Over the years I’ve learned a thing or two or twenty (and some lessons I had to learn multiple times!) Here are a few lessons I hope you can take to heart and avoid my costly mistakes.
1. Buying products on behalf of the client
A huge error I discovered a while ago — I had been paying for a client’s webhosting for almost 5 years (to the tune of over $1000!)
It was my second client ever – and I had inadvertently set them up on my web host (under a different plan). For years I had been paying their monthly fee (I never thought to ask about that extra $15 charge on my account).
Make sure that ANY fees (hosting, stock photos, typefaces, etc.) are billed to the client accordingly. My rule? All services and products are charged as line items and, if possible, directly billed to the client.
2. Working with friends WITHOUT setting clear boundaries, expectations and prices
In my early days, I didn’t always adhere to my standard process and I let several folks I had considered friends take advantage of me – to the tune of thousands of dollars (and hundreds of working hours).
I think you can work with friends – if you treat them EXACTLY as you would any other client. If you do offer a “friend” rate, be very clear on your boundaries as to what you will and won’t do – and let them know exactly what they’re getting.
3. Working without a deposit
This lesson only took me a few times to learn – if someone can’t commit a deposit, walk away. You’ll never get paid (or you’ll be chasing them for months!)
4. Letting non-stakeholders dictate site changes
You’re the expert! You need to show up to each call or session as the authority. Don’t let others dictate to you what their husband / partner / mother-in-law / dog trainer / life coach / whatever says the site needs. Your responsibility is to the CLIENT and to create a site that meets the contractual specifications.
5. Compromising on price
This is another lesson learned multiple times. Whenever a potential client tries to haggle your price down – beware. If they’re hesitant to pay your full price, you may have trouble getting fully paid. In one case, a client who had haggled with me turned out to not have been fully funded by her investors (though she told me she had). I had to chase her for a year for additional funds (even though I had a signed contract and a deposit). In the end, the site never launched due to lack of funds.
6. Choosing clients who weren’t clear on their business
I tend to see this more with newer online businesses. Brick and mortar and established online businesses have a definite NEED to get up and running. However, often people are told to “start before they’re ready” – and this means getting an online presence BEFORE they even know what type of business they’re going to run. This can lead to indecisiveness and analysis paralysis – since they aren’t sure what their business is, they can’t make decisions on design, layout and content – leaving you unable to finish their site.
While this is an ideal customer for some folks, I personally choose to work with clients who are clear on their business. I often help them flesh out their offerings and products, but they are clear on what they do. Unless you’re aiming to be a business coach, therapist AND a web designer, stick to clients who are clear about their business.
If you specialize in working with newbies – great! I think there’s great value in helping someone setup their site safely and securely – just be prepared to answer questions you may not be ready for – and make sure you’re compensated for your time fairly.
Awesome post! (and one I wish I had a year ago…)
My mom always told me growing up, “If you ever feel uncomfortable and want to get out of a situation, just tell them your mother is being a ‘b’ and you need to go home.”
I’ve used the same method when navigating conversations with clients who ask for work that is above and beyond the original scope (and pay) of the project.
This was a BIG lesson we learned early on:
Be as detailed as possible when writing out a proposal for a new project. Leave no holes, and no room for interpretation.
When both you and client have signed on the dotted line, the proposal becomes the bad guy who won’t allow for the extra work… not you. I have found that clients respond better to me referring them back to “Line X” in the proposal as opposed to giving a “No” with some tired excuse. Also, the latter often turns into us caving and doing the work.
It’s always easier to tell someone tough news when you appear to be answering to a higher authority. I don’t see it as playing the blame game or making excuses – rules are rules. Period.
Michelle Martello says
Right on Elizabeth! The never-ending scope creep problem is one that gets refined through contracts and proposals over the years – I’ll talk about this more in upcoming posts. I’ve also found that as websites get more complex, so do requests (and needs) – which is why I like to work with long-term clients in phases or retainers.