Clients frequently tell me they need their website online by a specific date.
I don’t have a problem with tight deadlines and quick turnarounds. I’m always willing to work with clients to meet their needs, even if that means having to shift other projects and priorities around. If I don’t think a certain timeframe is doable, I tell clients upfront and work with them to negotiate a more reasonable timeline. But one surefire way to frustrate any designer are fake, “the sky is falling” deadlines. These are deadlines presented as being firm and unmovable when they are really more of a nice-to-have-done-by. These pseudo-deadlines are frustrating because they impact other clients. Designers will sometimes push back other client needs, and get frustrated when they find it that “firm” deadline was anything but.
How do you know when you’re dealing with a pseudo-deadline? Often, you don’, at least not at first. In fairness, a lot of clients have no idea they’ve presented an arbitrary deadline. Designing isn’t their world and they have no idea what’s on your plate. From their perspective, they simply have an idea of when they’d like things done.
So how do you know you’re dealing with a pseudo-deadline? Well, there are clues. For example, if you ask your client for key elements critical to completing the project but they go dark or are taking a long time to get back to you, you might be dealing with an artificial deadline. If they tell you they’re going to provide information and content (e.g. photos, videos, etc.) by a certain deadline and its come and gone, you’re likely dealing with an artificial deadline. If you have to chase your client, stop. It’s time to renegotiate that deadline and switch your focus back to your other clients. But it’s best to try and avoid this altogether. So how do you do that?
You know you’re likely going to encounter some of this so why not discuss it with clients upfront, when they first contact you about the project. Start by asking your clients:
1. What do you need done and when would you ideally like to have it completed? Why?
- Find out if the deadline is linked to other key activities, like the launch of a business or a grand opening that can’t be moved? Are they trying to complete and pay for the website before end of the fiscal year? Is the deadline negotiable or can it be pushed back if the client is having difficulty getting information to you?)
2. What’s the best and quickest way to get information from the client?
- Find out if it’s quicker to discuss business by phone, email or face-to-face. Is there a certain time in the day that is better to discuss business: first thing in the morning, over lunch, end of day, in the evening or on week-ends?
- Is there anyone else within the organization who can provide you with the information you need in a timely manner (e.g., an administrative assistant, office manager, communications advisor or social media support)?
3. How can I best help you provide me with the information I need to meet your deadline?
- Find out if there are certain areas or challenges you can take over. Its human nature for people to procrastinate and avoid tasks they’re uncomfortable with or unsure of, so how can you help your clients navigate the unfamiliar? Find out if there are certain tasks you can take over for your clients, like liaising with hosts, printers and other vendors.
- If the client doesn’t have time to provide you with images and content, how can you help? Find out if it would be helpful if you compiled a list of stock photos so they can simply pick and choose what they like? Do they have any existing resources they can share that will help you create their site, like brochures, posters, videos, etc. That way, the client doesn’t have to spend time and energy creating something new.
Many of my clients are small-business owners, and I know firsthand how challenging it is to juggle multiple priorities. Discussing some of this upfront helps avoid frustration later and makes for happier clients and designers.