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Epic Client Communication

July really has not been a good month for me. It has been full of stress, missed deadlines, unhappy clients, bills, lack of time, and lots more. But there is one positive thing that I'll be taking away from this month, I've learned a huge amount about myself, about business, and about client communication; which is the subject of this particular post.

We're Quick to Label Them "Problem Clients"

As web designers we often talk about problem clients, and it is a reality of the industry that we work in that some people are more difficult to work with than others. This can be extremely frustrating and stressful, and we often feel that the client is being unhelpful or unrealistic.

What we frequently forget (even though we think we're completely aware of it), is that we know all this 'web design stuff' inside out, and they don't. The result of this is that it's very easy to make assumptions about what a client 'should' be able to understand.

I don't mean that I tell clients about my php and mysql configuration or start talking to them about css3 and semantic markup, I think most people know not to do that. The problem arises from far more simple conversations (in our eyes at least), where we might send an email presenting a problem during the development. We assume that the email contains a single problem with two fairly obvious solutions, so the client needs to choose one - but does the client understand that?

A Lesson in Effective Client Communication

Yesterday I got a real shock to my system that's forced me to really think hard about how I speak to my clients.

A couple of weeks ago I discovered that I had a big issue with a Magento project that I was working on, and I needed to bring in some outside help from a company who were serious Magento specialists. After a couple of Tweets I was put in touch with the guys over at Elias Interactive, who are definitely some of the coolest people I've 'met' this year.

Yesterday we had a phone conference about the project, juggled some variables, and generally discussed what approach we were going to take to this Magento issue. It ended with me requesting that they give me an estimate for some work based on the information which I'd given them. Here's a small excerpt from the email I got from their technical director, Lee Taylor, which I hope he won't mind me sharing with you.

Hi John,

We are excited for the opportunity to work on an initial project with you. Regarding my review of the documentation you have sent over, please read/note the following:

1. SKU attribute

Sku's are not present in the .CSV file. In order to associate the appropriate "Stock quantity", "size attributes", and "manufacturer", we will need to match Sku's in the CSV file with the Sku's created in the Magento inventory.

Example: BBsuit is a valid Sku in Magento, but is not present in the CSV file you sent over.

Action: Can you send us a revised CSV file with corresponding SKUs that are used within Magento (or match Magento to use the SKUs exported into the CSV file)? Either way will work.

2. Manufacturer Attribute

Every "manufacturer" value in the CSV file is "null". Note, assuming the field name for manufacturer is "STRMANUFACTURERCOUNTRY". Otherwise, there is no other field name with "manufacturer" within the name.

Action: Can you send us a revised CSV file with corresponding "manufacturer"

It seems really simple doesn't it? He explains an issue, provides an example, then specifically notes what needs to be done next.

Why have I not being doing this??

It really is a headdesk moment, I'm 100% sure that if I structure my emails to clients in the same way, with care and efficiency, that I will improve my relationships with them tenfold.

Taking a Moment to Reflect

How many of our supposed "nightmare clients" were always going to be a pain, and how many of them became that way because we weren't clear or concise enough in our communications? As web designers this is a huge issue to consider, and potentially directly affects the total success or failure of our businesses.

When I left my job and took the plunge into the life of an entrepreneur at the beginning of this year, I never dreamed that I would need to learn so much in the first 6 months. Even more so, I didn't expect that I would need to re-learn things that I thought I already knew.

I just hope that as I continue to develop and learn as an entrepreneur, my business ventures will become stronger as a result.

Would love to hear your thoughts on all of this, and have a great Thursday!

**PS. I know about the error in the sidebar, going to get that cleared up when I roll out the new design. (it's almost done!)

John O'Nolan

John O'Nolan

Founder at Ghost.org. Writes about open source, startup life, non-profits, and publishing platforms. Travels the world with a bag of kites.

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