Learn four ways to introduce a common project vocabulary in your freelance business so you can better communicate and collaborate with clients.
Have you ever been in a conversation where you’re communicating your point and the other person is communicating their point, and you find yourself getting increasingly irritated and frustrated because you’re talking about the same thing, but seem to be speaking a completely different language? Or maybe you’ve shared something important with another person, and they respond with some comeback that makes you say, “Yes, that’s what I just said!”
Communication feels like it should be simple and easy but it’s not, especially when it comes to technical topics.
Clear communication is a skill that is developed over time, and without it, professional conversations between freelancers and clients can devolve into a frustrating and confusing experience. That’s why one of the very first things I do with new clients is to ensure we’re both speaking the same project language and using the same vocabulary.
Here are four tips to help you to communicate clearly with clients and help clients to communicate clearly with you:
1. Create A Common Vocabulary
It’s inevitable that you and your clients will use different words to speak about the same thing. Most of the time, it’s simple enough to figure out what the client is saying, but sometimes differing language can cause confusion.
- You say navigation menu, they say tabs
- You say hero image, they say banner
- You say payment link, they say ecommerce
- You say widget, they say box
- You say post, they say blog
- Someone mentions adding social media to a website but it’s unclear if they are referencing the icons that link to social pages/profiles, social sharing buttons for blog posts, or displaying content from a social media feed on the website.
To make communication between you and your client as easy as possible, you need a shared, common vocabulary. At the start of the project, provide clients with education and resources that not only teach the correct vocabulary but help them better understand how to communicate more effectively with you throughout the project.
At my creative agency, I do this by giving the client a comprehensive educational guide that explains the anatomy of a website, the correct terms for different parts of a website, and even best practices to keep in mind while we’re working on the design and development of their website.
2. Explain Terms And Technical Jargon
Websites and blogs, ecommerce platforms, membership sites, courses, and learning management systems are technical and complex, and for those who don’t work in this industry daily, they can be overwhelming and confusing. Designers and developers don’t think twice about using industry jargon because it’s part of their everyday vernacular. These same terms, however, often make no sense to clients. The first few times a client hears an acronym or word they don’t understand, they’ll ask what it means. But if it happens repeatedly, eventually they stop asking — and that’s when trouble brews.
As a designer or developer, your job is to make the process of building a website as easy and simple for the client as possible, which means using plain language or teaching them the jargon they need to understand as website owners.
I do from the very start of the client relationship by giving prospective clients a heads up that there may be a word or two in the contract they might not understand. I show empathy by reminding them that websites are highly technical and reassure them that no client knows everything because that’s our job! This helps eliminate any nervousness the client may feel about asking for clarification. I also provide a glossary of terms during onboarding that lists common website-related technical jargon and explains the meaning in simple plain language.
Giving clients the tools they need to learn the proper language associated with their website, empowers, enables, and equips them to speak clearly and confidently about their site in the future — with you, with their hosting company, with their team, and with any other service provider.
3. Provide Context And Eliminate Overwhelm
Most client education is done at the start of a project, during the client onboarding process.
Tools and resources are provided to help clients be great clients, make them feel comfortable and confident in their communications, and give them caring support to guide them through the process. But when education is only done at the start of a project:
- Clients experience overwhelm because they must learn and understand everything at one time, rather than at the right time, in context.
- You miss out on additional opportunities to add value throughout the client relationship.
Instead, provide educational tools, resources, and support throughout the project. The goal is to meet clients where they are at and deliver the right help at the right time. Providing education during the most relevant project stage not only ensures that clients have context for the education, but that it is immediately applicable to what they are seeing and experiencing.
This approach reduces overwhelm, confusion, and frustration. It also boosts clients’ comfort levels, reduces revisions and change orders, and practically eliminates those, “I forgot you told me that,” situations.
4. Ask Questions To Clarify
No matter how much education and training clients receive, situations will arise when you either don’t understand what the client is talking about or you aren’t sure if what they are saying and what you are understanding is the same thing.
Get more information by asking questions like:
- Now X means different things to different people, what does X mean to you?
- Can you explain that further or provide more details?
- When you say Y, are you talking about Z?
Confirm your interpretation of a client’s words by using language like:
- So what you’re saying is… (and then wait for their confirmation)
Empower And Equip Clients
Clear communication is all about empowering and equipping clients to communicate confidently and comfortably in a way you both can understand. With a common vocabulary, an understanding of technical jargon, education in context, and simple clarifying questions, you can pave the way for a frictionless, positive client experience.