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  1. #1
    SitePoint Zealot ShinoKage's Avatar
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    What to Do if the Client Won't Give Content

    First off, I thought this was the best place for this thread, if I'm wrong, please move it

    I'm working with a lady who makes and sells jewelry and she wants a website. Okay... small business; perfect. I've asked her several times for very specific content (I can copy the email I just sent yesterday) which she keeps ignoring. For example, in the email I sent yesterday, I asked for the content I needed and then also said that we needed to meet in person sometime soon... oh screw it, I'll copy the email.

    I need:
    • Why you started your business (like a mission statement)
    • How/when it started (history)
    • A little blurb about yourself
    • Contact information (do you want me to use what's on your business card?)
    • Photos (which I can/will come over to take, unless you're having them professionally done)

    Also, I need to meet with you in person some time so that I can explain the service I was talking about in my previous email. I think it will be the perfect solution for you, when used with your website.
    The response I got this morning was "Let me know when would be a good time to meet with you."

    ........She has done this before when I've asked for content. She is a little batty (my mom said she takes psyche meds, lol). The reason I want this information over email is because she can't half-ass it this way (for lack of a better term x.x). If I try to get this information verbally I'm going to get a lot of unfinished sentences or guesstimates rather than actual facts/numbers/etc.

    Am I doing something wrong? What should I do at this point? My uncle suggested that I ask for payment up front ("that'll tell you if she really wants this site or not" he said).

    Thanks in advance!
    Last edited by ShinoKage; Jun 28, 2010 at 10:03. Reason: Forgot to add something.

  2. #2
    doing my best to help c2uk's Avatar
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    sounds best if you add some lorum ipsum sort of content to those pages and let her change it - do you employ a CMS, that'd make things easier.

    with regards to payment, something like 30% up front works.

    also, it doesn't sound like you've got a contract ready to sign for her, make sure you've got one that details your and her responsibility, what happens if not fulfilled (for example content/images delivered), payment agreement, ...
    Dan G
    Marketing Strategist & Consultant

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    I kind of get the impression that this lady doesn't have a business plan, doesn't have any goals set, and doesn't really know how to answer your questions.

    Just being charitable. <G>

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    SitePoint Zealot ShinoKage's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by amki View Post
    I kind of get the impression that this lady doesn't have a business plan, doesn't have any goals set, and doesn't really know how to answer your questions.

    Just being charitable. <G>
    Sounds like that may be the case.... I will probably be suggesting that she sit down with someone from the small business development center before having a web site made >.>; I know SOME things, but I definitely don't want to be "advising" someone who already has no idea what they want.

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    Word Painter silver trophy Shyflower's Avatar
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    Sounds to me like you don't have a written project agreement. Too late this time, but next time be sure you have one that spells out performance standards -- both what you will do for the project and what your client needs to do. Here's an excellent contract written by Andy Clarke that's free to download: http://24ways.org/2008/contract-killer

    For now, here's what I would do:

    Write her a short note and tell her that your schedule is filling up and while you would like to keep her project as a top-priority, you won't be able to do that unless you have her information within the next three business days. If that doesn't do the trick, table her project until she is ready to proceed steadily and find a better client.
    Linda Jenkinson
    "Say what you mean. Mean what you say. But don't say it mean." ~Unknown

  6. #6
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    Psych meds pretty much says it all.

    The web is a communications medium. So take a hint from 37singals: "Getting Real" design tip: Just say no to Lorem Ipsum

    When you can greek content why should the client take you seriously? They know you can start and finish a site without so much as a word of English.

    Am I doing something wrong?
    Specifically, if your web site treats content as irrelevant, you're practicing content irrelevant web design. And getting clients who think content is irrelevant because of it.

    When you run articles like "just say no to lorem ipsum" your client understands the layout is impossible without content. You've gone from content irrelevant design to content driven design.

    Small marketing tip: Position yourself against content irrelevant design.

    Next, team up with a writer who understands copywriting. If you practice content driven design you should have at least one writer who you team up with On A Regular Basis. They can deal with this because -- as your content driven site says -- step one is content.

    And the layout can only support the content. Written content is not a spacer keeping the divs from collapsing.

    Next, seems like some kind of ecommerce site. You don't have a business site treating copy as that thing the client turns in. You take control and responsibility for making a sale through copy. When the typing the client submits isn't up to snuff, get them with the writer you team up with.

    Make writing part of the billable. When the client can actually demonstrate some skill with copy, you can drop that part of the billable; And Not Until.

