Developer, Take the Wheel: Managing Your Web Development Clients

Dealing with clients isn’t easy, no matter how great of a developer you are.

It’s important for anyone working in the world today to know how to establish and maintain a healthy relationship with clientele. We’re talking about soft skills, here: those less to do with the technical details and more about how you conduct yourself as business person.

Let’s dig into the do’s and don’ts of dealing with your web development clients.

Know your client as you know yourself.

If Sun Tzu was around today, and if he happened to be a web development professional (hey, you never know), we’re sure he’d agree: You have to know your clients as well as you know yourself.

Learn everything you can about your clients before beginning their project. Don’t be satisfied with the lame project brief they threw together at the last minute. That’s a recipe for disaster. Knowing your client means understanding their business model, understanding what goals they have for the site, and yes, understanding that they may not, in fact, have any idea about what works when it comes to web development.

Your client probably has some idea of what they want, but they don’t know how to bring it to life. That’s where we come in. It’s our job as developers to help our clients define reasonable scopes for their projects and find ways to get them what they need. Opening this dialogue early is an important part of the collaborative process.

Learn about your client, and learn how to manage their needs.

Take the wheel – you’re in charge.

Hopefully, you’ll have established expectations early when discussing strategy with your clients, but don’t be put off if (when) they ask for more. It’s human nature. We all want more bang for our buck, and many clients feel entitled to push their contractors to the very limits of their abilities.

But remember: You’re in charge. The customer may always be right, but when you have decades of industry experience driving your decision-making, that line blurs.

Don’t tell them we said so, but in fact, the customer is wrong much of the time. And that’s OK. Part of what they’re paying you for is your experience and insight. Don’t be afraid to take the reins, and be realistic about what’s feasible for the project. Some clients may not like it, but given how important communication is in web development, you may be better off avoiding these hotheads anyway.

Managing expectations in this area means keeping the scope of the project clear—when clients request design changes, upgrades, or additions that weren’t included in your initial project bid, be up front that the extra time will cost them. Ambiguity is not your friend. Clear up any issues or questions as early as possible to help guarantee a smooth working relationship.

Do your part, and keep them informed.

Of course, the burden of communication isn’t entirely on their end. As the developer, it’s your duty to keep them updated with your progress. Many developers demarcate a system of benchmarks during initial project discussions. Create a schedule of deliverables that you can show to the client. Doing so guarantees several key points:

  • The client has proof that you’ve been working, and you have evidence to defend your billing.
  • Providing updates lets the clients see the project as it develops and gives them a chance to provide feedback or adjustments to better align with their vision.
  • A regular reporting system will decrease the odds that the client will be unsatisfied with the finished product and will make it less likely that you’ll have to head back to the drawing board to start from scratch

Don’t leave them in the dust.

Above all, try not to think of your web development as a mere product to be slapped in a box and delivered. We know, we know: No self-respecting developer views his/her work this way, but the internet isn’t always full of self-respecting people, is it?

The best web developer/client relationships come when both parties recognize the value of the partnership. After delivering the finished product, check in every so often to see if the client is seeing the desired results. Don’t be afraid to suggest possible improvements that you may have thought up since the site went live! They’ll need to pay for the privilege, but we all know that new developments constantly pop up (like updates to WordPress, Javascript, or application interfaces) that may not have been available at the time.

Keeping your finger on their pulse (in the metaphorical way, not the creepy, literal way) benefits both of you—they get the value of a development partner who can provide support and guidance even after the project is done, and you get the benefit of loyal customers who will be sure to sing your praises online.

On the other side of the coin, don’t get greedy—you know as well as we do that most websites don’t need to be overhauled every six months. Don’t neglect your clients, but just as important, don’t take advantage of them and suggest things they don’t need.

Caring for your web development client is based on three simple rules:

  • Mutual Respect
  • Communication
  • Honesty

Keep these tenets in mind, and you’ll weed out the bad, impress the good, and guarantee a happy working relationship with each client you serve.