Offering a client consultation for prospective web design clients is a great way to establish your relationship from the start. This client consultation meeting is also important because it helps clarify the scope of a project and reveal potential problems the client or project may create.
When it comes to client consultations, having a checklist of questions beforehand will help make the meeting more efficient. Ultimately, preparing for this client meeting places value on your time—both for the actual meeting and also for the potential project ahead.
In this post, we’ll explore what a client consultation meeting looks like, why you should do them, and a mega list of all the client consultation questions you should ask.
What is a Client Consultation?
First things first, what is a client consultation? In a nutshell, a client consultation is an initial meeting with a client to figure out what they need and to sell your services. At the end of the meeting, you should know if this client is a good fit, exactly what they need, a rough price point, and whether or not you’re going to put together a proposal.
Not every web designer or agency has a specific, organized consultation with prospective clients. Everybody has their own process. But client consultations can be a way to streamline your sales process and waste less time with prospective clients who never pan out.
Tip: If you aren’t offering this service already, consider promoting it as a Free One-Hour Consultation from your business website.
8 Goals for Client Consultations
Keep in mind that a client consultation has a few objectives or goals.
- Gauge the chemistry between you and the potential client.
- Investigate the working conditions you will have with the potential client.
- Estimate the scope of the project.
- Inform the potential client about the process of web development.
- Suggest additional features that can meet the potential client’s goals.
- Educate the potential client on the importance of your ongoing services.
- Gather all the material needed to create a project proposal.
- Qualify the potential client with a ballpark quote.
A client consultation meeting is a focused meeting to move a prospective client from first contact to a proposal and, hopefully, a signed contract. Here’s a few things a client consultation meeting should deliver:
- Project details: It’s a limited, streamlined meeting that should tell you everything you need to know about starting a project with a client.
- Work toward a proposal: It’s a chance to gather all the important details to make a proposal.
- Getting to know the client: It’s an opportunity to get to know the client and find out if they’re someone you want to do business with.
What a Client Consultation is Not
Let’s talk about what the consultation is not:
- It’s not a sales pitch. OK, yes, you’re trying to sell your services. But more than that, this is a first date. You’re testing the waters of a relationship to see if this is something to pursue. Spend more time evaluating the client and less time pitching yourself.
- It’s not to refine the client’s business plan. If the client doesn’t know what they need or what they’re doing, that’s a red flag. They don’t need a developer to build a website, they need a consultant to refine strategy. You can still do that work, but propose a discovery phase and not a website (or refer them to someone else).
- It’s not to explain how. This meeting is to discover the client’s goals. Talk about what those are, don’t talk about how to meet them. How to meet those goals is what you get paid for.
Why Have a Client Consultation Meeting?
Why is a client consultation meeting so important? A number of reasons:
- It formalizes your process. If you want to be more efficient, more productive, and more profitable, you must have a specific business system, along with a website design process. This is how you efficiently move clients from first contact to signed contract.
- It lays the groundwork for a good project. A client consultation meeting is where you can set all the expectations for how the project is going to go. You’re setting up guidelines for the project that will keep the client on track (see more on the Terrible Client Protection Plan).
- It can save you from trouble. Keeping the client on track can save you from costly detours, but some clients just can’t help themselves. A client consultation meeting will help you spot those red flags and avoid monster clients.
- It can save you time. Ever spent hours agonizing over a proposal only to discover your price wasn’t even in the client’s ballpark? A client consultation puts a budget on the table. Ever spent hours in meetings with a client but never landed a project? A client consultation can help you push those vague meetings into a discovery phase where you get paid.
- It gives you a script. If you’re nervous about meetings or worry about forgetting something, a client consultation meeting gives you a script. You don’t have to think about what to ask next, because it’s all spelled out.
- It makes it easier to sell ongoing maintenance. While this meeting is primarily about vetting clients, it’s a chance to talk about the need for ongoing maintenance. It’s better to sell ongoing maintenance before a project than to spring it on a client afterward.
- It shows your professionalism. All of this illustrates that you’re a serious, organized, professional developer. That should put clients at ease and make them more willing to sign a contract and get started.
Consider Your Current Process For Landing Clients & Securing Projects
Before exploring the ins and outs of the client consultation meeting, it might help to consider your current process for nurturing prospects first. How exactly do you land a client and secure a project?
Some web designers don’t have a formal process. They make first contact with a client, maybe from a website form or a referral. They trade emails, answering some questions and asking others. A back and forth dance ensues, and it may stretch out over weeks or even months. Eventually, they get enough clarity about what the client needs to make a proposal and the project moves forward.
