Not Sure Which Static Site Generator to Pick?

Static Site Generators (SSGs) are a great option for many web developers and bloggers looking to build fast websites that can handle a lot of content without relying on bulky servers or databases. But there are dozens of different generators on the market, with each one declaring itself to be the “simplest and fastest” SSG on the market. So which one should you choose?

If you’re a newbie blogger who wants to get into coding, then you’ll need something a little more user friendly. If you’re a programming-savvy developer, on the other hand, you could tackle something a little more intense. Here we’ll compare a few of the most popular SSGs to help you decide which direction is the best for your site.

Jekyll

Website: jekyllrb.com

Language: Ruby

Templates: Liquid

License: MIT

Similar: Octopress. Serif, Enfield, JAQ

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Jekyll markets itself as “a simple, blog-aware, static site generator” and it’s one of the most popular choices when it comes to SSGs, especially for first-time users. Jekyll allows you to blog straight from your desktop, giving you more control over every aspect of your blog without having to deal with heavy databases and bloated frameworks. In terms of speed, the performance is nearly unbeatable. But does that mean Jekyll is the right option for you? Let’s take a look at some of its best (and worst) features.

Best Features

User friendly. Jekyll is built on Liquid, a templating engine that originated with Shopify, which means that it includes ready-made templates that are fairly straightforward to use. If you’re a developer that doesn’t want to spend hours creating your templates from scratch, then Jekyll is the easiest choice by far.

Built for blogging. Jekyll is almost ready-made for blogging, as its pages are automatically organized by post. It also lets you import existing blogs from Joomla, Drupal, WordPress, or almost any other dynamic blog engine with relative ease, so if you’re transitioning from a current blog to Jekyll, you won’t have to go through the tedious setup process.

A large support community. Because Jekyll is so popular, it has a great community support system if you ever need to troubleshoot an issue. This is especially good news if you’re hosting your site through GitHub, the equally popular public webhosting service most commonly linked to Jekyll. If you ever have questions you can’t answer, the solutions are only a few clicks away.

Worst Features

Less customization. While the Liquid templates are great if you just need something basic to get started, they don’t offer much in the way of customization. Because its engine is primarily designed to support Shopify, it doesn’t allow for any custom code whatsoever, which isn’t helpful for developers wanting to give their sites a unique look and feel. If you want to do something more customized, you’ll need to develop your own Liquid helpers, which can be time consuming.

Poor support for Windows users. If you’re running your website from Windows, you might be at a disadvantage. Jekyll doesn’t officially support the Windows platform, so setup requires a lot more time, effort, and maneuvering to work properly if you’re not already on OSX.

Who should use Jekyll?

If you’re a first-time SSG user or blogger, Jekyll is the perfect choice. Because Jekyll doesn’t require advanced knowledge of web development, it’s extremely user friendly and still includes powerful features for those with more experience. If you like building your own templates in Liquid, you’ll also do great with Jekyll.

But if you’re not familiar with Ruby (or you don’t like it), or you feel limited by the templates supported by Liquid and don’t want to spend time building your own from scratch, you might want to go with a different SSG.

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Pelican

Website: blog.getpelican.com/

Language: Python

Templates: Jinja2

License: AGPL

Similar: Urubu, Lektor, Hyde, Nikola, Acrylamid

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Pelican is another popular SSG built using Python. It incorporates templates from Jinja, a Python-based template engine, which gives it added flexibility when customizing themes and templates. Pelican also supports WordPress and Tumblr and includes its own RSS feed, making it a good choice for bloggers looking to make the move from dynamic to static. Let’s review a few features that make Pelican stand out from the crowd.

Best Features

Flexible options. Pelican features multi-language content posting and can use multiple formats, such as reStructuredText, Markdown, or ASCiiDoc. It also allows for code (syntax) highlighting and has a variety of plugin options, making it a good choice for developers who want to use styles that are familiar and friendly.

Great for full websites. Because it supports Jinja templates, Pelican can cater to a variety of unique templates that go far beyond basic blogging. The themes and templates coming from Jinja are also extremely easy to use, which means less time for developers when it comes to customizing and coding.

