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  1. #1
    SitePoint Enthusiast
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    Question How to protect your interests?

    You have a meeting with a prospective client or better yet with a client you have worked with before on a minor redevelopment job. They have given you the opportunity to come into their office so you can present to them the ways in which you can save their business thousands with a client and project management system.

    For this example you have inside information on how they do business, how the owner likes to do and run things, and how their office works. So essentially when you meet with them and drill down to their business issues and what they are costing them you already know the answers that are going to come your way.

    After careful thought regarding the features of this possible solution and their benefits to the client's business it strikes you - what if the client says no to you (or even a maybe) and takes the idea to someone else (for whatever reason) at a later date, perhaps once they have a detailed proposal in hand?

    Is it simply tuff luck? Does anyone out there have a process whereby they protect themselves as best they can from this sort of situation? For those who have had this happen to you - How could you have stopped it from happening?

    Cheers all.

  2. #2
    SitePoint Wizard bronze trophy
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    If you freely offer advice and ideas before pen has been put to paper, there is probably nothing you can do to stop a company going elsewhere with your ideas.

    This is why we never do this (anymore!). Your expert advice is what you get paid for - the concept that any professional should draw up an entire project plan for free on the off chance that he'll get the job is outrageous (but one that unfortunately is common place in our industry).

    You'll find many posters on this forum advocate the practice of never creating proposals for companies until they have agreed to do buisness with you - i.e. the process of creating a proposal/detailed project plan is part of the actual project itself and something that needs paying for. There's nothing that leaves a bad taste in your mouth like finding out a company just got 10 web developers to draw up 10 free proposals full of great ideas only to take the best ideas and get one of their associates to handle the job. It happened to me, but it wont happen again

    Personally, I find it helps to go through some of your case studies, show how you helped other companies with their unique problems. Once you've shown your abilities and how they helped previous companies, you are ready to offer your expertise to this new client. What we do (in the case of meaty projects) is first line up a series of consultations - perhaps 3 or 4 days worth. These consultations are charged for - the end result is the creation of a detailed proposal/project plan, which is also charged for. The company can then get us to perform the work or they can thank us for our consultancy work and pass the work on to another company.

    This way, we never work for free. And to be honest, most professional businesses who are serious about running their business will want to approach the whole process in this manner.

  3. #3
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    Thanks for the awesome answer shadowbox.

    One quick question - So this "agreement to do business with you" means not that they have given a verbal agreement or some such to actually take you on to complete the project but that they agree to take you on as a consultant to develop a detailed analysis of their business issues and a possible solution?

    I have read from people on Sitepoint about their practice of never creating a proposal until the client has agreed to do business with them. I took this to mean they produced the proposal after establishing a solid relationship with the client through meetings etc and then gave the proposal to the client when the project was pretty much in the bag. I see you have taken this thinking one step further and are even more protected as a result.

    Do you think your approach would work for a small firm or freelance operation or is it more applicable to well established medium and up web development firms?

  4. #4
    SitePoint Wizard johntabita's Avatar
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    Shadowbox is right. Business should be about mutual commitments. If you are committing to spend x amount of hours preparing a proposal, you ought to have the prospect's commitments to do business first.

    Mutual commitments are something you should get during each phase of the sales cycle. For example, by the time you shower, get dressed up, drive to the prospect's location, and spend an hour or so discussing possible solutions to his problem, you've committed to at least half of one of your days. What has the prospect committed to in return? Nothing, if you don't ask. To get that commitment, you must ask something like, "If, after the end of our meeting, I've demonstrated to your satisfation how you could save thousands with a client and project management system, what will you do?"

    That may seem like a hard question to ask, but getting a mutual commitment accomplishes two important things:

    1. It puts you on equal footing with the prospect. Asking for a mutual commitment, I believe, garners you respect. It's important to have a peer-to-peer relationship with your clients. Personally, I won't do business without that.

