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Ten Frequent Questions Clients Ask Web Designers (And how to answer them)

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In recognition of being in business for 10 years, I thought I’d share ten questions that I get asked most often as a professional website developer. Some of them I’m sure other like-minded professionals have also had to answer. These are in no particular order, but I hope they help:

1. How much will my website cost?

Yes, this one is a no-brainer and you’d think there was something seriously wrong if a potential client didn’t ask you this. Often, this question comes loaded with a long list of thoughts/ideas/goals a potential client has in mind. So the question goes something like this: “…I want x,y,z done with a bit of a,b and c and I’d really love it if we could throw in d, e and f…is this doable and within a reasonable price range…” Once I hit them with the budget question (“do you have a budget?”) and get replies like “…a couple hundred bucks…I have no idea…several thousand…” I get a better handle on a) how important the work is to them and b) how realistic they are willing to be. Well usually, anyway.

2. How soon can this be done?

How many times have I had a potential client come to me wanting the sun, moon and stars within three weeks? It’s amazing how many people think they understand the importance of planning for branding, content development, website design, etc. but they fail to understand that it takes time to do these things well. On the flip side, I occasionally get clients who want to pay a retainer to start a project but they specify an overly long turn around that doesn’t fit with the scope—like 6 or 8 months. There’s nothing more frustrating to a website developer than a project that has more time than it requires, and often when this happens it can be considered a red flag.

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3. I love this site…can you make mine look like this?

Even though I get this question on a regular basis it doesn’t typically lead to a problem. Once I explain to clients about the reasons why we (speaking for all Professional Developers here) don’t copy a design, they usually understand and go for a compromise or even better – something totally new and unique. I have actually lost a job because I wouldn’t copy another design, but that’s ok by me—I’d rather not do the work at all than feel wrong about doing it in the first place.

4. How soon will my site be found on Google?

I really don’t like getting asked this question because I’m not an SEO expert, but I do get asked this quite often (and understandably so – achieving good SEO can make or break a business). Clients can be surprised when I tell them it may cost a lot more to guarantee a top 20 ranking – and it won’t come from me. I see a lot of people who have no idea about what’s involved with good, effective search engine optimization, and if they don’t want to work at achieving the results themselves, they’d better be prepared to spend hundreds or thousands to get the work done right. I’ve even lost jobs because I’m not an SEO expert. Many people just don’t realize that professional website development and search engine optimization are often offered by separate companies (and for good reason).

5. Can you fancy it up a bit?

I really don’t like getting vague requests, and as a website developer I see my share of them. My preference is to design clean, often minimalistic websites. Usually, a client will gather this when they look at my portfolio, but not always. That’s when I get the “…make this more colorful…can you fancy this up a bit…make it more feminine…I’d like to see more…” type questions. On the up side, working outside my comfort zone from time to time is probably a good thing, and I admit that I do like a creative challenge.  I never shy away from working with a client’s vision—even if they have poor taste—and I never shy away from giving them my professional opinion either.

6. Can you add e-commerce to my site?

I get asked this question on a regular basis. Usually it means the project scope just changed and I may have to explain this to the client. Depending on what they have in mind, adding the e-commerce software can be pretty simple or it can end up being a whole new project aside from the current project. Sometimes once they realize what’s involved with adding e-commerce they scrap the idea or they wait until the business is more established and plan for it as a future expense.  I see a lot of clients who assume adding e-commerce functionality to a website is an easy task (and it may be, but not always).

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7. Can you develop my site in Flash?

I’m not a flash developer (it’s on my wish list of things to learn…so for now I outsource), so there’s nothing more disappointing than to have a very cool project turn into a 99% flash development project. It probably means I’ve just lost the job, and not for reasons that I’d necessarily agree with. Too much Flash is never a good thing for your server, for a visitor’s patience, for many browsers, for the search engines, for usability or for accessibility.

8. Can you write my site content for me?

I get this request a lot…I actually have clients from all walks of life expecting me to develop their website content for them. They either forget that they are the experts in their own fields, or perhaps they just don’t want the hassle of having to sit down and actually write something meaningful for the website. So I get dozens of requests to write content for plumbers, carpenters, artists, authors (believe it or not!), coaches…you name it! My response to every one of them is the same: if it’s going to be a big problem give me your content in point format and I’ll refine it for you. That usually solves the problem.

