131 – Stroke and poke your clients to keep you sane with Hannah Smith

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Interview – Stroke the poke your clients to keep you sane with Hannah Smith

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So, should I stroke the bear or poke the bear? It’s a question that is, no doubt at the very front of your mind on a day to day basis! Well for Hannah Smith it is, although as you will come to see the bear is in fact just her term for your clients.

I met Hannah at WordCamp in Manchester last year and went to her talk about this very subject and found it to be both informative and entertaining.

Hannah is a seasoned WordPress freelancer. She’s a full stack developer, a project / process manager and a supporter of WordCamps and meetups.

So bears are your clients, and on the face of it, this is a really odd way to describe them, but wait… bears have so many personas.

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A bear can be the warm and soft toy that you allow your infant child to play with. Something that you snuggle up to. You have a bond with it. Some clients are like that… you like them, they like you. Your relationship just works and you want to work with them and will go the extra mile to ensure that they succeed.

On the other end of the spectrum, a real life bear can be terrifying and angry and can scare the life out of you and if you really annoy it, it might very well eat you all up!

So your clients are bears and the way that you interact with them can have a direct impact upon the type of bear that you’re going to be dealing with, and some of them are harder to placate and work for than others. There is no one size fits all, they are all unique and need to be handled in different ways.

So what’s all this about poking and stroking your clients. It’s all too easy to keep saying ‘yes’ to your clients. If you always say yes to your clients (stroking), two things will happen:

  1. you will have a very happy client
  2. you will have likely over-promised what you can do

Then, two more things happen

  1. you will not be able to deliver what you promised in the time / budget that you agreed
  2. your client will become unhappy

So this is where the stroking and poking comes in. Sometimes it’s okay to stroke the client and agree to the things that they want, but equally, it’s fine to poke the client and say no. No – this is not what we agreed, no – this is not what you need, no – this will be technically unfeasible, no – this will harm the deadlines that we’ve established, no – this is just a bad idea and we know what you need more than you do etc.

Hannah, like many of us, found this out the hard way, having made these mistakes herself over many years. Sadly, there is no widely adopted manual for building up a web design / development business and we all seem to make the same mistakes at one point or another.

We talk about some of the expectations that Hannah sets out to make work with clients go as smoothly as possible. This covers ways to deal with clients, expectations about how available they will be, what the client needs to supply before the work commences, common pitfalls that she often encounters and much more.

It’s a really interesting chat that will no doubt resonate with many of you.

Mentioned in this episode:

Hannah can be found on the operationcanopy.co.uk website.

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Transcript (if available)

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Nathan Wrigley: 00:04 Welcome to the WP Builds podcast, bringing you the latest news from the word community. Now welcome your host, David Waumsley, Nathan Wrigley.

Nathan Wrigley: 00:21 Hello there, and welcome to the WP Builds podcast once more. This is episode number 131 and it's entitled stroke and poke your clients to keep you sane with Hannah Smith. Very intriguing title. I'll come to that later. It was published on Thursday the 6th of June, 2019 my name is Nathan Wrigley from picture and word .co. uk, a small web development agency based in the north of England, and we won't be joined by David Wamsley from David Waumsley .com today because it's an interview and not a discussion episode, but before we get stuck into all that, just a couple of things. You head over to the WP Builds .com website. There's a bunch of links at the top of that. The first one I'm going to point your attention to is the subscribe link. Go there, sign up to our two newsletters. One we'll tell you about podcasts and news episodes that we put out and the other one will let you know about WordPress deals that we find out about as soon as we find out about them.

Nathan Wrigley: 01:17 There's also links to things like apple podcasts, Google podcasts, the Facebook group of over 2000 WordPress members, got things on youtube and so on and so forth. So I would encourage you to go over there if you want to keep informed about what we're doing. The next one is WP Builds .com forward slash deals and if you head over there you'll find a whole ton of plugins and whatnot, lots and lots of WordPress, things with significant amounts off all year round. Those deals are available to you everyday of the year, not black Friday or any of that stuff. So if you're in the market for a plugin or something like that, go and check that page. We might have the one that you want forward slash contributes. If you'd like to come on the podcast with me and show off something that you've done recently and I will sit with you, do a screencast and then put it on, put it on our website.

Nathan Wrigley: 02:05 That would be very nice. And finally forward slash advertise if you would like your product or service to be advertised on the WP Builds podcast and put in front of a wider audience. Somebody that did that was David Vongries from the page builder framework. Do you use a page builder to create your websites or the page builder framework is a mobile responsive and lightening fast WordPress theme that works with beaver builder element or breezy and other page builders with its endless customization options in the WordPress customizer. It's the perfect fit for you or your agency. Go to WP dash page builder framework.com today. And we thank David for his support of the WP Builds podcast. One more thing that I forgot to say was every Monday now we release a newsletter. We really start very early in the morning in the UK. Um, and it's me for about 10 or 15 minutes talking the previous week's WordPress news.

Nathan Wrigley: 03:01 But if you head over on that day at 2:00 PM in the, in the afternoon UK time, I now put out a live webinar if you like, where I have a few special guests on. So for example, last week we had done maybe and Paul Lacey and Vito Peleg and we discussed the WordPress news and it's very nice if you, if people show up and contribute and write comments, been really enjoying that. Okay, let's move on to today's episode stroke, a poke your clients to keep you sane with Hannah Smith. So Hannah Smith, I met at WordCamp in Manchester in 2018 and I attended a very similarly named talk that she did and I was intrigued by the title. It's very interesting. Basically it's all about the kinds of things that you can do to placate or to sort of massage client into doing the right things so that they know what your boundaries are so you can stroke them endlessly and make them happy.

