How to Successfully Use Visual Editors to Give Your Clients Control

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I used to be very skeptical about visual builders for websites, especially for developers. Perhaps I just never fully experienced the Dreamweaver era, though I have made a few Flash headers in my time. Or maybe there’s a sense of purity that comes from building something from ‘scratch’, even when ‘scratch’ includes the most popular CMS, the latest grid framework, and… well, you see where I’m going with this.

In the end, what converted me to providing a visual editor option in my proposals were the clients themselves. I had to ask myself if I was really providing them as much value as possible as well as maximizing my time efficiency. It’s also worth noting that using a visual builder for pages really only covers a small aspect of what we do for our clients. Usually there’s more than enough hard work setting up the site itself and tailoring it to each client, that using something like Beaver Builder for the pages (which I’ve still designed ahead of time) doesn’t affect my overall time that much. In fact, it can sometimes be more time consuming because of custom modules and style overrides, which we’ll discuss below.

But it’s a much more elegant experience for my client than the default text editor. The default editor in WordPress is great for blogging, but not for the beautiful landing pages demanded of the visual web. There’s a case to be made for giving up control of the page elements to your clients, something that wasn’t always as simple with the default text editor and the Shortcode API.

One of the major concerns that I hear from developers is that the these future site design changes could reflect poorly on them and their portfolio. After all, they have the integrity of their Site Designed by… footer tag to uphold. I definitely understand this fear, and that’s why I wanted to lay out my thoughts on how to best handle revisions and updates when using a visual builder.

I should first note that I’m not endorsing Beaver Builder over any competitors, it’s just the one I’ve been using so I’m familiar with it.

There are a number of considerations, including…

Your Business Model – Do you want that hourly revision work?

When I started out, I was interested in all sorts of long-term passive income measures that weren’t really that passive, like controlling hosting and domain registration for clients. As I’ve grown, I’ve realized that the margins on those efforts are so small that they’re almost non-existent.

Relinquishing control to the client seemed nerve-wracking, but being able to train them correctly and allow them to take ownership of their website actually gave me more time to focus on helping my next clients. I still help them set up hosting and domain registration, but I try to avoid all the hassle of renewals, collecting, etc and focus on building great sites for clients.

Revisions are a different beast, however, than paying a hosting bill every month. As a designer you always need to be available to your client for revisions, but at what scale? Sure you’re not losing money by doing minor revisions in 0.5hr increments, but what are you really gaining? And more importantly, what does your client gain? Allowing your client to make minor changes to content ultimately gives them more value because it

  • encourages them to interact with their website, counteracting the set-it-and-forget-it mentality
  • encourages them to keep their content fresh by constantly testing and renewing it instantaneously
  • keeps their overall web budget down, freeing up resources so they can contact you for the bigger, meatier revisions and additions and, ultimately, new projects

Outsourcing minor revisions can be death by a thousand needles to their budget and their desire to interact with their website. Let them own the minor revisions and free you both up to move forward with larger projects.

Your Clients  – Do they want to fiddle around? Are they computer savvy?

You don’t have to be Bill Gates to use a visual editor like Beaver Builder, but making changes to a live website is nerve-wracking and requires some level of comfort with computers. Regardless of the business model discussed above, if your client doesn’t want to touch the back-end of a website, then this is a non-issue and you have to be comfortable making revisions and charging for hourly increments.

However, I recommend offering a ‘Website Management Tutorial’ as part of your proposal when  you pitch sites. If you’re building your client sites on a CMS like WordPress, chances are that the client has a lot of content that they want to manage. If they wanted something highly technical, probably more efficient, and managed by a full-stack web developer, we probably wouldn’t be having this discussion right now.

In my experience, companies have a small team or individual who is in charge of making site updates. That individual feels confident making a PowerPoint and maybe even editing some <a href=""></a> tags, but just wants something that’s easy and works for them. That’s the sort of client that got me into using Beaver Builder in the first place, and that’s the sort of client I’m discussing here.

Offer them your time and the training to handle their own minor revisions, and you can have a happier customer who feels confident in referring future clients to you.

How to Hand Over Control of Visual Editors Correctly

So once you’ve decided that you’re going to try giving a client control over a visual editor for page updates, you need to set that client up for success. While these concepts could apply to other visual editors, I’m most comfortable with Beaver Builder, so these two steps are geared towards that system.

Step 1 – Remove Relentlessly

Before you hand over the site, disable any modules that you don’t know with 100% certainty will look good and function perfectly within the site you’ve built. BB offers a ton of great functionality built in, but as web-designers, we typically don’t. We use a foundation that offers potential for growth (like WordPress) and then add functionality as needed.

