When Clients Don’t Provide Content

photo of a woman handshaking with a man

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I saw a topic on the Squarespace Circle Forum titled “How do you work with clients who are lacking content?” Squarespace is a popular website creation website and I use them with several clients. (Note: the forum is open to registered users) Though the posts are focused on web design clients, the question applies to other design situations.

I design courses online and faculty are my “clients” in that instructional design role. An ID designs a course but the content is almost totally provided by faculty.

I’m currently working with faculty at a community college and the biggest problem encountered is getting faculty to provide their course content in a timely fashion.

I also design social media strategies. In that role, I often am the content creator to a degree. I often write posts, add images and repost/retweet relevant content. But that can only be done from the raw content (text and images) from the client.

In all three situations, we design based on the content. It doesn’t work very well the other way around.

So what do users on the forum suggest? Most of their suggestions are aligned with my own practices. Here are some suggestions for working with clients that don’t provide content – or even better, for trying to avoid the no-content situation.

  1. Talk to the client about content and imagery before beginning. Be clear about what is ready to use, what needs to be created and who will create it. I have for some projects created copy, images and media.
  2. Have a timeline with milestones that need to be met by the client (I like weekly ones) in order to trigger your own design work.
  3. Many designers use a questionnaire of some kind. For example, in designing courses, we ask faculty to fill in a worksheet with course goals and objectives (they are not the same thing!) and a syllabus.
  4. You may need to create video how-to’s for the client on how to create content for their site.
  5. Stay in touch. You need to contact them when they are behind on delivering their content. Their prep work determines your ability as a designer  – some hand holding/teaching how to write copy for websites, etc. Email is the least effective way to stay in touch. Phone conversations are better. Web conferencing and screen sharing is better. Face to face meetings are still the best way.
  6. I like having a place for sharing files and collaborative space. Google Drive works, but I prefer Dropbox which has features for collaboration. Both are free for basic cloud space and can be expanded for multiple projects.
  7. You might use temporary filler text and images on a website so that you can continue designing.
  8. The “client” may actually be many individuals such as writers, photographers, graphic designers, media creators, librarians etc.

In some unfortunate cases, a client not providing content will not only delay a project but could end your relationship with the client.

Unretiring to Consulting

consulting

Are you planning a post-retirement or unretirement career? The number of people who are considering it grows each year. The old standard of retiring at 65 is gone. Not only do more people work beyond 65, but many people retire well before 65 to an unretirement.

There is a growing trend towards shifting employment to consulting and coaching.  Harvard Business Review says that this desire to stay employed is about personal and professional fulfillment. You may be surprised that the wealthiest people were the most likely to want to keep working. 80% of retirees who work say they are doing so because they want to, rather than because they have to.

I made this move in 2013 well before my still-to-come-65th birthday. (The majority of consultant/coaches are 50+.)Like many of those in the 2016 ICF Global Coaching Study, the majority of senior professionals don’t want to “retire.” They like what they are doing, but don’t like the pace and amount of work required at a corporate job. Clearly some of the appeal is  more flexible hours, possibly higher rates, working virtually and from your own location.

But you would not be the only person to have come to this decision. Another HBR article discusses some things to consider and I agree with most of them.

One tip is to “Give yourself sufficient runway. ” They suggest 1-2 years to prepare. Circumstances pushed me to make my decision in less than a year and at the start of my unretirement I didn’t have clients waiting. You also need to be sure you can handle the financial changes that occur with going independent.

It is recommended that you give your company plenty of time for succession planning. You don’t want to burn a bridge behind you, especially since you will probably be building this new career off your experiences, reputation and possibly even your past clients. As long as it is done in a legitimate and ethical way, you want to start lining up clients early. This doesn’t mean pilfering current clients but it does mean using a network you’ve built over the years. I had many colleagues in education at all levels and I used those contacts as entry point into new clients.

I spoke with small business counselors at my bank, opened business accounts, obtained a business/vendor number (rather than using my own Social Security number) and formed an LLC.

Dorie Clark, who writes about this topic, suggests that you do a skills self- analysis to evaluate your  entrepreneurial abilities along with your subject matter expertise. She even offers a tool to do that analysis. I picked up her book Reinventing You which got me thinking a lot more about personal branding.

If you do an honest skill analysis, you may determine that this new venture requires some new skills or updating existing skills. Examples might be social media, technical communications, online training or web services, digital marketing and design skills. You may not need another degree, but many colleges offer certifications and targeted courses on these and other topics. There are also hundreds of free MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) that can sometimes serve the same goals. Some of these courses are offered by the world’s leading universities and may also offer certificates of successful completion.

I have taught, and continue to teach, in several graduate certificate programs at New Jersey Institute of Technology. The majority of my students have been people either working in a field and seeking to upgrade skills for advancement, or people hoping to shift careers. A few have been moving towards consulting, but most are still hoping to work for their employer or another company in a new capacity. Don’t feel bad if you turn out to have a skills gap, because that is very much the norm in business today.

You will need a web presence. Business cards alone won’t cut it. A website and a social media presence for you and for your company should be on your To Do list early on. You will need to market yourself and your brand. I would add to that list – but much further down – things like creating a logo.

If social media hasn’t been your thing professionally, you could begin with having a personal and company presence on LinkedIn and even using that as a “blogging” platform. It is one way to connect your professional contacts with what you are doing.

On the  upside, consulting and coaching offer flexible, interesting, and sometimes well paid opportunities for second careers for active or retired professionals. On the downside, the competition is definitely out there, so be prepared.