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Layering support for your clients

Jami Mays's Layout avatar

Currently, I own 27 domain names and they’re all managed by Hover with the average annual cost for each domain in the neighborhood of $15/year. If you do the math, that’s over $400/year and that doesn’t count the additional mailboxes I have on some domains. I could absolutely get these domains registered elsewhere for a fraction of that cost, so why do I keep funneling my business to Hover?

It’s an easy answer: I’m paying for a great product with great support. I am always willing to pay more if I can quickly reach a human on the phone, via chat, or through an email. It’s one of the things I always encourage my clients to consider when they’re shopping around for service providers for domains, email, hosting, maintenance, etc. I ask them this question: If you woke up tomorrow and your website was down – just totally gone – what would you do? Who would you call?

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I keep pretty firm boundaries in my business. It’s one of those things that I just do not budge on, not even an inch. I almost never answer my cell phone unless I’m expecting a call — it’s an introvert’s curse. So, if my clients find themselves in a sticky situation at 8 pm on a Tuesday night, with very few exceptions, I’m not even going to know about it until Wednesday morning.

So how am I able to keep these firm boundaries in place?

The only way I can keep these boundaries is by layering support for my clients and teaching them how to access that support. It means pushing them to purchase their own licenses for plugins and themes so that they can get support direct from the developers. Ultimately, I want to create autonomous, independent site owners who come to me for strategy, design, and development. But I do not want to be my client’s support system.

I’ve created a dream setup for new clients and I try to push them to adopt to this setup because it takes me out of the support equation and encourages autonomy on their part.

Here’s the setup:

  • Hover for domain management.
  • Google Apps for email management.
  • Mailchimp for email marketing.
  • WordPress for their website content management system, with Genesis as the premium theme framework and a suggested library of premium plugins, depending on the client’s needs.
  • Flywheel for hosting.
  • Namecheap for SSL Certificates.

I tell my clients that if they adopt all of these systems, I’ll teach them how to use them (it’s a cost that is rolled into their entire project price) and offer them some email support/direction for the life of our working relationship. In almost every case, my clients respect my suggestions and adopt the system that I, as the expert, have outlined for them as the best fit for both of us.

You might think this means I’m locking myself into offering support for them, but it really doesn’t because I have these tools memorized. I know where to find help and I can quickly, and often via my phone, point them in the right direction.

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Actual recent examples

Client question:

Where do I change the links on my website so that they can have a word instead of the ugly numbers?

My answer:

Dashboard > Settings > Permalinks is where you’ll find the settings for permalinks, but you can also edit them from each page and post, just under the title area when you’re editing the page or post.

Notice the shorthand directions I gave in the first part of my answer? I use this same pattern of giving directions for every place on the WordPress dashboard I might send my clients. They come to recognize it and it saves us both a lot of time and energy when communicating. I also gave the client the appropriate term or permalinks, which will help them if they start digging into google to learn more.

Client question:

Do you know if my theme will let me create different sizes for my products that they can select from one product page?

My answer:

It sounds like you’re talking about WooCommerce Product Variations. Google that phrase and let me know if you’ve got more questions or need me to set these up for you.

Chances are, if my client wants to add product variations, they’re going to need to do a lot more thinking than just the technical aspect of actually adding the variations. They need to think about practical things like increased shipping costs, price markups, etc. It would probably be in their best interest to schedule some time with me, so I’ve extended an invitation for them to ask more questions and, if they did, I’d get them to schedule a consulting session with me.

Client question:

How long does it take for the DNS stuff to update on my new domain?

My answer:

Here’s a great article on how DNS works, but generally, when you update the records as Flywheel outlines here, it should be pretty swift. If it’s more than an hour, ping Hover directly via their chat tool on their website.

Notice that I’m sending them information that is specific to Hover and Flywheel, my two preferred providers for domains and hosting. I keep that DNS article bookmarked, both on my desktop and on my phone and, because I’m familiar with what is typical for Hover and Flywheel when it comes to DNS, I’m able to answer them confidently. Also notice how I also offered the next step for the client to be to contact Hover’s support via chat rather than me if there was an issue.

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This takes me all of 10-15 seconds to respond via email and all I’m doing is sending them on their way to find the answers themselves. It’s easy for me to determine if a question can be answered quickly via email with my clients, but if it’s not an easy solution, I communicate that fact and encourage them to schedule some time together (at my hourly rate) to go over their answers in more detail. Sometimes, my clients will take me up on the training offer, sometimes they see the price tag and reassess their self-determination to go fetch the answers themselves.

It’s important to be clear with our clients about expectations for long-term support. What sort of scenario do you offer your clients when it comes to support for the products you use on their projects?

Comments (1 )

  1. Greg

    November 10, 2015

    "I almost never answer my cell phone unless I’m expecting a call — it’s an introvert’s curse."

    So incredibly true. Setting expectations way in advance about the realities of how they'll get the best support from you - even if it doesn't follow the traditional frantic phone call, immediate answer, method - is the way to go.

    Great article.

    • Jami Mays

      November 10, 2015

      Thanks for your comment, Greg! You're totally right. When you set expectations that are honest and realistic, it's hard to not meet them. The trouble comes when we set expectations based on what people want from us vs. what we're willing and able to deliver.

      For a long time, I had my phone number on my website. It was a Google Voice number that routed to my cell phone during certain times of the day, but I never had my ringer on and the calls were always routed to a voicemail. I was also not motivated to check the voicemails because, nine times out of ten, people would ask me to call them back. I was setting myself up to fail -- so I just ditched the Google Voice number, removed it from my website and even changed my voicemail to say, "Hey, you can leave a message if you want, but I just don't check my voicemail. You'll be better served to get a response via text or email." A lot of people poke fun at me for it, but hey... those are my boundaries! I'm setting some pretty clear expectations there!

      Thanks for reading + commenting!

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