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  1. #1
    phpLD Fanatic bronze trophy dvduval's Avatar
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    Dealing with Customers with Unclear Plans

    While I've gotten better at it over the years, one problem that comes up every so often is when I have a customer that is not very good at describing what they want. Here are a few problems that arise in these situations:
    1. It is more time consuming in the planning stage
    2. It is more difficult to give a price quote
    3. It is more time consuming in the work feedback stage

    The best solution I have come up with is to charge customers by the hour, and let them know that even consultation time requires payment.

    Any strategies you have employed that helped you?

  2. #2
    Serial Entrepreneur
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    I think you already have the right idea: bill them hourly to help them figure out and plan for all the technology they need to run their business better. Create a spec document that will help them describe and clarify that plan as part of this phase. Once the document is complete and they sign off on it, bid the parts they want to do first.
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  3. #3
    SitePoint Enthusiast
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    well it depends on your business strategy... in general, the proposals provided are free... but the fact that you have to spend a lot more time in the planning stage means that the proposal is costing you more money - so you may want to charge an hourly 'consulting fee'.

    But after you have the plan done, it shouldnt affect your quote. Tell the client your milestones, and put in your contract what the timeframes for feedback are. Once the timeframe expires, no feedback for that milestone can be accepted - this means you can keep the project deadline.

    Of course the more you love your client, the more you will make exceptions to these 'time frames'

  4. #4
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    Charge for value added services, like developing a marketing plan, unique selling proposition, copywriting.

    The real problem is what I call context failure. It's called a best practice to separate style, content, structure. Trouble is when separation of everything from everything results in a site without a purpose (the excuse of having a site to have a site is not a purpose).

    ...To make money: Excuse
    ...Because building a site with [insert gimmick] looks good on the resume: Excuse
    ...Our customers expect a web presence: Excuse

    Charge for each service, at a premium. This either tends to get added billable or client clarity in a hurry.

    User focus and being the expert help a lot. Designers set themselves up for frustration by being expert in little more than their own opinion. Cite a case history or two and conducting some user testing disabuses the client of the notion every opinion has equal weight.

    With few exceptions you are not designing a web site for the client. You design for the client's customers. The further you stray from evidence based website design, the more you step into quicksand.

    Finally, if you site design doesn't filter out the undecided and/or provide clarity for the unfocused ....your design is wrong. Frankly, turning suspects and prospects into well qualified, profiled clients is one of the things web sites should do, could do, and are not doing very well.

    How many web designers are PhotoShop, Dreamweaver, Flash operators when they should be usability, interaction design, visual merchandising experts?

  5. #5
    Life is short. Be happy today! silver trophybronze trophy Sagewing's Avatar
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    Your initial post has some good thinking in it. The later posts seem a but adversarial to me.

    I mean, really it's rare that client is all that clear on what they want. Try to help him, and hourly rates are a great way to make sure that they get paid. Try to generate the documentation that THEY need so that THEY can get a good result. Be sure not to push them for something that you think that they need but THEY insist that they don't - there's only so much you can do. Try to balance their needs with their understanding of what they are doing, and be honest and diligent in watching out for their interests while also being accommodating of their [stated] goals and needs.

    A happy client is happy for their own reasons - because they feel that they got what they wanted and needed. Conniving a client what they want or need is risky and while you need to inform of their best options (to be professional) you have to treat each client different based on their skill and understanding level.

  6. #6
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    > one problem that comes up every so often is when I have a customer that is not very good at describing what they want.

    what about, especially if it looks a potentially sizable job, splitting it into two phases?; planning then production. and charge separetely for the two phases. say to them you'll charge roughly x for the first phase. at the end of the first phase present one, two or three rough plans/sketches of possible sites each with a rough price attached to them. they pick/modify, then move into phase two, production. all the time basically charging by the hour.

    it's impossible to estimate even roughly how long something will take when the something is entirely unknown. so, splitting it up into two phases, where at the end of the first phase you'll both have a better idea of the end something, seems a reasonable answer to me.

  7. #7
    SitePoint Enthusiast
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    Quote Originally Posted by johnyboy View Post
    > one problem that comes up every so often is when I have a customer that is not very good at describing what they want.

    what about, especially if it looks a potentially sizable job, splitting it into two phases?; planning then production. and charge separetely for the two phases. say to them you'll charge roughly x for the first phase. at the end of the first phase present one, two or three rough plans/sketches of possible sites each with a rough price attached to them. they pick/modify, then move into phase two, production. all the time basically charging by the hour.
    I like this suggestion. Break it down into a planning/specification phase and a development phase. That is how we tackle our larger projects.

    Cheers,
    Colin
    Colin Burns
    http://www.cmsadvantage.com
    Founder & CEO, cmsadvantage
    The premier CMS for Web & Graphic Designers

  8. #8
    SitePoint Wizard bronze trophy bluedreamer's Avatar
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    Yep we all have customers like that

    I usually offer a fixed price "consultation" to help them decide a way forward, this covers x amount of hours, then charge hourly for anything extra. Obviously this costs a little more than quoting for a known list of specifications but customers seem to appreciate my advice.

    For the most part once you know the objectives of the site an experienced web designer will be able to pre-empt most of what's required and will be able to put together a spec list.

    One important thing that works very well is offering customers more than one alternative. For instance, if they need a CMS I'll locate 2 or 3 that would suit and list the pros and cons of each, then let the customer decide. For where budget is an issue I usually suggest a "budget", "mid price", and "top of the range" alternatives - it's amazing how many "budget" customers end up buying the most expensive option!


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