Web design question answers

The Top 3 Silly Questions a Website Design Firm Should Know How to Answer

As the owner of a website design firm and the “on-again-off-again go-to guy” for selling our firm’s services, I’ve seen my share of challenging, irrelevant and — well — downright silly questions stand in the way between me and a sale many times.

The problem with silly questions, of course, is that you have to simultaneously explain why the question is silly, while at the same time not meaning no offense. Here, then, is a short list of “silly” questions — garnered from personal experiences — and some strategies on how to respond to each.

Question #1: Do You Offer Web Hosting as Part of Your Contract of Services and, if not, Why Not?

Why the question is silly: This question really isn’t silly at its surface. Obviously, a client seeking to clarify and account for any hosting charges in their contract can’t be faulted for their thoroughness. But years of experience have taught me that this question often comes with some sort of implied judgment.

Here’s what is usually going on. Someone at client’s location – someone, say, who was responsible for choosing a website developer or launching a site in, maybe, 2002 – remembers an era when hosting services weren’t cloud-based and weren’t a dime a dozen.

At that time, I suppose hosting might have been something to bear in mind, from both a financial and security standpoint, when choosing a website developer. (Also, at that point in our profession, the types of “backend” programming skills were much less prevalent and often found in techy, IT/infrastructure firms…)

But we all know times have changed. The irony about this question is that the client often is using it as “credibility setter.” To see if you’re a “real” website development company.

But, of course, these days web hosting and website design are about as closely related as, say, Cisco Systems and Ogilvy & Mather. Would you hire Cisco to develop an international advertising strategy and marketing campaign for you? Never. Would you hire Ogilvy & Mather to design the technical infrastructure necessary to keep a multi-national corporation humming? Of course not.

So, then, why would you think that a company that was tasked with positioning, designing and implementing your company’s digital presence would also have the technical wherewithal to host it all on a server somewhere?

Given my druthers, I’d choose somewhere like here or, here, for my client, rather than hosting it myself. (I mean, really, the single server or small rack I might have in our company’s basement wouldn’t possibly be able to compete with all those guys’ computing power and in-house savvy.)

How to Respond: So how do you handle this question, assuming you don’t want to go into the hosting business? There are basically two approaches. The first is to reiterate the points I just made (nicely and with tact.) The other option is to enter into a “white label” reseller agreement with a well-known hosting service. These guys, for instance, allow you to create branded hosting spaces which will make it seem to your client like you are actually hosting the site. And, in a way, you will be, since they’ll be paying you and looking to you for service.

I have always been of the opinion, though, that transparency is always in the client’s best interest and, consequently, haven’t “white labeled” any hosting services. But, I guess if I considered it a strategic necessity, I just might.

Question #2: How Much Does a Website from You Cost?

Why the question is silly: This question is such low-hanging fruit that I feel a little dirty including it. But, as I’ve done many times on my own blog, I continue to write about it because the question just won’t go away. Oh sure, this question is a member of an extended family of relatives that are all a little different but basically look the same, but it always shows up when I least expect it to.

Here’s a variation on this I got just a couple of weeks ago. “I have a client with an existing website and they want to add a blog to it. How much would you charge for that?” Another favorite I recently had was, “We’ve been asked to find quotes to create five new pages of content for a professional sports team’s website. How much would you charge for that?” (Of course, the existing site is a proprietarily CMS managed site with who-knows-what sort of workflow required to update it…)

Most people in the business already understand this question’s inherent silliness. The wide range of scale and scope different websites require makes any kind of universal response to this impossible. Is the site ecommerce? Will it build off a CMS? If so, what sort of custom functionality does it need?

Blah, blah, blah.

How to Respond: I usually deal with this by offering a polite disclaimer that goes something like “that’s really not a figure I can quote without knowing a lot more about your company’s particular needs and expectations for a website. I can tell you though that, typically, we charge …” and then I give a range of figures, based on typical website “types and page volume…”

Most of the time clients ask these questions out of genuine ignorance. Okay – let’s be real – sometimes they also indulge in such exercises in vagueness because they’re hoping there’s some magic wand you can wave around and avoid what is what they fear will be a somewhat tedious exercise of drilling down to needs and expectations. Gently hold their hand and reassure them that, with just a few minutes of their time, you can get to a point where you can at least give them a range of pricing.

Question #3: You showed us a couple of examples of work from our industry vertical but we’re still not convinced you know enough to design a website in our niche. Do you have any more samples of sites in our industry?

Why the question is silly: This question is only problematic if you don’t have other work samples from the client’s vertical. But, if you’re smaller shop, that’s decidedly possible. Here’s a recent example of this phenomenon from my own professional life…

A couple of weeks ago, I was on the phone with an architecture firm. They had asked me to give them a follow-up phone call, based on a call we’d made to them a few weeks back. Their website, I should mention, has not been touched in ten years.

When I made the sales call, I was told that “well, we have decided to put this project off for a few months because we don’t have the cash on hand to put towards the site right now. But, I did see the two work samples you sent and — I can tell you — that the Principal of the firm will want to see more webwork which you’ve completed for architecture firms, so please send those along as soon as you can…”

Of course, the delicious irony from this phone call was that:

  • Her firm was telling me that they couldn’t afford a new site quite yet because the economy had deeply set back the profession of architecture.

And, simultaneously,

  • They were wondering why we didn’t have more recently completed websites for architecture firms. And that this fact was holding back the likelihood of our getting future work.

How to Respond: This is a tough one and there is just no easy answer. In this case, I pointed to the strength of the work I had previously included in my first written outreach to the client. (One of the sites I sent along was one of the most beautiful and robust content-managed sites we’ve produced to date…)

I also stressed all the other marketing collateral (non-digital) which we’ve completed for architects over the years. One thing I didn’t do was pull a pre-2008 website out of mothballs and give her a “look see.” If I’ve learned one thing over the years it is that — even if a sales prospects SAYS they “understand” that old work looks, well, OLD — they usually don’t.

That’s my “Top 3” list of tough or silly client questions a website designer must learn to answer. Do you have any others to add?

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