A few weeks ago a client approached me about designing a new site. I asked the usual questions. What are the goals of the site? How many pages? What will those pages include? Who’s the market for the site? etc. As happens too often there were no answers forthcoming. How does one go about designing a site without any indication of what that site will be about or what it’s purpose will be?
If you run any kind of service based business I’m sure you’ve encountered a similar situation.
What do you do when your client isn’t giving you the information you need to do their job?
Do you try harder to get the information or just do the best you can without it?
Tips for getting the information you need
Here are a few tips that have helped me gather information from clients who aren’t as forthcoming as I’d like. Hopefully they can help you too.
- Ask direct questions – Seems obvious I know and you may not get all the answers you want, but you’ll likely get some. If you don’t ask questions don’t blame the client for not supplying answers. Before anything else ask your clients directly. Prepare a list of questions you typically ask for all projects and make sure to ask them.
- Listen between the lines – Clients will often tell you what you need to know, though sometimes the information comes in answers to other questions or while you’re engaging in idle chit chat. Find a way to keep them talking and pay attention.
- Get to know your clients better as people – This goes with the above. since answers may not come in direct questions. Get to know your clients better to understand them more. The better you know your clients the more you’ll understand what they mean when they tell you something.
- Ask indirect questions – A client might not know what they want included in a sidebar, but they might be able to point you to three sites they like with similar sidebar content. Look for ways to rephrase questions or ask a completely different question that might still reveal the answer you seek.
- Speak your client’s language – Don’t get lost in industry speak. Your clients shouldn’t be expected to know your jargon. You call it a navigation bar and your client calls it a menu. You want to know what the call-to-action on a page will be. Your clients says they want people to go to their contact page. The more you ask questions in their language, the more likely your clients will be able to answer those questions.
- Give deadlines – Sometimes you need information from a client to move forward with a project. Let them know clearly when you need it and make them understand if they haven’t sent the information by your deadline you won’t be able to finish the project by their deadline.
- Mention prices – Money talks. Require a non-refundable deposit before beginning work. If a client has money out there they’re more likely to work with you to complete their project. It’s amazing how much more responsive people can be when it’s costing them money by not being responsive.
- Use your client’s preferred medium for communication – I prefer email, but not all of my clients do. Some will offer little information in writing, but will give you everything you need over the phone. You’ll get more info from them using their medium of choice.
It takes two to communicate
It can be easy to blame clients when they aren’t giving you the information you need, but it takes two to communicate. Instead of getting mad learn to communicate more effectively. If a client won’t send you sites they like, then send them three very different sites you’re thinking of using as inspiration. Odds are the client will let you know which sites they do and don’t like.
My client? I was able to get the information I needed for the project, by applying some of the tips above. In this case it also helped that I’ve worked with this client for awhile and can guestimate well based on past projects.
If you need information from your client always look for different ways to get that information. If you tried a color scheme on a design and it didn’t work, you’d look for another color scheme. Do the same thing with clients. If you don’t get the information you want with one question, ask another question.
The key is to keep asking in different ways and trying trying different things. If your client isn’t giving you the information you want then take responsibility and find a way to get that information.
Download a free sample from my book, Design Fundamentals.
Great source of information! Its asking the right questions and listening that will win for both the client and you!
Getting to your clients business and personality help add the icing to the cake.
Is it just me or…?!? Sometimes when I ask direct questions, clients will look at me and have the face of “Why are you asking that?”. And when the question is too direct, some might think you are trying to trick them. Its very tricky sometimes….I am still trying to master the whole client approach. It seems like its different for each case.
Good tips. I especially like #7 (Mention Prices) 🙂
Great article. Thanks Steve.