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How do you get content out of your clients?
Dealing with clients
daxund




msg:3575546
 9:17 am on Feb 15, 2008 (gmt 0)

This is just a request for advice from someone new to this whole business...

I'm just starting to sell web design services. Now I've got reasonable photoshop, learned myself HTML, CSS, a bit of PHP & javascript, a tiny smidgeon of apache, the basic technicals. The main problem I'm having here is with clients. Specifically, getting any content out of them. Any content at all.

I've had some really good clients who've had a good idea of what their site should be for and what they want in it, and have supplied me at the outset with the relevant text, photos and graphics, and in those cases I've been able to get a site together in a pretty short amount of time which they were delighted with.

In most cases, though, I just can't seem to get anything out of them. We'll agree a structure for the site, they promise to send content, and then - nothing. Eventually they might send a random collection of word documents that bear no apparent relation to the site structure or content that we'd agreed on. Tiny jobs end up taking months.

Maybe I'm not communicating well, and the clients don't understand what they need to come up with? I appreciate that to someone non-technical the whole thing can be rather confusing and frightening; I do make every effort to steer clear of any technical jargon and make things as easy as possible for the client, but most of them seem to expect a site to get built without providing any input at all - except to tell me that they want it to look funky. Trying to get anything more substantial out of them feels like dragging a donkey up a mountain.

Part of the problem I suppose is that as I'm just starting out, it's rather difficult to attract serious clients without having a substantial portfolio behind me. But it seems impossible to build a decent portfolio when I can't get anything out of the clients I've got.

Is this just me, or has anyone else had this problem? If so, how best to work around it? Any suggestions or advice would be enormously appreciated.

 

mack




msg:3575951
 4:56 pm on Feb 15, 2008 (gmt 0)

Well what I would do is try and get a specification for the content the company wants, then have them send over important notes that must fit in with the content. Then either research and write the content or hire a freelancer to do this for you.

At the end of the day you can only work with what you have. Just make sure they are aware that you would rather the content came from the company, but you can arrange the content on their behalf.

This should also be reflected in the price.

Mack.

prfb




msg:3575982
 5:21 pm on Feb 15, 2008 (gmt 0)

My #1 rule is to be really clear about what each of you is responsible for and when -- do this up front and on an ongoing basis.

I'm a big fan of detailed specs, and if you see things that are missing you can tell them to get their ducks in a row FIRST before you start start burning your time and their dollars.

When I first started out a contractor looked at my half-*ssed plans and told me to come back when I had a proper spec. I really appreciated that.

Once you have clear requirements, you could design your contract so there are consequences if they don't follow through. As much as possible be sure you get paid along the way as you complete things, independent from when they give you content. That way if they promise to give you stuff toward the end but keep procrastinating you could "fire" them and at least walk away with some payment for your work. (And they keep the technical work.)

BTW, as a client myself, something I really like is using a Content Management System (CMS). This means that even though I don't program at all, I have a site where I can easily add and change content.

My contractors developed the site with a mix of some content I'd pre-written and "dummy" content. Then it was up to me to do the rest.

I definitely don't hire developers for their copywriting capabilities. =)

Three popular CMS options are: Drupal (super-flexible but complex), Joomla (easier out of the box but less powerful), and WordPress (really easy but limited).

Samizdata




msg:3576113
 7:49 pm on Feb 15, 2008 (gmt 0)

Maybe I'm not communicating well, and the clients don't understand what they need to come up with?

My experience suggests the latter, though working on the former should help.

Websites largely consist of words and images, both of which are usually the client's responsibility. You need to make that clear, then possibly (if you have the skills) offer to provide them for an additional fee.

Be careful when you ask them for images to explain that they can't just use their favourite image search engine to grab anything they find - they have to pay for stock photos or hire a photographer. Likewise, if they want you to come up with suitable text they need to understand that it is a different discipline to writing code, and if they can't write the copy themselves then they have to pay for it to be done professionally.

A client with an established bricks-and-mortar business will have plenty of usable material, but new web-based ventures are often another matter, and some clients will want you to handle everything from logo design to copywriting - not necessarily because they think it's part of your job, but because they simply haven't thought it through.

Like you, I have come across plenty of those.

