When Clients Don’t Provide Content

photo of a woman handshaking with a man

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

I saw a topic on the Squarespace Circle Forum titled “How do you work with clients who are lacking content?” Squarespace is a popular website creation website and I use them with several clients. (Note: the forum is open to registered users) Though the posts are focused on web design clients, the question applies to other design situations.

I design courses online and faculty are my “clients” in that instructional design role. An ID designs a course but the content is almost totally provided by faculty.

I’m currently working with faculty at a community college and the biggest problem encountered is getting faculty to provide their course content in a timely fashion.

I also design social media strategies. In that role, I often am the content creator to a degree. I often write posts, add images and repost/retweet relevant content. But that can only be done from the raw content (text and images) from the client.

In all three situations, we design based on the content. It doesn’t work very well the other way around.

So what do users on the forum suggest? Most of their suggestions are aligned with my own practices. Here are some suggestions for working with clients that don’t provide content – or even better, for trying to avoid the no-content situation.

  1. Talk to the client about content and imagery before beginning. Be clear about what is ready to use, what needs to be created and who will create it. I have for some projects created copy, images and media.
  2. Have a timeline with milestones that need to be met by the client (I like weekly ones) in order to trigger your own design work.
  3. Many designers use a questionnaire of some kind. For example, in designing courses, we ask faculty to fill in a worksheet with course goals and objectives (they are not the same thing!) and a syllabus.
  4. You may need to create video how-to’s for the client on how to create content for their site.
  5. Stay in touch. You need to contact them when they are behind on delivering their content. Their prep work determines your ability as a designer  – some hand holding/teaching how to write copy for websites, etc. Email is the least effective way to stay in touch. Phone conversations are better. Web conferencing and screen sharing is better. Face to face meetings are still the best way.
  6. I like having a place for sharing files and collaborative space. Google Drive works, but I prefer Dropbox which has features for collaboration. Both are free for basic cloud space and can be expanded for multiple projects.
  7. You might use temporary filler text and images on a website so that you can continue designing.
  8. The “client” may actually be many individuals such as writers, photographers, graphic designers, media creators, librarians etc.

In some unfortunate cases, a client not providing content will not only delay a project but could end your relationship with the client.

Web Design Versus Web Development

meeting laptops

There are lots of ways to divide up the process of putting together a new website. I wrote elsewhere about some tips to streamline the phases of that process. But another way to divide the process is into the two primary tasks of web design and web development. They sound like they might just be two different ways to say the same thing, but there is a difference and it is an important distinction to make to a client.

Web development refers to building up the architecture of the website. This is when a developer is using code to create a functional site and get everything “technical” working properly.

But development doesn’t occur with the web design. In a larger company, these two tasks may not be done by the same people or even the same departments. The web designers are the people who determine what the website looks like, and how users will interact with it.

Small design firms might combine the tasks and a web designer might also work with some code, but designers focus more on appearance, layout, and usability. They are also often the “front office” that interacts directly with a client.

Web developers are primarily focused on turning an existing design into the proper code. They are often in the “back office” though they may sit in on client meetings in order to approve or disapprove ideas that a client would like to try.

Responsive and Adaptive Web Design

Adaptive mesh refinement illustration

Should your website be adaptive or responsive in its design? The takeaway from a post by Veronica Raducan on that questions is that while responsive and adaptive aren’t superior to one another, they are different designer tools.

I would disagree somewhat and lean much more to responsive as I see few reasons to use adaptive design. Currently, adaptive is the less common choice.

Responsive designs work by creating a single version of a web page, which then “responds” to the resolution and screen size of the visitor’s device and rearranges elements of the page so they comfortably fit the dimensions of the device.

Adaptive web design, on the other hand, requires the creation of multiple versions of a web page, usually desktop, mobile or tablet. Once the site identifies the visitors’ type of device, it then displays the version optimized for it.

Responsive has wider support and adoption, and is certainly less work for the web designer.

Responsive is also more flexible in that there are many existing screen resolutions used across all devices, and new ones are always appearing as screens on smartphones and monitors continue to evolve.

So, why would anyone choose adaptive?

One reason is if you want to target certain users or devices. If you are building a site for iPhone users, a responsive design will adapt the best it can, but you could design specifically for the iPhone X at 2436 X 1125 pixels.

Also, an eCommerce site may use adaptive design because they rely heavily on conversion optimization and apparently responsive designs aren’t as well suited for this because what works on Android, might not work on an iPhone and what works on Macs may differ on PCs.

New Template Being Pushed for Facebook Business Pages

changes

Many of you Facebook received the same update news that I got about changes to business Pages. I have read that these changes are largely inspired by a push to support small and local businesses.

There are more than 80 million businesses that use Facebook Pages. About two-thirds of the 1.6 billion people around the world visit a local business Page or an Event Page each week.

I have also read that Page reach and engagement for brands has been on the decline. The area of weakest engagement is the News Feed.

The News Feed is the key area for personal pages, but not so for business Pages. The changes seem to be making your business presence more like a website. Some smaller businesses have been using their Facebook Page as a website in that they don’t have a traditional website at all. Recently, I built a Facebook business Page for a professional photographer who did not have a website, though he did use Zenfolio to display and sell his work.

Business owners know that customer reviews (Yelp, Amazon, TripAdvisor etc.) are important to all businesses but especially for local businesses. If you trust the validity of those reviews for restaurants and services, they can drive engagement and sales. And facebook quickly realized (and abused to a degree) the fact that most of us especially trust reviews by their friends and families.

