I've been getting some calls lately to update/tweak/adjust things for clients. And they seem to expect this stuff to happen for free, and forverer.
I already make sure my clients are well trained in how to use their sites. I also include a free "adjustment" period in all my projects (the length varies, depending on the project): during this time all changes, bug-fixes, etc. are included in the cost. My hourly rates are made clear before any project is started. Updates and long-term site goals/strategies are discussed at length during planning and development.
- the quality of my client's site - I want the updates/upgrades/adjustments etc. to happen. I don't want the site falling apart, regardless of fault.
-Even though quality is my primary concern, I don't really want to work for free, or to give my clients the impression that they are entitled to free support forever and ever. (Ultimately, I would like to see the client take responsibility for managing his own site. I don't want to babysit and hold his hand forever. Advise, guide, help. But it's not my site. I just provide a service)
- workflow controlled. I don't want my project timelines interrupted by clients who are demanding last minute changes for nothing.
-no misunderstandings. I want the client to know exactly what to expect from me, so I can know exactly what he thinks he is getting. Because I want happy clients, and I don't think there's any other way to get them (even with kickass code )
So what is a good way to approach the issue of service contracts?
1-Should I be insisting on having a maintenance contract on every contract off the bat? What do these contracts look like (terms, rates, timeframes, what's included, what happens if we go over a certain threshold etc)
2-How do I broach the subject with current clients who do not have a maintenance/service contract, but should have had one from the start?
3-If it is workable to function without a maintenance contract, and I merely charge an hourly rate after a certain point, how do I pull that off and keep my clients happy? Can I set a minimum charge (eg:1hr)? When do I start billing, and how do I collect? (monthly invoicing, up front etc) Again, how do I spin this when I introduce a new policy?
Maintenance and updates is a stipulation in our regular contract. Upon fulfillment of our contract, all changes, updates, training and support are billed at normal hourly rates. They are welcome to negotiate a new support agreement, but by default we just bill hourly.
For most clients, maintenance contracts just don't work well. To be really beneficial the contract should be a win/win for both of you. Most of our clients just don't have enough changes to justify being on a retainer or monthly agreement. They just call when they need a change, and we bill them.
We do have several larger clients on regular monthly retainer where they pay a certain amount every month for a block of hours. We guarantee those hours, and fast turnaround. If they don't use them, they lose them. This only works if your client knows they will need the hours, and wants that level of service.
I'd recommend just educating your clients before they sign -- tell them not only about the web development process but also what happens afterwards, and what their options are. That way they won't be shocked when they call for changes and you send them a bill