It was November the last time I met with the client who asked me to meet with her this morning. After many faulty starts beginning in the fall of '07, we finally launched the Squarespace-based site she'd come to me for, a couple of years ago.
As many collaborations do, this one has included lots of time for training along the way. And the reason we train is that a great selling point for using Squarespace is that most anyone doing so can learn to manage their own websites. They don't have to be web geeks. Or for that matter, they don't have to be geeks at all. (Or even "half geek" as I sometimes refer to myself.) "Ordinary people" including several who nearly turned pale when they described to me their extreme discomfort with technology... these people, too, are invited to use Squarespace on their own. No external software needed.
A longtime fan of the Chinese proverb, "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime," this teaching component was a natural addition to my own career path. It's enormously rewarding to watch a person who once described themselves as "petrified of technology" gradually become so proficient that they confidently make online changes that sometimes even surprise me!
Of course that's not always how it goes. Just like you and me, my clients have their own packed calendars, and with limited time available, everyone decides just how much or how little they want to take on. Exactly what it's worth to some, to pay me to just do something for them (imagine the die-hard Tim Ferris fans here,) is far different from the complete Do It Yourselfer. But more often than not, even those who come to me for the occasional refresher generally want me to help them do it themselves... or at least help them find the material that will help them do it themselves.
After we'd completed the "Coffee Talk" social portion of our time together this morning, it was time to look at my client's website. "Why don't you just get out your laptop for starters, instead of mine, and we'll work there. Doing as much as possible yourself could help you learn it more successfully." Her response was immediate: "No, no! I don't want to learn this!" Matter of fact. Direct. Not-at-all lacking in clarity. I paused, then asked - with a great deal less assertiveness in my voice than before - "So you don't want to learn to update wording and change photos today?" She most certainly did not.
Then they came back to me: the other times I've mentioned that with a certain amount of persistence, she could confidently move forward, handling specific tasks with ease, writing fewer checks to me. Saving that money for, y'know, more travel or pretty shoes or lovely dinners out. Or... not!
In the years since this lovely woman and I first met, I've become much better at determining the big picture. I've learned to ask better questions of my newer clients, to assess the specific needs they bring to the table, rather than just assume they want to learn to handle tasks that come so easy to me.
Pulling out of the parking lot a while later, I pondered these questions. Why should website maintenance be any different from other tasks? Some people clean their own homes; others hire someone to do it. Some people change the oil in their own cars; others take them in for service. Some people write their own resumes; others hire a professional to write them. Some people hem their own pants; others find an alterations shop. I'll stop now. You got my point a few lines back. Which is this: neither of these choices is wrong. We get to choose which option makes most sense for us. The finest point of them all is that the choice does, in fact, exist.
I will always love the way I feel when a client's face (or voice, for the long-distant ones I never meet,) reflects the "aha moment" after I've shared a new tip with them. The level to which this is gratifying to me may be a bit disproportionate, even. But you know what else I like? I like people. I like sitting across the table from them discussing things that matter to them as we drink our coffee in a cozy bistro. And if some of those people want to give me money to do something I might have been able to handle before grabbing my first cup of morning coffee? Well why not? We'll just call that one more perk of the job...
The reminder, though, was especially useful. I think it will help me continue to refine my questions as I determine the scope of each project. Including how they feel about, y'know... learning how to fish.