The update makes it easier for people to recommend your business by posting text, photos and tags directly on your Page.

There are also action buttons prominently near the top of Pages for things like booking an appointment for a haircut, ordering, sending a message or writing  a recommendation.

The email I initially received said:

We want to let you know that your Page’s template will be changing. This new design will help you connect with the people who care most about your business on Facebook.

The new layout is specifically for businesses like yours and will showcase important information about your business – like hours, prices and your menu – making it easier for people to connect with Ronkowitz LLC.

You can make this change now, or we’ll automatically update your Page layout on August 24th, 2018. You can also continue to use your current template.

Other changes are also coming for businesses. It may not really affect small, local businesses but job listings (which Facebook has been testing since 2017) is supposed to be added to business pages in the next few months.

Choosing the action buttons best suited to your business would be a good first step, but you can also feature information such as hours and prices, as well as Recommendations more prominently on Pages. You can also choose to highlight new content such as events and offers.

Some of these features are not new, but are displayed differently. Facebook says that 700 million people use Facebook Events each month. You could always link to ticket sales on another site, but now you will be able to sell tickets directly through Facebook Pages and make event-specific ads to help with promotion and marketing. Obviously, those changes benefit Facebook monetarily too.

I have seen other recent changes too not mentioned in most update articles. For example, a photo post I shared from my Instagram to Facebook no longer carried an Instagram label and so looked less like a repost.

Hiring Web Developers

I saw a post about hiring developers. It was written with clients in mind, but these tips for hiring developers also are something to consider if you are a developer hoping to be hired.

Their list in brief is:

  1. Start with a crystal-clear project scope.
  2. Take your time.
  3. Determine must-haves vs. nice-to-haves.
  4. Ask (and expect) good questions.
  5. Ask for examples of previous work.
  6. Look for a cultural fit, not just talent.
  7. Consider logistics.
  8. Be open to change.
  9. Take a test drive.
  10. Set contractual milestones.
  11. Budget and pay appropriately.
  12. Put everything in writing.
It’s a good list to consider. Certainly, tip 5, ask for examples of previous work, is standard practice from bot sides. Item 9, take a test drive, is not something I have found to be common, but as a developer I would not object to doing.

 

Starting Your Own Web Design Business

I saw that godaddy.com had an article about some steps to a successful web design business. Being a freelance website designer, I had to look.

They say there are nine steps:

  1. Lay the groundwork.
  2. Create your community.
  3. Handle HR and legal concerns.
  4. Establish facilities.
  5. Get your IT in order.
  6. Set up finance and accounting systems and processes.
  7. Dive into marketing and advertising.
  8. Plan for sales.
  9. Set up systems for productivity and quality control.

Since I don’t do web design full time (and have no desire to), I don’t see you as a threat. Click that link above for more details, but here are just a few personal comments on some items on their list.

With all the free and easy to use websites that allow you to set up a basic website, a lot of people who would have needed a designer probably can go at it alone. Still, I find a good number of people who are still technophobes or just know that they won’t do it or maintain a site and want a service. I understand that. You can probably cut your own lawn, so why do so many people have a service to do it?

Groundwork covers a lot of ground. Sart with you really being able to build sites. Just knowing how to use some free sites or a bit of HTML is not enough for what most people want and certainly not enough for what even a small business needs. You may need to take some classes, workshops or online seminars. They suggest Lynda.com as one place to try.

There are lots of books about freelancing, and about web design if you can learn that way. There is also a lot of free info online.

Identifying pricing options was harder than I thought it would be. My first freelance gigs were for friends and I tended to underprice my work. You can have a pricing model of hourly vs. project-based billing. I find that people like project-based because they know the cost rather than seeing the hours pile up. But for my own work, I find the hours are often less than I estimated. You get better at this as you do a few jobs. I use a estimate spreadsheet to formulate a dollar or hours amount.

Don’t forget to build in meetings, travel, and revisions. I also calculate some third party costs that don’t go to me, such as buying a domain and web hosting which I will do for the client. Add in your time to do this administrative work.

My ideal clients are people I know and projects I am interested in doing. Web design is not a full-time gig for me so I can be selective. You may not be so lucky.

You may also be able to offer some other related services. If not, have some people you will recommend that may then recommend you for web work. I do some social media, photography, graphics and video work too. For many others, I refer them to people I know who have that expertise or companies that handle it. That can include branding and PR specialists, hosting, domain registration and email and more professional photo and video work (such as catalog and online store work).

I am a sole proprietor and have an LLC to protect my personal assets. These things vary by where you live and you may need to talk to a lawyer to help you with the necessary paperwork and/or use an online service such as LegalZoom.

Those business expenses can run from a lunch check with a potential client, to mileage, to setting up an office and buying hardware and equipment. Learn about what is legitimate as an expense with the IRS before you file for year one. I have a separate business bank account with its own associated debit and credit cards.

Yes, people do operate out of the local diner or coffee shop, but that won’t work for all clients.

I use a higher-end laptop and Adobe Creative Cloud for almost all my work. I backup all my work in two places -one on a drive in the office, one in the cloud.

I have made up my own invoicing forms and bill like many contractors with a portion to begin and the balance after launch. No payment, no launch.

You certainly need your own website before you take on clients. I have several that I use so I can demo different options and designs.

If you plan to do social media work, or just to promote your business, have some business social media accounts, and consider whether you want business profiles separated from your personal profiles onFacebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.

Get some business cards and start promoting yourself!

More at Running a successful web design business – The Garage