Import friendly. If you’re looking to move your dynamic site to a static site but don’t want to spend more time than is absolutely needed, Pelican is the perfect choice. It supports import from a variety of different blogging sites, making it one of the easiest to use in terms of moving existing sites over to a static platform.

Worst Features

Requires knowledge of Python. When it comes to coding, Python is a higher-level programming language and takes a fair amount of experience to use. For those who are familiar with Python, using Pelican shouldn’t be a problem, but if you’re more familiar with JavaScript or Ruby, then you might run into more problems than using Jekyll or another Java or Ruby based SSG.

Trouble with org-mode integration. If you’re one of the few developers using org-mode for Emacs to write your blog posts, you’ll have trouble using Pelican. While there’s a plugin to read org files (org_reader), it isn’t as well supported as other SSGs and often crashes. If org-mode is something essential for you, then Pelican isn’t the right choice.

Who should use Pelican?

Developers familiar with Python who want flexibility when it comes to coding will naturally gravitate towards Pelican. Those looking to build a website that goes beyond blogging, or who want to import existing WordPress blogs to a static site, will also love Pelican.

But if you’re a developer who is more comfortable using Ruby or JavaScript, then Pelican isn’t for you. And if you’re an avid org-mode user, you can probably find another SSG more suited to your needs.

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Metalsmith

Website: metalsmith.io/

Language: JavaScript

Templates: HBS/Any JS

License: MIT

Similar: Brunch, Docpad, Cabin, Wainwright

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Metalsmith is perhaps slightly less well known than Jekyll or Pelican, but it is by far the most flexible. Branding itself a “pluggable” site generator, it boasts an impressive library of plugins that gives your site any feature it needs, making it useful as more than just an SSG. Metalsmith’s website showcases it used for everything from generating eBooks to creating technical documents in addition to building blogs. Let’s take a look at a few of Metalsmith’s unique qualities.

Best Features

Built for developers. Metalsmith utilizes a very simple core and the rest is managed through plugins, making it very flexible and easy to use (that is, if you know what you’re doing). You simply give the site a source directory and then tell it which plugins to use. If you’re a developer that has used Gulp and you’re very familiar with Node.js (or any .js), you’ll love Metalsmith.

Not just for blogging. While it will handle all the basics of a blog, it can also be used for a variety of other projects, like converting markdowns to ePub files or creating project scaffolds. You could also use it to generate PDFs for your blog posts, making it a super flexible option for anyone wanting to add interesting projects alongside their static site.

Supports chained API. Maybe the most programmer-friendly feature, Metalsmith uses consistent and simple chained API, providing significantly reduced processing time. It also allows for things like unlimited linking, reduced client/server coding, and ID security. If these are features you need in your site, then Metalsmith should be your go-to SSG.

Worst Features

Less user friendly. Even though Metalsmith is designed for easy use, it takes a fair amount of programming knowledge to get it working to its full potential. This is definitely an SSG for developers who know what they’re doing, so if you’re a newbie, keep looking.

Small community. Unlike larger SSGs like Jekyll, Metalsmith has much less support when it comes to troubleshooting. A lack of resources and experienced users means less help when you run into tricky problems, though they do have a Slack group to help developers ask and answer questions.

Who should use Metalsmith?

If you’re an intermediate or advanced developer looking for more flexibility and control over your content, you’ll love Metalsmith. It’s also great for those wanting to do more than just blog, and if you’ve got a good understanding of JavaScript and don’t mind spending a little extra time developing your site, this is a great option.

But if you’re a newbie developer or someone unfamiliar with JavaScript, or you just want a good support system if you run into trouble, this SSG is not for you.

7 Quick Wins to Improve Your Website’s Loading Speed

You could have the most visually appealing website with absolutely mind-blowing content, but if your site takes too long to load, your users won’t stick around long enough to experience it. Slow websites drive away potential business and prevent your site from being found on search engines like Google and Bing.

Slow speeds can also affect customer satisfaction. As one study conducted by the Aberdeen Group shows, even a one-second delay in page loading speed can decrease customer satisfaction by 16 percent and reduce conversion rates by 7 percent. Basically, speed sells, and slower speeds mean less return on your investment.

With that in mind, here are 7 quick wins – the easiest, most inexpensive, and quickest implementations – to improve your website’s loading speed.