Nathan Wrigley: 03:54 But ultimately, is that good for your business? Will it get things done in a timely and profitable way? Or you can poke, in other words, kind of get back to them and say, look, no, this is not in scope. And we talk about around that subject is very, very interesting. If you're a freelancer or an agency owner, you've no doubt come across these kinds of problems before, but it's an interesting and fresh take on it and I hope that you've gained something from it. Hello there again and welcome to the WP Builds podcast. Today we have on the line all the way from Bristol, so she's not far from where I live considering some of the people that we've spoken to recently all the way from Bristol in the United Kingdom is Hannah Smith. Hello Hannah.

Hannah Smith: 04:33 Hi Nathan. How are you doing?

Nathan Wrigley: 04:34 Yeah, we're good. Um, as I say, we're good. Like both of us are fine. Obviously there's this sort of slightly deceptive thing like we haven't spoken for the last 57 minutes on Skype, which we have. Um, I, I got Hannah on the podcast today because I went to WordCamp in Manchester where there was a whole variety of amazing speakers, one of which was was Hannah and Hannah did a really interesting talk with are really, I kind of, I'm going to say click baity name. It was really great. The name of your talk. It got me interested. Tell us what you talked about, what it was called.

Hannah Smith: 05:11 um, well I did a talk called, should I poke the bear or stroke the bear? It does kind of riff riff. Quite nicely. They run off the tongue quite nicely and the talk was all about the importance of setting client expectations and how to do that and also how to disagree with people, um, as well. So, yeah.

Nathan Wrigley: 05:33 Yeah. Okay. Well we'll come to that in a minute. First of all, I always think it's quite nice, even if it's just very brief, it's a bit, um, normal I suppose to, to do this. But nevertheless, would you tell us about yourself, who you are, how long have you been in WordPress and so on and so forth.

Hannah Smith: 05:48 Yeah, I always love to hear other people's stories. I find it fascinating. Um, so, um, so I live in Bristol. You mentioned that already. I work as a freelancer. Um, I have a lot of different skill sets. Um, so this might take awhile. Sorry, I'll try and keep it short and to the point. Um, so first and foremost I work as a developer full stack, so front end and back end. And these days I do specialize in Thailand, WordPress. Um, I'm a big fun of the community. I love being a part of the community. Um, and it's drawn me in entirely to the point where actually I'm very happy just focusing entirely on WordPress. So that's a big part of my skill set. My backgrounds in computer science, which I studied. I'm not going to tell you how long ago cause that'll give away and facts about my age.

Hannah Smith: 06:36 But some time ago, let's just say CSS wasn't a thing yet. I'm a little while back. Um, so that's an important skill set that I have at. The other thing I do is really about management. So I worked for a long time as a manager at a big government department called the Environment Agency. I worked there for about eight years and I've always been fascinated in how people work together. Um, so I, I called that kind of management. It's a broad term. More specifically, I sort of help people manage projects, um, help them change things within their business. I got a couple of really interesting pieces of work going on at the moment, helping people implement project management processes or communication processes and frameworks. Pretty interesting stuff. Um, I did it all work around process management as well. So helping people figure out order steps that things need to be done in order to achieve a certain aim. Still lots of kind of management stuff.

Nathan Wrigley: 07:39 Do you work mostly, um, by yourself or do you work as part of a broader company or team now that you're, now that you've stepped away from the Environment Agency, which is a huge, huge, um, I can say organization, I can't think of a better word in the United Kingdom. Are you freelance now or do you attach yourself to another team? Mostly

Hannah Smith: 07:58 no, I work entirely freelance. Um, I love the quality of life that it brings. Um, you know, not having to answer to a boss. I answered to me and my other half and, and sometimes the dog. Um, so yeah, no, I work in tiny independently for myself, but there are a couple of agencies that I work continually with. Um, so I would consider myself very much part of their team. High Res Digital is one of them, um, where they wouldn't perhaps see me as a freelancer. Yeah. But, but generally, yes, I do work independently and on my told. Okay,

Nathan Wrigley: 08:37 great. So let's talk about this talk that you gave in Manchester, which involves the word poking, stroking, and quite a lot. Uh, that was the thing which interested me. The title itself was compelling enough to, to come along and have a listen to the talk was great. So first of all, you should probably lay out the framework of why on earth did you use this metaphor? What are we talking about when we're talking about stroking and poking bears?

Hannah Smith: 09:05 Yeah. So before I get into the striking and the poking of the bear until about that, um, it's probably worth just as you said, they're laying out a couple of bits, so it all makes sense. So, um, the only idea in case anybody is wondering, uh, the bear is your client. So it's an, an, an analogy for your clients. Um, I love this analogy because bears take on so many different shapes and forms. Um, one end of the spectrum, you've got a teddy bear which you give to children to comfort them and it's a very, you know, you can snuggle up to that there and that you get warm, fuzzy feelings from that. Beth. And I thought that idea because for me, you know, when I have a client that I, I really strike a chord with and I really enjoy working with I have, those warm fuzzy feelings, I really, really, really love that client.

