How and why I include a Client Questionnaire in my Web Design & Development process
Let’s rewind to the early days of my business when I was starting out as a web designer/developer. I was honing my technical skills and getting better every day but one area that I knew I could improve on was organization. I realized that if I was going to take my business seriously and actually make a “go” at it, I would need to set up (and stick to) processes, systems, templates and project plans.
As part of my early journey to get my business organized, I created the first version of what is now my Client Questionnaire. It has been refined and tweaked over time but the core has stayed the same.
Client Questionnaires are something that I include in EVERY web design/development project and it’s a step that I wouldn't dare leave out. It helps me to do my best work for the client because both parties are ready to plan and prepared to execute the best website - right from the start. The Client Questionnaire is a way to gather a huge amount of information ahead of time and make sure that the client is clear, focused and intentional on the process as we move forward with the website. I use the document to guide our discussion, ask the necessary questions, and flush out the main points to consider when we begin the actual website build.
Note: I do have a Client Questionnaire for my Consulting & Strategy packages clients as well but that’s not the focus of this particular blog post.
I love sharing these “behind the scenes” looks at how I run and set up my business and I hope you find this post helpful. Whether you’re a fellow designer/developer looking to improve their systems or someone interested in seeing the back end of how I work, the Client Questionnaire is an integral part of my business and client process!
Let's take a look!
What is a Client Questionnaire?
It is an in-depth questionnaire based on my Web Design & Development services package. By the time a client has signed up to work with me, I already have a fairly good understanding of who they are and what they hope to achieve creatively with their website, but the Client Questionnaire really takes things one step further and makes sure that we are on the same page.
First up, we have the “business” section of the questionnaire. The client answers questions covering the basics of their company, outlines all members of the team involved in the project and their roles, a description of their business, contact info, etc. There are several questions that dive deeper into an overview of their business and help me to get a better understanding of their offerings and who they serve. We look at ideal vs. current audience/customers, how they want to be perceived online, words that define their business (i.e., short list of descriptive adjectives), mission statement, competitor analysis, key business features they want to highlight, etc.
Next, the client answers questions on basic branding. I no longer offer branding as part of my Design & Development package so this is where I get the info on key branding elements and items that we will be using for the website. Think colours, fonts, logos, etc. I also get the client to share examples of websites they like to get a better feel for their style.
The third section of the Client Questionnaire covers the “website” and other technical points. We cover their domain (new vs existing), whether they have a website already or if we are starting from scratch, if we need to move from Wordpress to Squarespace, etc. The client also answers questions about what pages they want to include on their website (this is the initial site map), what pages to include in the main vs secondary navigation, footer content, blog sidebar content, social sharing icons/widget (I like Sumo), etc. Finally, we cover the website “add ons” such as newsletter or email marketing, basic e-commerce, calendar integration, etc.
How I set up my Client Questionnaire
I set up the Client Questionnaire in Google Docs. I love having it saved in Google Drive's cloud storage because it's easy to find, no matter what device I’m using!
I have a master version of the Client Questionnaire which acts as the template that can be customized for each client. It lives in the "Client Project Templates" folder where my other templated documents are (think: invoices, work agreement, getting started guide, etc.)
I start off by opening the Master version of the Client Questionnaire and click File > Make Copy to make a copy that is then customized for the client. I update the Client Name fields, review the questions so that they are all applicable, and do any other personalization required.
After the Client Questionnaire is ready and customized, I open the sharing settings (blue button at the top right hand corner of the Google Doc) to give the client access to the document. They will get an email with the link to the document and I also copy the sharable link to link to on the personal client page. See screenshot below:
I give them permission to edit the document so that they can input their responses directly into the document. This means that we both have access to the Client Questionnaire document and can see the changes in real time. This is a lifesaver because it saves the most current version of the document and we don’t have to worry about referencing old versions or answers. When I first started out I ran into this problem all the time because I was sharing the document in Word/Pages and the client would often reply by email with their updated content several times and I definitely messed up and referenced old versions/answers at least a few times. My bad! Lesson learned.
