10 Tips for Working With Clients Remotely: Part 2

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March 12, 2009

10_tips_for_working_with_clients_remotely1When you’re working with clients remotely it can sometimes be difficult to keep everyone happy and your project on track. Without the benefit of face-to-face meetings, it’s easy for a client to feel neglected or out of the loop.

The key to successful remote work relationships is frequent and honest communication and trust between both parties. The tips below will help improve your everyday interactions with clients, no matter how far away they may be.

Please note that this is part 2 of a series – part 1 outlined the first 5 steps for remote interactions with clients which you can read here.

Now, let's look at 5 more tips that can help improve your relationship with your clients.

6. Use Design Documentation

As you move through your design process, think about the many ways documentation can help to get you and your clients on the same page. Although documentation takes time up front to create, it can save you endless hours in unnecessary revisions caused by miscommunications. These documents also become natural check-points for approval and sign-off. Below are the web design documents I find most helpful:

  • Creative briefs. A concise overview of the project that outlines the strategy around which you will design and develop the website. This should answer high-level questions such as why you are designing the site, who you are designing for, what the motivation behind the design will be, and what you hope to accomplish with the final product. It will act as a guide for all decision-making during the project, both for you and the client. Though you and your client may have talked at length about these issues, putting them on paper is always helpful. Any discrepancies between what they said and what you heard can then be cleared up before work starts.
  • Sitemaps. Sometimes, a client comes to you with a very clear idea of what pages they want. It may be a small site with 5 pages, in which case a sitemap can be agreed upon without further documentation. For anything larger, a sitemap can help the client to visualize what pages are going to get created and how they will relate to each other. I have had many freelance clients bring me a sitemap they created on their own. While this is a nice starting point, I suggest taking a few minutes to review what they have produced and suggest any improvements you think will help the site. Your client is likely too close to the content to develop the most usable information architecture. This article from Boxes and Arrows will get you started - it includes a number of great ideas for quickly producing sitemap documents.
  • Content matrix. Getting content is often one of the toughest hurdles to getting a website launched. A content matrix, usually an Excel spreadsheet, can greatly simplify the process of producing and migrating content for both you and the client. It should list each page of content and additional “micro-content” that might be needed such as taglines, related links, images, etc. As the content trickles in, you can check off each piece in the matrix and know at a glance what you’re missing. Keep it handy and refer to it during check-ins to remind clients what they need to provide in order to be ready for a timely launch.
  • Wireframes. A wireframe is a simple visual representation of a web page. Geometric shapes are used to represent fundamental content chunks such as the navigation, content, feature areas, ads, etc. They help to show the relationship between content pieces – for instance, what piece will be most prominent on the page – without bringing aesthetic decisions like color and font style into the mix. This helps to keep the client from getting hung up on design issues too early in the process.
  • Notes on mockups. Your design deliverables no doubt include a set of mockups. But how can you be sure that your client remembers (and translates to other parties) the ideas behind them? Adding an area for notes to each mockup – perhaps in a sidebar on the left or right – gives you a place to outline the thinking behind your design decisions. Tell your story successfully and client buy-in will be easier to get.

7. Avoid Assumptions

With meetings few and far between and communication somewhat limited, it’s very easy to assume you “know” what your client expects or wants without actually asking. As designers, we are trained to believe that we know what is best. While this is often true when it comes to design decisions, it’s not always true about other parts of the web design process.

If at any point you feel you don’t have enough information to make an accurate decision about a part of the project, resist the urge to make assumptions. Instead, stop and ask for feedback. You’ll save yourself countless hours.

8. Be Accessible

When you are miles away, being accessible is incredibly important to maintain healthy client relationships. Make sure you're quick to respond to emails and voicemails, and let your client know that they are welcome to contact you during business hours to discuss any questions or concerns they have. If you take days to respond to email or never answer their calls, they’ll start to wonder how far down they are on your priority list.

Clients need to know you take their project—and them—seriously. Being accessible makes it obvious that the work you're doing for them is one of your top priorities.

9. Be Honest and Admit Mistakes

During the course of any project, no matter how great the communication is, there are bound to be a few things that go wrong or don’t meet client expectations. Most clients understand that setbacks are a natural part of the process. While your first reaction may be to cover up or make excuses for the mistake, it pays to be honest and carefully review the error (and the subsequent solution, which of course you took care of right away!) with your client.

You will continue to build trust and show that you can pinpoint and fix problems as they arise. Depending on the nature of the mistake, it might make sense to add more check-ins to avoid future problems.

10. Trust Your Instincts

You’ve heard it a thousand times before, but it’s important to trust your gut when working with clients remotely. Your intuition is a biological survival tool you shouldn’t ignore. Keep your feelers out and pay attention to that little voice in the back of your head. Even if everything appears to be moving smoothly, if you feel like something is off, you are probably right.

The best thing to do is address the issue directly, then move on. Simple as they seem, these proactive approaches to working remotely with clients can have a huge impact on the success of your projects. Incorporate a few into your workflow today and reap the benefits.

Written exclusively for WDD by Mindy Wagner.

What are some of the challenges you experience when working with clients remotely? Please share your comments below…

WDD Staff

WDD staff are proud to be able to bring you this daily blog about web design and development. If there's something you think we should be talking about let us know @DesignerDepot.

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