The Great Tug-O-War: Clients vs Businesses

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All of us have had an opportunity in our lives to be a client, a customer, or both.  Some of us have also been in the position of having clients and customers as a business owner.

Whether it’s being the client of your local dog groomer or running your own brick and mortar business on Main Street, we all know that the customer and business owner relationship is a delicate one.

But what happens when there’s a lack of balance?

Paging Dr. Google

A memory struck me recently.  9 years ago, I was in a New York City hospital awaiting my first shoulder operation.  As it was my first one (two more would come in later years), I had no idea what to expect and naturally I was terrified.  I had already put off having this operation for 6 years and I had been told by everyone and their brother that I was about to experience a recovery pain like I had never experienced, so let’s just say I meekly asked my doctor a lot of stupid questions.  Which was fine – he was used to those.

But it was when the anesthesiologist came in to talk to me about how they were going to send me on a return trip to La-La Land, that I got a bit of chutzpah.  I let the guy say his peace, and then I confidently asked, “Can I get a nerve blocker? A friend of mine in England who is anesthesiologist there said I should ask for one.”

The anesthesiologist looked at me, a bit taken aback, and said sternly, “If we think you need one, we’ll give you one. But that’s for us to decide.”

Insert mortifying mic drop here. They hadn’t even pumped me with the good drugs yet.  The reality is: I don’t have medical training. I, at best, had mediocre marks in high school Biology.  My “expertise” in the medical field involves Web MD-ing my symptoms and my experience of knocking myself out involves taking a dose of NyQuil, hold the legitimate illness. Though my doctor friend is an expert in the field of rendering someone unconscious, he was 3500 miles away and wasn’t going to be present at my surgery – therefore, not knowing my case and what the surgeon had planned to do once the party got started.

And you know, that short conversation has stuck with me over the course of many years as I have navigated the complex world of not only running a business, but also the tightrope that is the client and provider relationship.

We live in a world now where we are as empowered as ever by being able to access information on a machine that fits in the palm of our hands. Naturally, there are benefits to this when you feel like you need to be your own advocate – and by all means, when you need to be, you should.  However, there are times when we have to defer to someone with more experience and knowledge in the best interest of whatever the topic may be – our business, our health, our homes – the list goes on.  In an industry like digital development, which does not even require a degree, you will sometimes find that having solid experience and “the customer is always right” go together like chalk and cheese.

Turning a passion into a career

As a web designer, the best thing we can ever hear during the design planning aspect of a project is, “You’re the designer, and we trust your judgement.” At the end of the day, we didn’t end up in this industry by accident.  We were passionate about digital design for many years before even pursuing it. We earned degrees in it. We took courses that went beyond straight coding, such as Applied Art in Web and User Experience Design.  We go to conferences to keep up with what’s new and changing in our field. We’re part of meetups and Slack groups devoted to web design and development.

To be honest, despite having the education and experience, having clients comfortable enough to hand us most of the design control is certainly not a guarantee and happens less often than you’d think.  It should be said – we love when a client comes to us with ideas and already has their branding sorted out.  However, we will make suggestions and that’s because we too, want to see you get the most from your business. If you’re running a tranquility spa, chances are using fire-engine red in your branding is going to give off the wrong vibe, and we will be the first people to tell you this.

Tales from the field

We had a client recently who was rebranding but liked the colours of their previous website – which in the nature of the field they are in, would have been too bright going forward.  In fact, we initially weren’t even sure the client should keep the same colours. However, we wanted to find a way to make it work because we knew the client really loved those particular colours, overall.  That said, we simply altered the hues and saturation levels of the previous colours and made them work in the rebrand.  The client was super agreeable throughout the process (so important!) and was pleased with the final result – and so were we.  It was a win-win, because we worked together to find a solution that delivered a great result.

On the other hand, we had an opportunity to work with a client in the not-so-distant past who continually challenged the suggestions we made to them.  When confronted with design choices that would have been “best practice,” our client continually chose to go the other way.  Waaaay the other way.