This may be the best-case scenario. A lot of times those conversations peter out and nothing comes of it. That’s one way to land a project. It can work, but it’s not very efficient. Not having a process wastes time with prospective clients who may never pay you a dime. It’s also prone to missing important details or forgetting to ask questions that can cause problems down the road.
We talked about the importance of creating critical business systems, and that starts with how you secure clients and land projects. If you formalize and streamline that process, right from the beginning, you can be more efficient, more productive, and more profitable.
Consider Your First Contact with a Prospective Client
You should have a formal process for what to do when you connect with a new prospective client. You need to figure out what they need, how serious they are, and if you want to work with them. A good process will help you weed out bad clients and avoid nightmare projects.
A helpful part of this first contact is to mention a dollar amount: “Our minimum price for a website is $X.” You’ll find out quickly how serious they are. You’ll also scare away bargain hunters.
Mentioning a minimum project cost is an initial client screening. You might have a script of a few preliminary questions to ask. Maybe you put together a short online form you ask prospective clients to fill out.
The end goal of this first contact is to schedule a client consultation meeting. If this sounds like a project you’re interested in, with a client that seems reasonable, and the budget is workable, then you need to sit down together and have a serious conversation.
How to Do a Client Consultation Meeting
So how do actually conduct a successful client consultation meeting? Nathan Ingram shares how he does client consultations. Nathan uses the “SCOPE” acronym to define what needs to happen during the consultation meeting:
- Scope: Learn enough about the project to create a proposal. This is where you ask questions—lots of questions—and it should take up the bulk of the meeting.
- Chemistry: Determine if this is a client you can work with. This will happen throughout the meeting as you watch for red flags.
- Ongoing: Explain the importance of your ongoing services. Take the opportunity to stress that a website needs ongoing maintenance and the client should plan for it now, either by hiring you to do it or being prepared to do it themselves.
- Process: Set expectations by walking through your process. Let the client know what the next steps are and how you work.
- Estimate: Provide a ballpark estimate and get client buy-in. You need to have a rough budget. If a client isn’t willing to talk about the budget, that’s a red flag.
You should be able to walk through these steps, including all the questions, in about an hour. That should give you enough information to understand what the project entails and create a proposal.
Remember that this is your meeting. You run it. Take charge and run through your agenda to make sure you’ve covered everything you need to. Don’t let the meeting drag on or get sidetracked. If a client is all over the place and doesn’t know what they want, then it might be more appropriate to propose a discovery phase where they pay you by the hour to sort out strategy as opposed to bumbling forward with a rudderless website project.
You want to minimize time spent with a client when you’re not getting paid. Yes, answer their questions, explain how your process works. But don’t get sucked into giving free consulting advice.
65 Questions for the Client Consultation
We’ve divided up these suggested questions into seven main groups: questions about the client, questions about the project, questions about audience, questions about brand, questions about features and scope, questions about ecommerce and questions about time and budget.
Questions About the Client
1. What best describes your organization?
Examples: Large Business, Medium Business, Small Business, Professional Firm or Practice, Educational Institution, Nonprofit Organization, etc.
2. In short, what does your organization do?
3. Who is your organization’s target market?
Questions About the Project
4. Is this a new site or a redesign of an existing site?
5. Describe the concept, project, or service this site is intended to provide or promote.
6. Who will we be working with to guide this project to completion?
7. How many people at your organization will be involved with the project?
8. Who is responsible for making the final decisions?
9. Who will be responsible for maintaining the site after launch for content and technical matters?
Subquestions if answer to #4 is “redesign”
10. What is the purpose of the redesign?
11. Are there current specific issues with the current site you hope to correct or improve?
12. What is the web address of your current website?
13. Will you be keeping this address?
14. When was the last time the site was redesigned?
15. Is your current site powered by a content management system? If so, which?
16. What do you like and dislike about your current system?
Questions About Audience
17. To the best of your ability, describe the various groups that use the site. What are they hoping to accomplish?
Examples might be … Prospects seeking information about our company. Customers who might purchase our product. Customers looking for menu, hours and location information. Donors who might contribute to our organization.
18. What are the general demographics of your audience (or site visitors)?
19. For the purposes of this new site, which of these groups is the primary audience (the one you’d consider most important?)
This can be difficult, but it’s important to determine who the primary audience will be.
20. What primary action do you want your primary audience to take when visiting your site?
Examples: purchase a product, complete a lead form, sign up for our newsletter, follow us on social media.
21. What audience needs does your existing site do a good job fulfilling? What audience needs aren’t being met by your current site? Where does it fall short?
