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January 2, 2024 - 5 minutes

Communicating with a Client–as a Freelance Web Developer

The ever growing demand of technical websites is a web developer’s bread and butter.

Juliette Carreiro - Tech Writer

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 both parties 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 lifecycle. The emphasis of this guide revolves around the earlier stages, when most of the communication with the client takes place.

This 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. Analysis

  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, and if you’re working in a team. 

Depending on the context of the project, other project management methodologies such as Agile or Kanban may be required.

The Analysis Phase 

The scope of work is the heart of the analysis phase and the place where you put everything in writing and make it official. The right moment to discuss the scope of work is usually at the end of the analysis phase or at the beginning of the design process, when everybody agrees to continue with the project.

Its main function serves to clarify what is expected of the deliverables, as well as the communication strategy with which it should be aligned. And just as importantly, you must clarify what is not to be expected. It’s possible that some features that the client wanted are just not realistic within the required timeframe.

For example, let’s say that the client wanted to tie in some APIs that weren’t on your original brief. Now’s the time to point out the fact that it falls outside the scope of work before the client asks about it later on. 

Here are some key reminders: 

  • View the scope of work as a collection of facts that preferably is laid out in a contract, stating what the amount of work entails, the features to be built, the technology stack you are going to use, and the informational architecture of the website. 

  • It should also include a timeline explaining when certain features are going to be released and when you’ll get paid.

Be specific and accurate in your description on how you are going to accomplish the project; for example, include the elements the homepage needs or how you are planning on integrating an external API onto a webpage. It may seem like unnecessary information, but this allows both parties to know what it truly takes to complete the project.

Knowing what to do ahead of time puts everyone in the right frame of mind and makes a good web developer into a great web developer because you come across as more organized. In the end, you’ll have happier clients and a wider clientele.

Communicating with Your Client

Let’s dive right into the keys of communicating with your client–take note of each and it will help you make sure issues are avoided. 

Outline a clear strategy

When you embark on a new project with any client, outlining a clear strategy going forward is paramount to your relationship 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 plan and it makes you look more professional.

Get creative, putting your pen on the 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’s 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 well with the client and get a good idea of what they’re after.

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.

Ask for input from all parties involved

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

Here’s a hypothetical: the product owner asks the opinion of different department heads when the application is in development. But then someone from marketing is being shown the application at its 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 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 reorganize 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 ideas on paper, along with appropriate timelines, so that everyone knows what is on the table.

Be clear about your pricing

Deciding if you’ll charge at a fixed hourly fee or a set rate based on the project is ultimately up to you and depends on what features are going to be built. Not all features are created equal and you need to take the time to evaluate the entire scope of the project and provide a quote beforehand; if you do not know this upfront and don’t set the price accordingly, chances are there will be a misunderstanding in the pricing of your work later on. 

Put your pricing and timelines in writing and add that any additional features beyond what is already laid out will have additional costs. This will help to avoid problems down the line. 

The life of a freelance web developer is fantastic and full of incredible opportunities of which you can take advantage. But if you need to get your start in web development and master the skills needed to land your first job in the field, there’s no better place to start than with Ironhack’s Web Development Bootcamp. 

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