"Octane is a web design, development and internet marketing consultancy started in June 1999."
My name's Wayne Smallman and I sell ideas that change the way companies do business, usually in the form of novel web applications.
I'm also a writer for business publications (both web and print), as well as a consultant, adviser and trusted ally to my clients.
Adults don’t just pop into existence, fully educated and well-heeled. And the same applies to businesses — things need to be learned along the way. However, the expectations of our clients can be that the knowledge we apply to their projects is established, tried and fully tested. But it’s sometimes borrowed, or even totally new.
Sometimes, as designers and web developers, we’re learning on our client’s time. But that’s not a bad thing, nor is it unusual or wrong — we can’t know everything there is to know in our chosen field.
Problem is, the expectations of our clients are such that 1. they sometimes fear the discovery process, as if we should already know these things, and 2. fail to see that the discovery process aspect of a project is not just essential but billable, too.
But let’s just look at things through the eyes of the client for a second, shall we? First of all, setting aside issues of copyright, IPR’s (Intellectual Property Rights) contracts and such, most clients would feel that whatever we learn on their time and their money should only be used on their projects and nowhere else.
After all, they can’t be expected to be the unofficial R&D lab’ for our other clients, some of which possibly being their competitors.
As much as anything else, the client wants and perhaps needs to trust our judgement. And if they then see that we’re researching or experimenting with new ideas, concepts and methods, they may interpret those activities very differently to how you might imagine. You could be sending out mixed signals.
But the thing is — and I know this is going to sound cliché and trite — we’re students of life and we’re also apprentices of our chosen professions, too.
I for one don’t always invoice for time spent researching a new way of doing something, if I feel there are likely to be real, material benefits for my other clients. That would be unethical.
So it’s as well be up-front and honest about your processes and explain the originality of what you’re doing. I’d even go as far as recommending you appraise the client as to which 3rd parties you choose to involve, should that be the case.
There have been many occasions when I’ve taken on a project whose constituent parts exist only as outlines in my mind, right up until the point where I begin to do the preparatory planning work, whereupon I’m able to demonstrate my understanding of their needs, which the client and myself can then build upon.
This might sound weird to some people, but if it’s a programming or a creative design issue, I’m rarely vexed, it’s more a question of time and the amount thereof — few of my clients have posed questions that I’m unable to resolve.
But then the client’s expectations can be quite different, too. Sometimes their opinion of what we’re doing for them is that our job is easy — it’s just computer stuff!
We might make this computer stuff look easy simply because we’re sat down much of the time, but the mental manual labour and the heavy lifting is very much underway in our heads. After all, don’t pilots stay seated why flying an aircraft? And it’s not everyone who can fly.
It’s during these times that the perception of our success can be skewed somewhat. So some education is in order, and here’s your chance to bring your clients up to speed with what your job entails by inviting them to the office — Let them sit with you and learn first hand the time it takes to turn Widget A from blue to red.
My feeling is that most of the perceived “us & them” client versus supplier arguments that emerge are almost entirely borne out of not knowing or understanding what we’re doing.
Talk to your clients and ask them what they think, and what they feel. Allay their fears with a little light education and you too could prevent Project X taking on a life of its very own, devouring your time, consuming all of the good-will currency you’ve banked with your clients in the process.
This article was first published on Octane’s sister blog, Blah, Blah! Technology, in an article entitled: “The value of business knowledge“