Let’s talk about your client on-boarding process, specifically a discovery questionnaire.
Firstly, what is a discovery questionnaire? Simply put, it’s the questions you ask your clients – via your website and/or in person – to learn all about their project.
So often we all rush through this getting-to-know-you phase of a website design and/or development process. Frankly, we don’t ask enough questions; we don’t allocate enough time to ask more questions. Miscommunication, scope creep, frustrating assumptions by clients (and you) and many other headaches that arise throughout a project can usually be attributed to a lack of clear communication from the very beginning of the process.
Let’s be up-front: There’s no one-size-fits-all discovery process. Krista and I are both constantly refining our questionnaires and how we interview clients. We’re forever tweaking and changing our questions, and when we ask them.
The Evolution of My Own Discovery Process
Phase One: Simple Contact Form
I used to have a simple contact form on my website with questions like, “How can I help you?”, “What’s your website URL?”, “Do you need a blog? A shop? A course?” It worked fine for a while.
A few years ago, I made a significant decision to force people to choose a starting rate package so that I could eliminate people who wanted a $500 or even $2000 website. Lots of people don’t agree with this approach, but it works well for me. I was tired of arranging preliminary meetings with clients only to find out not long into the call that they had a budget of $800. They’re not my ideal client and no matter how much I communicated my value, they probably never would be, and in the end I felt jaded for wasting time.
Phase Two: Loooong Discovery Questionnaire
Eventually, I ditched the short contact form and published a very lengthy discovery questionnaire because when people originally contacted me, I always replied immediately with a pretty standard response, asking them to complete a longer discovery questionnaire. So, I decided to cut the small talk and cut to the chase. It was a test of the clients’ commitment too. The people who took the time to work through the questions showed me that they were equally committed to the project. I consider it a partnership, after-all. I’m not their employee or servant.
Phase Three: A Shorter Questionnaire and More Phone Calls
Soon after, I shortened the questionnaire and decided to make a better effort to work through the questions on a phone call. I often snuggle up in my little coding and design den and can easily work through an entire project without talking on the phone to clients! That’s not a good habit.
When I eliminated a lot of the questions from the online discovery questionnaire, I in turn made the first discovery phone call more focused on a segment of the discovery process: learning about their business and what the project would mean for the success of their business.
Before the call I might send another questionnaire with straightforward questions: where are you hosted, how many people on your list, what email newsletter company do you use, how often do you email your list and what do you email them, for example. These questions are different from the deeply introspective questions about the scope of the project and what a successful project looks like for the client, and how they believe they will measure the success of the project.
To be perfectly honest, the one part I still feel a little tripped up on is the the fact that I really do like getting the client to write up their answers. I referenced them throughout the project. It’s easy to forget what’s said in a call.
One solution is to write up the answers to the questions and ask the client to add anything that was missed. Another is to record the call and get a transcript of the call, and again ask the client to confirm that they communicated everything they wanted to.
I’m not just a web designer!
In the past, my questions were probably too focused on semantics, and allowed the client to rule the proposal outline. What I mean by that is, for example, I used to ask a lot of questions about what pages they wanted in their site. They might say, “I want an events page, and a calendar, and a shop, and a courses page” and so on. But they may not actually need any of the above. We might propose a different site architecture and sales funnels after we learn more about what their actual business goals are. Furthermore, they may not need all these features in the first iteration of the new website. They may want to create courses, but haven’t created them yet so a fully-fledged online home for their courses may be in a phase 2 or 3 of the website.
In short, during the discovery phase we need to:
- Learn about their business
- Find a problem
- Develop a solution
Their “problem” is not necessarily that they need a website with a courses page; it’s that they want to make supplemental income by selling courses, and in turn they need a sales funnel on their site to do so; they need to start with a website that is a seductive lead magnet; they need to send invoices to clients; they need to protect content; they need to drip feed content and control access; they need to send emails to people who purchased the course, and so on.
Remember, we are the website experts. We are their digital strategist. We need to establish our role and expertise from the very beginning.
Taking Notes From The Experts
A few people have significantly influenced my discovery process.
Marie Poulin of the Digital Strategy School.
When I took Marie’s Digital Strategy School a few years ago, Marie was my mentor in shifting my own perspective – and helping me educate my clients – that we are not just web designers, but we are digital strategists. Marie describes digital strategy as:
Build your expertise, confidence, and revenue by transforming your clients’ websites into more profitable ecosystems. Create more value for your clients and increase your own bottom line.
This mind-set shift was imperative to moving away from the objective questions about what pages a client wants and how many, and instead to subjective, value-focused questions about their business dreams and goals.
Kai Davis of Double Your Audience
It was an interview between Marie and Kai Davis that triggered in me an idea to actually charge for a “project road-map” rather than a proposal. To be honest, I can get frustrated by how much time we spend with a client and on a proposal if it doesn’t come to fruition. That said, I have not yet implemented my plan to charge for the discovery session and road-map, but the concept has helped me re-define how I communicate the scope and trajectory of the project, and how I focus on the goals.
Brennan Dunn of Double Your Freelancing
I highly recommend you sign up for Brennan’s Charge What You’re Worth opt-in.
Now, we’ve all heard that one way to charge is with “value based pricing.” But what the hell does that really mean? And if your client is starting out, how the heck do you quantify this? It finally sunk in when I read the Charge What Your Worth email sequence.
Let’s look at one of our student’s niche of clients as an example: Sarah Juliusson works primarily with childbirth doulas. Let’s say her client’s charge $1500 for doula services throughout a pregnancy. You might ask the client, “How many people do you typically talk to before you get a client?” Perhaps you learn that for every five people who contact the doula, they get one patient. In sales terms, they have a 20% conversion rate from lead to customer.
“So if I could build you a website, and the only purpose of this website is to get you a minimum of one new lead a month, you’d be looking at more than $12,000 in added revenue in the first year — right?”
You wouldn’t be proposing a website. Rather, you’d be proposing more leads for their business. This business doesn’t just need a new website. They need more leads. And to paraphrase Brennan, you’re not guaranteeing a particular outcome, but instead you are showing your clients that you are aiming toward it.
The idea is that if you can make your client, say, $25,000 — you can charge them anywhere between $1 and $24,999 and they’ll still come out “on top.” – Brennan Dunn
Brennan made one more point that stuck with me, and that was that he actually doesn’t just apply “value pricing.” Instead, he anchors his costs:
“My rate multiplied by how long I’ll be on the project — against the upside of the project.” If the math doesn’t work out, and my estimated costs outweigh the projected value of a project, I’ll either pass on the project or work with the client to find a way to balance out that equation.
Brent Weaver of UGurus
Brent Weaver of UGurus does a lot of webinars that introduce his course, “$10K Bootcamp: Be The Web Professional Who Earns What You Deserve”
There are two primary concepts that he has confirmed for me, and that is:
Your interactions with clients are a two-way interview process. In your first interaction, it’s ok to test out the client to see if it feels right, and if it doesn’t move on. You do not have to serve every client that lands in your inbox pleading for help. I know we’re all desperate for business, but if your stomach turns, or your alarm bells go off, walk away. When you say yes to one project, you may be saying no to another.
Kai Davis said that “typically, when I get a response back from a good prospect, they’ve sent back – 1 paragraph in response to each question. A bad prospect will respond back with a one sentence — or less.”
I too have learned that when clients dodge the discovery questionnaire, they’re never a good fit. My best clients will actually thank me for taking them on that thought-provoking journey.
Brent also advocates presenting a proposal, rather than just emailing it. I had always done the latter, but it’s nigh time I got out from behind the safety of my computer screen and talked in person!
Again, I am constantly evolving and tweaking the way I work with clients throughout the whole project trajectory, from initial contact and this discovery phase, through on-boarding, project management and beyond. I regularly turn to experts like the ones mentioned above for inspiration and insight, especially when one or two clients don’t convert. I try to learn from every client engagement, and constantly fine-tune. As my dad says, “Assume nothing. Check everything.”