Welcome to WebmasterWorld.

piatkow




msg:3577782
 10:49 am on Feb 18, 2008 (gmt 0)

This is a problem in publishing generally. Some people really don't understand the concept of providing copy, either for print or web.

Its worse when you don't work alone as what copy that does arrive invariably goes to the wrong person.

faith580




msg:3577960
 4:01 pm on Feb 18, 2008 (gmt 0)

i let my clients know up front i am not a content writer. i tell them they can hire a freelancer but i also give them deadlines. i dont like it when a client tells me they need a site up quick, fast and in a hurry when they take 3 weeks to come up with 2 paragraphs for their about page. when i have meetings with them i set date deadlines. 'ok...2 weeks from now i need all your content.' and if they dont do that i let them know that THEY are holding the process up.

Yes, i am the web designer thats doing the site but they have to know.... they have to help me help them.

daxund




msg:3578083
 6:41 pm on Feb 18, 2008 (gmt 0)

Thanks for the responses.

I've tried very hard to make it clear to clients that it's their responsibility to get me the content for the site; I discuss this with them right at the beginning, and even give them a nice little bullet-pointed sheet repeating the same point, but this still doesn't seem to get through in most cases. Many still believe that they can supply nothing, or at best a couple of scrappy paragraphs, and expect me to turn this into fantastic marketing copy for them.

My clients are alas on a pretty low budget, so I know that writing the copy myself, or hiring a freelancer to do it, would end up being prohibitively expensive. I think this will have to be communicated more clearly.

Like faith580, I've had clients tell me that they need their site up in a hurry, but when I ask them for copy - well, then it turns out it's not so urgent after all.

I've already learned some of the hard lessons - now I won't start on a project before the customer pays a deposit, and I don't spend hours on producing lovely designs before receiving anything to put in them. However, from my experience thus far, and the responses here, I'm beginning to think that I'm still being a bit too fluffy with them for the sake of maintaining good customer relations, and I'll have to start being more assertive about setting deadlines for receiving content, and abort the project if I can't get anything from them.

dbdev




msg:3581372
 5:59 pm on Feb 21, 2008 (gmt 0)

Hi Daxund and welcome to webmaster world!

Why are you are asking clients to be copy writers?

Why not just ask them to be web designers too?

I think you might have missed something here as the typical scope of "web design" includes copywriting... Especially if you are involved in a "build me a website" deal.

As a company that provides web design services, copy writing is one of your higher dollar services. The type of copy that is to be written for the site is derived and determined from the client's online business objectives.

Sales copy is much different than expository copy. It looks different and sounds different.

Figure out what their objectives are and ask them to supply all marketing material related to the topic/widget/objective.

That's where the client's responsibility for copy writing ends.

You then take that material and start further researching it... sites that are similar, target key phrase research and related literature...

Then you can attempt to write the copy.

I would warn you that if you are not a professional writer this task is better outsourced to professional writers.

You can find great copy and content writers for about $50/page (300-500 words).

As a new consultant don't ever tell the client you "can't" do something. You CAN do everything. How you go about producing quality copy is in the recipe of your "secret sauce".

If it's your business to only be a "web designer" and "graphics designer" then you are better off to position yourself as a high quality source for these specific elements. Companies like myself will contract you for those specific tasks.

People flame me for being so direct with my posts and advice but I assure you ALL of my clients are more than satisfied with every aspect of my projects because I do it right.

As I've mentioned in other posts, if you are honestly going to try to tell me that you are

a)the BEST web designer
b)a usability consultant
c)a graphics expert
d)a linguistic copy writing master
e)an seo specialist

People/companies that profess to be all of the above are full of ****

read this thread...

[webmasterworld.com...]

Rosalind




msg:3584767
 8:45 am on Feb 26, 2008 (gmt 0)

Most people dislike writing, and find it difficult. If you are one of these people, and so are most of your clients, you need to find some good, reliable freelance writers to outsource the work to.

Quality costs, so it's not going to be easy to get around the problem of clients who have very low budgets. You may need to find several writers who can produce copy in different price brackets, perhaps getting your cheapest copy from students. Then you can offer a choice.

dbdev




msg:3585097
 3:58 pm on Feb 26, 2008 (gmt 0)

My experience with student writers is two-fold.

