How do you create value for clients? Give them fewer options.

Austin L. Church
December 30, 2016
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I had a recent experience recently that reshaped how I create value for clients, and I'd like to share it with you.Over the past twelve months the subject of client experience has made several appearances on my blog. I shared my client questionnaire for onboarding new clients, as well as thoughts on deposits for freelancers, invoicing tips, and my complete client onboarding process.But what about the less tangible stuff?Client experience is like a large ball of Play-Doh. You can give it any shape you want. But before clear off the table, stop for a moment and ask yourself how your clients will receive that experience.Will they appreciate the process, questionnaires, and tools that you implement?Back in November 2016, I booked a lodge in the Smokies for SPACE Retreat 003. The check-in and check-out processes had holes in them. The iOS app added to the confusion. To be able to take a screenshot of the code for the combination key lock was helpful. But when an employee of the rental management company showed up to ask if we’d gotten in okay, I knew that their internal processes were as inefficient and confusing as my own experience.What good is a custom mobile app if replaces analog complexity with digital complexity? The app didn’t add value to my experience.And hasn’t the “create value” truism gotten ragged around the edges? What does that even mean, especially when different clients experience “value” in different ways?[caption id="attachment_2006" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]

create value for clients

Photo Credit: Tran Mau Tri Tam via Unsplash[/caption]

Meet Jimmy.

Jimmy founded a wealth management firm in Knoxville, Tennessee. He has long since grasped the Holy Grail of the RIA quest—$100 million in assets under management, and several years ago, he hired a software architect to built proprietary software that would alleviate the tedium of many of the firm’s back office support tasks, most notably compliance.Jimmy is smart, ambitious, and level-headed. He has a good team, and he has a plan for growth. So where did Austin Church and Wunderbar LLC fit into the picture?The firm needed a new website. Badly. Jimmy and his team recognized this, and they had gone so far as to form a committee, which procured quotes from several local marketing and interactive agencies. Those quotes came in between $1500 and $40,000. This huge discrepancy left the committee members scratching their heads, unsure how to proceed. So they didn’t.My friend Bennett referred Jimmy to me, and we were able to talk through a sensible scope, budget, and timeline after a meeting and a follow-up phone call. No need to build a bazooka to kill a groundhog. A simple WordPress site would do. Jimmy agreed, and he paid the deposit invoice with applaudable speed.

The What vs. The How

At this point you might conclude that Wunderbar was on the hook to provide a website. For a month or so, I would have agreed with you. Yet, another role quickly became apparent. Soon after we kicked off the project, Jimmy’s mother died. He went dark, understandably, for the better part of a month.By the time Jimmy came back online, the original deadline had flown by, and it wasn’t just back to business as usual. Jimmy chose to delegate the project to someone else on his team. He had paid for the website. He still gave approvals on major decisions. But he wanted someone else to manage the project.Fair enough. Many creative projects and the teams responsible for them morph and evolve over time. You learn to roll with the punches.You also learn to change up your own workflow and project management style on the fly because that’s what the client needs.A client who is 100% dialed into a website redesign has more enthusiasm and capacity than a client who is busy executing his mother’s estate. The founder of a high-growth SaaS startup will have different expectations than a talented floral designer who wants to hire her first W-2 employee.Value is in the eye of the beholder. The best way for me to create value for clients like Jimmy was to make his life less complicated.The deliverables hadn’t changed. The What hadn’t changed. But the How, my method of delivery, needed to adjust to the unusual circumstances.The What was a WordPress website, a stock theme with light customization, many hours of copywriting, project management, and some consulting on the best plan of attack.The What of a project was little more than an artifact. The What was a baseball or wheelbarrow. You don’t have to be anything special to sell a website. In fact, you could sell one first, and then teach yourself how to make one along the way. A thousand step-by-step YouTube tutorials and plug-and-play website platforms like Squarespace and Shopify have leveled the playing field.

The How is always more nuanced.

The How was the the experience of working with me and my team, along with the delivery of the website.The How of any project—the experience and the delivery—can creates significant value or significant frustration. The border between the two is often a razor’s edge.I create value for my clients in a variety of ways: clear communication, effective project management, responsiveness, honesty, domain expertise, humor, high-quality work, and a willingness to take responsibility for my mistakes.At the beginning of the project, I assumed that we would walk the familiar path. I’d give him options, he’d pick a theme, and my team would customize it with the firm’s logo and branding.When I later sensed the backlog of work that the death of Jimmy’s mother had precipitated, I made a snap decision and sent Jimmy this email:

I've been discussing your project with my designer. We reviewed a lot of starting templates, and I believe that Infinite is the best option for the redesign: landed on Infinite because the site must display the "profiles" of advisors clearly and tastefully. The Infinite template accomplishes this: Do you agree?If so, give me the greenlight, and we'll begin customizing the template to also accommodate your branding and other goals of the website.

Jimmy asked me one question, and after I answered it, he said, “Yes, looks good to me.”All told, choosing a theme took less than 24 hours.This exchange may seems small, inconsequential. Yet, it taught me that value has a bigger definition than “more.” Sometimes, value means less.More options can introduce decision fatigue. More options can slow workflow to a tedious drip-drip-drip. More options can introduce delays that push the possibility of return on investment further and further into the future.[caption id="attachment_2007" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]

slow workflow

Photo Credit: Julian Böck via Unsplash[/caption]

Focus on the bigger question.

Let me back up and second and ask a bigger business question: What is our goal as freelancers, consultants, and creatives?To make our clients’ lives better.The specifics vary from project to project, but that overarching goal stays the same: My job was to make Jimmy’s life better.Some clients like to be really involved with the process. They would appreciate being sent five different WordPress themes to choose from. They would enjoy comparing them and picking a favorite.But Jimmy is an entrepreneur with two companies, several angel funds, a dozen employees and colleagues, and who knows how many clients. Was the best way to serve him really to manufacture more decisions for him to make? To increase his workload by asking him to decide between a number of equally good options?No.

Making his life better meant simplifying it.

Nudging him toward a positive outcome meant requiring less of him in order to bring the project to a satisfying conclusion sooner.This won’t be the case for every client, but it holds true for many.Stop. Consider. What is the specific way that you can use your expertise to make this client’s life better?You may find that you need to adjust your client experience to fit his schedule, needs, or preferences. It’s like driving with someone who gets carsick easily. You brake gradually, and you take the turns more slowly.As consultants, we must focus on creating opportunities, not options. And there’s a difference between the two.Every decision increases decision fatigue. By removing decisions for your clients, you remove fatigue. Duh.By removing options and the decisions they represent, you can give your clients the opportunity to focus on more important things.In so doing, you create value for clients in several ways:

  • Fewer decisions
  • Less indecision and second-guessing
  • Fewer delays
  • Less time wasted
  • Fewer opportunity costs
  • Less risk

In terms of client experience, less is often more.

How do you create value for clients? Make their lives easier.

When you focus on the How as much as the What, you may notice that more options don’t always equal more value.So be prepared to adjust your client experience mid-project to better accommodate busy professionals. One way you can make your clients’ lives better is by reducing complexity and inconsequential decisions.Our job as freelance writers and creatives is not to exchange stuff for money. Our job is to help clients and make their clients’ lives easier. That’s the secret to building a profitable business that you love, and it always has been.