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5 questions for getting a website brief out of a non-technical client

Often times business owners know that they need a website but as a developer or designer trying to build a website the simple request “build me a website” is not very helpful. This article is my convention of 5 quick questions I ask any non-technical client to get a brief out of them.

1. Asking them why they think they need a website.

I find that going from explaining a concept to someone and speaking down to them is a sliding very slippery slope me, so the quickest way I’ve found with any conversation that requires me to explain something to anyone is to ask them their understanding of that thing first.

With non-technical clients I’ve found this to be the most important question since it contextualizes their expectations so you can better set them.

2. Explain to them the marketing potential and landscape.

After gauging their level of knowledge the next logical thing is to succinctly bridge their gaps in knowledge. Moreover what I find to be helpful in setting expectations is explaining search engines, SEO, SEM, social media marketing and other ways to drive leads.

For example I helped a seamstress client focus all of their efforts on driving leads through social media which helped turn their eventual website from something that wouldn’t get any traffic to an import social media auto posting and design repository tool that also allowed users to order clothes directly online if they wanted to.

3. Help them understand what a website is not.

If I had a JavaScript framework for every time I had a client expect a website to immediately drive massive sales shortly after being built I would give the NPM registry a run for their money. Websites without any marketing rot, any idea, product or service no-matter how great it is, means nothing if people don't find out about it. A website or store does not market itself and helping clients understand this has saved me so so so many head-aches.

4. Workshop ideas of features etc.

After laying the ground work now it’s time to dive deep into the client’s needs (aided with their new knowledge and understanding of what a website is). You can ask questions like:

  1. What do you want people to do when landing on your website?
  2. How will this play into your marketing (i.e. social media) efforts?
  3. (User stories) Lets say 3 people visit your website with three separate goals what would their goals be and results be (i.e. buying wood, contacting a supplier etc.)?
  4. Do you intend on editing it themselves (this is a great opportunity to sell retainer services, I personally stay away from this)?
  5. Extras like emails, hosting, costs etc.

5. Summarize your brief to them.

The last thing I recommend doing (and getting in writing afterwards) is summarizing the prospective site (using their words and jargon as much as possible) and agreeing upon all the details, expectations and payment terms. I’d also highly recommend covering post launch support including stuff like support hours, turn around times, where they can get immediate tech support (i.e. their hosting company) etc.

This is by no means a perfect process and even after applying this I sometimes get into less than ideal situations. That being said, this checklist has helped me avoid the biggest pain points of any contract work; post launch support headaches, clients being disappointed in the lack of uptick and getting paid.