Getting the best out of everyone – thoughts on the agency/client relationship

If you had to name the most important factor in running a successful web design project, what would it be? The available budget? The skills of the developers? The creativity of the designers? Could be. They’re certainly factors. But what we’ve found time and again is that it’s the relationship between the agency and the client that’s the defining factor in how well a project runs, and how successful it ultimately is.

A smooth running project, with good communication between the agency and the client is a wonderful thing. Great things can be accomplished, and everyone takes a sense of satisfaction from it. On the other hand, projects fraught with misunderstandings and disagreements are horrible for all concerned, and almost invariable result in sub-standard products.

So at Freshleaf we’ve been giving some thought to what we can do to help to make projects run more smoothly for everyone.

Educate and inform

One thing that can help prevent problems down the line is providing plenty of information on the website design process up front. After all, we do this every day, whereas even experienced marketing execs probably only oversee a handful of website rebuilds in their careers – and as an agency it’s our job to set and manage expectations of how the process will run. For example, most people underestimate the amount of involvement we’ll need from them, as a client. Whatever the project, we can’t just take it away and bring it back completed. It’s a collaborative process, and from consultation, through approval loops, content creation and more consultation, it takes a lot of input from both agency and client to bring a successful corporate website together.

Build trust

There’s also an element of trust inherent in a successful project. For our existing clients, of course, that’s exactly what we have. They trust that we advise and make recommendations based on experience and best practice, and that if we advise against something, it’s for good reason. With new clients, it’s a process of building trust. We hope that when companies come to us looking for a new corporate website, it’s because they are already convinced of our expertise – but we know we’re also asking them to make a leap, putting some of what are essentially business decisions in our hands; and that’s not all that easy to do.

We do our best work when we’re treated as an extension of the existing team, bringing new skills and experience, and hopefully a fresh perspective, but essentially pulling in the same direction as everyone who’s operating within the business – and that’s what we’re aiming for.

Keep on talking

Finally, strong two-way communication is absolutely critical to the success of any collaborative project. As an agency, we need to spend time getting to know each client’s business, and more importantly, where the website fits into their business. There are business goals to be achieved, and we can’t deliver if we haven’t understood the full picture. And that sometimes means asking difficult questions to get beyond what it seems a client is asking for, to what they really need, so we can make informed recommendations.

We can also keep projects on track by providing regular updates, whether we’ve got much to report or not. If we’re building things behind the scenes and have nothing to show a client, the temptation is to keep our heads down and get on with it…. but a quick phone call or email to say “There’s nothing to see but your CMS has been installed this week” prevents concerns about progress arising.

Ideally, a website redesign project should be the start of an ongoing relationship between us and our client; but in order for that to be the case both client and agency need to come to an understanding, and find a level of trust and communication which brings the best out of both parties.

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