Travis Bennett: Cut Your Web Design Time in Half by Asking These Questions at the Onset of Your Collaboration

We heard some tips for your first client meeting from Canadian-based agency Intrigue Media and their strategic approach in managing project scope creep and here we’d like to piggyback on that discussion and extend it a bit further by looking at what specific questions you can ask to enable you to mockup, design and get that thumbs up from your client in less time.

Now any web design company would be glad to implement some methods to increase their productivity and client satisfaction, but especially if you have a small team, this is absolutely necessary. That’s why we were happy to welcome Travis Bennett, founder of Studio Digita based in Thailand, to share his approach in getting to exactly what the client wants in a shorter period of time. Let’s first look at the landscape of clients most web design agencies are dealing with:

The Realities of Being a Small Business and What That Means for You.

Most small businesses face the dilemma of trying to scale their business while also needing to launch a website to increase leads and build a customer base. Sound familiar business owners? Yeah, you’re trying to figure out how to allocate funds and that marketing campaign number keeps creeping up higher and higher. Truth is, you shouldn’t settle for a half-baked website that screams generic and amateur to your prospective customers. Another truth is that you actually can get a sleek, customized and eye-catching website up in just a few weeks without spending the money you could otherwise be spending on other marketing tactics.

Using themes plays a really big part in this cost-effective equation because so much of the functionality is already built in and so then it’s just a matter of integrating the right branding and tweaking specific elements to best capture the purpose and function of each site.

Travis: “If you’re looking at traditional small business owners like a small law firm, marketing agency or consulting company where they only have a handful of staff, they don’t have a large amount of money to invest in a web presence. So we tend to use a theme solution to meet their needs because then we can give them a premium look and feel for their website but it doesn’t have all the custom development that’s come along with it so they get something that’s more cost-effective.

Most of the clients I work with are small business owners because we work primarily with themes and help to set them up for the businesses that don’t have a $10,000 – $15,000 dollar budget to create their own custom website and they want a more simple solution. We take an existing theme, set it up with their branding and then get something that’s far most cost-effective that does the job for what they need, having an online presence and being active on the web.

Using themes plays a really big part in this cost-effective equation because so much of the functionality is already built in and so then it’s just a matter of integrating the right branding and tweaking specific elements to best capture the purpose and function of each site.”

tips for your first client meeting

Tips for Your First Client Meeting

1. Get to the Point. Fast.

For the role of a web design agency, Travis made the point that you don’t have to come into the first client meeting with all of the answers. In fact, quite the opposite—you should be ready to ask very targeted questions.

Travis: “The first thing that we always ask is ‘what is it that you’re trying to achieve with your website?’ Are you a law firm that’s trying to get inquiries, are you a cleaning company that wants to get bookings—if you figure out the core action of what it is that they want then you can make sure to build a website where everything is geared toward that action.

Another thing we start with is by asking if there anything on the site that they’d like to include? Do they need a services page? Do they need more information on their products? This can vary quite considerably if you’re a law firm and want to be a bit more aloof and traditional as opposed to a cleaning company where you want to display how clean everything will be and go into greater detail.

All of copy, all of the pictures and all of the pages can send people straight to what it is that they’re actually trying to achieve and then once we’ve got an idea of what the end goal is, we talk over the steps it will take to get there.”

The first thing that we always ask is ‘what is it that you’re trying to achieve with your website?

2. Use Your Client’s Vision as a Starting Point.

Applying your creative expertise in design is certainly going to come into play during the duration of your collaboration, but timing is everything. Oftentimes we think we have to come to the first client meeting with the perfect pitch and mock up that will wow the client, but just hear us out. It will save your team both time and creative energy by first listening to the ideas of your client and then using those elements to more precisely capture their vision.

Travis: “The next thing is understanding what kind of design they like? And the easiest way to do that is to ask them to show you some websites they really like and websites that they hate? Because you’ll immediately see some trends in there with certain styles—is it minimal style or very informative—based on that we can have a look at some of the demos and see which ones align with their preferences and then approach them with a selection of templates that closely match their vision.”

The idea in researching your client’s biggest competitors with them is to get a picture of what’s currently happening in the industry and also see what we can do to exceed those standards.