    Every web designer makes noises about a website being important for business. Every last one would sooner chew off a leg than make themselves responsible for results. That is the major reason for web designs' dysfunctional relationship with copy.

    When you don't have anything to do with writting and copy, you can't be blamed for anything bad that happens. (However, it does leave you open to take credit for anything good. All too convenient.) This schism between web design and the written word is ludicrous.

    My guess is your site is supporting just this problem.Your email certainly is part of the problem. Get with a writer. Fix it.

    Related:

    A List Apart (the authority on web design): Calling All Designers: Learn to Write! If that article doesn't make sense, and you've so divorced what you do from what's in the article, it's time to borrow the client's psych meds.

  7. #7
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    We have this discussion thread every so often. Designers are vehemently and vociferously against knowing what vehement and vociferous mean.

    is it the clients job to write content for their job or the designers? is one such thread.

    Again, every objection can be fairly easily countered by teaming up with a writer.

    But, then, that doesn't solve the problem of taking credit without a shred of responsibility which is the real issue.

    Writing and graphics on a site for business should work together every bit as closely as the story and illustrations of a picture book or writing and photos of a magazine. That writing and graphics (and layout and structure) are so estranged from each other on the web is an atrocity beyond reckoning.

  8. #8
    om nom nom nom Stomme poes's Avatar
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    Next, team up with a writer who understands copywriting. If you practice content driven design you should have at least one writer who you team up with On A Regular Basis. They can deal with this because -- as your content driven site says -- step one is content.
    Since I don't know anything about anything, this means I cannot be a web developer, no matter how much code I can write. If the client cannot give me the content, I am to make it up as I go along?? Does the writer make it up as he goes along??

    I didn't get into this business to become Stephen King... if I did, I would have skipped the whole code thing and stuck with a typewriter. Creative writing is something completely different from coding. I will not argue that websites do not need content first— but if the client cannot supply it, then neither can I. Only the client knows their business, their customers, their goals, their products, their branding. I will not become an expert in paleontology to build a site for Paul Sereno (and someone who is not an expert should not be writing for a site of his!). I will not become an expert in insurance in order to build an insurance site (and an expert had better be writing that site). I will not become an expert in the French Revolution to build a history site (an expert must write that). By "will not", this isn't some stubborn "no I don't wanna". It is, instead, that it cannot happen, as in, the sun will not rise in the west tomorrow (no matter how hard I work).

    Maybe the same way the guy working on the printing press does not understand police procedurals, local veterans marches or the argument the town is having over the new bridge.

  9. #9
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    Since I don't know anything about anything, this means I cannot be a web developer, no matter how much code I can write.
    Well, those are your words. But allow me to both disagree and agree with you.

    First, disagree. One implication is all you can be is a developer. All you are concerned with is code. Show a developer whose only concern is code a headline, and all they see is an alphanumeric string.

    An alphanumeric string parsable by googlebot, but only a data string. Content is a good word for it, because the word content holds no promise of result, no threshold of quality other than syntax and spelling. (Notice I did not use the word grammar)

    Developers can write. But their whole world view is content as data management. With every implication you can imagine of distance from or complete disconnect with the user.

    Next, agree. If you don't have enough knowledge of writing and communications that you could, conceivably write well, then you have no business monkeying around with Content Management Systems.

    And, since just about all CMS 'systems' are programmer centric -- just about all are fully capable of manipulating data strings, and incompetent at managing content as a human interaction design challenge.

    What developers concern themselves with is code. What clients want is sophisticated communications deliverable.

    Web content management and data/document management require very different approaches. Data management is about storage; web content management is about using content to make the sale, deliver the service, and build the brand. ...The classic IT view comes from a data management perspective. It sees content as a commodity that needs to be cost effectively stored and distributed.
    — Web content management is not data management
    Most developers are CMS installers as online frontpage wannabe "boxes" for shoving around some nebulous thing called content. Clients supply spec sheets, and the shop slaps up the one CMS they specialize in.

    99&#37; of CMS shops are installing the text editor window -- a playpen the client can edit their "content" with that keeps them from corrupting the code/structure. And that's it.

    In most cases, there isn't even a concept that, say, Drupal would work in one application and Joomla in another. That's an atrocity all on its own: The "solution in search of a problem" atrocity.

  10. #10
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    Maybe the same way the guy working on the printing press does not understand police procedurals, local veterans marches or the argument the town is having over the new bridge.
    False argument. That would be the local newscaster/newspaper. Their journalists do make it their business to understand police procedure, the factions and agendas swirling around a local building project, or what caused a veteran's march.