Hannah Smith: 10:01 I'm really want to do my best for them and take them places with the, with me and enjoy their successes and they enjoy mine. And that's a lovely, a lovely thing. Um, so you've got one end of the spectrum and I think the analogy works really well there. The other end being that, you know, if an Ang, if a bear is angry or unhappy, it's massive and scary and could completely eat you. And I think that analogy works really, really well. You have a spectrum of fans. Um, you, you can have a happy bay, you can have a setback and you as the person that's working with that, there has a lot to do with whether that there is a happy bear or a scary bear. The way you treat them, the way you work with them. Yes, some bears are innately scary and difficult to work with and some bears are cuddling. Um, but yeah, so for me that analogy really, really works. There's no one size fits all for your client.

Nathan Wrigley: 11:01 Yeah, that's a good point. Yeah, it was, it was not lost on me. As soon as you said it, I'm just kind of go, yeah, that works. Yeah. And we all do probably have experiences of both of those sides of things. Hopefully more of the cuddly, cute child bear, I suppose, to the scary bear. But nevertheless, okay, so what, what's, so now we've worked out what the bear is. Yes. Poking and stroking,

Hannah Smith: 11:26 poking and stroking. So this is, this has been brought by the reason why I wanted to talk about this as something that, uh, an experience I had working with an agency quite recently, and the owner of this particular agency just couldn't say no. Every request that came in from a client, no matter how ridiculous, was always met with a yes. And of course the client is very, very happy when they told yes. Um, and they go away feeling really happy. But of course, what happens is that that happiness turns to angriness and scariness when the, the thing that they've been promised, uh, is not delivered. So the poking and the stroking is that the stroking is this idea of saying, yes, you know, and I, I'm a very visual person. I literally think of, you know, you've got to bear in front of you and you're striking of the bat and you're making the bear feel happy or you know, you could even think of a dog or a cat and the bear is purring and very happy and that's all very, very nice for the time being.

Hannah Smith: 12:32 Um, but there comes a point where that that stuff isn't going to happen and the baguettes cross. So that's the idea of sort of striking is that very much pacifying saying yes, it's giving the client what they want. The poking thing is comes a little bit later down the line. And do you imagine that something unforeseen or unpleasant occurs in a project? Well, poking the bear is then the idea of pushing back to the bear or saying no essentially or reestablishing some boundaries. And very, very often when those initial client requests come in, um, you have a choice. You can poke the bat or strike the bat. You can say yes, you can straight the bat or you can put the bat and say, no. Do you know what? Actually I'm not happy with this request. There are reasons why I don't think it's, it's quite right. Um, I like the idea of poking because poking is something that makes you feel uncomfortable, but it doesn't hurt. Um, you know, and I talked a lot in the talk about landing a well aimed poke. Um, you know, if you think about being poked in the ribs, it does make you sit up. It does make you go ooh and pay attention, but it's not a slap.

Hannah Smith: 13:58 I know. I'm really not the analogy for that. You know, striking and poking at it. I think it puts the right message across that saying no is not a painful thing.

Nathan Wrigley: 14:08 Yeah. So did you obviously just drawn attention to something in the fairly recent past, but presumably you've arrived at this, this analogy, um, over years of experience. Is that the case that you've encountered times where you have been plicate Harry and stroked the bear and, and it's all been fine from their point of view, but you just increases your levels of stress because you've, you've agreed to do a whole bunch of stuff, which was possibly out of scope, possibly beyond your skill level, possibly. Financially no longer worthwhile and so on. And the opposite, you know, you've, um, you've poked the bear and it's led to a better reestablishment of the relationship that you've got. Have you got any, um, have you got any experiences where it worked possibly or didn't work in both ways?

Hannah Smith: 15:00 So you rattled off some nice examples there of, um, reasons, uh, consequences of not pushing back or some examples you said, um, you, you might have regretted not pushing back because something was outside of your skill level or a, uh, they were asking too much of you in terms of number of hours of the day that you've got. I think another really, really common one that we'll face as, as people working with WordPress doing digital stuff is when clients ask you to do something and you just think it's a really bad idea. Ah, yeah, good point. Yeah. And I think that's a really, I think that's the one I see most conversation about. People go, Oh, you know, this client asked me to do this, that, and the other. And I think it's, it's actually that, um, that has made me really think more about poking and striking. So I had, uh, an example of that just last week.

Hannah Smith: 15:58 Client came along and said, I've got a mega menu. I was like, okay men, he's great. Love a Mega Menu. Um, can we put some pictures in the mega menu? Um, but at the same time they also said, but we've, it's also a really unusable on tablets, but we want to add some pictures in. Yeah. As long as that. Okay. So on the one hand it's unusable because actually the mega menus too long. But on the other hand, do you want to add more content in? Now this could have been an example where I just straight up the bear and one sure thing. No worries. We'll just add the images in and then somehow magically figure out how, how, how to then reduce the content. And instead I use this approach of setting expectations of pushing back on a, of really taking the time to talk them through the consequences.

Hannah Smith: 16:53 I mock them up a couple of little pictures, um, and said, you know what, of course, this is ultimately your decision, but you could do this approach or actually you could ditch your ideas entirely, um, and just try something else. And the thing is with, with poking, with pushing back as it does take time, I think that's what, um, one of the key things I really wanted to get across in the talk, um, and across with this idea is that if you're under pressure and you're trying to do things too quickly, you won't get this right and it snowballs. So that was an example of kind of, um, of getting it, of getting it right. Um, but I don't think I've answered your question. Have I?