9. Do I need to have a photo of myself on my site?

It’s amazing how often I still get asked this question. I always tell clients the same thing: it depends on the business. So for a Professional Coach I say “yes, definitely…” but for a Finish Carpenter I say “…it’s not absolutely necessary…professional photos of your work are much more relevant…” I am still surprised at how many people aren’t sure about what’s expected here.

10. Can I maintain my site myself?

In the past couple of years I’ve been getting asked this question more often. Clients are definitely becoming more confident in their ability to maintain their own website. I’d assume that’s partly to do with blogging software like WordPress or TypePad, and probably because of social media applications like FaceBook and Twitter. Now clients come to me with some experience under their belts already in adding or updating pages on a blog or maintaining a Twitter page, so now they naturally want this level of functionality with their website. The good news is I always tell them “yes…no problem!

What other questions have you heard? And how do you answer them?

We’d love to hear your input on frequent questions that your clients have asked you as you have been working as a designer. Share them with us by leaving a comment.

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  1. 5. It needs more “pop” / “pizazz” / “sparkle” / “life” / etc.

    Nice list – thanks 🙂 Bookmarked for if/when I need to answer them 😉

  2. Great article. I agree on all 10 questions. But, it does get a little fuzzy when clients want to maintain their site. I usually recommend Adobe Contribute.

    • @Christina Tarkoff,

      Contribute is a good one, along with WordPress or even Joomla! Of course both these are open source CM systems that have a lot more functionality than Contribute, so you’d have to select one or the other and really get to know what it can do for your clients. I’ve hopped on the WordPress wagon, but that doesn’t mean it’s superior…simply a good choice of many good options out there.

      • @Amanda, yes, thank you. But, i am assuming that if you have an html site, the client cannot use wordpress for maintainance???

        • @Christina Takroff,

          WordPress is not the choice for static html sites. From what I’ve known about Contribute, it’s a simple and to-the-point editing software for static html sites, whereas WordPress is an entire blogging/CM system that has limitless possibilities and uses a database to store the web pages. So yes, you are right, for the simpler static site Contribute is probably the best choice there is.

          I like to encourage my clients to use WordPress, especially if they have plans to grow their site, they are considering making it more interactive, and if they are the type who would want to perhaps add to the functionality of their site down the road. WordPress allows you to do so much, but granted, it’s not for every client situation.

  3. It is a nice list indeed. The point about Flash made me angry. Unless it’s redevelopment of an already popular site or brandname, Flash is the worst thing for a new website or a small business. It’s a beautiful taxi with no customers.

    How about the wonderful question we all get about additions outside of the agreed scope? Am yet to have a client that hasn’t asked for more than we’ve agreed upon.

    • @Toma,
      When clients start to entertain the idea of Flash I try to educate them in the potential problems with using *too much*. I certainly don’t mind using Flash sparingly but that’s really all I’d like to see. Besides, in my limited knowledge of this development tool, there are other ways to accomplish what a client envisions without going to heck with Flash.

  4. Great article! In my current job, I am 70% print designer and 30% web (maintaining our company intranet site). I do freelance on the side and so this list you created, really hit home with me. My question is on tip #10. What software would the client need to maintain their own site? Would I still be able to design their site in Dreamweaver? Thanks again!

    • @Jessica,
      I usually design and code the site in dreamweaver and then convert it to a wordpress theme. This allows for users who know nothing about HTML to have control over the content of the site. Hope that helps and Good Luck!

      • @Preston D Lee & @Jessica,

        Hi! I agree with Preston that WordPress is an excellent choice – it’s what I recommend to all my clients, although I know there’s also a lot out there who would recommend Joomla! I’ve found the WordPress code to be the easiest to really get into and understand. What I’d recommend Jessica, is that you read through some good WordPress tutorials (there are tons of them) and get a handle on the code so that you really, really understand what’s going on. You won’t get that level of control via Dreamweaver…at least as far as I know but I haven’t used it in years – still call myself a hand coder!

      • @Preston D Lee, wow – how do you convert the html dreamweaver site to WordPress.

        • @Christina Takroff, You can do it yourself by reading a few tutorials on the subject. It is easy to learn and get the handle of as long as the overall design will fit with the CMS you want to use.

          You can also outsource it of course until you become familiar with it.

