I may want to start my own company making websites for individuals and businesses in the near future. I'm trying to familiarize myself with the steps to take when dealing with a client who wants a website, particularly the beginning conversation and series of questions. For example: let's say I own a company and a client calls up and says "Hi I need a website made for my business." What's next?
So far I've got asking questions about their:
-What they want the purpose of their website to be
-If they need a store implemented in their site
-If they have a logo
-If they have any pictures / graphics to add
-If they will provide the writing
Are these all good questions? Please tell me what other questions I'm missing.
My next question is after I've gotten the main information I need, what is the next step? Should I make multiple designs/themes and have them pick their favorite or should I just stick with one?
Those all look like exactly the right questions. The only major change I would make is to put "what is the purpose of the site" at the top, and to postpone talking about budgets and deadlines until much later in the discussion.
After you've got all that information - or as much of it as you can (because you won't necessarily get a straight answer to every question) - your next step should be to explain to the client how you work, and especially how you charge. I always try to charge on a time-and-materials basis (rather than a fixed price). I explain that to client, and tell him what my hourly rate is. I tell him that I will only start charging after he gives the firm go-ahead, which I expect him to do after I have given my best estimate for time and costs.
If, after getting the estimate but before giving the go-ahead, the client starts prevaricating with lots of detailed discussions or changes of direction, I will eventually tell him that from now on everything is chargeable. Usually that encourages them to focus on giving me the information I need to actually start work.
One other important point: When you give you cost and time estimates, put a deadline on it. In other words, say you will hold the quote for, say, 30 days, after which you reserve the right to vary it. That will safeguard you against those clients who let six months pass between quote and go-ahead, and then expect you to stick to the terms of the original quote. (Believe me, these things to happen.)
I hope this helps.
Always remember that it is extremely common for new details to arise after the work has begun driving up time and cost. Some clients will expect you to absorb this cost. Just to give an example, you didn't mention the site would display well in all browsers or mobile devices. What would you do if it doesn't look right? Are you responsible for fixing this problem? Leave yourself some room to negotiate later or you may have to do a lot of extra work that you didn't expect at no charge.
The ngenworks process wiki is a good resource.
It's helpful to ask what they're basing their deadline on. There are hard deadlines and there are pulled-out-of-the-air deadlines, and knowing which kind you're working with will help you make decisions along the way.
To answer the last part of your question, we don't do any design work at all until all the content has been sorted out. We build the site in plain vanilla first, get all the pages together, and only once all the content is in do we look at design. And then we do one (and build it in the browser) and show it to the client, in whatever browser they are using. They can then provide feedback and we iterate from there.
Don't show clients Photoshop mockups, they'll expect it to look like that in Browser X. A world of pain awaits.
Don't spend time on design until you have all the content, as often you'll end up designing elements that don't actually have content to go in them (or have content and nowhere in your design to put it!)
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