| Business, Design Basics, Web Design

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So You're a Web DesignerApparently, it’s common for a doctor to be at a cocktail party or other social gathering, and when people hear that he or she is a doctor they start describing their latest rash, cough or pain in the hopes of a little free advice.

For many years, when I told someone that I was a graphic designer, I got a standard “that sounds fun” type of response. Until the past ten years or so, most people never understood how a book cover, magazine or brochure got designed. With the advent of web sites, the term designer, especially web designer, is something that people are much more familiar with.

It now seems that nearly everyone I meet has a connection to a web site: one that they’ve designed themselves as a hobby, one they paid for as a business owner, or a site they are otherwise work with. At a recent family gathering, I ended up in a conversation with a cousin who has inherited a poorly functioning web site for her PTO group, and another cousin who is frustrated by her multiple web sites she has for her businesses.

Unlike doctors or lawyers who work in highly regulated fields—and therefore avoid dispensing free advice—there is little to stop a discussion about web sites.

Some of these conversations are rather enlightening. As web designer, I don’t often hear what I’m doing that is great (or not so great) for my clients. As I talk with friends and family—who have not hired me—about their frustrations, I’ve learned a few lessons:

1. Return emails and phone calls.

AWOL web designers is a common complaint. People I talk with say they send and email and never hear back, or it takes too long to get a response.

This is my impression of what’s going on: I, too, get many emails and calls from clients after their web site project is complete. They are running into an issue and want to get information or advice. I have to decide: 1) will I just take the time to respond in the name of good customer service; 2) tell them I need to bill them for my time or 3) give them some preliminary thoughts and then ask if they want a proposal for work. As a web designer, answering all these queries can be a huge time suck, yet I do want to provide service.

If I know a client is not going to mind if I bill them for my time either immediately in terms of an estimate for further work, I’m much more likely to take the time to answer them. And I think, most people are willing to pay, but web designers are not sure.

In their mind, many designers are weighing the option of  working on their current project (for which they have a contract and/or payment and an upcoming deadline) or stop and work on your undefined issue. You can see how it’s easy to put off your email; and next thing you know, it’s buried in their in box.

I’ve decided that I will always try to reply promptly even if all I can do is say: “Would you like to schedule a paid consultation to go over this issue together?”

2. Provide maintenance packages.

At Visible Logic, we build all of our web sites using WordPress. One of the benefits of WordPress is that our clients can update the content on their site themselves. For a long time, I just sent clients along on their merry way after their web site launched. Not surprisingly, they would have questions and issues that arise (see #1 above). So, for the past several years, we’ve been offering maintenance packages, and about two-thirds of our clients accept them.

I know it can seem painful to pay something everything month, but it really makes sense.

First of all, it eliminates issue number one (above), because you’ve now paid for access to your web designer. Maintenance packages can vary in what’s included, but our includes: handling the updates to WordPress and Plugins; updating your User Guide when things change; pre-emptive fixes on known bugs; daily backups; a fixed number of hours for other design or content changes; priority access.

Maintenance packages also can help you budget.

3. Ensure the client knows how to use their site.

It’s become clear to me how many web shops really fall short in this area.

In one of the conversations that I mentioned previously, my cousin complained that her web designer said it would be easy to update the photos on her web site, but she went into the admin panel on WordPress and had no idea how to do it.

WordPress, and other content management system, should be easy to use. But if you’ve never been introduced to how it works, you may not know how to get started.

At Visible Logic, we always provide a completely customized User Guide and phone based training to our clients. Adding this work into the project scope does increase the cost, but as a web site buyer you should understand what type of training will be provided by your web developer.

Party on!

When I hear all these complaints at parties, I realize that much of the frustration people have about their web site stems from either lack of customer service, poor communication, or having taken the low-cost option when choosing a web designer.

Luckily, being introduced at a party as web designer is a lot cooler than something like an actuary or accountant.


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