How to Tell a Potential Client Their Site Sucks – and Offer to Fix It for Them

How to Tell a Potential Client Their Site Sucks – and Offer to Fix It for Them

As I was reading about the weird ways to find new gigs as a WordPress developer the other day, I noticed a comment from kalico that I thought was worth exploring:

Comment from WPMU DEV member kalico regarding the sensitivity of redesigns
Comment from WPMU DEV member kalico regarding the sensitivity of website redesigns.

Adding insult to injury is something every WordPress freelancer should be wary of whenever approaching a new client (or an old one whose website is desperately in need of a refresher). Because, as kalico mentions, you never know who created the website, wrote the copy for it, or even how attached the client is to the design. You may think you’re doing them a favor by pointing out what’s glaringly obvious to you, but it may just come off as callous.

If the website sucks, it’d be a disservice not to bring the idea of a redesign to this potential client. It’d also be a disservice to handle this pitch so badly that you offend the client to the point where they want to hold onto the bad design just to spite you. So, how do you come out of this with both of you winning?

The key to nailing a pitch is, well… it’s complicated. I have many years of experience pitching ideas to bosses, clients, agents, and sometimes my dog (if you’ve ever tried to get a dog excited about bath time, you know what I’m talking about) and the end results really depend on how prepared you are going in.

Whether this is your first time attempting a redesign pitch or you’re looking for pointers on how to improve the outcome of your current pitch process, I’d encourage you to keep reading.

8 Tips for Nailing That Perfect Redesign Pitch

When your web design business is in that brand-spanking-new phase, you’re probably spending hours every week trying to find new clients to fill your roster. But once the honeymoon is over and you and your business have settled into a comfortable place, it’s time to look for projects that’ll put your skills to the test and help you demonstrate your real value as a web designer.

This is why I’m a fan of redesign projects. They’re challenging, they can be great at earning the trust and lifelong loyalty of a new client, and they’re the perfect way to create a case study for your business: “This is what Client A’s website looked like before. Here are X reasons I believed this website needed a redesign. This is what it looked like afterwards and the analytics to show what a difference it made.”

That being said, unless a client comes directly to you begging for assistance with redoing their website, a redesign pitch needs to be approached carefully. As I mentioned above, redesign pitches are not always welcomed. And when the website they currently have sucks, sometimes it takes every ounce of restraint you have to keep from screaming at them about the 10 seconds it takes for their home page to load.

I wish there were one simple trick to nailing that perfect redesign pitch. What I can tell you is that practicality and honesty play very big parts in trying to make your case for a design overhaul. Don’t believe me? Check out the following tips:

Tip #1: Be Prepared

Before any new or prospective client kickoff call, you’d familiarize yourself with what they currently have (if anything), right? It makes sense. Imagine going to see a doctor only to have them tell you they didn’t bother to look at your records before you came in. That’s incredibly frustrating and unprofessional and inefficient.

This is even more so important for redesign pitches. After all, you’re the one initiating this discussion. The last thing you want to do is go in there and not be familiar with every square inch of their website or have a well-laid-out plan for how you plan on fixing it. That plan shouldn’t be mentioned until after you’ve sold the client on the redesign, but it’s still something you should have in mind before ever broaching the topic.

Tip #2: Do Thorough Research

There are a number of reasons why a redesign may not be in your client’s or even your best interest. For instance:

  • What if your style of design doesn’t jive with theirs? Trying to pitch them on something that’s more your tastes than theirs isn’t going to get you far.
  • What if you already know that they’re not open to the idea of a redesign? No matter how many solid arguments you make, you’ll only be wasting their time and yours.
  • What if their business recently made headlines after a major scandal or security breach? It’s probably not the best time to engage with a company and bring more negative news to their attention.

Before reaching out to anyone with a redesign idea, do your research on the company and even the main point of contact to make sure this is a smart business move for the both of you.

Tip #3: Don’t Jump the Gun

Think of a pitch like a date. You’re not going to go in there, throw down a proposal, and start talking the logistics of timelines, deliverables, or payments. A pitch simply means you’ve got your foot in the door. It’s now up to you to weasel your way into their heart.

Here are some tips to keep your client from wanting to turn down your offer to take this relationship to the next level:

  • Don’t make this be about you. A pitch is about your client’s website and their business’s long-term success as a result of the redesign.
  • Don’t use a presentation to guide the pitch. This’ll take your client out of the discussion and leave them sitting idly by, wondering how much this is going to cost them. You want them to focus on the positive outcomes.
  • Don’t bring any spec work and don’t even mention a proposal—at least until the end. Keep the focus on possibilities.

