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You're In The Education Business

Educate your customers!

“But if we want to be found on Google, shouldn't we be putting the word plumbing on the front page as many times as we can?”

It doesn't quite work like that.

"Are you sure? I read an article the other day that told me that's the best way to get the number one spot on Google!"

Sadly, conversations like this happen every day for developers, designers, and other workers of the web. Regardless of the topic, it seems like the widespread availability of information has hampered, rather than helped to educate our clients.

While few freelancers, contractors, or agencies look forward to the process of fielding the same questions again and again, it still remains an integral part of their businesses. Would it be going too far to say that education the most important facet of your business?


Look, you're good at what you do, right? You know what you're talking about and your interest in your subject of expertise goes above-and-beyond your job responsibilities. In other words, you're not just an SEO/Django/UI/whatever guy (or girl) from 9-to-5. If you're reading this, there's a good chance that you know your shit.

But there's a problem, the people that are thinking about hiring you, they (probably) don't know what you know. Depending on how you look at it, this can be seen as a blessing or a curse. We've found that it's best to look at this as a win-win situation.

When you take the time to educate your clients on the problems that they're experiencing and how your services/products can alleviate this pain, a few different things happen:

  • They start to view you as an authority. This is not only great for the short-term work, but can lead to long-term relationships, which can be quite lucrative.

  • They start to understand why they need you. If you're doing things right and truly bringing value to your clients, their decision to hire you will be a no-brainer.

  • They start to like you. The truth of the matter is that so many people within our industry hate taking the time to educate their clients. Why? Because they're not thinking about the long-term effects. Take the time to invest in client education and you'll become their new best friend.

So, you can take the short-term approach to working with clients (“What words do you want to rank for? Just let us know and we'll try and make it happen”) or you can play the long game (“Our newsletter actually has an upcoming article on SEO for small businesses just like yours, would you mind if we sent it to you?”). Which situation sounds like a win-win to you?

Tell a Story

It's pretty well known that humans are natural storytellers. It's how we communicate and, to a large extent, how we understand things.

So, when educating a client, you have a few different options. Using SEO as our example again, you can start talking about backlinking and algorithms (and watch as their eyes glaze over) or you can tell them a story: “Google actually works a lot like humans do. When I ask my friend Bob if he knows a plumber, he may mention your company or some other plumbing company that he knows. How seriously I take his suggestion is based on the authority that Bob has in my eyes. The more authoritative people that are recommending your business, the better it is for you. The amount that Google trusts your company is just as important as how people in the area trust your company.”

Remember, you're the authority figure in this relationship. Resist the urge to “hard sell” (do you like being sold to?). Your goal is to communicate to them how well you understand their situation without coming off as condescending.

Avoid the “Curse of Knowledge”

For anyone familiar with Chip and Dan Heath's Made To Stick, you may be familiar with the “Curse of Knowledge.” It basically states that sometimes we don't realize how much we actually know about certain topics. Therefore, when we're trying to explain things to people less knowledgeable than ourselves, we tend to start at the 10-foot view rather than the 10,000-feet view that we should be starting at.

So, how can you avoid the “Curse of Knowledge?” It's actually pretty simple.

  • Talk like a human. Explain yourself in clear, concise language. Drop the technical jargon that will only work to confuse your client.

  • Use tangibles, not abstractions. Our principal goal is clarity and understanding. Stories, analogies, and even visual aids help to get our points across. Abstractions muddle the point.

  • Put yourself in their shoes. Remember, they came to you because they have a problem. How can you educate them in a way that they'll view as beneficial?


So, go forth! Educate, take the time to listen, and flex your empathy muscle.

Remember, you're bringing real value to the table. Your job isn't to exchange lines of code for money. Your job is to illustrate long-term value to your clients. You're in the education business.

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