How Much Should You Encourage Self-Sufficiency in Your Clients?

An oft-stated goal of modern web design is to empower the client, by giving them the skills and tools they need to run their website. However, it’s logical to assume that this isn’t a good thing all of the time. After all, too much self-sufficiency might damage your earning potential.

In reality, the answer to whether you should encourage self-sufficiency is more complex than a simple “Yes” or “No”. It can be the case that giving a client free rein actually keeps them on the books while trying to handle every need they have could result in driving them away. The key is to maintain a carefully-cultivated balance.

This post will look at the concept of self-sufficiency, how it impacts you and your clients, and whether you should withhold some knowledge as ‘insurance’ against losing business. Let’s get started!

The Concept of ‘Self-Sufficiency’ as It Applies to Web Design

In this context, we’re using ‘self-sufficiency’ in a way that’s very similar to how the term is applied in everyday life. We’re talking about arming your clients with the necessary skills, tools, knowledge, and resources to run their own websites, and to make changes without your input.

We’ll talk more about the impact of doing this later on. However, suffice it to say that it’s a topic worth thinking carefully about. In fact, you may want to consider this a part of your overall approach to business. You can even go so far as to put it into your mission statement if you have one.

When it comes to what you’d be handing off to your clients, we’re not talking about going overboard. You won’t need to train them in the art of web design or pass them a copy of Eloquent JavaScript. However, you might want to build a subscription to WP101 into your service package. That type of knowledge enables the client to handle a lot of the day-to-day tasks you would otherwise have to do.

How Self-Sufficiency Impacts Your Working Relationship With a Client

Let’s begin with an extreme example. Imagine that for a particular client, when it comes to managing their website you are practically doing everything for them. This includes high-level tasks such as creating new users, all way to low-level undertakings such as coding a custom block or plugin. This is a clearly one-sided relationship and one that’s time-consuming for the developer.

What’s more, while on the surface the client is simply sitting on their hands, this arrangement carries drawbacks for them as well. Businesses are successful when the cogs are constantly turning, and constant downtime, while the developer (you) carries out routine tasks such as installing and activating plugins, means lost income.

Overall, the impact of a client being self-sufficient isn’t just a simple question of: “Will I lose money?” Your level of effort compared to that of the client is important to your working relationship as a whole. If the balance isn’t right, either way, it can negatively impact both your income and the client’s budget.

For example, many businesses allocate budgets around the end of the tax year. If the money allocated to web development hasn’t been used, it could go wasted entirely. In contrast, a budget that’s used up can result in the client cutting back, rather than throwing more money at a potential solution.

What You’ll Want to Let the Client Handle on Their Own

In order to achieve a balance that works for everyone involved, it’s best to delegate some aspects of the website management process to the client. The question is: Which ones? To answer that, we need to make a distinction between low- and high-level tasks.

Let’s list out some common high-level tasks (this is just a sample, of course):

  • Creating and editing posts and pages
  • User administration
  • Theme and plugin installations and updates
  • Basic customization
  • Handling plugin-specific functionality within dedicated admin panels

These are all relatively simple tasks when compared to some of the more low-level requests you’ll encounter:

There’s a distinct divide here between tasks that require specific knowledge and skills and more general administrative work. You’ll also notice that the potential for causing permanent damage to the site is higher with the second list.

If you’re going to offload anything to the client, it’s likely to be tasks from the high-level list. The risk of crashing the site while performing those tasks is low, and delegating them to the client frees up extra time you can dedicate elsewhere. Your overall income is likely to stay the same. However, what you work on will be more relevant and useful to the client.

It’s worth noting that training can help immensely when you’re implementing shared responsibility this way. With the right training schedule in place, you can teach your clients just about anything. Of course, this would all be billable time, so it can be an offering that’s well worth considering.

How Much Should You Encourage Self-Sufficiency in Your Clients?

Ultimately, how much self-sufficiency you encourage will depend on your clients’ unique needs. However, what’s clear is that letting the balance tip too far in one direction or the other isn’t in anyone’s best interests.

For example, a client trying to control the entire process out of fear will see their invoice totals rise. Plus, they’ll have little time to dedicate to bigger and more important tasks. In contrast, a developer who gives away all their secrets may find that the client has no need to return.

It’s our belief that the client should be a part of the development process, no matter their level of knowledge. As for what they should take on themselves, that depends on whether you’re more equipped to deal with a particular task than your client.

To put it another way, consider each aspect of the web design process that the client could perform with your input and guidance. If the task would take them about the same amount of time (with a little training) as it does for you, it’s a job that’s ripe for adding to the ‘self-sufficiency’ pile.

However, more business-critical tasks should remain with you – especially those where the client could potentially make catastrophic changes. This way, a natural balance can be achieved, and you’ll know that you’re maximizing the relationship.


Should you hold the client’s hand, or swat it away from the table? This is a question that many developers have thought about throughout their careers. It’s not easy to answer, but it helps to have a logical process in place for making a distinction between different kinds of work.

For example, everyday tasks can usually be given over to the client, saving you time to bill for higher-value work. It’s on lower-level tasks where you’ll become more valuable, as practically all clients will need someone on hand to manage custom coding, bug fixing, and so on. You’ll want to encourage self-sufficiency to a reasonable extent while remaining on hand to provide the services clients can’t take care of on their own.

Do you encourage self-sufficiency in your clients? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

Image credit: Free-Photos.

Tom Rankin is a key member of WordCandy, a musician, photographer, vegan, beard owner, and (very) amateur coder. When he’s not doing any of these things, he’s likely sleeping.

The post How Much Should You Encourage Self-Sufficiency in Your Clients? appeared first on Torque.

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