Tip #4: Avoid the Blame Game

Your goal here is to convince your clients that their website needs to undergo a redesign. If you approach this pitch with the mentality that the previous designer or developer didn’t know what they were doing, you’re not going to be able to close this deal. For starters, it’ll make you look unprofessional if you focus on what the other guy did wrong. “Well, if he or she hadn’t built this in a single-page layout in Wix….”

Secondly, you’re going to lose any credibility you’d earned up until that point if you do happen to throw shade at whoever did a bad job previously. It doesn’t matter if they paid another designer to do it, if their cousin stepped in to help, or if they did it themselves. Insulting their website and any of the work someone put into it is just bad business.

Remember: this is their baby. Maybe they didn’t have the money when their company first launched. Maybe they tried to do it on their own to save money. Or maybe they just don’t have an eye for design and were taken advantage of by someone who thought they could churn out something that was half-assed and still get paid. You’re here to help them move forward in a positive direction with their website, not rehash old wounds.

Tip #5: Focus on the User Experience

One of the ways I found it was easiest to pitch any change to my clients was to walk them through it first-hand. I usually something like Join.Me or GoToMeeting where I could launch a live meeting and then hand the reigns over to them.

This not only helped assure me that they were actually listening (since 10-minute ramblings about the benefits of intuitive site maps don’t always sink in when you’re being talked at), but it also gave my clients the ability to step outside their heads and experience their websites the way visitors do. As designers and developers, this is something you’re in the habit of doing anyway. You design for the UI and UX. But clients don’t often think that way. It’s more of a, “Why aren’t they filling out the form? It’s right there!”

Whenever you are ready to give this pitch, remember to keep the focus on the user experience. This is about giving your clients the opportunity to experience those disruptions on their own and come to the conclusion that a redesign is needed, with a little nudging from you, of course.

Tip #6: Talk Numbers

Once you’ve effectively demonstrated to your client that the user experience is suffering on their WordPress site, it’s time to talk numbers. And I’m not talking about how long you think it’ll take to complete the redesign or how much the project is going to cost them. What I’m referring to here is potential.

Business owners and marketers want to see a return on their investment. It doesn’t matter if it’s hiring a new administrative assistant or overhauling their website. If there are no potential positives—and, even worse, if there are no actual positives that result from the investment—they’re going to stop listening.

When approaching your redesign pitch, it’s important to come prepared. If you know that the placement or design of their CTAs is a major problem, have a case study ready with statistics that show an improvement in conversions after a redesign. If they’ve talked about a lack of sales in the past, show them a survey that demonstrates how online consumers prefer customer-generated photos instead of ones provided by a brand.

Use these numbers to show them that changes don’t have to be scary and can do great things for their website in the long run.

Tip #7: Take a Look at Solutions Together

This is probably going to be the trickiest part to pull off since you’ll want to resort to comparing their current website to the potentially better version of the site it could be. I’d suggest avoiding looking back at their current website when you do this.

For example, show them an example of a website that has a solution for one of the problems you and your client noted about their own site (without mentioning the problem). “Ooh! There’s this site I saw the other day that had a really cool exit-intent popup. It actually made me want to stop, use the discount code, and finish my purchase.”

Introduce them to a higher quality WordPress theme and show them a website that looks fantastic and runs flawlessly with it. If it’s one you’ve designed, don’t mention that. Keep the focus on the positive design experience.

Explain what WordPress plugins are and demonstrate how many of the essential ones make a huge difference in the visitors’ experience.

Tip #8: Be Tactful in Next Steps

Your client’s site sucks. Because of this, you probably feel a sense of urgency in sealing the deal and getting started on the redesign. But you’ve worked so hard to gain their trust and have them feeling like you’re the partner they’ve been looking for. That’s why you’ll need to be careful about how you approach next steps.

While you could offer to submit an official strategy and proposal after this initial pitch meeting, I’d urge you to pump the breaks. Like with everything else here, you’ll want to ease into this and focus on the positives.

My recommendation is that you request temporary access to their site. Let them know that you have an idea of what sort of rework they need, but that you want to review the backend first. Even if you already have that plan in mind, you might be surprised at what you find behind the scenes and it may change how you approach your proposal or plan.

Once you’ve solidified all the details and you’re sure they align with all the points you covered during the pitch, go ahead and write that proposal.

Repeat After Me: Sensitivity, Positivity, Honesty

How you approach this redesign pitch ultimately comes down to what you’re most comfortable with. I’d just stress sensitivity, positivity, and honesty, above all else. And bring some passion and confidence with you, too. Remember: you’re the expert here. If you’re not feeling enthusiastic about the potential that your client’s website has to turn heads and really wow their audience, how do you plan on convincing them to feel the same way?

If you could only do from-scratch website builds or redesign projects for the rest of your career, which would you pick and why?