1. Upgrade your hosting plan

The most obvious solution for speeding up your site is to have the most bandwidth available to you. Choosing a hosting plan with sufficient bandwidth is one of the most important decisions you will make when building your site, and choosing the wrong plan can have major consequences.

Many new site owners choose to host through a shared plan because shared plans are cheaper, but what they save you financially in the beginning will end up costing you down the road in slow speeds during high traffic periods. By investing in proper hosting from the beginning of your site’s development (or by upgrading your current shared hosting plan), you’ll eliminate the risk that your site will crash or stall when people need it the most.

For WordPress users, WPBeginner has a list of the top web hosting services that support high speeds.

2. Choose a responsive theme

When it comes to loading time, a basic responsive site will almost always outweigh a complicated, flash-based site. According to Yahoo, 80% of your site’s loading time will be spent downloading components like images, stylesheets, and scripts. These elements take a lot of time to load, so the more components there are on a page, the slower it will be. Basically, the simpler the site, the faster it will be.

The simplicity of your site’s theme also has a huge impact on loading speeds. If you’re using WordPress, it can be tempting to choose the fanciest flash theme to draw attention to your business, but bulky frameworks and heavy coding can slow down loading speeds for your users. The quickest way to overcome this obstacle is by choosing a responsive or mobile-friendly theme – a theme that responds to each individual user’s screen size.

Responsive designs cut down on unnecessary components and coding allowing for faster loading times. If you’re using WordPress, here’s a compiled list of 100+ responsive website themes that are both beautiful and fast.

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3. Streamline your home page

Your homepage is the first impression you’ll make on any visitor. While it can be tempting to go “all out” and inundate them with as many widgets and graphics as possible, having an overwrought homepage can backfire on your site’s performance. By focusing more on content and limiting widgets, graphics, and extra features that may weigh your site down, you’ll not only reduce load times but improve your SEO and give visitors a chance to trust your expertise without the use of over-the-top gimmicks. A simple homepage is a win-win for you and your customers.

A few ways to improve your home page (or any high-traffic landing page) include:

  • Showing excerpts instead of full posts for blogs or news sections
  • Removing unnecessary widgets or sharing features and putting them on shareable content or on relevant landing pages
  • Minimizing flash features like rotating images or videos

4. Enable caching

Enabling caching lets you temporarily store data on a user’s computer so they don’t have to wait for each page to load as they click around the site. Most browsers will save anything from basic images to stylesheets, JavaScript, or even entire landing pages.

Be aware that most caches have a shelf life, however. Static elements like images can be cached up to a week, but third-party elements like ads or widgets can be cached for only a day or so. Optimizing your site with more static elements will help improve caching, which will in turn improve speed.

WordPress sites can use integrated plugins to handle caching for you, such as WP Total Cache or WP Super Cache. There are a few ways you can add caching without using a plugin, but if you’re looking to improve your WordPress site quickly, plugins are the easiest way to go.

5. Use Content Delivery Networks (CDNs)

Similar to caching, using a Content Delivery Network, or CDN, can reduce download times and improve your sites performance. CDNs take your static files (images, JavaScript, CSS, etc.) and host them on servers in geographic locations near your users, giving their computers quicker access. This system provides faster download speeds and can greatly improve your site’s traffic capabilities, as most CDNs also protect against large surges.

For WordPress users, using a content delivery network like MaxCDN will help reduce costs while providing easy-to-use integration with your current site.

6. Optimize your images

They say pictures are worth a thousand words, but pictures that are too big for your site are also worth thousands of lost conversions from slow load times. It’s common practice for many web developers to upload large images and then scale them down using CSS, but the problem with this method is that browsers still load the images at full size even if they appear smaller on the site.

The solution is to scale your images before loading them so you minimize the impact. As a note for designers and developers, make sure you’re using the correct file types, as they can make a big difference on loading speed. Using JPEG and PNG files instead of BMP or TIFF will help increase speeds and reduce download times.

If you have a WordPress site and you need a cheap and easy way to upload optimized photos without bothering your graphic designer, try using integrated plugins like WP-SmushIt or Lazy Load to simplify the process.

