You may be a master coder, an expert at a specific language or framework, or you may boast being in the industry for 15 years. But is this what your client really wants? Is there something else, something more important, that they are seeking from you?

Every once in a while I like to give my readers a real-life freelance web development scenario and my lessons learned from it. It’s time for a new one. Here goes:

Not too long ago I a had a client that wanted her blog posts transferred from her old website/URL to her new website/URL. She had gotten tired of writing for two blogs and realized that she could actually just combine the content into one blog.

Simple right?

A mess

Well, it turned out that she was using a different permalink structure on the new WordPress site, %category%/%postname%. And on the old site she had the standard %postname% only.

This means in regards to SEO that I wouldnt just be able to redirect the posts one-to-one from the old site to the new, but would have to redirect them to their chosen category (and subcategories as there were many).

In my mind, I was thinking, “Why in the world does she have the %category%/%postname% permalink anyway? Who uses that?” But I didn’t mention it. I tried to explain to her that we would have to redirect all the URLs for SEO purposes.

She also mentioned that she wanted all the categories of the old blog placed as subcategories under one main category on the new site so that she could show her posts by category in the menu. My thought was, “This still doesn’t necessitate the URL structure.”

Web Developer as Specialist

Long story short, this all was very hard to visualize, what she wanted, and also very difficult to describe to her what it would take. I tried to explain the difference in permalinks and redirects, etc. and after a while, she got very confused and somewhat frustrated.

Then something dawned on me, “Wait a minute…why am I trying to meet all of her requests if she doesn’t truly understand the issue here? She hired me as the specialist to come in and get this fixed in the most optimal way. I should be telling her the best route to take!”

So I backed up a minute, reassessed the overall situation, and devised a game plan.

I told her, “Look, your permalink structure is not good. It doesn’t match the URL structure of the old site and it’s not optimal for your blog or even most blogs in general. Without having to put them in the URL structure, your posts are already in categories. You can still create this categorical menu on your site. Based on this, here’s what I suggest is best course of action to take.

And I listed it out. We should #1 do this, #2 redirect that, #3 change that, #4 do this, etc.

Again, she hired me to not only do a job for her but to bring my expertise with it. Instead of me just trying to meet all her requests (that she wasn’t even sure about), I am instead here to shuffle her requests into an optimal deck of cards according to best web practices.

And this actually saved the entire project. She went from confused and frustrated to (exact words):

“Thank you for your thoughts on this. I understand! Yes, I’m happy to go with your suggestions. I was beginning to think that I would end up with a mess and was ready to stop everything.

Thank you for taking the time to think about the SEO implications and finding a solution.”

The Lesson For You

Did you read that?

“….happy to go with your suggestions.”

“…finding a solution.”

That is what the client really wants. You and your expertise. He or she has a need. They share with you that need. As the developer, you then need to take the lead and devise the best course of action, share this action with the client, and then upon approval, execute it.

And that is my lesson to you today: Don’t forget you are the specialist, not the client. They want YOU to step up to the plate and solve the problem they have presented with your expertise, not theirs.

Always keep this in the front of your mind and you’ll find 99% of your clients happy with your work (and your leadership).

Have you been in a situation like this? How did you handle it?

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