Questions About Brand
22. Describe in as few sentences or words the feelings you wish your site to evoke and the brand attributes you want it to convey.
Sample feelings might include: warmth, friendliness, reassurance, comfort, excitement. Sample brand attributes might include: caring, honesty, humor, professionalism, intelligence, elegance, sophistication, reliability, trustworthiness.
23. Using adjectives and short phrases, describe the site’s desired look and feel.
Examples: Easy to look at, edgy, classic, up-to-date, crisp, modern, traditional, understated, etc.
24. Do you have a visual identity that you are happy with (including brand identity and logo) or is that something you need designed or evolved?
25. What sites do you consider competitors? What are their strengths and weaknesses?
26. What differentiates your product, services or ideas from your competition?
Questions About Features and Scope
27. Approximately how many pages will be on the site?
28. What features would you like to be included on the site?
- Community Forum
- Company News
- Custom Page Not Found Page
- Customer Lead Form
- Event Calendar
- Google Map(s)
- Mailing List Integration
- Member/Staff Protected area
- Mobile Device compatibility
- Multiple Blogs
- Multiple Location Listings
- Online Payment/Donation
- Photo Gallery
- Selling Products or Services (Ecommerce)
- Social Media Integration
- Staff Listing
29. Are there any third-party integration points we need to know about?
Examples: interfaces to a CRM, offsite e-commerce, POS, mapping solution, social site or other use of a third party API, etc.
30. How much of the site content is already created?
Content includes titles, headlines, page text, staff bios and pics, testimonials, photos, etc.
31. Would you like assistance with content creation?
32. Will the project be completed in a single pass or multiple phases?
Each phase in a multiple phase project will have its own budget, timeline and deliverables.
33. Are there any other technical requirements for the site that you haven’t mentioned so far?
Questions About Ecommerce
34. Do you already know what ecommerce solution you want to use?
35. What kinds of products will you be selling?
36. Do you currently use third party sites for sales (like Amazon, eBay, Etsy, etc.)?
37. Will your site sell memberships or access to premium content on your site?
38. Will your site sell downloadable products?
39. Will your products have multiple variations?
Examples include sizes, colors, materials or even price points.
40. Roughly how many products will be listed on the site?
41. Do you want the web site to track inventory?
42. Do you have product descriptions available?
43. Do you have high quality photos available for each product?
44. Do you want to allow product reviews or ratings?
45. Do you want to add social sharing icons to product pages?
46. Will you offer an affiliate or referral program?
47. Do you want to build an email list of customers for promotional purposes?
48. Do you offer quantity discounts?
49. Do you want to offer coupons?
50. Do you want to offer gift cards?
51. Do you want to offer wish lists or registries?
52. Do you need to generate invoices or packing lists?
53. Do you offer preferred pricing to certain groups?
54. Will you want us to enter the products or will that be something you will handle?
55. Do you need to compute shipping? How? Real-time shipping? What carriers?
56. Will you sell to customers outside the USA? Canada? Other countries?
57. Do you need to compute sales tax? For what areas?
58. How will payments be processed? Will you use PayPal or a standard merchant account?
59. Have you been approved or received contingent approval for a merchant account already? If contingent, what are the contingencies?
60. Will there be integration to any third-party systems such as shipping, accounting, or CRM?
61. What kind of reporting will you require from the site?
62. Do you have terms of service and refund policies in place for the site?
63. How will you handle customer service inquiries?
Questions About Time & Money
64. Does this project have a deadline? When are you hoping to launch?
65. What is your budget or budget range for this project?
Note: you could clarify this question with something like “Sharing a realistic assessment of what you have to spend on this effort will help us scope the engagement appropriately. While disclosing your budget might not be something you typically do, sharing this information with us now will greatly reduce the likelihood of both sides spending significant time and resources.”
Wrapping Up: Better Client Consultations, Happier Clients, Happier You
Once you’ve finished a client consultation meeting you should know whether or not you want to do business. You’ll know the scope of the project, you’ll know if it’s in your wheelhouse and if you’re in the client’s budget. You’ll have a measure of who they are and if you’re willing to work with them.
If all is well, the next step is to put together a proposal. This is where you put everything in writing and get your client to sign a contract.
At the end of the day, an efficient (and successful!) client consultation process provides the groundwork for happier clients … and a happier you.
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- Define goals & objectives for your business
- Handle your finances-from startup costs to budgets
- Have confidence in your quotes and pricing
- Market and sell the value of your work
- Find (and keep) quality clients
- Develop additional streams of recurring monthly revenue
- Improve your technical skills
- Stay productive and focused in your home office
- Achieve better work/life balance
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