7. Delete unused plugins

One of the biggest changes you can make to improve your site’s performance is disabling unused plugins or widgets. It’s important to delete plugins you don’t plan to use – simply deactivating a plugin won’t stop it from taking up space.

It should also be noted that the number of plugins you have active doesn’t always affect loading speeds, and that well-coded and up-to-date plugins will not usually affect your site as much as poorly supported plugins. It’s important to keep track of which plugins you use on a consistent basis and eliminate the ones that don’t add value to your site, while keeping valuable plugins updated to the latest versions.

For WordPress users it’s important to find plugins that are WordPress optimized and have great support from their respective developers.

[content_upgrade cu_id=”120″]Don’t forget to use our “Essential Checklist for Building High-Speed Sites”.[content_upgrade_button]Click Here[/content_upgrade_button][/content_upgrade]

Final Thoughts

Improving your site’s loading speed can be overwhelming and often involves many different components of your site, but the main thing to remember is that simplicity is key. Focusing on strong content, simple design, optimized elements, and plugins that benefit your pages will all work toward improving speeds. If you’re unsure about your site speed, you can always start by doing a speed test. Below are a few tools to help you determine your site’s current speed.

How To Make Users Want to Fill In Your Forms

Online forms are a digital marketing gateway. They’re the filter between the people who are merely interested in your content, product, or service, and the people who will become paying customers. But when it comes to your forms, do your potential customers actually want to fill them in?

Forms can either ease the transition between “merely interested” to “paying customer,” or they can frighten away potential business. Here are a few ways you can optimize your online forms so that users will actually want to fill them in.

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Entice users with great content

You can spend hours designing beautiful forms for your website, but if potential customers don’t believe that the form will lead to something significant, they won’t bother filling them in.

After all, there’s no point in using forms to generate leads if those leads don’t turn into paid business.

Unless your content adds value, your form is essentially worthless.

The best way to ensure that users will fill in your forms is to give them something worthwhile on the other side. By optimizing your content, you can entice potential customers to click “submit.”

Offer valuable content

Whether you’re trying to acquire sales leads by gathering basic contact information, capture a customer’s feedback, or simply attempting to get more subscribers to your newsletter, you’ll need to grab their attention with your content first.

One of the best ways to garner form submissions is by having information on an optimized landing page alongside your form that includes details about what’s in it for the customer.

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Including things like attention-grabbing headlines, bullet points that highlight benefits, content previews, and calls-to-action will create curiosity and make potential customers want to know more. You can also include text in your forms that mimics the language in the landing page, helping to create a natural flow between reading and submitting.

Another great way to gather submissions is to include a short call-to-action at the end of your content preview with a promise of more (and equally beneficial) content. This technique works especially well if your content or service is intriguing and fills a knowledge gap or need from the customer’s perspective.

It should be noted, however, that this only works if your content is meaningful to the customer. If what you have to offer isn’t worth the time it takes to submit the form, having forms may actually turn away further business. By ensuring that your content is genuinely beneficial, you can eliminate any hesitations and capture customer data.

Utilize your microcopy

Another important and often overlooked feature of any successful form is the language that’s used to guide people while they’re filling it in. Microcopy, or the small bits of text that instruct users or address concerns, plays a crucial role not only in getting users to fill in the form, but helping prevent errors that slow down the process.

Joshua Porter, co-founder of the product design Rocket Insights, blogged about his experience using microcopy to minimize errors on his forms (you can check out the whole article here). After receiving multiple error notifications on one of his forms, he realized that his microcopy wasn’t giving clear enough instructions.

“I remember the first time I realized how much even the smallest copy can matter in an interface,” Porter says. “It turns out that the transactions were failing because the address people were entering [on the forms] didn’t match the one on their credit card.”

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Porter quickly changed the microcopy on his form to notify users to enter the address information associated with their credit card (instead of a general address) and the errors stopped. In light of this lesson, he encourages designers to add microcopy to all areas of their forms, including notifying customers that they can unsubscribe from a newsletter at any time, or that their email won’t be spammed when they sign up.

It can also help to add more natural language styles throughout your forms and in your call-to-action buttons that promote the benefits of your content. Using copy such as, “Sign me up for this free service” or “No, I don’t like free stuff” can humanize the process and guide users through the form by minimizing confusion. The less room there is for misinterpretation of complex jargon, the smoother the process will be.