Ultimately, after banging our heads against the wall, we gave up trying to “make it right.”  We designed a site that was functional, but not one we wanted to showcase in our portfolio.  The client had micromanaged us every step of the way, choosing what they wanted to see, instead of what would be the most suitable for their startup’s audience.

To an extent, we understand that your own colour and design preferences will be part of your site. It’s just a question of knowing the balance between what you love and what’s best for your business.  Honestly, if it were up to me and what I wanted to see, the entire Star Mountain website would be pink.  Pink up and down; a digital cotton candy machine. I love the colour, what can I say?  But I know there is psychology to colour (my mother is an interior designer; I’ve been hearing about colour psychology and colour design choices my entire life).  I know that a bright pink website might be a turn off to, say, someone in the corporate world.  I get that.  I know that our audience, as a web design agency to small and medium businesses, is relatively diverse in gender, industry and nationality.  We cater to that when we think about the design of our own site and branding.

The aspect of our portfolio that is the most interesting is this: when we get compliments on various projects from potential and past clients, as well as friends and family, we always get the most compliments on projects where we’ve had creative control.  We never – literally not once – have received an outside compliment on a project where we were micromanaged and had little-to-zero creative input.  In fact, one of our clients – who literally handed us the reigns when we designed the site for his side hustle – just recently was able to leave his full-time job because this side project was doing so well – and he said it was in large part thanks to the website we designed and built for him.

So, about handing the reigns over…

Let’s be clear: we’re not asking you to drop your deposit off and do a runner. But it’s worth trusting your designer if they have the credentials to back it up. In our case, our web design programme at the University of Greenwich was certainly no cakewalk.  We were lucky enough to have teachers who provided really constructive feedback and pushed us to make better design choices in our work.  There was always room for improvement.  There still is – and we know that, too.  We constantly look to see what is trending in design, as well as seek out inspiration from others for website aspects we think we could design differently, and of course, better.

Aside from that, we had training in all aspects of building a website – from the artistic end to the developmental nuts and bolts. We toiled through degree programmes to get to this place where clients hire us to build their websites.

Certainly, in our industry, the rise of commercial website builders has made the consumer feel more empowered in designing sites on their own with no knowledge of code necessary.  That’s fine too, if that’s what works for your business and your wallet.

Putting your best face forward

At the end of the day, there’s certain things you wouldn’t trust yourself to do – because if you did, you would simply just do them without outside help.  I stood in front of my bathroom mirror in the height of the pandemic lockdown, trying to trim my own hair because hell, I had watched a bunch of ordinary people on YouTube do it and thought if they can, I can.  I had snipped barely a centimetre of hair before I panicked and realized this could absolutely wait until I was able to see my very well-trained hairdresser, who I trust completely with scissors and a mixing bowl of colour.  When she told me last year that getting bangs would “age” me, I listened because I’m already fighting Father Time on the regular. When she has veered me away from a certain hair colour that won’t work with my skin tone, I follow her advice. She is the one with all the cut and colour training and when you get right down to it, and I want to walk out into the world having a “look” that presents me in my best light.

We always are told to never judge a book by its cover, but the reality is, we all do it in the form of a first impression.  The difference is, you will usually get a chance to get to know someone better – but you may not have the patience to deal with a website that is confusing or painful on the eyes, therefore exiting before you had a chance to see what this business had to offer.  This could be the most wonderful business out there, but if their online presence is their main way of attracting clients and their website is a total dumpster fire… well, you know.

Or put it this way – you wouldn’t show up to a job interview in your pajamas.  Yes, it’s more comfortable and might put you more at ease, but what would it say about you as a hard-working, career-minded individual?  I don’t need to answer that – you know what it says.  Your website and branding are no different – we always want to put our best face forward, whether it be in our personal or professional lives.

Let’s pull this train into the station

In summary: some of us feel more at ease when we’re in control of a situation, while others are comfortable letting someone else be in the driver’s seat.  Either way, with an increasing amount of businesses relying on their online presence to see them through uncertain times, a happy medium exists – but both parties have to be willing to listen and trust each other for success.

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