How to Manage Client Relationships with Tom Locke — Squarespace Circle: Build your web design business

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Monday, July 23, 2018

How to Manage Client Relationships with Tom Locke

Tom Locke is the founder of UK Squarespace design studio Noughts & Ones and has been building Squarespace websites for over five years. In this Q&A, Tom covers his best practices for holistic client management, from pitching and onboarding to building and handoff.


Q: Any tips for getting off the ground and attracting clients?

A: Your strongest asset is, by far, your portfolio. Make sure you’re showcasing your best work and presenting it in a way that’s clear and enticing. Your next best tool is social media. There’s loads of chat online about Squarespace and there are many Facebook groups you can get involved with. Share your work, help out with people’s questions and you’ll soon find that you’re building your credibility within those communities. Other great ways to build your portfolio and gain work experience when first starting out are services like People Per Hour and Upwork. Some of our earliest clients came from those sites!

Q: Do you find more enjoyment working with a long term client or a new client? Can you talk about the pros and cons of each relationship?

A: This a very interesting question! I genuinely don’t feel like I prefer one over the other. I treat all clients exactly the same. It’s exciting to get a new client, to learn about them and their business, and to start building that relationship. That said, there’s definitely the chance for future development with a long term client. As a designer, you can really become a part of their story.


Q: What is the best way to steer a client in the Squarespace direction? To assure them that they are still receiving a custom/personal product even though Squarespace is the foundation platform for their website?

A: Our focus is really on custom Squarespace work, so for us the selling point is that we can build a great custom website on a super intuitive CMS. There’s a huge amount of value in being able to offer more than just a web design service: You can offer them a custom website and the basic knowledge so they can manage content updates themselves in the future.


Q: I’d love to know a bit more about your onboarding process. Related, how do you work through content? Most of my clients come to me and say “I’m a real estate agent and I want a website.” But they haven’t thought through what they want each page to say or display. I’ve gone back and forth in my process of walking clients through content prep and build and I’d love to hear another perspective.

A: This is an ongoing challenge! From a client’s perspective, I can totally appreciate that it’s hard to have all of the content ready without an idea of how the website is structured. However, we need to at least have a general idea of content in order to build out a structure and layout I always push for a client to provide all content at the beginning of the process if it’s available.

At the very least, I will work with the main page titles (that I make sure I have from the initial brief) and use Squarespace’s starter layouts (plus stock imagery) to populate the initial site architecture with placeholder content. I also make sure that the client has a number of reference sites that are built on the client’s selected template. This way, they can refer back to get an idea of content style/structure.


Q: One of the things I struggle with is clients not understanding that I have certain processes and guidelines in place so that I can do the best job possible for them. I provide them with a friendly onboarding document that has helped quite a bit, but it’s still an issue, which results in timeline slip and scope creep. I’m wondering if you have tips/ideas for managing some of those challenging communications with clients so that when those things happen, the relationship remains positive and productive.

A: I’ve learned to not only get the initial brief crystal clear, but to be flexible in how you work with clients. It’s important to allow for potential timing issues in your estimates and proposals. I never provide a firm finish date, but I do provide a completion window (e.g. “Project to be completed within 4-6 weeks from the start date”). Our proposals are very in-depth and essentially spell out exactly what a project will include. Anything outside of that is chargeable as a separate job. Get that initial brief and your proposals nailed down, and you’re covered!


Q: I’d like to know more about Tom’s onboarding process and also credibility issues that arise as a solopreneur since potential clients may have more confidence in an agency as opposed to someone in business for him/herself.

A: For me, the biggest aspect of Noughts & Ones’ approach (and a major selling point) is the personal experience Squarespace allows us to offer our clients. This appeals more to the type of client we want to work with, and less to the clients who just want an agency to do what they say. We are built around the ethos that we work with our clients, not for them.

This is something I instill from the outset, 100%. We have a very in-depth briefing/proposal process to ensure that the credibility of the “Noughts & Ones experience” is front and centre. If a potential client wants an impersonal agency experience, they aren’t going to get that here! Don’t forget that it’s a two-way street. It’s just as important to find clients that you want to work with as it is that you suit their requirements/approach.


Above: Tom Locke of  Noughts & Ones

Above: Tom Locke of Noughts & Ones

Q: Do you find that your clients have high expectations about ranking well in google? How do you accommodate for this. Do you explain that they have to publish regular content, or do you offer them a separate SEO package?

A: SEO is always going to be an element that needs addressing. Our projects include optimizing Squarespace’s backend settings and other additional content techniques to ensure that the website is making the most of Squarespace’s built-in SEO functionality. We also offer “Launch SEO” which includes listings, sitemap submissions, etc. We then explain that getting on page one isn’t something that can happen overnight. Publishing regular content and maintaining an “active” website is critical for ongoing SEO. Sometimes we do offer a separate content package, or refer a client to our more specific digital marketing partners if they need it.


Q: Do you have any suggested tools? Something like Trello, Slack, etc. for communicating with A. one time clients, B. recurring clients.

A: Design work is done in either Sketch or Adobe XD. For all projects we use Google Drive to set up a shared project folder to be used both during the initial build and for ongoing support/updates. Generally speaking, one-time clients will communicate via email. We use Slack for bigger projects (that may involve third parties) and our Agency Partnerships (we provide development support to quite a few other agencies). All project tasks as managed in Asana and we also use Toggl for time tracking to help make sure we’re on track!

Q: How do you communicate with clients during the production phase or after the website is released? Only by email/skype or have you ever tried similar tools to receive visual feedback from your clients?