Don’t miss: 5 Unique Forms that Make Users Want to Fill Them In

Make your forms easy to use

The best way to get users to want to fill in your forms is to make them as quick and easy to use as possible.  Here are a few ways to make sure your form experience is painless:

Use a mobile-friendly design. Whether you hand-code your forms or use a design service like FormKeep, having your forms accessible on mobile phones and tablets will broaden the range of people able to use them at any given time. The more available your forms are to users, the more likely they will be filled in, especially if they are busy or travelling.

Enable autofill features.  Enabling features like autofill can help shorten the time it takes to fill in your forms. Google Chrome offers its own autofill feature, and by optimizing your forms to use browsers like Chrome (or by adding microcopy that indicates that this feature is available) you can help users move through your form effortlessly.

Use a clean, condensed, and easy-to-read design. Not only does a clean design save layout space, it saves the user time and effort jumping or scrolling around the page. Having a simple, clean form also prevents form fields from being missed, and gives the user less work for the same results.

Make sure the user has a quick escape option. No one likes being forced to fill in a form, so if you’re using pop-up forms, make sure you include a big ‘X’ in the corner or a noticeable “No Thanks” button at the bottom.

Make the form as short as possible. Only capture the information you absolutely need to use. You can always follow up in an email notification asking for additional concerns or questions.

Change your form types to help lazy users. Try using radio buttons instead of form fields to create a “one-click” form submission experience for passive users. The less work the person filling in the form has to do, the more likely they are to do it.  

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A/B test for the best results

Of course, the best way to ensure that your forms are optimized for user experience is to test them regularly. Like Joshua Porter realized during his microcopy experiment, sometimes updating and testing the smallest parts of your form can have huge impacts on conversions.

A/B testing, sometimes called split testing, will help you compare and contrast which versions of your forms and landing pages are producing more conversions.

Testing things like form placement (above the fold or after the fold?), form labels (do your form fields go next to instructions or below them?), personalized microcopy and call-to-action buttons (should you say “Sign Up” or “Join”?), and even testing your design and color schemes can help clarify areas of your form that slow users down or prevent people from filling them in.

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While there are no set rules when it comes to making your forms more appealing, by having great content, clean design, personalized microcopy, and frequent testing, you can ensure the best user experience possible and turn interested site visitors into actual customers.

Why Agency-Client Communication is a Bigger Problem Than You Think

Agency-client relationships are all about partnership. The relationship between an agency and client needs to be strong and healthy to survive the constant onslaught of project deadlines, meetings, and creative differences that arise throughout the working relationship. The stronger the relationship, the better the results.

According to a 2015 study by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), seventy-four percent of clients who work with creative agencies believe agencies play an important role in driving their own success, and rely on long-term agency relationships to further their business goals.

For many agencies, these long-term client relationships are equally as important to success. Agencies often spend thousands of dollars each year developing and maintaining client relationships. Yet with all the effort spent on hiring experts, developing marketing strategies, hiring the right teams, and providing excellence service, developing a plan for good agency-client communication is often overlooked.

A good communication plan is essential to maintaining any successful business relationship. Cycles of poor communication can lead to dissatisfaction, failed projects, financial losses, and worse yet, loss of reputation in the industry. But because many agency-client interactions are more collaborative than other business – especially in the creative fields – effective communication is even more important, since communication often goes through multiple channels to multiple sources before projects are completed.

Many agencies run into issues of over or under-communicating with their clients – either communicating too little, leaving clients confused or worried about project deadlines, or communicating too much (or about the wrong things), overwhelming clients with too many details.

Reversely, clients often have a difficult time expressing their needs to agencies through the proper channels, leaving many agencies struggling to meet the demands placed on them.

While these breakdowns in communication can come across as merely annoying or “just part of the job,” they can be detrimental to the bottom line if not properly addressed.

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The most common types of communication breakdowns


One of the biggest communication failures between agencies and clients is a lack of communication. This problem can also include a lack of useful information being processed between parties. If the agency forgets to respond to emails, leaves out critical information, or is too vague about project demands, for example, it can cause clients to feel they’re being ignored.