  5. Nice list. For #1 it does seem like people want to know a number right off. They wouldn’t ask a contractor for a house estimate without talking specifics but for a website they seem to think it is ok. I guess it is more about people not realizing what is involved in the process and how each feature really adds to the time/cost of a project.

    • @Tyler Herman,

      Yes, that and the fact that many don’t actually *understand* what goes on with building a website, so they come to us as the professionals to help them understand.

      I think our profession can be undervalued (how many times have I heard the words “simple” and “easy” and “not that much to it”) come from potential clients? That’s not necessarily a red flag – it’s an indication that they don’t know how much work is involved with the entire project.

      So it’s up to us to set the record straight!

  6. I totally agree.. I am not an SEO nor am I a flash developer (though i wish to be one)…

    Gone are the days when we specialize on one thing and leave the other stuff to the other specialists… right now, knowing flash or knowing a flash person can either make or break the deal or make the price go towards our favor..

    Thank you for such a cute little article.. made e winch a bit.. but also made me smile.. thanks

  7. WOW! actually, i think that every web designer should insert this questions in the FAQ section of the services.html page! My favorite one: Can you write my site content for me?

  8. No one seems to of commented on the obsurdity of paying lots of money to a web designer because he/she is professional and he/she knows best and then getting a CMS of which they know nothing of the skills required for effective content management. Monkeys with guns springs to mind!

    Point being that offering CMS could actaully be a bad thing for come clients and do more harm to their business than good.

    Not always the case of course but if doing your job right then not recomending CMS is as important as recomending.

    • @Gary Dickenson,

      I agree with you here. I have several clients who are happy to pay me to maintain their websites. Some of them are just too busy (and too uninterested) to maintain their own sites, but thank goodness they have the vision to see that *someone* needs to be maintaining it for them. Others are just too intimidated by the idea of doing it themselves…and even if a client wants to use a CMS, there are likely to be some things (like image editing) that they will want to pay a professional for – at least I hope so!

      • @Amanda,
        I have small company where I design & host clients sites. Some of these clients want me to maintain their sites. I also design sites with Joomla and WordPress. What is your approach in pricing regular maintenance? This will help me build the maintenance cost into the proposal.

  9. I have come across all these questions also, but I liked to hear how you approach answering them. You have a great approach with that.

    The one that annoys me the most is clients asking me to write their content. We had a financial company request we write the content for them (extremely hard!). So we did then they turned around and said the content was all wrong… Of course it is! We dont know your business.

    You can only laugh at it now 🙂

    Great post, thanks for sharing

    • @Megan,

      I can see this happening quite easily – but what we as the professionals need to do is make sure the client understands that we aren’t the expert in their business – they are. Or they have to pay us for our time to *become* experts in their business.

      I’ve hit on clients with high expectations and big requests who are always difficult to satisfy. It comes with this line of work.

      We have to make sure we cover our behinds with a solid contract!

      • There are plenty of good copywriting companies. Why do you not refer your clients to a copywriter when this happens? It is their job to interview the client and do the necessary research to write relevant content. Many of them are already specialists in particular industries. Better yet, outsource a copywriter (or several) you can give these assignments to. Then, you can include content as part of your services, and your clients will be much happier with the finished project. It seems quite unprofessional to provide content to your clients when you specialize in design only.

  10. I really liked the article, concise and to the point. Actually many designers come to our firm because they’re able to tackle some of those questions that they’ve received from their own clients, but not others. Or they are print designers or marketing consultants who are starting to get requests from their existing clients in terms of building a web presence for them, but are not able to handle certain aspects of it, especially technical ones, using a CMS, etc.

    What I think makes this situation even more interesting is that the questions themselves are not static; lately people are asking more and more about website integration with social media, for example.

    I think the best approach for us — in the specific case of my company, although we cater to independent designers and studios building websites for their clients, I’m a graphic designer myself — is to always put ourselves in the client’s shoes. Sometimes their questions may be indeed a bit outrageous, but at the end of the day it’s the client’s money and expectations that are at play, so it’s always worth treating them with care.

    And your article provides some very good ideas in that respect.


    • @Favio Mester,

      That’s the beauty of outsourcing – at least for my company – I don’t claim to be an expert at everything and quite frankly, there’s not enough time in the day with kids, school and everything else.

      I would much rather leave the technical stuff that I can’t do to a reliable business partner. In my opinion it’s one of the best ways to make your business grow.


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