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How to communicate with a client as a freelance web developer

The ever growing demand of technical websites is a web developer’s bread and butter. Nonetheless, communicating with a client as a freelancer can be challenging, especially when you just started out. Whether it be as a web developer, UX/UI designer or another type of freelancer, almost every freelancer knows a client who just wanted to change a “small feature” when all was already said and done, blatantly unaware that the revision required could take way more time than the client’s original estimation. Not to speak about the fact that it can mess up the code core structure or UX/UI designs.

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Whether you are working on a small website for a friend or a large application for a company, setting the right boundaries and expectations with regards to both parties involved, is critical to building and maintaining a good relationship with your client.

The following is a walkthrough on a non-exhaustive list of processes and practices to keep in mind during each step of the project development life cycle. The emphasis of this guide revolves around the earlier stages, when most of the communication with the client is being done.

Part I discusses the first stage of the cycle. It is written from the point of view of a freelance web-developer but most notions also apply to freelance UX/UI designers, working at a company or even working on an internal project

Generally speaking there are 5 phases:

  1. Analyse
  2. Design
  3. Development
  4. Testing/Quality Assurance
  5. Deployment

(*The steps above are based on the standard development life cycle methodology (SDLC). Choosing the most suitable project management methodology can be a tricky one and depends on many variables such as the scope and complexity of the project, the client or working in a team. Depending on the context of the project, other project management methodologies such as Agile or Kanban may be required).

Outline a clear strategy

When you embark on a new project with any client, outlining a clear strategy going forward is paramount to your relation with the client as it establishes the direction and momentum of the entire project. The very first meeting with the client should entail a general overview of the project development cycle, explaining why each step is important and what is to be expected. By doing so you let the client know there is a flow and it makes you look professional.

“When you embark on a new project with any client, outlining a clear strategy going forward is paramount to your relation with the client as it establishes the direction and momentum of the entire project.”

Get Creative, putting pen to paper

The first step when building a website is not to write code but to talk about the discovery process. This means putting pen to paper with the client and writing down every idea and inspiration that comes to mind. It is like a brainstorm session where you throw everything out in the open, the good ideas and bad ones. It can be astonishing sometimes how companies do not know what they want, so make sure you cover this base well with the client.

You then relay back the gathered information with the client during a creative brief in a following session, defining the scope of work more in depth.

Getting input from all parties involved

In this early stage, it is the moment for everybody to speak up and get on board, especially if dealing with a bigger project when multiple parties are involved.

It could happen, for example, that the product owner asks the opinion of the head of different departments when the application is in development. Maybe someone from marketing is being showcased the application at the latest stage, and says “Why don’t we build in more social media authentication features?” You then find yourself stuck in a peculiar situation, having to choose between two bad options: letting the client know that the demands cannot be met because of the required deadline, or making the difficult position of going back to the drawing board to add those features, which costs time, money and might also mess up the core code structure. Whatever the reasoning of your decision may be, neither scenario really accomplishes the needs of your client. You do not want to reorganise databases down the road if it can be avoided.

Even if you are the only person involved in the project, you still want to get all the ideas on paper along with appropriate timelines so that everyone knows what is on the table.

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