Nathan Wrigley: 17:40 No, no, I think that's good. No, that was it. It was a good, good analogy. I was just wondering, with this, the, the whole sort of poking and stroking thing, um, it kind of feels like there's a bit of a spectrum going on here. You know, it's neither, it's definitely not always do this. Always do that. You know, you shouldn't always, um, stroke the bear. And placate them and give them what they want and neither should you always, um, you know, prod back and say no, because in the end, somewhere in the middle, I think for me at least anyway lies the happy medium. And it was interesting that you said just then, well, it's, it's your project, but here's my advice that that's one thing that I really do struggle with. I have an example a little bit like yours in the client the other day wanted to put, um, their Twitter feed into the footer of the website, which, you know, fine.

Nathan Wrigley: 18:31 That was okay. So I did it and I put it in the Twitter feed and I limited it to the two most recent posts. And they said, no, no, no, we want 10. Um, I was like, okay, well, all right, let's, uh, let's do that. And, and in this situation, so I stroked the band knowing that the outcome was going to be horrific. So I put 10 in, showed it to them again, and they were kind of like, oh, oh yeah, ten's too much, isn't it? That's far too long now because it made the footer about, made the footer an entire page, all of its own. Um, and so that approach worked very well for me. I was able to say very quickly, okay, yeah, let's stroke the bat, let's give them what they want and then went straight back to them and at that point poke them.

Nathan Wrigley: 19:15 So I did a bit of stroking, followed up by a bit of poking. But it's like you said, you did a few mockups. It's quite a lot of work sometimes to persuade them, um, to come around to your thoughts. And again, it occurred to me that if you want to be successful with this stuff, it feels to me like you have to own the project. Like it's your own website so that you can see for yourself, look, this is not going to be good for your SEO. This is not going to be good for your usability. This mega menu is now utterly unusable. I can't use the website, you know, I'm pretend kind of is my website. Uh, and now it's unusable. Nope. Nobody is going to be able to, to use this and then go back to the client and express it in those terms. What are you, what do you think? Am I overdoing it there?

Hannah Smith: 20:03 I think that's really, really interesting topic and I had a very interesting point of view. I agree with some of what you've said in some I don't agree with some stroking and poking. I am I that feeling, um, I think that all of us, when we care about what we do, we take enormous pride in our work. And I know I'm one of those people I don't want to take on a project that I feel the end result is, is going to be rubbish. I want to succeed and I want my clients to succeed. I want to put my name against things that I'm proud of. So yes, sometimes I do put myself in my client's shoes and almost behave as though it's my own website, but it's not my own website, which is my client's business. It is my client's baby. So you, you know, you mentioned there about this spectrum and I think that's absolutely right.

Hannah Smith: 21:04 I think that you, you need to balance things and you need to balance those ideas of I take pride in my work, I want this to be really, really good. But also it's not my business. I am being employed to provide a service and I think it's actually a little bit of a bugbear of mine where I hear and see developers banging on about how stupid their clients are for, you know, making x, y, zed request. And you know, Gosh, they know anything. And actually that was another theme in the talk, um, was about the fact that you as providing a technical service to someone, either as a developer, as a designer, as a copywriter, whatever you are, a guide, a jungle guide and okay, some bears live in the jungle, some don't fine. The analogy more or less works. Um, but you are a guide and you'll bear might be an unfamiliar territory and it is your job to guide them through that unfamiliar territory to get them to the results that they want. It's not your job to tell them what those end results should be. It's your job to help them figure out the journey for getting there. So yes,

Nathan Wrigley: 22:20 no, I was fixing to say it in the example that I use of this Twitter feed. The, the, the re it was self explanatory. It as soon as they'd see it and piece of guidance didn't fall on deaf ears. It was, oh yeah, that's really obvious. But you're quite right very often. Um, I will explain something and the client will still, uh, not wish it to be thus. Um, and I've taken to kind of doing little videos cause I'm very comfortable with doing videos and I use a service called loom. You click a button in the browser and you can send them a video within a matter of minutes and, and you know, it's quicker than writing an email. Often you can explain it by pointing and clicking and so on. It doesn't always work though. Um, but I'm of the mind that eventually after you've explained it, if it doesn't meet with their requirements and they still want the thing that you probably were advising against, I at that point probably, and I don't know if this is bad or not, but I probably at that point just starts stroking the bear if it's within the bounds of the project and I can do it.

Nathan Wrigley: 23:25 So if it's feasible and economically fine and all in scope, I don't usually dig my feet in and say, no, you can't have that. Um, I'll just absolutely say, yeah, okay, well we'll, we'll do, we'll do 10 in the Twitter feed then if you like, I don't think it looked great, but, okay. That's fine. Because like you said, is that it's their project, it's not own. Yeah.

Hannah Smith: 23:46 And I think, I think that's absolutely right. I think as long as you feel that you have done your best to communicate what it is that you're seeing and communication is two way, eh, it's, you know, you know, you successfully communicated. If you can see that they've understood what you're saying, if you try and communicate something, um, that's important, you know, like, like you feel they're going down the wrong track of a project or, um, it's a dubious decision that might have long term consequences. You need to check that they have actually understood what you're saying and they're not just under time pressure and they're just going, no, no, no, uh, just, you know, I'm not listening. I don't have the bandwidth to take in what you're saying and they're just ignoring your voice. So I think as long as you're sure that they have registered what you're saying, then that, then that's fine, but it's on their head.

