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I’m Jacob Cass, the founder of JUST™ Creative. I’m a multi-disciplinary graphic designer, working with clients all around the world. My specialty is logo & brand identity design. JUST™ Get in touch.

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How to Talk to Non-Tech-Savvy Clients

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Jargon

Learning how to carry out a compelling conversation with your non-tech-savvy client is a crucial skill that all freelancers must possess, especially if you want to keep a steady cash flow.

This article will go through some strategies on how to talk jargon with your clients so you can maintain their attention and give an accurate picture of what they really need to understand.

Fish for an estimate of their expertise

Noob

So you know how much explanation is needed for certain terms, you must first try to determine the clients starting knowledge. This can be done indirectly by using “fishing techniques”.

For example, you could bring up in an early conversation a generic question related to your industry. For example, if you worked in the web design industry you could ask your client in passing “Hey, what is your preferred web browser?” or “What operating system do you use?”.

What you are trying to find out is if they know the basic terms of the industry, if they have a knowledge of the industry, if they have any experience with it, their tech savvy-ness and how they relate with the topic at hand.

Some more questions could be:

  • If you worked in the graphic design industry… “Do you use Adobe Photoshop or any other image editing software?
  • If you worked in the programming industry…”Do you subscribe to any RSS feeds?”, “How familiar are you with the programming process?”
  • If you worked in the writing industry…”What are some websites / authors you read regularly?”
  • If you worked in the illustration industry…”Have you ever worked with an Illustrator before?”

Don’t Underestimate Their Knowledge

C

Let’s imagine that you are a blogger and you’ve just asked another blogger if they knew what RSS feeds were? They would most probably laugh or worse, get offended and that is what you must avoid. You can do this by not underestimating their knowledge. Don’t patronise them.

As quoted in Freelance Switch’s 12 breeds of clients and how to work with them make sure you balance the playing field by asking for their input in the areas they know about their business. This will keep them happy and stop them feeling the need to weigh in on your area of expertise which can waste everybody’s time.

If you’re unsure of their grasp on a particular subject, don’t assume they don’t know anything, ask fishing questions and judge by their reactions whether or not you’ve explained enough. This is even easier if you are in a face to face interview.

Keep It Simple & Slow

Simple Slow

Once you know their level of knowledge you’ll start to gather an understanding of how deeply you must explain the job at hand. Explain in plain English, use examples, keep it simple, keep it slow and don’t overwhelm your client with technical jargon or over-the-top explanations. There is no reason to explain how you are going to do something, you should be telling them why and what it will do for the client.

Just think about it when you visit a doctor and he speaks with unfamiliar medical terms, don’t you hate that? But when he slows down, provides a good explanation in plain English and shows you diagrams from a book, he accomplishes his task of communicating with you more effectively. This is what we need to do as freelancers, slow down, provide examples and talk in familiar terms.

Talk In Terms Of Results

Results

As mentioned above, explain to them why and what you are doing for the client not how you are doing it. Talk in terms of results – this will keep them listening and they will be more appreciative of the job you are doing for them.

For an example, trying to describe the importance of standards-compliant XHTML, you could say: “Standards-compliant XHTML ensures that the website’s mark-up is valid and supported by most modern web browsers which in the end means less maintenance and fewer customer support enquiries due to browser-rendering issues”. It is still technical but it gives them the results of your efforts.

You could also go for a more simple approach and say “I will optimise the code so that you will get the best Google rankings possible and make your site viewable for as long as possible into the future, by the widest possible array of users.”

Pause or Ask for Questions

Question

If you leave pauses in between your explanations this will encourage your client to clarify or ask a question. Behave as if that you’re always willing to answer any question, no matter how simple or stupid it may sound. If they ever seem confused or remain silent, ask them “Should I explain further?” or if you’re writing via email, tell them that you’re “happy to answer any question that you may have”. Never make your client sound stupid. Period.

Put Things In Writing & Share Resources

Write

Non-Tech-Savvy people like things in writing as they can read and re-read it at their own pace and get familiar with the terminology and even research the topic themselves. This is a great time to share with your client any resources that may be relevant. For example, you could provide a link to the Wikipedia explanation of unfamiliar terms or even provide an eBook on the topic at hand.

Use Familiar References

Familiar

A great way to relate information to clients is by using scenarios and situations that are pertinent to their background. Be creative, make analogies funny, and most of all, use analogies to relay complex concepts. To illustrate with a satirical example: if you were talking to a photography enthusiast, you could say “using tables instead of div’s for a page layout is as bad as a decision as using Photoshop filters on your photos.”

Be Honest

Yourself

Being honest with your client is a no brainer so try to be honest, sincere and upfront with everything that you do. If they ask you a tricky question, don’t pretend you know everything. Your client will appreciate it if you tell them the truth and that you will “get back to them later with a full solution.”

Conclusion

You may want to impress your client with the vast amount of knowledge that you have, however, if they do not understand it, then all of your effort is lost. Try to think of the doctor analogy I mentioned earlier… when explaining a concept, slow down, provide examples and talk in familiar terms.

Have you got any other tips on how you effectively communicate with not-so-tech clients? You can also check out Freelance Switch’s post for more tips from Freelance Switch readers.


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19 JUST™ Creative Comments

  • Tracey Grady Reply

    One of the easiest ways to explain your craft to a non-tech savvy client is to walk them through another job you’ve already done. For example, showing where the keywords sit in the meta tags, and displaying how content on the site relates to your keywords (search engine rankings).

    Asking for their input in their area of expertise, and explaining things in terms of analogies that the client will understand (e.g. photoshop filters on a photograph) are very good tips.

    Tracey Gradys last blog post..10 seamless website designs

  • liam Reply

    Well, this is brilliant! Really does help, I always try to get an idea, the thing is if you ask them how well they understand how it works etc they’re not always going to be truthful, or they might over estimate their knowledge for example. So these tips will definitely help with this!

    liams last blog post..Design Resources Pack #1: The Grunge Pack, Brushes, Fonts, Textures, Images & Inspiration

  • German Romance Reply

    Remember when you got started yourself, when you explain to a non tech-person, a condescending attitude will certainly kill the business for you. Show pictures to explain what you mean.

  • Steve O Reply

    A photographer friend I do design and image correction work for got me to explain image resolution as ‘pints of milk’ rather than DPI. Whatever works I guess!

  • modemlooper Reply

    never talk about the process just the result.

    modemloopers last blog post..MoPhoTo Is For Photographers

  • Mn7 Reply

    That was amazing.
    nice tips, as always!
    thanQ !

  • Douglas Bonneville Reply

    I come late to this post for sure, but I love the idea of asking “fishing questions”. So right on all levels. In that same spirit, I just put together a large randomized list of “fishing” questions meant to help facilitate a robust first-call with a client:

    http://bit.ly/ohEqL

    There is a PDF meant to be printed out. It’s like a checklist your right brain can improvise from when you are chatting, to keep the conversation moving if you are stumped, or just to remind you not to forget the essentials, which happens so often (to me) on those first calls.

    I hope I’m not the only one!


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