorry is a nice gesture, but it should come at the beginning of a conversation, and always be followed by the actions you are taking now. That’s what you want to leave the client with: the confident steps you and your company are taking to fix whatever issues have come up.



Be Consistent.


Part of being a leader is consistency with your recommendations and directions. This doesn’t mean you can’t change your mind or adjust the plan if new information arises, but you also don’t want to be indecisive or waffle when someone questions your decisions. If you refuse to stand your ground and back up your decisions when appropriate, you lose credibility as a leader.


Being consistent and sticking by your decisions can take many forms. As a designer, you’re probably well-versed in discussing design and explaining why you made the choices you did. As a website designer, you will have these same conversations, but you may need to explain many other non-visual aspects of the project.


Take the platform that the site is built upon, for instance. Say you decided to use the Webydo web design platform to create a responsive website and give your client CMS editing capabilities. Someone else in your client’s company may question this choice, and push for something with more name recognition like Wordpress. Well, you chose Webydo because it’s the right fit for design needs and your client’s needs, right? Be consistent in your recommendation and defend your choice.



Be Nice.


Trust me, it’s easier to lead a team of people who actually like you than... well, the alternative. Confidence, honesty, and consistency are important leadership traits, but likeability and approachability are equally key. Warmth, friendliness, and a sense of engagement play well -- you’ll see how much better people respond to your requests.


Be nice.


Trust me, it’s easier to lead a team of people who actually like you than... well, the alternative. Confidence, honesty, and consistency are important leadership traits, but likeability and approachability are equally key. Warmth, friendliness, and a sense of engagement play well -- you’ll see how much better people respond to your requests.



The Bottom Line.


Hey, many designers out there can push pixels and design a website. Your value is providing clients with more than just a quality design, but leadership skills for a successful project and the direction needed to get the job done right.


The next time you kick off a new website project, keep these tips in mind, and embrace that leadership role!

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