5 Communication Challenges Web Developers Face With Clients (and How to Fix Them)

Illustration of characters communicating

How easy would your days be if you could spend hour after hour parked in front of your computer—with your earbuds in—just building websites? Like many web developers, those exact visions likely filled your mind when you decided to pursue a career in this field.

But, then reality was all too quick to bite: That’s really not all you have to do as a web developer.

Sure, actually building the websites is a key part of your role. However, in order to do that effectively and successfully, you need to spend a good chunk of your time communicating and going back and forth with your various clients.

Whether you work as a freelancer or as part of a web development agency, you know that having effective conversations with the people who hire you isn’t always easy.

In fact, getting the information you need can often feel fruitless and exhausting. You and your clients are struggling to get on the same page, which slows down your projects, leads to more and more change requests, and ultimately causes more stress and strain for everybody involved.

Are you tired yet? Fortunately, there are a few proactive strategies you can use to overcome common challenges and better communicate with your web development clients—meaning you can spend more time doing the thing you actually love: building websites.

Challenge #1: Not Speaking the Same Language

Wireframe. 404. Alt attribute. CMS. Dynamic content. Responsive design. UX. UI.

All of those mean something to you. But, to your clients? Well, you might as well be speaking Greek.

We know that it can be tough to take a step back and remind yourself that the people you’re working with aren’t nearly as immersed in web development as you are.

The odds of them actually understanding the acronyms, industry jargon, and “geek speak” are slim to none. So, if you pack your sentences full of those complex phrases, you’ll only end up with a client who’s cross-eyed and flustered.

How to Fix it:

Of course, you don’t want to be condescending and speak to your clients like they’re children. However, the simpler and more straightforward you can make your explanations, the better off you’ll all be.

Having misunderstandings with clients? Drop the jargon and explain things in human words.

Need some practice? Try explaining a complex development concept or process to a friend who isn’t at all familiar with the industry. He or she will be much more willing to point out when you’re getting too far in the weeds (clients are often embarrassed to admit not understanding something!).

Utilizing examples is another helpful thing you can do to increase understanding. Have your client play around with a website that utilizes responsive design, for example, and then take a look at one that doesn’t.

Sometimes it’s much better to show, rather than just tell. Allowing your client to actually see that concept in action—rather than simply hearing about it—is a surefire way to ensure that he or she understands what you’re talking about.

Challenge #2: Vague and Indirect Requests

How many times have you started a web development project feeling totally directionless? Your client mentioned a few vague and general things they’d like to achieve. But, beyond that, you feel completely lost.

It’s understandable—clients often aren’t specific, because they feel like they lack the expertise. They assume that you’re the expert, and they’re hesitant to tell you the way that things should be done.

But, while you might be an ace web developer, that doesn’t mean you’re a mind reader. And, in order to put together a website that the client will ultimately be happy with, you’re going to need to pull a few more specifics out of them.

How to Fix it:

First things first, if possible, it’s best if you can meet in person or over the phone. Email is convenient. But, things can also be easily misconstrued or lost in the shuffle. Having an actual conversation will help you avoid any miscommunications and gain clarity on what specifically the client is looking for.

While it’s always helpful for you to use examples to better illustrate things to clients, don’t shy away from asking them to do the same thing. Are there certain websites they like? What specific functions do they admire about them? Asking a client to provide a few samples will help you identify common themes and things you think they’re looking for—without them having to explicitly state it.

Finally, consider coming up with a standard questionnaire that you have new clients complete. Even if it just covers some basic, nuts and bolts information and goals for their website, you’ll always know that you at least have something to get started with.

Challenge #3: Contradictory Instructions

First, your client wanted a simple hamburger button in the corner of their website. Then, once they saw that, they decided they wanted a menu with dropdowns at the top of the page. But, after they took a look at that option, they thought maybe the hamburger button was the way to go after all.

Sound familiar? There’s a ton of examples of how client request can get even crazier.

But remember – your clients aren’t experts in web development. So, it’s tough for them to envision how something will look or function until they physically see it implemented.

Your clients arent experts in web development – you are.

It can be frustrating for you—there’s no doubt about it. But, a little sympathy and understanding will take you a long way.

How to Fix it:

We all wish there was a black and white, surefire way to stave off that endless barrage of back and forth requests. However, unfortunately, they’re something you need to be prepared to deal with as web developer—at least to some degree.

One of the best things you can do to preserve your sanity is to have a designated revision period. While you should definitely plan to provide frequent updates to your clients (more on that a little later!), that doesn’t mean you need to show them each new piece as it’s completed. That makes it difficult for them to grasp the entire picture and how everything fits together, and could ultimately result in more little tweaks and changes.

When it comes time for them to take a look, take the time to walk them through everything you’ve completed and why you did it that way, so that they can get a better understanding of how the site functions. That added effort alone can help to proactively address any perceived need for changes.

Challenge #4: Lack of Communication

It’s easy to place all of the blame on your clients when it comes to communication challenges. But, more likely than not, there’s one big thing you’re guilty of: failing to communicate frequently.

You’re eager to roll up your sleeves, keep your eyes glued to that computer screen, and invest all of your time into building that website. That’s a great thing! However, take a minute to think about how your client could feel about that head-down approach. Your client is left wondering if any progress is being made—with nothing but the taunting noise of crickets in his or her inbox.

Lack of communication and failure to provide frequent updates can make your client uneasy. So, you need to be prepared to keep in touch.

How to Fix it:

Pick one day each week—a Friday, for example—when you’ll send an email update to your client. You don’t need to author this in painstaking detail and physically show them the progress you’ve made. But, you should touch base with a brief update of the things you completed that week and what’s on the schedule for the next one.

Keeping your client in the loop on what you’re working on will help them feel more confident in your efforts and the fact that things are actually getting done.

Another thing you should be sure to do? Be available to answer questions as they come up. The web development process can be overwhelming for your clients, and it’s reassuring to know that they have an expert in their corner who’s willing to provide answers and explanations when they need them.

Challenge #5: Scope Creep

The dreaded scope creep. This little addition leads to one more extra thing. That one, tiny change snowballs into nine minor changes. Before you know it, the amount of work and time you’re investing in this project extends far beyond what you had originally assumed.

It happens to the best of us. There are so many details involved in developing a website and so many different things are talked about, it’s easy for the project to spiral out of control before you even realize what’s happening.

But, unless you’re keen to invest far more time and energy than you had originally budgeted for, this is something you’ll need to nip in the bud.

How to Fix it:

Take this as your warning: The best thing you can do for yourself and your client is to get things in writing right off the bat. After your initial meeting, put together a contract and a description of the scope of work—including when the revision period is and how many changes you’ll make at that included price.

Putting things down on paper can feel overly formal and restrictive, particularly if you haven’t done so before.

However, making that added effort will confirm that you and your client are on the same page about the investment before you ever so much as click your mouse—saving you plenty of headaches further down the line.

Over to You

Communication challenges can crop up far too easily when you’re working with web development clients. They’re frustrating—but, there’s more you can do than to just grit your teeth and bear them.

In most cases, there are proactive strategies you can implement to deal with those common issues head on, rather than scrambling to fix them when things fall apart.
Give these a try, and you’re sure to have an easier time communicating with your clients. That way, you can build better relationships with the people you work with—all while spending more time on the work you actually love!

These are all things you can do to have a better relationship with your clients. To learn how to deal with terrible clients, however, check out our infographic explaining awful clients with pirates.

Did you know Toggl was originally built as a time tracking tool for software teams? Take a look here to see how time tracking can help your agency.

April 11, 2017