I thought I hit the jackpot a couple of years back when I started using students to do my writing... not the case.

1. Yes. It's cheaper to have your work written by a student.
2. But, it's more expensive to have a professional edit what the student wrote.

Ultimately I found that just going straight to the pro's is the best bet... seems to me like students can't grasp the concept of researching a topic before writing begins.

Just my two cents based on past experience.

SoCal resident




msg:3594992
 2:35 pm on Mar 8, 2008 (gmt 0)

dbdev has a great response. Even if you don't consider yourself to be a full time professional copy writer, you should at least be good at it. I consider myself only so-so in that area but my clients think I'm a genius. Maybe you are better at it than you think! After all, your post looks reasonably well written.

This is actually a big problem for freelance webmasters. Clients are typically very busy people and they don't have time to feed you information. They figure that they are paying you, why are you telling them what to do?

It's like I told one customer: "This web site defines your business. You have no choice but to pay attention to that area." Often times the client has NOT defined their business, which is a very scary situation.

Always get some $$$ up front. This prevents you from becoming the victim of businesses who put absolutely zip into the effort.

Most of the time they will point you to various sources of images - the web site of the manufacturer of products they sell, for example. Use those images and fill the text with "Lorem ipsum ".

Then go and interview them. Use that info to generate the text. Keep getting back to them regarding the details. It's like pulling teeth, but it's what you get paid for. In a while you'll learn to see these situations a mile away and you can include plenty of time in your quote to ensure you are fairly compensated.

g1smd




msg:3595150
 7:06 pm on Mar 8, 2008 (gmt 0)

Getting content can be very difficult sometimes.

One site had done no more than 4 paragraphs in 3 months - so I sent a reminder every week for more - When it got to a year I fired 'em, with a "don't bother to call me even if you do eventually finish it" message.

Another site, constantly had about 50 draft pages that 'weren't quite ready to publish' - I scared the fek out of them by announcing a date for the new website going live all across the old site - effectively giving them 6 weeks notice. Content arrived in two weeks, and was refined over the next three...

I am repeating that trick for another site right now. They will probably only just meet the "new site coming at Easter" deadline posted on their old site.

lexipixel




msg:3595222
 8:52 pm on Mar 8, 2008 (gmt 0)

If getting the client started is a problem, put up a "demo" page (hang it off the back of your own site in development folder). The demo can be anything, (its just as helpful to have them tell you what they DON'T like as to have them tell you what they DO like -- sometimes moreso).

Its easy to get a client talking when you have them on the phone and looking at something about themself on the computer -- put up their logo, address, contact info and a blurb of text -- then let them talk.

"Talk" does not convert to content, so after the demo I ask clients specific questions via email then take the text, (random blurbs, brief descriptions, even single sentences), and cut and paste, format -- and viola' we have content.

When I take on a new client, I ask them to send me "everything" they have. Copies of yellow pages ads, flyers, brochures, forms, articles they've submitted to other publications, lists of departments, employees and contact info -- basically anything they have. If they are sales oriented, I ask for copies of catalogs or brochures from their suppliers, logos etc. I ask them to take digital photos of the building, personnel, products, etc. In short, I want anything and everything they can give me.

Find the 10% to 15% of it all that best defines what the company is about. Leave the rest aside for future use.

A picture is worth a thousand words. A picture with a 200 word description is worth 1200 words.

The next step is to build a basic (5) page site.

- homepage
- about us
- products / services
- policies
- contact us

I then start adding to these pages until I see a pattern develop. If they have multiple products and/or services, I break them up into smaller sub-pages;

___ homepage

___ about us
______ COMPANY HISTORY
______ COMPANY TODAY
______ COMPANY FUTURE

___ products / services
______ PRODUCTS:
_________ product 1
_________ product 2
_________ product 3
______ SERVICES:
_________ service 1
_________ service 2
_________ service 3

___ policies

___ contact us

I build out the site in stages, always leaving it "complete" at any stage. This avoids the "we need everything done before launch" problems. My approach seems to work well for SEO purposes also. The SE's see the basic info and structure, than see content being added logically and routinely.

As for specific, unique written content -- sometimes less is more. A well written, keyword rich paragraph or two is sometimes better than a keyword over-saturated or diluted run-on 3-page article.

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