Hannah Smith: 24:42 Yeah. And as long as they understand the consequences, um, and you might say, look, I think there are some risks here, some things that might potentially go wrong and depending on the size and scale of, of what it is they're asking for, I know I have in the past taking the time to write it all down the risks and say, you know, okay, really happy to do this thing for you that you've asked for. Um, but just to reiterate, there are three things here that I think could potentially bite you later down the line with this. Here they are in writing and then you're protecting yourself. If the worst case scenario does pop up, you can say, well without the voice, but I told you so.

Nathan Wrigley: 25:24 Yeah. Yeah.

Hannah Smith: 25:25 Got some come back.

Nathan Wrigley: 25:26 Oh yeah. I have to say at this point, I do believe there was an airplane above my house. I think there is unbelievably loud, the birds are freaking out. I can look, I have the winners, so apologies for the sudden increase in, I've no idea what was going on there. Um, okay, so must be your phone. Yeah. Yeah. All of these, um, all of these things so far, they kind of feel like there they could go one way or the other, you know. Um, yeah. Uh, or I, I, I can agree to that or no, I don't think we should do that, but they're not crucial. Let's move on to the stuff where it's, it's absolutely black and white. It's, it is, uh, it's a stroke or it's a poke. So as an example, um, it might be okay, you've used, I've built your site, it's done as far as I'm concerned.

Nathan Wrigley: 26:14 The brief is met, let's take this as an example, but you want suddenly a ton more work. Um, you know this, it's out of scope. It's out of bounds. Everything's been ticked off. The only problem is I can't get you to pay me or sign off. So this is a slightly different thing. It's not about placating them because the footer looks right or the mega menus wrong. Yeah. What have you, yeah. How do we, how in your experience do we approach these kinds of things where it's more binary where you, you absolutely have to, um, stick, stick

Hannah Smith: 26:44 your finger out and give them a shove and give them a poke. Okay. Well, let's talk through that example of a piece of work that you've done. From your point of view, everything has been signed off that was in scope, but the project that, that, that the client that you're working for is refusing to pay you. Was that be something on your temporal just once more done before payment is just the first example in my head. I think that's a great example because it's a very common one for all of us. So in that example, um, you will struggle to poke that bath if you never set expectations up front at that, this kind of scenario. It's a really, really common one. And you know, the title of my talk was poking or striking the bear a guide to setting customer expectations because that's really what this is all about.

Hannah Smith: 27:38 If you set expectations with your client upfront and made it very clear what sign off would mean, what completion would mean then frankly or client is being unreasonable if they refuse to pay or end the project if the client is asking for more work. And Ah, I mean every project in the history of everything ever always has changed requirements within it. I've never done a single project yet where a clients come along and gone, I want x, y, zed. And they've been right. I mean, that just doesn't happen. Never, never, never. So that is always something I addressed with a client before I start a piece of work with them is how we will handle change and extra requirements. And again, you mean you, you mentioned that some of this stuff isn't black and white. Um, there are, uh, a variety of approaches and it will very much depend on the context of the project that you're working in.

Hannah Smith: 28:40 Um, but for example, I will often say to clients, I will often give them a little contingency budget within their quote. Oh yeah, I really liked this idea. I often give them a minimum and a maximum price and I say to them up front, if you actually don't change your mind at all, and I deliver exactly the specification that we've got here, it's going to cost you, I don't know, 2000 pounds, whatever, x price. But based on my experience as a freelancer, I am an experienced jungle guide. I know this territory. I know that with the best intentions, you will change your mind. Something unforeseen will happen. And, and I will say to the client, if you don't believe me, I just need you to trust me on this. You will change your mind. And I've had clients before come back a bit. Like, no, no, no, I won't change my mind.

Hannah Smith: 29:33 I definitely want this to them. And just said, okay, trust me anyway because you will. Um, and needed. Yeah. Yeah. So I give, I also gave a maximum price. I always give a range. Um, I always say, you know, based on the complexity of what you're asking for, uh, my experience level, your, how I perceive your skills or your knowledge of what you're asking me for, I will give them a maximum price. And that maximum price varies depending on, you know, some of the factors I just mentioned that it could be 10% extra, it could be 30% extra. And I say to them, this is your contingency budget. If you don't change your mind, you're not going to need to spend any of this. But if you do change your mind, we will be dipping into this part of your budget. And I make them agree to, you know, uh, if they do change their minds, if it change requests come in and I very clear every time it does, I say this, this, uh, this change to your Twitter feed for example, is it is a change. Uh, we didn't have this in the scope. This will count against your budget and you still, you still want me to do it.

Nathan Wrigley: 30:46 That's a really neat, neat way of doing it. I'd never done that at all. I mean I have a range of kind of options and they a la carte pick what they're going to pick and that builds up the price and then I write something like that. You know, I, I, there is, I can't remember the exact wording, but the text implies exactly that, you know, if we fulfill all of these criteria, it will cost that. And then I'm, I basically say anything out of scope we'll deal with after we've done this site as this specification illustrates. And then we'll do that on a, on a, on a new, a new proposal basis. But I do like your idea, I'm just wondering as a client, do they ever come back to you and with that sort of cynical thought that the minimum, no, they're not going to charge me the minimum price. They are absolutely going to charge me the maximum price. So in other words, do they, do they feel sometimes that your, your real figure is the higher of the two?

