The beauty of making mistakes is the wisdom you gain from them. Without making mistakes in the first place it would be impossible for the future to be a success. We are only human at the end of the day and what fun would life be without learning as we go along? As the 2nd of February marks Groundhog Day I thought it would be fitting to run an article based on the valuable lessons I have learn’t over the course of my time with Kalexiko.
‘When you know better you do better.’ Maya Angelou
‘Pride cometh before the fall’ is an idiom that should be applied to every work ethic. I treat your work like it is your child. I nurture it from it’s conception and fortify it until it’s ready to be released on its own into the wide world of the world wide web. If you slander my child, set it back or don’t like it then I’m not going to be happy with you at all.
Obviously when trying to please a client it’s rare that you land a knock-out blow in the first round; in fact it takes a number of different manoeuvres, re-tweaks and a few hits received before you win the fight. In my first few projects I wasn’t quite ready I don’t think for this element of the industry. Being young, ambitious and wholly naive I would treat any criticism as if it were a critique of my own metaphysical child and storm off back to the drafting room and sulk over my crippled pride. As time progresses and you work with more varied clients you begin to realise that ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ and no matter how good you think you are, or how good you think your work is, taste is down to the individual and what you think is good doesn’t necessarily appeal to the next guy.
So one piece of advice I would give is to treat criticism with a gracious air. Take it on board, absorb it and let it fortify you. The more of it you receive the more you are armed with knowledge and experience for future clients. So the next time a client sends back your work with recommendations take it gracefully, listen to what they have to say and bear it in mind. If you don’t think that they are correct then there is another lesson you should take on board; ‘the customer is always right’.
You heard it but where you listening?
It still happens; you sit down with a client who explains what they are are looking for and after the meeting is finished you go away with a solid idea of what they want. You create the wireframes and artwork and present it to them with rationale behind it, yet the client says it’s just not what they are looking for. Bewildered, you can’t understand why they don’t ‘get it’ as you are the designer and in your mind it was the perfect solution.
Well, here is another lesson lesson; assumption is the mother of all mistakes. It is easy to assume what a client needs from you but did you actually listen to what they really asked for?
I have learnt that the key to successful interaction with clients lies in the simplicity of listening to them; not just hearing what they say and picking between the lines to understand what they really want. This is gospel when it comes to web design. Web design is like any other form of visual communication, first and foremost your design must answer to the clients needs or solve their problem. To find a solution to a problem you need to listen to what it actually was in the first place, once you know exactly what the problem is then you can address the solution accordingly.
A mistake of many a web designer, including myself at times, is not taking in entirely what the client is asking of you, coming up with a design and then trying to shoehorn the clients specification into it. When you do this you find that you have not answered the client’s needs at all.
I have learned that the best ways to overcome this issue is by following these five steps;
Hold client meetings in a quiet location. It is much more difficult to listen to someone and process information when you are in an environment full of distractions and interruptions. Schedule important meetings in a quiet room and put calls on hold.
Ask qualifying questions. When a client states a need, repeat it back to them and meet it with what you think they want. By breaking down a single need into multiple steps, you can understand the scope of what they are asking from you.
Offer multiple solutions that may serve the client’s needs better. The client may think they want a certain service, but try to delve into whether that it will really fulfil their needs. If you have a better solution that will help them in the long term, then offer it as an option. It shows you are listening to them and considering how you can provide them a better service.
Avoid dismissing a client need or idea. A client may have what appears to you to be a need that cannot possibly be fulfilled. In their mind however, it may be a central and important need of theirs. Find a way to meet their needs within the limits of what you can offer to them.
Work with the client in making decisions. By involving the client in every step, you make them a part of the process, instead of just giving them a one-size-fits-all approach. Ask them if they agree several times, and ask them to promote any idea that they have to improve on your design.
Be organised and exceed expectations
Though I feel like a bit of an old miser saying this; miserable and counselling people on my old ‘bad ways’ (which isn’t like me at all!) but I swear by the old-school rule of organisation being vital to success. Typically of an organised person I have several methods of ensuring I’m organised, all of which I now stick by religiously.
My first is method is one that you have no-doubt heard so many times before, and there’s a reason for that, it is foolproof; this is to back up your work, everything! Nothing is worse than just before you are due to present a project to a client, that you have slaved over and days; even hours before it’s due it seems to have vanished : nightmare! To avoid this dreadful occurrence and especially where managed solutions are numerous I would recommend using Rsynch. This valuable little tool mirrors your complete file systems (such as websites) in their entirety. It will check for differences between the two copies and store a back up.
Secondly I recommend documenting everything; absolutely everything. Provide minutes with crucial points to action. Once you have documented your notes, minutes and ideas it is there and with no risk of you forgetting or losing them (unless you haven’t backed them up). I use Evernote for this. I am a big fan of its syncing capabilities, its ease of use and most importantly it is transferable for use on every device I own (which allows me to be hyper organised everywhere). I am a fan of the minutes and to-do features of Basecamp; every minutes entry requires a point to action, which allows you to further delegate to-do items which can be logged onto Basecamp.
A simple yet effective method of mine is merely to be ahead of schedule. Personally, I am a stickler for punctuality. When it comes to meetings and project deadlines I like things to be done early. I have learned from past experience that letting things build up can have a domino effect which will ruin the end result regardless of its success running up to the final moments.
Most importantly, under promise and over deliver. Nothing is more disappointing to me than letting a client down. Promising the stars when you can only give the sky will leave a client disappointed. This has a knock-on effect on your business and your morale. So I have learnt that under-promising and then surprising the client when you over deliver leads to client satisfaction and a personal confidence boost.
Think big and play the long game
Like any company, the beginnings are always tough and when Kalexiko began in 2006, it was not easy to win business. It’s fair to say that many companies prefer to work with experienced and established digital agencies rather than explore their options with new smaller ones. It was tough establishing ourselves at first. Back then our clientele was made up of small start-up companies. That as well as our initial tight budgets and SME’s that had little resources meant that we had a real tough time getting Kalexiko off the ground and evolving it into a leading web design agency, that it is today. Furthermore, it was difficult to imagine that the clientele we had then would continue to work with us for many years to come. Well, here we are today and like us those companies that were also start-ups like us have blossomed into our perfect clients and have grown in success.
From this experience I have learnt that for starters you should always nurture the smaller companies you work with and support them as they grow as they will help you grow. Always bend over backwards to fulfil all of your client’s needs no matter how big or small they are.
Secondly, always aim big and think of the long term. Create goals that you can aspire to and be ambitious with them. Once you have your goals set think about the long game. Plan ahead so that nothing can take you by surprise; if you plan for the long term then your company will grow for the long term.
‘A rolling stone gathers no moss’ they say and I have learnt that to be completely true. When working with new clients and teams you discover new methods to go about completing a project. Sometimes you even learn about new ways to do things that you already know. At Kalexiko I have discovered that sticking to what I knew already wouldn’t help my skills grow and expand. Joining a diverse team like Kalexiko’s introduced me to a number of different procedures that I wasn’t experienced with. Now that I have experimented with new tools I have found myself working at a much higher standard than I did before, with greater outcomes.
Of course, sometimes change isn’t for the best. You may discover that adopting new ways of working turns out to be for the worse and not the better; that’s no excuse to abstain from experiment though. Embracing change, even if it turns out not to be favourable will enable you to grow in whatever you do and pushing aside will only halt your future endeavours So experiment and allow yourself to be able to adapt to different ways of working as you will never know when you may need them.
A problem shared is a problem halved
Ideally I do like to have complete control over my projects, that’s just the way I work; as a bit of a lone wolf. I like to know exactly where I am with a project and where exactly it’s going to, I treat my code as my baby and I don’t like people tinkering with it. I know I sound a bit overbearing but being in control of my projects just puts me at ease. Obviously, this is less than ideal when times get busy; suddenly I have two or three deadlines to meet and managing all of my projects solo becomes impossible. This is where I have had to learn to delegate responsibility to others- as much as it pains me to do so…
Working at Kalexiko with other designers and developers has meant that I have had to delegate work to others when times get busy. Although, as I said before I do like to go lone wolf most of the time I have discovered that there are benefits to employing others when working on a project. Not only does getting help from other developers mean that work can be managed easier and completed to much more efficient deadlines; but it also means that there are a variety of different heads that have combined to complete a project. This helps with diversity. Sometimes another member of your team may have an idea for a project that is more apt or sometimes something that you may never have thought of at all.
As I said before, sometimes I prefer to go lone wolf on a project, but sometimes a wolf needs the help of his pack.
These are just a few of the things I have learnt along the way. Though I’m well aware that it sounds cliche, I would not have learnt these lessons if it wasn’t for making these mistakes whilst going along. So if it feels like you just can’t please your client, or if you’re methods are becoming a bit dated take this advice on board and move forward and learn from the experience.
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