Commissioning a website? Be an intelligent client!

Photograph of worker figurines around a client figurine stood on the help key on a computer keyboardGet a great website by being a better client. If you are commissioning a new website you can bargain with suppliers but perhaps the best way to save yourself money (and time to make money!) is to become a more intelligent client.

Having recently commissioned a new website I don’t for a moment think I embodied the intelligent client throughout but I did adopt a new approach based on these ideas:

1. The Intelligent Client Chooses Intelligent Suppliers

The first thing I realized is that the intelligent client picks intelligent suppliers, being an exemplary client will only go so far with the wrong partner. You need to make sure that you pick agents who are not only experts in their field but also have intelligent ways of working.

I have been very fortunate during this website design and build to work with good people: Michael Taylor at Mason Digital and Miles Noble at Altitude. I found my developers by asking my professional network for recommendations. Something you can do quickly and easily through Linked In. The wording of the recommendations was the key; I wasn’t looking just for technical skill but for a positive attitude and approach.

2. Know Just Enough

To be an intelligent client you have to move towards conscious incompetence!
Four stages of competence model

If we are ‘unconsciously incompetent’ not only do we not understand how to do something but we also fail to recognise the deficit! An unconsciously incompetent client can’t conceive what they do not know and therefore ignores good advice and fails to value expertise.

Before commissioning I enrolled on short (two day) web design course at my local arts centre. This served two purposes: firstly, it taught me just enough to create a sensible brief for my budget and timescale and secondly, it helped me understand how much I didn’t know. As a result I looked for partners who could support me as a client as well as delivering the project.

3. Partnership Vs. Principal Agent Problem

Often when commissioning a website the ‘agent’ (designer / developer) is making decisions on behalf of the ‘principal’ (client / commissioner) who may have less knowledge. The principal-agent problem only occurs when the agent is not motivated to act for mutual benefit. An intelligent client provides a brief, a budget and a belief in their partners’ desire to build something of which they can all be proud.

4. Don’t Panic and Email!

Despite my desire to be an intelligent client and my good fortune in working with excellent people, there have been moments when panic has set in. Logic has flown out of the office window and pure emotion has taken over. I have regretted every design and development decision and been utterly convinced that the whole project is doomed to fail.

Inevitably, after a biscuit, sleep or chatting to a colleague, the pages on the development site suddenly regain their shine and the sun comes back out. As a newly intelligent client (!) I’ve had some near misses but my advice is not to email whilst in the grips of development doubt!

Suppliers are neither counselors nor punch bags and the intelligent client manages their emotions until they can communicate meaningfully with their partners.

Here are some links you may find useful if you are commissioning a new website for your organisation:

A basic overview of key considerations:

Learn to code (or how much you still have to learn!) with this wonderful resource:

Written for Irish businesses but a great resource for any commissioner: