How To Prepare Clients For Success

My first job in content strategy was at an agency. Starting there, I’ve worked with clients at every stage of work. I’ve worked on site launches and redesigns, content creation and curation, through audits and inventories and analyses and rewrites and revisions and re-launches. I love the variety, and I love the problem solving. And then, I’m ready to move on to the next project.

But is the client ready for me to leave?

Unprepared Clients Are Overwhelmed

Edward Munch's The Scream - is this how our clients feel?Last week I presented a large client with a complete inventory of their current site. I mapped their content to brand new design templates. It included strong recommendations on which of their 10,000 pages to cut and pages to merge. Unsurprisingly they had some questions.

We spent three hours¬†discussing examples, and we worked through many tough challenges. We’d had a productive day, but my clients looked even more overwhelmed.

I reassured them that I would be just a phone call away on Monday. But come Monday they had new projects to focus on.¬†And of course, their executives had only paid my team for one more week, so that “just a phone call away” would only go so far.

In this particular project, I came onboard late in the game, and had no say over the schedule. But it did make me stop and think: what is our responsibility? How can we better prepare clients for success?

Prepare Clients for Success

Few clients will voluntarily pay for weeks of handholding and troubleshooting, and I can’t afford to stick around for free. Yet large projects often find themselves at a critical juncture. The plan is in hand, but the client has no idea how to implement it, even if it comes with concrete recommendations and step by step instructions.

Here are a few things I’ve put in place to prepare clients for success during the transition.

Schedule the Hours Necessary to Complete Everything

In the initial scope or project plan, include time for the consultants or agency to do all of the work – including copywriting and launching the site. Although the client will likely decide to do the work in-house, including it in the scope gives them a more realistic idea of just how many people-hours will be involved, which helps them to plan ahead with their own team.

Set Expectations Early On

Remind clients that they can extend their contract, and make it easy for them to do so. If their own internal process makes it difficult to get additional budget approved, provide them with an initial budget that includes “up to [x] contract extensions of [x] hours.” Sometimes getting a higher budget approved early on is actually easier than getting additional funds late in the game.

Prioritize Everything – In Detail

Over the next week, while my clients are working through their 10,000 content line-items, I’ll be using my time in-between troubleshooting calls to help them identify 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and even up to 10th level priorities. It’s not realistic to expect that they will be able to update 10,000 pages before their launch – it’s not even realistic to expect that they will be able to update 2,000. We need a maximum of 50 pages that are must-edits by launch, and then another 50 within the three weeks after launch, and so on. Just saying “pre- or post-launch” isn’t enough; with too much to do with the vague deadline of “post-launch,” none of it will get done.

Remember MAYA (Most Advanced, Yet Acceptable)

I often think of MAYA as relating only to designers, but it’s very true for content. I’ve made recommendations for huge sections of the client’s site which will dramatically alter (and improve) the user experience. The current experience, in some cases, is not only sub-optimal, but actually poor. Yet the changes that need to be made will take time, and that means they are not (yet) acceptable. Even as I sell my clients on the value of the updates, I need to support them in postponing large-scale changes in favor of low-hanging fruit.

Don’t Get Tied to the Plan

I’m very guilty of this. After weeks of staring at Google docs and Excel sheets, trying to make sure I’ve accounted for every user journey and each of the client’s objectives, I am (perhaps understandably) proud of my finished project. I’ve finally completed my latest magnum opus, and I’m excited to present it to the client. It’s hard – yet vital – to remember that the journey is just beginning for my client, and since my precious deliverables are living documents, they are going to begin to change immediately, probably starting with “but no, we changed our minds” as I’m first presenting it.

I can’t expand budgets, force more hours into the week, or magically transfer my vision of the future site into the waiting-to-be-created pages. But I can do my best to prepare clients for success. And if I can’t ensure my clients will be completely confident when I leave, at least I can ensure they’ll have a comfortable plan to fall back on.

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