Web design and development are vast subjects. And it seems that those within the industry are expected to know every nook and cranny of it. There’s a narrative that sees us as all-knowing beings who can solve any web-related problem.
However, buying into this narrative means putting a massive amount of weight on our shoulders. Whatever the actual expectations of our clients, we might feel the need to project an image of having it all under control.
The truth is that we’re not superheroes – even if there is pressure to act the part. And that’s OK. We don’t need to be perfect.
Yet there can be a stigma attached to letting clients see us as we are – flaws and all. But today, I’m going to make the argument for dropping the façade and learning to be yourself. It might just be the best thing for your career, your client relationships, and your mental health.
A More Comfortable Form of Professionalism
Now, I’m not suggesting that you start showing up to meetings (virtual or in-person) in tank tops and flip-flops. You still need to look presentable and act professionally and courteously.
What I am saying is that there’s no need to have a perfect answer for every question. And it’s fine if there is a particular skill missing from your resume. You don’t even have to be an ideal fit for every project.
If there’s something you’re not sure of or doesn’t fit with who you are, say so. There’s freedom in being honest.
This not only relieves you of some internal pressure, but it also breaks down a wall between you and your client. Instead of acting as if you have the keys to the online universe, you can have an honest discussion about client needs and the challenges involved in meeting them.
The result may be that you see each other as more authentically human. It builds a level of trust that can be near-impossible to achieve when you’re playing a role, as opposed to just interacting as people.
The Potential for Better Projects
This newly authentic you can also bring a revitalized sense of confidence – especially when it comes to the projects you take on. With no pretenses of being an all-knowing designer, you can freely state if something isn’t a good fit.
For example, I’ve been approached with projects that require skills that are outside of my specialty. And sometimes, they take a level of commitment that I can’t fit into my schedule. Once in a great while, I’ve even been faced with a project that might just be life-altering.
Early on in my career, I would often force myself into projects where I knew I wouldn’t be comfortable. But I’ve learned that the best policy is to be upfront with my concerns.
If a project isn’t a good fit for me, I communicate it to the prospective client. If it requires that I get up to speed on a specific skill, I’ll readily admit it. The result is that sometimes we move forward together, while other times we don’t.
You might wonder what advantage there might be in admitting your shortcomings. Not all clients are going to be happy with your answers. So what?
I believe that if a project is over my head in some capacity, it will eventually come to light. That may show up in the form of a mistake. Or it may be that we hit a roadblock in the middle of the process. Either way, we’ll likely have to face this reality at some point.
Getting this out into the open from the start is better for everyone. Clients can understand my limitations, while I don’t feel the need to pretend.
When in Doubt, Just Be Yourself
Being more authentic with clients can be difficult. After all, everyone wants to put their best foot forward. Plus, no one wants to appear unqualified for the gig.
But the reality is that not every project is going to work out. Wouldn’t it be better to realize this right away rather than six months into doing the work?
Authenticity helps you filter out less-desirable opportunities. And it enables you to establish a better relationship with your clients. When someone knows who you are, they’re more likely to give that same level of honesty in return. This fosters a better working partnership and increases the odds of a successful outcome.
The bottom line is that, no, you don’t have to be a superhero. But being yourself, however imperfect, is more than enough.