Hannah Smith: 31:45 No one said that being bold enough to challenge me. Okay. Face to face on that. I do often wonder if that's what's going through people's minds. Um, but for me, when I work with someone, it's very much about the quality of our relationship as much as the quality of the technical work that I'm doing for that person. Yup. Um, I need that person. If we're going to go on this jungle journey together, I need this, this bear to trust me. Um, if at that outset, I feel that they don't trust me or they, you know, if I get those vibes of cynicism or whatever, I might take, a view at that point just to not start the project and not do it.

Nathan Wrigley: 32:26 That's really interesting, the word trust there because let's assume that it's gone well and you've, you've come in at somewhere below, you know, significantly below the higher figure, but perhaps a little bit north of the, um, the figure that that's a, you've generated at an amount of trust there for free. Um, because you've, you've not dipped into the higher budget and, and especially if your, uh, if you allude to it in some, you know, at the point where the, the invoices being paid, you know, I don't know how you would do that in such a way. So it didn't sound, you know, like you are promoting yourself, but you have, you've generated free trust by not taking the higher amounts.

Hannah Smith: 33:06 Absolutely. Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. But, um, I mean, I am a very strong believer in honesty and transparency. Yeah. That's how, that's how I roll. I think everyone should roll that way. If everyone did, I think the world would be a much nicer place. Um, if everyone could work like that. Um, but yeah, you're absolutely right. When I always feel immensely proud when I do put the final invoice in and say, yeah, yeah we didn't dip into any of that. Well the new clients because often that is something to congratulate them on as well. Um, that they've been able to be disciplined or you know, they, they did know what they wanted up front. Sorry. Cool. Oh I was going to say, I mean I just don't ever want that to sound patronizing cause that's not meant to be patronizing. But I like to celebrate successes with people. Yeah.

Nathan Wrigley: 33:59 Do you do this, do you illustrate this contingency fund in text format only? You know, so when you send your proposal over, is this just written in text or are you, are you on the phone talking about this? Are you on Skype or whatever? Do you communicate with them? Cause I can imagine that it's the sort of thing that might get missed or might they might not perceive exactly what your intentions were or you're very careful with the wording if it is only text

Hannah Smith: 34:23 Absolutely. And I would never express something like this only in text. Um, you know, I mentioned to you, for me working with my clients is a relationship. Um, I want to scope them out as much as they are probably scoping me out. It's for me it's a two way thing. I need to know that I can work with this person. Um, and that they, they're going to deal with me fairly as well. Um, so that is the kind of thing I would absolutely have a verbal conversation about. Um, you know, I mentioned already that communication is has to be two way and part of that is making sure that your message is registered and understood. Um, and I don't know how really in Brighton I could ever be absolutely sure of that.

Nathan Wrigley: 35:13 Let's, let's carry on with the, the conversation about the, uh, I've forgotten the word for it now. The, the preamble, the bit where you're full warning your clients about the things that, that you want them to be aware of, the things that could go wrong, what was the word you used? Um, but yeah, of course. Expectations. Yeah. Client expectations. What apart from the financial stuff, you know, that the has got this figure but it might go up to that, that figure, which I think is a great idea. Um, what, apart from the financial stuff do you set out in your expectations? So over your years of doing project work, what are the things that have gone wrong enough times that you've thought, right, let's put that in the proposal and get that expectation set from the outset.

Hannah Smith: 35:55 Yeah. Um, I think an absolute key one is their involvement and availability. Um, I have definitely learned over the years that some people just want to palm off their entire website to you. I had a client a little while ago, it was definitely a disaster project who, um, who was a friend and I probably didn't really set expectations properly with them cause I just assumed they were friends and everything would be fine. They'll be good, big mistake, big mistake, I'll never do that again. Um, they just thought we would have an initial meeting and then I would somehow magically do everything for them. Right. The copy, choose the pictures, make it happen. And I mean I can write copy, I'm okay at that, but it's not my business. You know, my voice is not the business owner's voice. Um, I don't know how to express their brand or express what they wanted. So I think being absolutely clear about that, your client needs to be involved in this journey with you is super important and, and how you expect that to happen.

Nathan Wrigley: 37:09 Yeah. That's crucial. Well, yeah,

Hannah Smith: 37:11 it is brilliant. It is. Yeah. Um, and I think I've really interesting learning curve for me, and I'm on our pre chat. You mentioned this, I think it was an old preacher. Um, copy. I now will not start a website for a client until they give me the first draft of their copy. Hmm. I actually now point blank refuse because I need them to have already thought this stuff through up front and that is from learning over the years that change is inevitable in a project and my job is to try and minimize the amount as much of the change is possible. Copy is like the number one change I think change requests.

Nathan Wrigley: 37:56 Do you, when you say copy, do you mean simply text or do you also mean I don't have video assets or images or whatever, the entire suite of things which are going in the site.

Hannah Smith: 38:07 That's a really good, that's a really good point. Yes. I'm saying the word copy but I do sort of mean content. Yeah, I think more, yeah, content is a really good point. Um, so yeah, I mean that stuff because that stuff informs your design in forms. The functionality that you're putting in. It might inform the back end work flow and so if the client hasn't thought really thought that through and can't give me, okay. Think this copy, this will be the content of our home page, the contact page about page, my case studies, whatever, whatever. If they can't give me that up front, I think we're on a difficult track to start with because I feel like I'm working in the dark.

