From my Notebook >

How people who make websites talk to each other

“We’re kind of an A-Team,” he told me. “People call us in when the hammer just needs to drop.”

I was on the phone with the head of a web design agency. He was taking on a website project for which I had done some consultation, and had asked if we could talk on the phone about my progress so far. From his point of view, the project was being taken away from me. From my point of view, the client was undergoing a key leadership change and a high-quality website was no longer a priority for them.

Regardless, I quickly realized that I was talking to someone who really wanted to get his story out: “I’m the best.”

Well, my name is Marc, I wanted to say. I’m not part of an A-Team, but now I’m really interested in seeing how your project turns out.

After I saw the resulting barely-functional website, I started to wonder what made him feel so excited about his prospects. Client feedback? Not likely. Natural swagger? Maybe. High demand for website builders? I think that’s a big part of it. There’s enough demand that a lot of us turn down work frequently. Yet many people who do what we do seem to believe they get to turn down work because they are highly competitive. They talk as if they have some secret sauce that makes them desirable to clients.

I once talked to a web developer who asked me what software I was offering his former client. While I was describing it, he cut me off and said, “I write software just like that all the time. I could actually write that software.” First of all, amazing—if true. But the fact is, he was afraid. He was afraid that his client saw through his bravado and wanted somebody with a different approach or skill set. I don’t know why he didn’t build what it was they needed, but his tone of voice after the fact was appalling.

When we hand over a website to somebody else, or when somebody hands the keys over to us, or when we visit another website builder for a casual greet, can we pay attention to our communication a bit? Some suggestions:

  • Focus on understanding and learning how others are getting along, and where they see their skills working best
  • Forget that you have a secret sauce, or some amazing skill that nets you such great gigs.
  • Remember that all of your clients will, someday, be someone else’s clients.
  • Ask questions, offer to help where appropriate, and be sympathetic.

My favorite web designer get-togethers involve a discussion of problems we have, ideas that would benefit the group (like local meet-ups) or referrals to various clients that might be a good fit for somebody else. And maybe even some normal chit-chat.

These are things that happen in lots of industries, every day. Perhaps we’re a bit more insular, but that’s an even better reason to try harder.