The 10 Questions You MUST Ask Your Client Before Designing Their Website

View Comments by Bianca Board on 15 November 2013

Okay, okay, I know the title of this blog sounds pretty familiar, right? 

But I still see designers who start out with all good intentions, then get busy or carried away with the fun part, and end up delivering something that the client never wanted. 

Or worse, they deliver something that doesn't produce ANY results for their clients. Bah-bow. 

What was that famous saying again? 

"If it doesn't make money it's art" 

I couldn't have said it better myself!

If you happen to miss the mark, your client will probably say things like “I love it... but...” and nine times out of ten, it’s always because you didn’t ask the questions that could save you a huge amount of time in the long run.

There's nothing more soul crushing than having your amazing design work (that you slaved over creating 'til 1am high on your fourth Red Bull) turned down because of a tiny oversight.

So how do you turn your client's art into money so they send you an endless flow of new business? 

By asking these 10 crucial questions before you get started, that's how...  


1. What does your business actually do?

This is a pretty good starting point. After all you need to know exactly what your client does before you start work on their site don’t you?

Getting a really thorough understanding as to who they are, what they do, how long they’ve been around, etc will often help support the design research and decisions you make throughout the entire client relationship.

True, this is pretty straightforward if your client runs a pet shop who sell fluffy bunnies, but if they are a company who sell ‘telecommunication and logistical support equipment for offshore facilities’ (blurgh!!), then you need to make sure you get your head completely around your client’s business.

Even the slightest misunderstanding can screw up your design even before you’ve started!


2. What do you want your site to accomplish?

Or another way of saying it which I use is: 

"What's your primary goal for the site? What do you want most from it? Quote requests, sales, class booking, more memberships etc?" 

Then I say: 

"And if your visitors aren't ready to buy right now, as in take you up on your primary offer/action, what would you like them to do instead? I.e. what are your secondary goals for your site? Newsletter opt-in to build your list, eBook download, Facebook like etc?"

I'm not sure if some businesses just like to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ but I'm alarmed at the number of small business that will often ask for a website 'just because.' They have no clear goals or direction for wanting a website other than they've been told they should be online. 

DO NOT go into a web design project without making the client give you an idea what they want their new website to actually do for them.

On numerous occasions in the past I've completely walked away from a project if a client has no idea. It goes straight in the too hard basket.

Every website should accomplish something, and it doesn’t even need to be the old cliché of ‘make more money.’

Does your client want the site to:

  • Get more inbound leads / quote requests / phone enquiries?
  • Increase brand awareness?
  • Educate their audience?
  • Encourage sales?
  • Collect email addresses and build a list?
  • Encourage onsite or social media interaction?


If your client doesn’t know what they want their site to accomplish, then suggest a few so you can start the project with a key understanding locked in place.


3. Do you have a website already?

If your client already has a website, remember to ask them about it. And if they do, make sure you follow up with more questions so you can understand their old site inside and out.

Questions you may want to ask include:

  • When did you get this site?
  • Do you find it easy to use and edit?
  • What CMS (Content Management System) does it use (if any)?
  • What do you like about it? (Often they'll say "Not much.")
  • What DON'T you like about it?
  • How many inbound leads are you currently getting from it? 
  • Is it giving you the results you want to see?
  • Have you got Google Analytics setup? If so, can you generate a report for us so we can see what's working and what's not?
  • What would you like to see carry over to the new site?

In a nutshell, you want to learn from your client’s past mistakes, likes and dislikes and make sure that your new website knocks it out of the park and seriously out-performs the previous version of their site.


4. What makes your company remarkable?

Always try and figure out what the makes your client’s business unique to everyone else. What makes them remarkable? 

Explain to them how their potential customers are doing their initial research. They're browsing 10+ different supplier websites looking for someone to solve their problems, not just theirs, so your client needs a way to really stand out big time against their competitors. 

I think it's fair to say that a lot of our clients get complacent with their online presence. 

They assume that when a prospect is browsing their site, that they're the only supplier being considered. And that it's okay to wait 2 days to respond to a quote request, because they also assume that that prospect hasn't contacted anyone else.

Wrong! 

This is baloney! You must educate your clients about how people buy these days and why it's so important to stand out, position themselves as a guru and make a great first impression. 

This can be the big difference between success and failure. So you need to know what makes them remarkable so you can communicate that in your design.

Examples could include:

  • Being the cheapest.
  • Having awesome customer service. 
  • An amazing guarantee or returns policy. Tip: Think Zappos and their 12-month shoe return policy!
  • Being the exclusive supplier of a product in a certain area.
  • Supplying the best quality product around.
  • Fast or Free delivery.
  • Offering unique add-on packages no one else can.

And if the client really doesn’t have anything that makes them stand out, maybe NOW is the time they should start trying to create an advantage over their competitors.  I would discuss with them Seth Godin's book titled 'Purple Cow' which talks about transforming businesses to be remarkable. 

If you've been in the game for a while you may even have some ideas for them you can suggest on the spot. I always like to do this to build trust and also get their mind ticking! A bit of free advice throughout this process goes a long way in winning a client for life. 



5. Who are your competitors?

Now that you understand your client’s business and what they want their website to accomplish, it’s time to do some research. And where better to start than by checking out your client’s competition?

You client will already know who their main competitors are. However, you also want them to think a little outside of the box. Don’t just get their direct competitors, but get them to think about who their less obvious competitors are.

For example, if your client runs a tourist attraction, they shouldn’t just look at similar attractions in the local area, but also look at competing attractions that pull tourist eyes away from their site, and also check out regional competitors too. 


6. What websites do you like and why?

This can be related to the above question about competitors, but if you want your clever design work to put a smile on your client’s face, then make sure you ask them this vital question.

