How Web Designers Can Have Better Initial Meetings With Prospective Clients

When Newman and I started this website, we thought we were getting into the topic of web usability and usability testing. Our goal? To create a better user experience on the websites we build. As we’ve gotten into the topic of web usability, we’ve come to a deeper understanding of how websites behave with respect to business goals.

A website isn’t a one-size fits all solution. It’s not the Honda you bought to toodle around town with. It’s the NASCAR franchise you own where you can get better and win money.

What we’re drawn to again and again is the idea that a website solves a problem.

The problems websites solve are not technological in nature. They are answers, created strategically, that meet business goals. You don’t “need to send an email out” or “need to change the image on the front page because it’s getting to be Christmas”. You need to increase revenue. The only reason those other things are done is because it’s believed that doing them will achieve the fundamental business goal: more revenue!


What’s needed, more than ad hoc user testing, is a system that sets SMART goals, defines the process for achieving those goals, assigns roles and duties to all the participants and sets a time limit for success.

If you’ve spent any time at a mid-size or large business, they are masters of process. Franchised businesses are masters at it.  They’ve distilled a majority of their jobs into routinized tasks and they have ways of measuring their success. If you’ve ever seen the timer at most drive-thru windows, you know what I’m talking about.

However, most small business owners are all over the place when it comes to process.

If you’re talking to a guy who already has a website but wants to make it better – you can bet that he’s never implemented a process for growing his website. Very few people have.

Think about the mind of a small business owner. Something happened in their life, most likely while they were working, that made them say, “Screw this, I can do it better!”

Something motivated them to put themselves out there. And you can bet that they’re protective of what they’ve built. For one thing, small business owners tend to take an extreme amount of ownership over their company. This is especially true if the small business is a 1-man operation. It’s not business, it’s personal.

The business owner equates their business with their own sense of self-worth. In their mind, business success is personal success.  And, all business failure is personal failure.

What we’ve discovered as we’ve gotten into web usability is that more than anything, what’s important is assessing, changing and measuring the effects of the change. User testing is a way to assess a website. But for it to be effective, it needs to happen inside of a system.

What business owners visualize when you mention 'System'?

It’s here that we run into issues.

The word “system” scares many people, especially if it’s not one they came up with themselves. It goes against the rebel spirit of the small business owner. It means giving up a measure of control and to a lot of small business owners, implementing a system is painful to the ego. It’s as if doing it according to somebody else’s plan is admitting that you can’t do it yourself.

That’s why on the TV show Kitchen Nightmares, Gordon Ramsay nearly always encounters resistance to his changes. Think about that for a minute: Here’s a TV show that’s specifically built around turning under-performing restaurants into successful restaurants. There are multiple seasons where every episode abides by the same formula. There’s no secret about what’s going to happen in these restaurants when Gordan shows up and STILL the owners can’t help but act tortured about changing the first thing about their restaurant. It’s because people would rather die than be seen as a failure. Business failure is personal failure. And the fear of failure makes even the best of us make bad decisions.

So then, implementing a system means adopting changes and that’s just not an easy pill for most business owners to swallow.

When I’m taking an initial meeting with a prospective client, it’s just about certain they want to talk about changes to their website. Turning that conversation on its head and bringing up difficult words like “system”, with its low perceived value proposition, is an easy way to make them second-guess their desire to hire me.

How I handle the meeting is crucial. It sets the tone and structure of the relationship.  Is this a one-time thing or are we going on a mission?

What I want to do in this initial meeting is to offer a course of action for both their concrete and systematic needs. Yes, if a prospective client has immediate concerns, I want to address those.  After all, keeping clients happy is one of my business goals. But more importantly we want to develop and implement a system that will generate more revenue for them over time.

In the same way that websites have critical paths, so do meetings. When I go into an initial meeting, I want to conduct it in such a way that it’s focused and has a high mutual value proposition. That’s a fancy way of saying that we both walk away feeling like we got something out of it.

One Last Thing

In the course of the initial meeting you may find yourself in a wide-ranging conversation. But there’s one very important thing to keep in mind the whole time: ultimately, they only care about what they’re getting out of it.  They’re not in it purely for a sweet website.  They’re in it because they want you to:

Show me the money.

I can’t hear you.


That’s better.

On Friday we’ll go through our version of an ideal successful initial meeting with a prospective small business client. It’s a great 10-step critical path that will lead to quicker, more mutually satisfying meetings.

4 comments on “How Web Designers Can Have Better Initial Meetings With Prospective Clients

  1. Pingback: 10-Step Critical Path for a Successful Initial Meeting « Better User Experience

  2. Pingback: How to Create Better Monthly Reports For Your Clients « Better User Experience

  3. Pingback: A/B Testing Websites Fail to “Show Me the Money” | A Better User Experience

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