Client communication is one of the most important skills to master if you’re going to be successful in your web design business. Putting time and effort into a communications plan will pay dividends by streamlining project workflows and increasing your clients’ overall satisfaction.
During a recent webinar with Adam Walker, we learned how to think through and plan out a communications plan with clients. Adam discussed how often you should communicate, the reports you can use to improve communication and approaches to conversations that will reduce confusion and keep your clients happy.
Adam Walker is the co-founder of Sideways8, an Atlanta-based web design agency, as well as a co-founder of the non-profit 48in48, a nonprofit that serves nonprofits by building 48 FREE nonprofit websites at a 48-hour event.
What is a Client Communications Plan?
According to Adam, clients are happiest when they know:
- What to expect
- When to expect it
- How it will all come together
In order to keep clients happy, it’s good to have a communications plan.A client communication plan is a thoughtful way of creating a standard for communicating with clients.
Setting Communication Expectations & Rhythms
The first thing Adam suggests is to set communication rhythms. Sometimes, your communication rhythms may depend on the size of the project or the communication preferences of the client.
Questions you may need to address:
- Will you have a weekly call, email or formal report?
- How will you communicate about the big project milestones? Email or phone call?
- What about the smaller milestones? Email or phone call?
- What is the most effective way to communicate when you have a small question?
- What about a big question?
While you may want to treat all clients the same, you may also need to consider that that communication rhythm needs to match the size and importance of your client.
- For big clients, Adam recommends weekly calls and a weekly progress report.
- For smaller clients, you may only need a bi-weekly call and a monthly progress report.
Having a contingency plan for client communication is also important. What is your protocol for addressing these situations?
- Your client seems angry via email
- Your client is angry on a call
- Your client is upset and you were at fault
- Your client’s boss is upset even though you did nothing wrong
Using Status Reports in Your Communication Plan
Are reports really necessary? Yes! Why? A weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly status report for your client is critical. and here’s
- It keeps your work for them top of mind.
- It gives you a paper trail.
- It alerts you and the client if the project is going off the rails.
Components of a Project Status Report
- Project Vision – What are we doing and why? Recap this in every report.
- Project Health – Is the project on track? Meeting deadlines? You may want to use delineators such as “Great,” “Good,” or “Poor,” and explain your reasons.
- Completed This Week – This section covers the tasks that were completed this week to show what was accomplished.
- What We Plan to Complete in the Next Week – Include a list of tasks that are due to be completed so the client knows your next steps.
- Issues/Roadblocks/Items needed – This section is a place to identify missing content or items you still need from the client that may be holding up progress.
- Upcoming milestones – What’s the next big milestone and are you on track for completion? You may want to include a link to the full project schedule and milestones.
A Few Communication Tips
- Actively listen. Never multitask when you’re talking to a client. You’ll miss things and the client will notice.
- Always take notes. Take quick, scannable, bulleted notes that are easy for your client to read.
- Follow up every call or meeting with an email to your client with your notes and specific next steps you will each take. This is why your notes are important.
- Believe the best in your client. Instead of automatically thinking the worse, be aware of your assumptions.
- Give the right amount of depth. Don’t over-explain and over complicate. This is another example of poor communication because the client has hired you to handle what may be over their knowledge level or expertise.
- Give context when asking questions. For example, don’t ask, “When will it be ready?” Instead, ask: “When will that content for the About page be ready?”