Nathan Wrigley: 38:50 Do you, do you do wire frames and things to give some, some structure to their thinking? You know, so when we say a home page, because we look at home pages all the time, we know what that means. We've probably got a very strong idea of where images might fit typically or where menus might fit and so on and so forth. But do you the client that they might have no idea. So do you illustrate to them visually, um, before they hand out the, the, the content to you, do you say, okay. Typically it'll go here and it's, you know, typically you want this bit to be 12 words long or this bit could be as long as you like and so on and so forth.

Hannah Smith: 39:26 Exactly. Yeah. And I will take the time to do that. Um, absolutely. Interestingly, that the disaster project that I had with a friend that was, that was fairly recently, I did all of that with them. I spent an entire day with them building the wire frames. Uh, you know, took talking it through. I then sent them all to them after, after that day. And what I didn't do was checking with them and make sure that they'd seen the wire frames properly drawn up and understood what that meant. I didn't do that. I just assumed that they would understand. And that was one of the, I think for me the absolute moment where I got that project absolutely wrong because I got silence from them. They obviously hadn't bothered to open up the wire frames or really look at them already, engage with them, already think of them through. So when I then built the website according to those wire frames, they were really upset because it wasn't what they'd had in their head.

Nathan Wrigley: 40:29 Oh yeah. Yeah. And I was like, but we did why we did that. Oh, we got one coming. Yeah.

Hannah Smith: 40:36 We spent a whole day on this. Like how, how, and again, I mean it was just a really important lesson that two way communication I shouldn't have carried on with the work until I had heard back from them that they had rogered, that they should be, yes. A very important lesson for me.

Nathan Wrigley: 40:55 Yes. A good point. Okay. So we've got contents, let's call it content instead of copy. Yes. We've got, um, we've got the, the financial stuff that we mentioned earlier. What else do you do in terms of expectations? Are there any other things that you've mucked up sufficiently that you now do it instinctively? The leading question. Yeah.

Hannah Smith: 41:18 Yeah. I mean I think, I think the other really important thing that I've learned to be honest and upfront about is whether what they're asking for is easy or hard to me. Yes. Um, obviously as I've been working in world of WordPress, been about four or five years. Things that I find hard four years ago, I don't find hard now. Um, and of course my rate has changed accordingly for that. There are still things, a project will come in and I'll still take the time to be up front with them and say, look, it's going to be transparent here. Um, um, integration is not something I've done. I know a bit about, I played with it, but I haven't actually done it for real. So if a client came along to me at the moment and said, um, oh, amp accelerated mobile pages in case anyone is not sure what I mean by that, um, if a client came along and asked me to do that, I'd say, okay, sure.

Hannah Smith: 42:14 In ferry, I think this is actually quite easy, but in practice this might be hard because I haven't actually done it for myself before. So I just being up front with you, I'm setting your expectations that you're going to have a bit of a bigger range on this particular piece of work. Um, if it's as easy as I think it's going to be this lower price, if this as hard as it is, it could be, you know, it's, it's going to be this higher price. Um, and I'll never go beyond that higher price. I'll always make that higher price fat, you know, and accept that if it's a completely new feature, I will have to spend some time learning how to do it in my own time.

Nathan Wrigley: 42:57 If you ever turn down work because you just thought this is too, too difficult for example, or this is too big for me.

Hannah Smith: 43:04 Absolutely. Yeah. All the time. Yeah. Or timeline to that. Um, and it's lovely now to be in a position where I know lots of other people I can bump the work on too if I feel that it's good work.

Nathan Wrigley: 43:15 There's nothing worse than the stress that you get the beginning of project realizing you actually have no idea how are you going to finish it and where all our bet. We're all guilty of that. Where we start out in this work, you know, you just take anything because it's hand to mouth and then you realize, oh it's folly cause it takes way more time and effort than you think. And usually a lot of late nights and stress and anxiety.

Hannah Smith: 43:40 Um, yeah, this was a really interesting point. Um, you sometimes have to trust yourself and have faith in yourself that you will figure it out and that you can do it. And I think that that is something that as you've become, you become more experienced in the platform that you're working in or developing in. You start to have evidence to show yourself that you can do it. Mm. Um, you know, you say yes to things and you don't actually know exactly how to do this, but I can figure it out. And it's knowing yourself well enough to know what, where, where that line is and then that line will constantly change it as, as you progress. So I think it's important that you do say yes to things you don't know how to do. And I don't want anyone to away the message that you shouldn't do that, but you just need to pick those moments wisely, make sure you've got space and time to do it. Otherwise, yeah, it does kill your confidence and it can be really, really, really sad for you. Uh, not being able to succeed and make your client happy.

Nathan Wrigley: 44:49 Yeah. Good points. Okay. So, um, the, the difficulty of the work, the, the expectation about money, the expectation. I can't remember what the other one was. We have, we had three so far. Um, any more,

Hannah Smith: 45:01 um, I think in built their involvement. That's right. Yep. Yeah. Yep. Um, I don't know whether we've covered this bit sufficiently, but I think it's an important point. So I will, um, say it, um, it's that idea of making sure the client knows that there definitely will be some change in this project. Yes, yes. Um, I think I, I talk about it as expecting pain. Um, because change is painful. When something comes up that you weren't expecting it, it hurts. Um, I mean not done lots of years as a change manager. Um, you know, changing the structure of the Environment Agency was something I worked on for a really long time and it really, really, really hurts to be doing that kind of level of change. Um, it's painful, can be physically painful if it's done badly. So, or it can feel a bit more like a poke or a nudge, just a little oh, oh, kind of thing.

