In this installment of "Towards a better client survey," we explore the first section of our current survey, "The Basics." But is it really so simple? Read more...
Part One: The Basics
What is the name of your company, your website and the current/intended web address?
The first question can throw a new website for a loop (but usually not a redesign). We all know about the tricky details of choosing a pertinent and memorable web address. If you're developing a website from scratch, you'll probably end up having a conversation about choosing (and perhaps finding) the right domain name. We usually talk about choosing a top-level domain (.com, .to, .org) and finding an available domain within your top-level domain. You can check out 8 quick tips for choosing a domain name for some more insight (even though they suggest choosing a .com, whereas I do not).
A lot of people are bent on having a .com, and resist the option of a .ca for example. Sometimes companies don't want to be perceived as being limited or restricted to a certain geographical market. Having a .com top-level domain seems more universal to them, but makes it increasingly difficult to find available real estate. I find that having a short, memorable domain name with a lesser known top-level domain is preferable to having a complex, obscure version of the company's name that ends in .com.
Notice I wrote, “you'll probably end up having a conversation about...” Is this antithetical to the idea of the initial client survey anyway? This makes me think of one our original challenges. Is it necessary to walk the lead through the client survey?
Describe your company and the concept, product, or service your site will provide.
The second question is the first attempt to step into the project. But you'll notice that this question actually contains two (quite separate) questions. The first part of the question is fine, “describe your company,” and any potential client should be able to answer that succinctly.
The one I have trouble with is the follow-up: “and the concept, product, or service your site will provide.” Notice that we've shifted the subject of this answer from the “company,” to “the website.” In addition, we have asked probably the most difficult question of the whole document in the first section, which we called “the basics.” Maybe we should save that one for later.
Who are the main contacts for this project? Who has final approval?
This is a straight-forward question that does two things; it asks for necessary information, but more importantly this question implies that there needs to be a clear decision-making process owned by accountable stakeholders.
This is also an introduction to the client of their considerable responsibility in a website redesign. It shows the client that one doesn't simply “buy a website.” This question should imply that there must be someone on the client's side who can own the project, take responsibility for deliverables, and avoid a situation where at the final meeting, the principle in the client's company decides she “doesn't like the creative direction.”
When do you expect the project to start and when does it need to be completed? Are there specific reasons for these dates?
Question four is a good one. It's great to launch a website during a significant moment because it allows us to squeeze every bit of cross-promotional power out of our launch. If you're developing a site for an art gallery, find out when a new exhibition is opening that's close to your expected launch date. If your client is moving into a new, bigger office space a week after the site can launch, compliment this moment of renewal by unveiling your new online presence concurrently.
But here's another reason why this is a good idea. Clients love to enforce deadlines, but it's easy to push back content delivery plans. Tying the release of your website to another deadline for their business will help your clients deliver on time.
Your budget dictates how much time we can devote to your website. What is the budget for this project?
Suppose a fellow walks into an architect's office and says, “I want you to build me a house.” The architect replies, “That's a pretty big question. Do you have an idea of your budget?” The client replies, “No, not at all. Why don't you tell me how much it will cost for you to design and build me a house.” Does this make sense? How can the architect make recommendations or decisions about material, size, landscaping, detail, plumbing, heating, etc without knowing what the budget is? The answer is pretty simple, he can't.
This is the catch-22 of web development, and for a lot of developers, this is consistently a problem they face. It's common for our leads to approach us without any idea of what they're willing to spend on their website. This puts us in a pretty uncomfortable position. If we don't have any idea of what the budget is, it's likely that our project plan, estimate, and proposal could be way off. We could put ten hours of work into these documents coming up with our ideal website strategy.
And it's fine if our estimates don't match our client's expectations. The problem is that our potential client might think that we're “out of their league” when in fact that wasn't the case at all. We do what we can, with what we can. It really comes down to this: we're going to find out what your budget is one way or another. We can make a better estimate, a better proposal, and answer the question of whether we can meet their goals if our clients know how much they can invest in this process.
I see two possibilities with the budget question. The first is to put it up front, like we have now. Having this question here emphasizes the significance of this information. It might be better to place the question deeper in the survey, so we don't immediately confront them with what is typically the most sensitive and difficult question for a client to answer. But placing it deeper might make the client think that it's the most important question in the survey, which it's not. Either way, we need to find a way to explain this before the client decides to leave the answer blank.
Next Blog post on this topic will discuss the most important (in my opinion) section of the survey: Objectives.