Clients just don't get it. Really now, is it the Client, or the Consultant?

Published in Working on the Web on Monday, March 5th, 2007

Most people that work on the web have had clients or situations with clients that they find hard to deal with. They just don't get it or They keep micromanaging the project are two quotes that I have said to myself in the past. For me, these sensations have become signals that I am not doing my job right. The problem is with the consultant, not the client.

We are all consultants

Designers, developers, copywriters, anyone who works on the web, be it as a freelancer or in an agency, we are all consultants. We consult by offering our expertise to our clients and our bosses. Even employees of agencies are consultants, offering their expertise to their peers who have other expertise.

As consultants, we are responsible for providing our expertise to the client in order to provide solutions to what they are looking for. So when a client says or does something that makes you think they don't get it or that they are getting too involved in what is your business, that's a good sign to take a step back and figure out what is really happening.

Chances are that somewhere along the line you or your client have misunderstood each other, and in this case, the responsibility lies on you, the consultant, to sort this out because you are supposed to be providing the solutions, not the client.

I'm not saying that every situation is like this, there are certainly bad clients where they may simply not be open to anything other then their personal idea of perfection.

Be careful of your own perception of perfection

That perfection is personal is important for both a consultant and a client to understand. A knowledgeable consultant should be able to teach the client some ideas that will alter their idea of perfection. A good consultant will do this while also understanding which of his or her own ideas are merely their own ideas of perfection and not try to impose them on the client. A good web consultant should also teach the client that this "perfection" is a moving target (more on this fun topic in a later post :).

Keep the goals clear and keep the roles clear

I have often found that the best way to keep things on track in a project are to keep the goals clear and to keep the roles clear. The client is the client, and you are the consultant. The client has issues that you and your expertise can solve. Keep a focus on what you are trying to do for the client, on if the client satisfied or not, and be sure they understand you.

So the next time you start feeling that your client is overstepping their role or that they don't get it, step back, have a look and figure out why this is happening. Sorting this out may help you keep your sanity and keep your client satisfied with your work.

For further reading, yesterday I posted in the Resources (rss) an excellent blog post entitled Bring me Problems, not Solutions written by Jeff Croft (be sure to read through the comments!).

Comments and Feedback

As a freelancer, I've never had a problem with my clients "not getting it". As long as I explain my recommendations in clear, logical, easily-understandable terms they seem perfectly willing to go along with them.

As an employee, however, I've had problems with my employers and project managers knocking down my suggestions with the simple statement: "The client wouldn't be interested in that." They never bother to ask the client, of course. Which is why I'm now a freelancer! :-)

Hey Marcello,

Yeah, a good clear explanation can go a long way to helping keep things smooth during a project :-)

You are generally right but the problem comes up when there are clients that are expecting the consulting for free because they think they should only pay for the programming for example. Those are the worst clients and if you will figure this problem from the begining you should rather get rid of this client because on the long term they will only get you troubles

Given that there are good developers and bad developers, good developers should always stay the course of what their responsibilities are. Albeit developing a site from scratch, adding to an existing site, or just consulting, a good developer should always price his/her services knowing well that they will offer nothing but the best. This is what sets the good and bad apart.

If at some point in the development phase there is a misunderstanding which is common as a web worker when both parties are talking from remote locations, then those problems need to be addressed in the most communicable fashion ie: skype if it's a remote situation.

But most importantly I think that it's not something to stress about. Keep a cool head, address the issues, and develop a plan or some type of check and balance. Be firm if necessary.

In the end the client will be happy with the product, the product will be a success, and hopefully less stress on your end, which ever end you might be on ;)

Hey Dean,

This post has more to do with consulting then with pricing or misunderstandings, although the situation you describe and the solution you provide I do agree with.

This post is more to do with realizing that a developer/designer/copywriter etc's role is as a consultant and the client's role is the client. As Jeff says in the post that I linked up, clients should bring problems, not solutions.

Knowing this, if a person feels that a client just doesn't get it, then its likely the case that you, as the consultant, have not asserted your expertise in such a way that the client is satisfied.

Mike I do not really agree with what you are saying.. There are many types of clients and some of them get it right from the begining while the others will never get it no matter what... So I think it is better to avoid the second type if possible

In my opinion a good client is the one that helps you make progress in what you do and they way you see things..

Hi Linda,

I think we agree, are you writing your comment because of my response to Dean? If so, keep in mind that in the post I did say that there were "bad" clients around, and in my response to Dean that assumption also applies :-)

Matías Quaglia Fri, 16th of March, 2007

I totally agree!

It's nice to read this article while I realized just past week (thanks to María Salvo, my consultant on business improvement processes) that client and "consultant" (as named in this article) are complementaries one to each other.

If I'm having a bad time with a client, certainly I can change my point of view, and with this new, refreshed perpective guide the work the way of getting goals again.

The same if the client is a bad one. Always is up to us.

No one can help us, if we don't help ourselves first. So again, project management and philosophy intersects here.


Matías Quaglia Fri, 16th of March, 2007

Linda, here in Argentina, designers and developers have always hard work with clients, because the lack of culture in apreciatting this kind of work.

But we do the work to earn money (doing what's our bliss, but this is like a bonus to me).

You must communicate to the client that this is your work and he or she must pay it to get it done.

If extra tasks come up after the starting line, you must add bucks to the bill.

A good practice is to set up many checkpoints through the timeline of the project (i.e. weekly), and on this checkpoints you have meetings with the client, checking to look for problems or deviations, and at the end of the meeting the client must do a little partial payment. So, the client is always happy (getting the things right) and so you, the consultant(with cash on your pocket).

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