    2. You know the prospect's intentions ahead of time. Most of us discover that the propect was "just shopping" or "not quite ready to proceed" only after we've met with the prospect and delivered a lengthy proposal -- because we don't ask that question.
    Knowing the prospect's intentions upfront will enable you to make some smart decisions in order to "protect your interests." For example, would you spend 3+ hours preparing a proposal for someone that was "just shopping" or was planning to compare your bid to that of ten other web developers? I don't think so.

  5. #5
    SitePoint Wizard bronze trophy
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    Quote Originally Posted by WDM
    Do you think your approach would work for a small firm or freelance operation or is it more applicable to well established medium and up web development firms?
    It's not important how big you or your company are - what's important is how you present yourself to the client. Are you a consultant with the ability to solve a company's problems, or are you just some guy/company who can design them a site?

  6. #6
    Webwellwisher Robert Warren's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by WDM
    Thanks for the awesome answer shadowbox.

    One quick question - So this "agreement to do business with you" means not that they have given a verbal agreement or some such to actually take you on to complete the project but that they agree to take you on as a consultant to develop a detailed analysis of their business issues and a possible solution?
    Rule of thumb: there's no such thing as a verbal agreement. If it's not in writing, it's wishful thinking.

    I have read from people on Sitepoint about their practice of never creating a proposal until the client has agreed to do business with them. I took this to mean they produced the proposal after establishing a solid relationship with the client through meetings etc and then gave the proposal to the client when the project was pretty much in the bag. I see you have taken this thinking one step further and are even more protected as a result.
    (Boy, this is certainly a recurring theme around here this week.)

    I'd go even one step further than that - instead of being just a website creator, be a consultant. Do what a consultant would do: sell them consultation time separate from the product. If they already know what they want, great, that takes care of that.. but instead of doing a blind proposal, give them the alternative between a stock template and a custom job complete with needs analysis and support. Bill for the consulting time and make them pay for the proposal; if they complain, tell them that paid consultation time will give them far more value than a free proposal.. you know you work differently than some, but it's because you hold yourself to a higher service standard. Take the high road.

    A lot of prospects don't get that they are supposed to be the experts regarding their business. All we can do is translate their knowledge into a form digestable to complete outsiders; we're not mind readers. In my experience, most companies who ask for proposals often don't have any idea what they want.. so they just keep asking for proposals until they're wowwed. That whole don't-know-what-i-want-so-help-me-figure-it-out process is much better done verbally than in formalized written form.

    Now if this is a good client, good people, folks you've worked with for a long time and you trust them and they trust you, and they ask you to draw up a proposal, I say just go ahead and do it. Sometimes friends look to you for advice; don't be a jerk and blow them off.

    In God we trust; all others pay cash.

    Do you think your approach would work for a small firm or freelance operation or is it more applicable to well established medium and up web development firms?
    Irrelevant, because it's not about what approach would "work". In the end, it's about honor - standing for a certain ethic, making sure others know what you stand for. It's about maintaining respect on both ends of the relationship. That's the foundation of any successful business, small or large.

  7. #7
    SitePoint Wizard johntabita's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Robert Warren
    Rule of thumb: there's no such thing as a verbal agreement. If it's not in writing, it's wishful thinking.
    Even so, I'd much rather write a proposal on a verbal agreement than on nothing at all.

  8. #8
    SitePoint Enthusiast awrowe's Avatar
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    Something I have picked up from my experience recently is that we aren't activists or builders or car mechanics or importers. We probably don't have any particular knowledge of whatever aspect of business our client happens to be in. While I will still see each client as an opportunity to learn more about the world, it is probably a very good idea to remain slightly distant from the actual running of the business of the client you are dealing with.

    I believe Robert is correct. Take each client as they come, but most importantly maintain objectivity and keep control of your business. Nobody else will do it for you.

    Also, to rephrase something Robert said, verbal agreements are just spoken words. Spoken words are wind and everybody passes wind every now and then.

    Going on what I've learnt recently, I think my approach would be very similar to what shadowbox suggested. Go through examples of what you have done before and perhaps give them some verbal indication that you have thought about their situation and some possible solutions for it, but go no further than that.

    Tread carefully.

    Cheers,

    Alan (the new paranoid)


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