I get it... you’re the designer. You know what looks best. However the reality is that there is always a compromise that will need to be made between what you know is best and what the client wants, and it’s best to get an idea as to what that compromise is BEFORE you deliver your first concept.

On the flip side, don’t forget to ask “Well... what sites DON’T you like and why?” At least this way you'll know what not to include! 

7. Who exactly are your customers and what are their pains?

Often, if you're working with small business like I do, a lot of your clients won’t know exactly who their ideal customers are and some will even say, “Everyone, we sell everyone”. Other times their answer will surprise you.

Although it throws in the face of genuine customer research, one question I
like to ask is:

“If you could roll all your customers into one
super-customer... what would he/she be like?”


But I strongly suggest you dig deeper than just demographics. You need to find out what their customers’ pains, problems and fears are. Only then can you work with them to clearly and boldly strike an immediate connection with web visitors. In your designs, express imagery and copy about their pain, offer a promise, then back it up with proof.

So remember, when designing, try to communicate:

  1. Pain
  2. Promise
  3. Proof

I urge you to take the time to dig a little deeper because often your design will not only be influenced by the sex, age and location of the people who buy from your client (that’s called demographics) but more so from the problems, pains and fears people have (called the psychographics). I personally find that by having these conversations, I get lots of great design ideas!

Everyone in business solves a problem of some sort. It’s your job as a designer to communicate that.    

 

8. What features do you want your website to have?

Often your client will have finally of made the decision to get a new website because they seen something online that they like. What’s more, they may believe that this feature is a standard for websites everywhere.

For example, does your client want:

  • A shopping cart?
  • Social media implementation?
  • Email collection and email marketing capability?
  • Auto-responders for nurturing?
  • A blog or news feed?
  • Photo galleries?
  • Onsite videos?
  • A slider banner?
  • A mobile site?
  • A responsive site?
  • A blog or news page?
  • The ability for people to leave comments?
  • A quick contact form, quote request or booking form?


Whatever your client wants, make sure you find out what it is NOW so that they don’t come back to you later on with a sad little face because it's not what they wanted.

Clarify and then clarify again. Clients aren't always able to explain things in the way that we would so if they can show you examples of exactly what they want, get them!

Trust me... this can happen during the design (or even worse, the development) process, so try to protect yourself as much as possible.

 

9. How will you record your results?

Or another  two favourites of mine are 

  • "How will you measure your success?" or
  • "What does success look like to you?"

Surely it’s to get more money isn’t it? Well hang on there Tiger, not so quick...

Ultimately when your client starts using their swanky new site, you want them to be measuring the success they get with your website. This is something you NEED to think about now so that you can incorporate it into a design that pushes the site to achieve these results and in their eyes, their site is a success and they send you tons of referrals!

For example, your client could record the results of the:

  • The amount of new enquiries they get.
  • Number of signups for the site’s free trial.
  • Number of signups for a FREE eBook.
  • Number of users of the site’s forum.
  • Number of sales.
  • Customer’s average order size.
  • Amount of traffic.
  • Level of activity on the site’s blog.
  • Number of social media (Facebook / Twitter) followers. 

Simply put, if your site delivers the results they're expecting to see, and you can prove it with solid numbers, you'll be more likely to get the client to recommend you for future design work and that's always a good thing for your sanity!


10. Do you have a style guide or any existing collateral?

I call this 'Desktop Research'.

Occasionally you won’t get to work with a completely clean slate. They may already have online and offline materials created for their business.

Logos, brochures, old websites, posters and web banners are just SOME of the things that might be tucked away. And yes, annoyingly many clients won’t send this onto you unless you ask for it!

Once you get everything, make sure you ask how strictly you have to adhere to the style / branding of the old material. You don’t want to create something only to find out that your client’s colour scheme is completely different. 

 In fact, whilst you at it, ask the client if they have a ‘style guide.’ Many companies won’t have one, but if you have a client who does, it means you'll have something in writing that clearly explains the style you work needs to capture.


Bonus question: When do I start? :)

Remember... you’re not just a designer, the minute you enter a conversation with a potential client, you’re a salesperson too. It’s important to nail that pitch and get the work.

One way to do this, is to be a little bold, and simply ask:
“So when do you want to get started? Do you have a launch date in mind?”

If you tip toe around the “when”, there is a danger that your client-to-be will procrastinate and ultimately put it off for so long that you're a long forgotten designer who liked Red Bull.

However by asking them... you’re forcing them to make a decision as to when they wants their site up, and when they give you a time frame, you’ll know when to follow-up with a call and see if their ready to start.


Finally... make sure you cover your ASS!

We don’t ask these question just for the sake of it, we ask them because we want to know exactly what the client wants and needs out of their new website. 

Remember how I always harp on about results? Well it all comes back to that. 

Don't be one of those designers who just puts pixels on screens for art's sake. The best designers I know also have marketing skills and that, in my opinion, is what separates the wheat from the chaff.

So you’re going to want to get everything down on paper for two key reasons:

  1. You want something to refer back to. I don’t care how good your memory is, but there’s nothing worse than forgetting that important call to action you were meant to include mid-design. You do not want to have to ask twice.

  2. To prevent any disagreements. If you don’t have anything in writing, then you have nothing to back your argument up if the client makes an error and believes something was agreed to or discussed when it was not.


This IS covering your ass.
 So what I recommend you do is if you ever have a meeting, make sure you write down the key points and send it on to your client a ‘complimentary meeting minutes’ email as a follow-up. ; )

Trust me, meeting minutes have saved me several times in the past, and this practice will no doubt save your butt too! It's a good habit to get into.

What have I missed? What important questions do you ask your clients? Let's see if we can create the ULTIMATE list for all the designer’s out there!

What do you think? Share your comments below.

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