A: I really try to adapt and make myself available to how my clients like to communicate, so it’s somewhat up to them! Generally, ongoing updates and tweaks during the main design phase are addressed by email or Slack; updating documents/spreadsheets listing each page and the edits; or running through the site page-by-page over the phone or on Skype. When we’re working on custom web design projects, we generally use Adobe XD as it has great prototype publishing with comments.


Q: How have you learned to deal with prospective clients who expect a lower price tag because you’re using Squarespace, i.e. they “think” they can create something just as lovely on their own, and therefore expect to pay less? What range do you typically charge?

A: This is always a challenge when working with a DIY platform like Squarespace. There will always be clients who are reluctant to part with cash and think they can do just as good a job as you. My experience (and approach at Noughts & Ones) is to address this in two ways:

  1. You’re saving them TIME because you know Squarespace inside and out, and can build an awesome site before they’ve even worked out how to add an image block.

  2. You can ENHANCE their site with custom CSS and code injections to help make their site even more awesome.

I think my biggest piece of advice here would be to never cheapen your skills and value. As soon as you start doing that, things can get very complicated and you’ll end up doing amazing work for a fraction of the cost. Typical charges are hard to gauge as all of our projects are currently individually priced based on an in-depth briefing process.


Q: What have you learned from your pricing over the years? Do you offer packages, include hosting or updates to site content? What do you wish you would have implemented with your pricing from the beginning?

A: Great questions! I’d say the two biggest things I’ve learned are:

  1. Don’t undervalue your time and expertise, and

  2. Be prepared to adapt all aspects of how you work, including pricing.

  3. Don’t forget to cover your admin time.

We offer bespoke project pricing that can include ongoing site and content maintenance, if required. All projects also include basic training so we hand over a website that our clients can manage basic content updates themselves.

Q: I’ve raised my prices significantly since starting out 2 years ago and currently have a model of one base price for up to five pages and then I charge per page thereafter. I also have add-on pricing for commerce, bilingual setup, etc. I believe in price transparency and publish my rates on my website and that’s been working great so far. That said, I am still going back and forth between finding the sweet spot for pricing.

A: We take a slightly different approach, simply because the work we produce is heavily customised and can vary massively from project to project. For us, pricing and budget is all part of the briefing process. We too, believe in transparent pricing and I always encourage openness both from ourselves and prospective clients from day one.. Fundamentally, it is important to find an approach that you’re comfortable selling. I would say that if your current model is working well and effectively covers the cost of your time, then stick with it!


Q: Clients ask what a project will cost, and I give them a range. Most of the time, I’m covered, but there have been a couple of times when I’ve gone above my top number. I completely understand why clients don’t want an open-ended quote, so how do I structure the money conversation and give myself room for contingencies?

A: This is definitely something that has happened to me over the years! So many clients want to know “how much will a website cost” when they first contact you. The simple fact is that until you know exactly what the project includes, you can’t price it effectively. It is very important to have an in-depth briefing process and that your clients provide all of the information you need in order to fully understand the requirements of the project. If you advertise package prices, or provide a price range during initial enquiry, make sure you mention that it’s just a range. The final price is subject to a completed briefing phase.


Q: What do you do when clients want to update the site you created, so you train them, and then they mess up the design they just spent a lot of money to have made?

A: All of our projects include basic Squarespace training. This way, the client is confident in how the platform works and can’t mess it up too much. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen! But once we’ve handed over a completed project, everything is wrapped up. We do offer ongoing support to help mitigate the potential for the site getting messed up, and assist with any follow-up questions. I make sure that the “door is always open,” so if a client is struggling, they’ll ask us before they get in too much of a pickle.
Pro tip: If a client wants to make any wild changes to a particular page, just duplicate it and work on it under “Not Linked” before publishing. This preserves the live site.


Q: I have a client who was very difficult to work with and the project took 1 year to complete. Once it was all said and done I cannot link to it on my portfolio page because he has gone in and changed it up to something that I do not want to endorse…it’s no longer my vision or design. Would love to hear your thoughts on this.

A: I address the issue raised here by 1) adding screen grabs of a project to my portfolio at time of completion to showcase the work, and 2) keeping tabs on past client websites. If they have been changing things and the site looks like crap, I’ll remove “Site by Noughts & Ones” from the footer. This shouldn’t happen too often if you deliver a site that they are happy with, but some clients like to tinker.


Q: How do you handle clients who cannot easily grasp the most basic concepts of Squarespace, even after one on one training?

A: Generally speaking, clients that aren’t interested in managing their site, or aren’t capable, will be happy to pay for you to make future updates. In its most basic form, that’s how it’s got to work. If a client isn’t interested or enthused by the fact that they will end up with a great website that they can manage, then they need to be prepared for a more “traditional” web designer type of relationship.

Above: The Noughts & Ones logo

Above: The Noughts & Ones logo

Q: How do you train up your clients before final handover? Teaching them to update the site, understand the navigation structure you’ve created in the back-end and learning to use the Block system.

A: That’s basically what we cover! So, before handing over I make sure that our clients understand:

  1. How Squarespace works: different blocks/settings, pages, etc.

  2. The different settings and backend areas

  3. How the navigation and pages are set up

  4. What Noughts & Ones has done and how we have structured the site

  5. Blogging and ongoing SEO

  6. Anything specific to their site’s functionality


Q: Do you use or recommend any software tools for time recording, invoicing and accounts/tax?

A: Toggl is great for time-tracking. Invoicing and accounts are all done using Quickbooks which is really quick/easy.

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Written by Tony Syros

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