3. Scout out the Competition to Pinpoint What Sets Your Client Apart.

Most web design agencies are dealing with clients from a wide array of sectors and aren’t likely to know the main competitors and services in that niche. On top of that, as a web design agency it’s pretty important that the website you create gives your client that boost that puts them ahead of their competitors. Well, Travis solved both of these issues by seeking out his client’s competitors. Here was his thought process:

Travis: “The idea in researching your client’s biggest competitors with them is to get a picture of what’s currently happening in the industry and also see what we can do to exceed those standards. That way we can look at any potential areas for improvement so that we can either up sale some additional services and see if there’s room to do something far better than what the competition already has. A simple example would be a consulting company we worked with a little while back and one of the things they wanted to have was a means of booking on their website which nobody else in Thailand is doing.

If you wanted to make a booking you either had to go through another booking company; we integrated that onto their website for them so that their customers can come and sign up for their services through their site. Asking this question gives us a better idea of what’s currently out there, what we can do better and also gives the customer a chance to see what else our agency does to help improve their rankings.”

tips for your first client meeting

4. Assess the Value of Your WordPress Themes.

Now you may think that this goes without saying, but before laying out a variety of options for your client to choose from, take proper steps to ensure the quality and dependability of your chose WordPress Theme. That way, whichever design your client chooses, your team doesn’t have to spend unnecessary hours compensating for a poorly developed theme. Here’s a few tips to keep a lookout for before giving your clients a menu to choose from.

Travis: “Most of the authors we go with are Premium WordPress themes in Themeforest because you know that they’ll still be around. I’ve had a couple of themes that I used 2 to 3 years ago that would be discontinued with their support disappearing off the face of the earth. When you’re providing services like we do with continual updates and long-term packages, you need a theme that will be maintained as well as comprehensively supported and the relationship the seller has with the current buyers is really important to us before we buy a theme. We look at how long it’s been around for, we look at the comments of people complaining to see if the service is bad or if they’re loving how quickly the theme developers are replying—all those things get factored in.

When you’re providing services like we do with continual updates and long-term packages, you need a theme that will be maintained as well as comprehensively supported

About 70% of our clients we get paid by the month like you would have a law firm on retainer—we’re basically a web and design agency on retainer. So anytime something goes wrong, an update is needed or a plugin gets changed, backing up dating, managing hosting for our clients—whatever it may be, our goal is make it as easy as possible for a small business owner to have a great website because a lot of the time they don’t have the time to manage it themselves so would rather pay an outsourced team to do it. The fastest turn around we had in building a website was 7 days and on average it may be about 4 weeks, whereas a custom development job could take 5 to 6 months.

The fastest turn around we had in building a website was 7 days and on average it may be about 4 weeks, whereas a custom development job could take 5 to 6 months.

5. Put Your WordPress Theme to the Test.

Remember, the point of pouring over demos, documentation, customer reviews, and forums is to ensure that the website you build will be backed up by the development and support that will give your clients more leads and higher conversions. A beautifully designed website, though, can fall flat if it doesn’t load quickly enough. That’s why Travis and his team use these effective tools to test out each theme before using them with clients.

Travis: “We run the demo themes through GT Metrix to see how it actually works because some of the premium themes get bundled in with so much functionality that it can actually detract from the experience, specifically in terms of speed. So we have to make sure that there’s not any unnecessary bloat in there. If a demo takes 5 seconds to load and it’s just a demo then it’s telling for us because we know that it has to be under 2 seconds for our clients.

The last thing we look for is the demos—it has to be very easy for us to mockup a website using the demos to be able to show the clients. Before we even send the recommendations to the clients we need to know that it’ll be simple to set up, it has to perform well and there’s gotta be a support structure in place so that as time goes along we can update the theme without any headaches or having to rebuild the site without another theme. This all helps us keep our commitment to our clients which is to keep their website updated every month; that’s one of the services that they’re paying us for.

So far Jupiter has met the speed requirements, the support team has been really good and with setting up the demo, it’s just two clicks and you have the demo up and running.

To that point, when you’re a web developer, bringing in monthly income is really beneficial. It helps us plan, forecast the future and it doesn’t leave us relying on landing a big project every couple of weeks—we have a baseline that’s always there.   

So far Jupiter has met the speed requirements, the support team has been really good and with setting up the demo, it’s just two clicks and you have the demo up and running. So for me, it ticks all the boxes and so we always include Jupiter demos to send out to our clients. We give them a choice of around five different themes because a lot of the clients have a preconceived notion of what their site will look like and we pretty much always include Jupiter in our initial proposal. I’ve been using it for two years now and it’s always been great!”

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