So you’re being considered by a potential client. You’ve spoken briefly, interest has been expressed by both parties, and now it is time to figure out what it is you will be doing for them. What is the best way to get acquainted with this unfamiliar client? A Client Survey!
What is a Client Survey you may ask? Or perhaps you know and you are instead asking why you would bother with something so formal rather than just sitting down and talking for an hour or two. There are a number of reasons, mostly related to efficiency and time. Before we get into that, the Client Survey is a list of questions in that you can send to a client for them to answer at the start of a project. I have found that it is best to give them the questions with a couple of days to go over them before one of your first meetings and then to go over the questions in detail with them at the meeting.
Creating a formal Client Survey that you can send over to a client before your big meeting lets them prepare for you. Most of your clients will have little knowledge of the web design business and they wont be able to effectively prepare for this early meeting with you. By sending them a list of questions you can help them start to dig up the information you need from them.
However, this isn’t just about gathering information. There are some more subtle things that happen when you send a well crafted survey to a client. First off, you can shape how they think about the project based on the questions you ask. If you spend a lot of time focusing in on their favorite colors and whether they want you to emulate that cool ‘Aqua’ look then they will consider that to be very important to the site. However, if you ask them questions about what their business goals for the site are, if the sections of the site are clearly labeled for visitors, and what accessibility initiatives they have for disabled visitors they will start the project with these issues at the forefront of their thinking about the site.
This means that before you have met with the client, before you have inked the contract, you can already start turning them into a ‘good client’ who will consider things like Web Standards, usability, and accessibility to be as important as you know they are. Even if they don’t know what these things are, including them in the survey gives you a great opening to explain what they are and why they should be important to the client.
Having a well crafted Client Survey also shows the client that you know what you are talking about (or, conversely, may reveal that you are full of it). The questions you ask can highlight areas where you can really shine and be of value to the client. Take advantage of that by making sure that things you are very good at get a few questions dedicated to them. Are you a whiz at logos? Ask about their logo. Can you churn out SQL and PHP like the Energizer Bunny? Ask about databases and dynamic content.
Your survey should be unique to your company and your offerings. Remember that you may encounter clients who need things you can’t or won’t do and you can use the Client Survey to discover if these will come up in the project. Recognize these potential problem areas and be honest about them with yourself and your clients.