An Event Apart: Put Your Worst Foot Forward

by April 6, 2010

In his opening presentation at An Event Apart in Seattle, Jeffrey Zeldman talked about how to learn from Putting Your Worst Foot Forward by sharing client management stories from the Web design consulting business.

  • Mistake: ignore your instinct. You have instincts about people initially. Despite what you’d like a relationship to be, your inner voice is usually right. Trust your gut.
  • Chronically indecisive people always second-guess things. Many clients simply don’t understand what you do. In both these circumstances, it’s hard to succeed.
  • Mistake: dive right in. It’s a mistake to jump in before what you know what’s involved. Make sure you appropriately scope and review what is involved in projects before you get caught up in them.
  • When interviewing for a job or taking on a new client, make sure there is a single person you can funnel everything through.
  • Defining roles and responsibilities is how you avoid the issue of having more than one person to please.
  • Mistake: panic. Plan for change. Be ready for when things don’t work.
  • Mistake: avoid the client. You need to tell it like it is and deliver even bad news when it matters.
  • When you are in client services, it is your fault. You have to accept this and make sure you aren’t giving people reasons to give you fault.
  • Mistake: no way out. You need to have a plan to resolve your differences. Any agency or freelance contract needs clauses to help people get out of jobs with integrity. Happy Cog contracts have a series of milestones that allow both sides to walk away from a project. Ideally, the client believes it is their decision.
  • Another way to fire your client is to raise your rates. This doesn’t always work but in many cases, you can leave jobs without burning bridges.
  • The little decisions you make over time that are painful, really shape the direction and culture of what you do.
  • Know before you go: Get the information you need before you start, don’t assume you are speaking the same language as a client.
  • Keep expectations on track and in synch: keep people up to date and continually communicate about both the good and bad parts of projects.
  • Constantly course correct: things will change. You need to be ready to adjust.
  • Tell the truth: if you have made a mistake, be up front about it. But phrase it from the client’s point of view not from yours.
  • Report bad news before the client/boss notices it. Come forward with plan to adjust and correct it.
  • Have a recovery plan. If someone is unhappy, have strategically important, prioritized work ready to fix things.
  • Apologize but never in a way that denigrates yourself or your team.
  • Have an exit strategy: know how to quit and when it is time.