For all my talk about providing value to your clients, hiding features may seem counter-intuitive, but it’s not. Remember that your clients hired you to design them a great website and that you gave them a specific list of features and functions that you’d include. If you don’t plan on testing, formatting, and overriding style sheets for all of the custom BB features, then don’t leave them as options on the site.

Inevitably, your client will want to play around with a module that’s outside of the scope of the site you designed, and they’ll be disappointed that it just doesn’t look right because it wasn’t thoughtfully planned out by you. In the end, this doesn’t increase value for your client, it increases frustration. If you leave a module intact for them, you are inherently guaranteeing it’s functionality. Save headaches by approving only the modules that explicitly apply to the website you’re designing.

The inverse of this is to include all of the default modules, but to make that part of your project proposal and therefore a budgeted part of your time.

Either way, the takeaway is this: Make life easier for you and your clients. Be clear from the outset about what features and functions you’ll be providing and testing. Then, if the scope of the site grows in the future, it grows intentionally and thoughtfully. We avoid scope-creep. Adding functionality in the form of opening up modules, styling them, and testing them is what I’d consider a substantial revision/addition that is more valuable to you and your client.

Step 2 – Add Thoughtfully

Depending on the scope of the site and the needs of your client, Custom Modules might be useful for handing over control but maintaining the aesthetic quality of the site’s design. Custom Module Development is pretty well documented here and also has it’s own support forum.

I plan on discussing the how-to more in-depth in future posts, as well as giving away a few of my own custom modules that I’ve been working on, but for now, I recommend seeing if this idea is right for your current project. A good rule of thumb is that if you are designing repeatable content blocks that will go on a page, and those content blocks require a little more care than the standard WordPress editor can provide, then a custom module will be a life-saver.

So a standard H1 or H2 heading might not need a custom module, but a specific heading that includes options for a custom gradient background, subtle animation, and a decorative triangular bottom using css pseudo-elements? Sure, you can achieve that by tweaking all of the various settings and hope that your client duplicates it just right, but why not make the custom module for them so you know it’ll look and act just the way you want it on the site.

When I first started using BB for clients, I used the HTML module to throw in anything fancy and custom. The problem is, my clients can never edit these modules with confidence, which means they either have to contact me for any little change or they just leave it as is and start ignoring the changes they’d life to see on their site. As discussed above, giving your clients ease and access to modifying their site is giving them value.

Custom modules are pretty easy to build and incredibly well-thought out on the part of the Beaver Builder team. If you can develop your own custom themes or child themes (which I certainly recommend), you can learn how to develop custom modules.

Review

I used to be skeptical about the place of visual editors in a web designers workflow. Honestly, I saw them as somehow cheating. Now I see them as another tool in my arsenal of providing value to my clients. I don’t use this process for every client, just the clients that meet the considerations discussed above.

Used incorrectly, visual editors can open up a can of worms. Used thoughtfully, they provide value in terms of time and money for both you and your clients.

2 Comments

  1. Dave on April 8, 2017 at 8:22 am

    Hi Brian – this is an interesting take on handing the Visual Editor over the client.
    In my experience, the client *never* uses the website in the way they had envisioned – it’s a combination of lack of time, technical apprehension and lack of ambition in understanding the “freshness” of a website (as google would say).

    BB has allowed me to release websites using serious rapid development. The templates are up to date, so although a lot of my clients sites look similar, it doesn’t matter to the client bc that’s how they want their site to look and behave!

    BB is responsible for providing me support, up to date patches, up to date templates, new features – etc etc and it’s allowed me to release a live functioning site with very few dependancies which I love.

    I’ve gotten off track here – but my point was that even if you train your clients in using the tool, very few actually do. So I’ve been able to sell them on a monthly maintenance plan which includes a block of hours for updating content. You and I know that to update content “generally” takes under ten minutes. So even if they send me an email a week, I still actually consider this passive income!

    BB has completely changed the way I work, and the way I roll out websites.
    I love how it eliminates the whole “what theme and plugins are we going to use” conversation that used to be so tedious pre-BB.

    • Brian Coords on April 11, 2017 at 7:18 pm

      Hi Dave,

      Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I’ve adapted my expectations about web design and about my clients over the years. I find it a lot easier now to just focus on being open-minded. I try spending more time listening to their needs, whether they want to do a lot themselves or they want someone to just ‘take care of it’.

      Ultimately I hope WordPress, Beaver Builder, and similar tools help open up the web to more people, helping them publish for themselves and not in some controlled social media environment.

      Thanks again for reading!



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