Clients will sometimes overcompensate for this perceived lack of communication by providing massive quantities of (often useless) information, which is not always helpful for the agency, as much of it will not be necessary to the task at hand. Agencies may respond to this information overload by ignoring pieces of information, which may cause clients to feel misheard or misrepresented. This vicious cycle leaves agencies feeling overwhelmed and clients feeling devalued.

On the reverse side, if agencies over-communicate, clients may feel overwhelmed and overworked and assume the agency is too incompetent to manage the project on their own. One example of communication overload is agencies placing a heavy reliance on email communication over more personal styles such as meetings or phone calls.

Phil Simon, author of Message Not Received, says that the average person receives 120 to 150 emails per day, making it extremely common for clients to misplace, delete, or forget to read their emails. When too much information comes across a digital platform, overload is more likely to happen, which can cause clients to disengage.

In worst cases, this disengagement can lead to entire projects being stalled. While constant communication is important for any development project, over-communication or communication about issues that aren’t essential to the needs of the moment can leave many clients feeling confused or overworked.

Having a strong communication plan in place is important to combatting these communication issues. Knowing when, where, how often, and to whom communications should be sent can alleviate the burden on clients and allow agencies to manage projects more competently.

Of course, communication plans only work when the relationship between an agency and client is already established. If there are breakdowns within the relationship, poor communication will only cause further problems. Some experts warn that poor communication within an agency-client relationship is actually a symptom of something far worse.

Poor communication is often a sign of deeper problems

In 2014, RPA and USA Today conducted an anonymous online survey of more than 140 agencies to better understand what makes successful agency-client relationships. In their report, The Naked Truth, they discovered that ninety-eight percent of agencies and clients agreed that trust was a major factor in maintaining relationships, but that poor communication was a major factor when there was a lack of trust.

Poor communication can be a sign of underlying trust issues between agencies and clients, and can play a major role in the dissolution of otherwise successful business relationships. If an agency struggles to connect with clients on a consistent basis, for example, it can create uncomfortable distance in the working relationship, resulting in unnecessary overreactions when smaller issues arise. agency-clientcommunication03

If the client feels like the agency isn’t listening to their needs or has trouble getting those needs met on a consistent basis, they may either react with a desire for more communication (which the agency may not be able to fulfill) or they will slowly withdraw and look for alternative solutions.agency-clientcommunication02

Without first establishing the kind of trust that leads to healthy agency-client communication, tensions can build over time until one or both parties walk away from the relationship all together, resulting in financial and networking losses for both.

The good news is that trust can be built and protected by intentionally stewarding good communication patterns.

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Three ways to promote trust through great communication

Since communication is a skill, it can be learned and improved through intentional practice. Strong communication skills may need to be relearned during the course of a relationship, especially if there have been patterns of poor communication in the past or a history of mistrust. Here are a few ways agencies can ensure they are maintaining healthy communication with their clients (and vice-versa).

Be consistent and reply quickly

If an agency has issues with slow or inconsistent communication, it can hinder workflow and create communication barriers. Replying to emails and phone calls as quickly as possible – or sending additional emails notifying clients when they can expect a reply – can go a long way in boosting confidence. Setting a 24-hour rule to responses (or faster if it’s an emergency) and sticking to it will help foster trust.

Adapt your communication styles

Misunderstandings are one of the most common communication problems for both agencies and clients. When a client has trouble interpreting the intentions of an agency, it can cause confusion and slow down the workflow, since additional messages are required for clarification. Making sure communications are well written, clear, and concise before sending will help eliminate that confusion. It can also be helpful to restate the main concerns at the end of an email, phone call, or meeting to ensure everything was properly communicated.

Be open and honest (but don’t overreact)

Being open and honest (but respectful) with clients can help build strong relationships and promote good communication. Being courteous and sincere but honest about perceived complications will create a safe environment for both parties when problems arise. When complications do occur, address them quickly and confidently without assigning blame. If the relationship is already shaky, overreaction can cause non-issues to escalate into impossibilities. Asking “Why,” “Why not,” and “What” questions will help clarify and refocus the discussion while calming fears that clients aren’t being heard.