Hannah Smith: 46:02 Um, so in terms of that upfront expectation setting, I always, it's almost like a lecture client and just say, look, change is going to happen. Um, expect it come into this with your eyes wide open. Expect that they're all going to be moments in this piece of work where things feel painful on my job. I will do my absolute best to make sure that that doesn't happen, but automate to limit it or to, to minimize that pain for you. That's, I see that as part of my role, but they're all going to be moments where we're going to have to have potentially some difficult conversations about things you want to do x, make your mega menu massive, make you make you make, make, make your mega menu shorter, but add images in at the same time, they're going to be some painful moments that we're going to need to talk about stuff your business might change. Um, so you, you know, you're basing your request for me to work with you on, on a piece of work, on, on a certain set of assumptions that, you know, today that business is constantly change and evolve. So there might be some something that really is out of your control that changes in your business that has a knock on effect on what we're doing here.

Nathan Wrigley: 47:19 I never do that. I really should do that.

Hannah Smith: 47:22 I think it's absolutely crucial because he's set that tone for people and say, look, some difficult going to happen. We'll work on this together. Um, but I like to, I like the clients not to be surprised.

Nathan Wrigley: 47:36 Yes. I think I'm working on the basis that we're all happy at the beginning, you know, and let's keep that happiness going. Well, and so I never mentioned and to be honest with you, you and kind of never really even occurred to me to, to set that out as a, at the beginning. Um, you know, I think I'm working more on the basis that when things go wrong, we'll address them at that point. But don't, don't allude to the fact that they are going to go, but that, but that's really clever because they always go wrong. See exactly what you said. You know, there's never, it's never exactly, um, how it was envisioned at the beginning. There's always some form of poking at some point, even if it's something very trivial and minor. Yeah. Very clever. I like it.

Hannah Smith: 48:16 Yeah. Prime that bear, make that bear. Know that at some point really sorry, but something will probably be hurt. Yes. Yeah. But let's work through it together. Yeah. Address it together.

Nathan Wrigley: 48:29 That's a great analogy. I love this idea of first started the bear being the client. That kind of tickled me. Yeah. And then, you know, the idea of poking and straight such emotive language, you know, it's great. Um, where can we find you if we want to take this chat a little bit further, where, where are we able to discover more about Hannah Smith? Where do you work? What's your email address? Twitter handle. It's entirely up to you. What you want to tell us.

Hannah Smith: 48:55 Yeah. Well, I mean, I love to chat with people. Um, um, I'm always open for someone saying hi and striking up a conversation with me. Twitter, I'm on Twitter quite a lot. You'll find me under the handle of Han op cam. Um, it's nice and short and it rhymes.

Hannah Smith: 49:17 h a n o p c a n Perfect. Han op can, um, I'm also on Linkedin. I mean, Linkedin, I look very professional on linkedin. I don't have a professional. Twitter was, makes me laugh, uh, these different personas if I said, um, but you can find me on Linkedin as well. So it'd be linkedin.com/n/opcan so you can find me there. And I hung out as well on the, uh, make WordPress UK slack channel as well find he hanopcan in there. So.

Nathan Wrigley: 49:49 Okay. Lots of ways. Yeah. Well thank you. I mean, how has been doing this, as she said at the beginning for years and years and this is run into all the problems that you've probably had, but maybe haven't got a, um, a thought on how to tackle it in the future. And it's very much about getting out in front of the client before the project begins and setting the expectations of the word that I forgot. Get the expectations right from the beginning, so if your, if your process isn't working for you or you're having problems yet, I have a chat with, have a chat with Hannah and see what, see what we can do. Thank you, Hannah for coming on today. Much appreciated.

Hannah Smith: 50:22 Oh, it's my pleasure. It's really fun to talk this stuff through. Yes. Some of my pain, whether the people.

Nathan Wrigley: 50:30 Well, I hope that you enjoyed that Hannah Smith talking about poking and stroking best fascinating analogy and really some, some lovely information in there and some good takeaways if you're, especially if you're new to this game or, or if you just really needed a fresh pair of eyes to look over the problems that you've been having in your agency and clients kind of getting in your way and asking too much of you. Very, very nice. Thanks Jennifer. Comment on the episode. The WP Builds podcast was brought to you today by WP and UP one in four of us will be directly affected by mental health related illness, WP and UP supports and promotes positive mental health within the WordPress community. This is achieved through mentorship events, training and counseling. Please help enable WP and UP by visiting WP and UP .org forward slash give.

Nathan Wrigley: 51:19 Okay. Thanks for joining us today on the WP Builds podcast. I hope it was interesting and informative. Please join us on Monday when we got two things. We'll have the WordPress weekly news which I will read out if you like and then later on in the day in our Facebook group we will have uh, a set of guests talking over that news and hopefully giving some interesting insights. It's the kind of thing you could have on in the background whilst you work. If we don't see you, then please join us as we will be doing, uh, the podcast again on Thursday and we would love to have you back and join us. Thanks very much for joining us this week. Bye Bye for now.

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Nathan Wrigley
Nathan Wrigley

Nathan writes posts and creates audio about WordPress on WP Builds and WP Tavern. He can also be found in the WP Builds Facebook group, and on Mastodon at wpbuilds.social. Feel free to donate to WP Builds to keep the lights on as well!

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