June 7, 2022

What do you need to discuss with clients before working with them?

As with any other relationship, communication is key—and it's not always easy. It's important to think about all the things you need to discuss before you start working with a client.

A new client might be eager to start working with you on their project. However, it’s essential to clarify the goal & the scope of the project as clearly as possible. We should discuss why the client came to you, the definition of success in this project, the project's scope, the expected deliverables, the deadline, the client’s budget, and how you will communicate throughout the project.

Why clear communication is important before working with clients?

Working with clients can be challenging and rewarding. Clients can bring in a wide range of problems and concerns, and working on projects that often involve communicating complex information can be tricky. The fact of the matter is, when you have a client, your relationship with him or her is built entirely on trust. If the relationship is to work out well, both parties need to be able to rely on the other for honesty, transparency, and efficiency.

However, as with any other relationship, communication is key—and it's not always easy. It's important to think about all the things you need to discuss before you start working with a client to ensure that you're both on the same page. If you want your clients to be happy with the work they hire you to do, you need to be sure that you've communicated effectively from the very beginning.

Here are some things that are needed to be discussed before you actually start working on a project with a client.

1. Establish the goal and the scope of the project

Every project has a unique set of needs and circumstances.  When you work with new clients, it's important to establish the boundaries of their projects so that you can make sure they get what they need. The key is to ask the right questions and listen closely to the answers.

For instance, to establish goals, it is important to note what is the purpose and goal of the site. Will it be used for sales or for information? How often will it need updating? Who will be updating it and how much time will they have available?

Ask your potential client what their vision for the project is, and how far into the process they want your help. Do they want you involved from the beginning when ideas are being formed, or only after everything is set in stone? Pitfalls and constraints further into the process can be avoided by asking the right questions early on.

One practical way to establish the project goals and scope is through an SOW (Statement of work). A statement of work is a document that outlines the phases of your projects as well as the deliverables, features requests, deadline & pricing. This helps set clear expectations from the start.

2. Diagnose the client’s needs and problems

Whether you're in the world of freelancing or another service industry, it's important to know what your clients need so you can be sure you're providing them with a service that addresses those needs.

When beginning a new project with a client, especially if it's being done remotely, it can be tempting for either party to try finding ways around talking about specifics. You might not want to ask questions that make your client feel like they're being interrogated or put in a vulnerable position, or they might not want to share information that makes them feel exposed. However, this is important work, so it's worth taking the time to make sure everyone is on the same page and comfortable getting started.

Picking up from establishing the scope and goals of the project, it is important to also ask the following: What is the unique selling proposition? Is your product or service the best solution? What is your current position in the market? What are your current difficulties and what have you tried to solve them? Who is your competition and how will you differentiate yourself from them?

3. Define what success looks like

It's easy for people to have an abstract picture in their heads of what they'd like something to look like—but it helps to get concrete details so everyone is working toward the same thing. A project is only as successful as the client says it is, so the most important step in starting any project is making sure you have an open conversation where you ask questions and get answers.

The best way to define success is to first look at your client's needs—what are they hoping to accomplish? What do they want? What are their goals? From there, you and your client can then define what success looks like for the project and establish some key performance indicators. Maybe they need a new website that will bring more business. Maybe they need a better social media presence to gain more followers. Maybe they want to be able to communicate with their customers better. The clearer you are on those things, the better and more realistic the scope of work can be, resulting in a successful project for both parties.

Success in a project doesn’t mean reinventing the wheel. We can find great solutions built by other people that can help us have an idea of what we need, share it with your client & customize it to your specific need. Working smarter towards your success will save you time & energy.

4. Enumerate expected deliverables

Most clients have a checklist of things that they need from you before they feel comfortable moving forward with the project. It's best that you and your clients are on the same page regarding these expectations, so there are no misunderstandings or miscommunications later on. Clarify that you'll be able to provide everything that's been agreed upon in the contract, and ask them directly if they're unsure about anything. Explain that a good way to set clear deliverables without having surprises is by writing a list of deliverables into the brief or the statement of work.

When you're working with a client, it's important to be clear about what you're providing and what they're paying for. Not only will it save them from any confusion later on, but it can also help you avoid under-delivering or overcharging.

5. Set a deadline

Set a deadline for every phase of the project, and stick to it. It's important to be able to make your deadlines, but it's even more important to give your clients the ability to trust in you. It allows them to feel more secure and have proper expectations of what comes next.

Here’s a little tip: give yourself some extra time to finish your work in case it takes longer than expected.

Good communication helps to ensure that everyone involved knows how long it will take to complete each phase and that the phases are completed in order. Deadlines also give everyone an opportunity to reassess if the project will be complete by the end date. If something is taking longer than anticipated, it's easier to make adjustments when there is still time left in the project timeline.

6. Determine the client’s budget

This is very important, yet many creatives are too afraid to ask this question. Asking about budgets can feel awkward because it's so personal. If a client is in touch with what kind of budget range they have to work within, that alone tells you something about how professional and organized they are—but still, it might not be something you want to bring up before there's already some rapport established between the two of you.

Before delving into the details of the project with them, it's a good idea to know what their budget is. This is not just because it can help you determine whether you're a good fit for each other, but also because it sets the stage for how your client will think about what you'll be doing: if they're paying next to nothing, they might not have high hopes for your work; if they're paying a lot, they might have high expectations and want more than you can realistically deliver.

7. Establish mode and system of communication

While the answers to this question may vary from business to business, one thing you will want to ask potential clients is how they prefer to communicate. You may want to get a phone number so you can text them updates about the project, or perhaps your client will prefer a set schedule of meetings. Some people may be very responsive and always able to meet in person or on the phone, while others may elect to only email or write notes via message board, which means you'll have to make sure you have time on your schedule for that mode of communication.

A good rule of thumb is to set a call at the start of the project. Then, you can keep your client updated with a simple message or email. At the end of the week, we like to share a screen record just to walk the client through the progress made.

Delivering a well-timed, top-quality end product is the ultimate goal of any project. In order to make sure that you get there, it helps if your client understands what they can expect. There's always lots of information to go over during the onboarding process, but when you're working together for the first time, it’s important to be receptive to each other's needs. In all cases, this is what sets a successful relationship apart from an unsuccessful one — being open-minded, accommodating, and empathetic.