How the client fills out the Client Questionnaire
The client receives access to the Client Questionnaire Google Doc via email (as mentioned above) and I also share the link on the private client project page. Once they have access to the Client Questionnaire, they can go ahead and start answering the questions!
I permit the client to make as many changes or updates to the Client Questionnaire as they’d like right up until the project officially kicks off. Some clients are super keen and answer the Client Questionnaire in full immediately after I send it over to them, whereas other clients will answer it in chunks over time. Both approaches work for me so long as I have all their answers in time for the project kick off! After that, we discuss any edits or revisions very carefully so as to avoid scope creep or the project changing direction.
The client usually answers most of the questions in the Client Questionnaire when they get the link to the document, and will often come back and edit their responses or add further info as they think of it. I let them know ahead of time that they do not need to message me whenever they make any changes to the document because I will take a final and thorough look at their answers just before the project kicks off. This way, I only see and take into account their finished responses as we begin the website project.
Quick note: the Client Questionnaire usually takes my clients a few hours to fill out from start to finish but we all agree that it’s time well spent. It’s worth taking the time to answer all questions thoughtfully and thoroughly because it benefits both parties :)
When the client receives and fills out the Client Questionnaire
I send over the Client Questionnaire AFTER the client has paid their initial deposit and signed the work agreement. At this point, they are booked into my calendar and we can get the ball rolling. They receive the Client Questionnaire and can answer the questions right up until the project officially kicks off. It’s super important that the Client Questionnaire is filled out in advance because we have such a concentrated timeline that it just would not work to have them thinking about design considerations or making decisions related to the website layout as we are working in real time.
Clients are encouraged to ask any questions they have as they come up in the Client Questionnaire but usually they are pretty self explanatory.
Also, someone once asked if I've ever had a client refuse to fill out the Client Questionnaire and the answer is no (thank god!). I think this is because I'm very transparent with how I work, what is involved in my Web Design & Development package, and in email communications leading up to signing on as an official client.
Why I love the Client Questionnaire
Every since I created my first version of the Client Questionnaire, I’ve loved how much more organized it has made the web design & development process. I originally created the Client Questionnaire to keep track of everything and make sure that I wasn’t forgetting to ask the client anything important (true story). It was a way to organize my Website Design & Development process, get all the major points answered in one place, and establish continuity between projects. As it turns out, the Client Questionnaire helps BOTH parties to clearly understand their goals, define the business, and identify ways to use the website strategically.
Some of the questions and corresponding answers might seem very basic but I still encourage my clients to answer thoughtfully and with as much detail as needed. Some questions are straight up practical, especially related to the site and it’s technical elements, whereas others require the client to think and consider their replies because we are talking about high-level business goals.
The Client Questionnaire opens communication right from the start and acts as a reference point for the website’s design and build. As the person doing the technical build, I have to say that it is SO much easier to design a website for a client who’s goals and intentions are clearly defined from the start!
From a business POV, the Client Questionnaire also saves time and makes sure that I’m not filling up our schedules with lengthy or redundant meetings. Instead of long, chatty Q&A meetings that require me to take loads of notes and come up with a summary afterwards, I can instead send over the Client Questionnaire and review their answers with a shorter meeting to discuss any stuck points, if one is even required at all.
Finally, it’s fun to log in and take a peek at their responses before the project kicks off ;)
The Client Questionnaire has been a game changer in the organization of my business and it’s something that I always include for my Web Design & Development projects! Not only does it make sure that both parties are on the same page, it also clarifies the business and direction we will go with the website. The client spends a lot of time answering the Questionnaire and I make sure to spend an equal amount of time reviewing their responses and letting that be the guide to building the best website possible. I wouldn’t do it any other way!
Now it’s your turn to tell me, do you use a Client Questionnaire in your business? What sort of questions do you ask? Are revisions allowed? How long do you give the client access to the Client Questionnaire? How do you set up the document? On the flip side, have you ever been asked to fill out a Client Questionnaire? How was that experience? I’d love to know so leave me a note in the comments below!
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