    What you're arguing to be like is the bargain basement quicky-print shop. They'll shove out anything. Bad ads and flyer designs to bad business cards -- your fault, not theirs. That's why you pay them pennies.

    I will not become an expert in insurance in order to build an insurance site (and an expert had better be writing that site).
    Expect a lot of users to bail on the interface. And a lot of insurance sales people to bad mouth you. Expect the client to come back with a lot of revisions because the site has no support for a host of content types insurance companies rely on.

    One bank hired a twenty-something programmer to build their loan authorization app. The guy built it with a "don't trust anyone over thirty bias," automatically rejecting those customers with the best credit and finances.

    A newspaper called me in to figure out why their demographics skewed so young online. (a small fraction of their older print readership) The twenty-three year old programmer with perfect vision defaulted the layout to uber small type. When they put in a font enlarger widget, readership barely budged. When they enlarged the default type size, readership surged.

    One designer built a fantastic site, blood red splatter grunge on black background -- for an Orthodontic Surgery Center. Where blood red splatter symbolized pain and gore, grunge symbolized unsanitary conditions, and black symbolized death. Nobody noticed a thing until I pointed this out.

    The very disconnect your argument fosters.

    Finally, you pretend I didn't already address this by teaming up with a writer. Again, a false argument.

    The real thing you're arguing for being far more interesting.

  11. #11
    SitePoint Addict dnordstrom's Avatar
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    Without reading too much of the previous posts, I'd say that your mistake is that you didn't manage your client's expectations. Make it clear at the beginning that you'll need this content so that she's prepared to deliver it when the time comes.

    And as someone mentioned, you should ideally have the content very early on to be able to provide the best possible result. Design around the content—you know how it goes.

    But I'd say educate your client on your processes, especially regarding what she needs to do and provide you with during the project.
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  12. #12
    om nom nom nom Stomme poes's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DCrux
    First, disagree. One implication is all you can be is a developer. All you are concerned with is code. Show a developer whose only concern is code a headline, and all they see is an alphanumeric string.
    Show a printer some leading, and they'll see leading, not readability. I have no problem with this. If I could do more, I would be doing more— I would not be a developer. I would also be Stephen King and be earning the big bucks.

    An alphanumeric string parsable by googlebot, but only a data string. Content is a good word for it, because the word content holds no promise of result, no threshold of quality other than syntax and spelling. (Notice I did not use the word grammar)
    Correct.

    False argument. That would be the local newscaster/newspaper. Their journalists do make it their business to understand police procedure, the factions and agendas swirling around a local building project, or what caused a veteran's march.
    I'm not the journalist, I'm the printer. The journalist is the one who wants to tell the story. That's the client; they have something to say, or something to sell He needs a guy to work the presses.

    Re CMS: no, I'm not one of those devs who mess with those, but on the other hand, my particular work is usually recoding something existing— the layout/design remains the same and there is already content (I wouldn't go so far as to say it's good content, but...).
    However it is a pain to clients when they need to ask me to fix some typo of theirs or update a price... what I figure a CMS is for is so the client can add their product or change their prices, without needing to wait for me.

    A newspaper called me in to figure out why their demographics skewed so young online. (a small fraction of their older print readership) The twenty-three year old programmer with perfect vision defaulted the layout to uber small type. When they put in a font enlarger widget, readership barely budged. When they enlarged the default type size, readership surged.
    Nothing to do with content. The content was not changed, was it? Everything to do with accessibility. I would agree content and copywriting extend into accessibility, but font size, no. Bad developers (more likely: designers) think 9px font sizes are sexy and "professional". It's the technical guy not doing his job technically correctly.

    One designer built a fantastic site, blood red splatter grunge on black background -- for an Orthodontic Surgery Center. Where blood red splatter symbolized pain and gore, grunge symbolized unsanitary conditions, and black symbolized death. Nobody noticed a thing until I pointed this out.
    He must have actually worked in the OR. Lawlz. But I don't get big into symbolism, because it makes little sense to me. I can memorise the "white pidgeon means peace". That's about it. Why I don't do design. Good designers (the graphics guys) know about communication via the visual medium. Developers? Only if it's, as other people mentioned, one guy who can do the work of three people (developer, designer, copywriter). Those who are good at all three are rare. I know my limits; I'm not a designer (at least, not a very good one) and not a copywriter.

    As for hiring one, I still believe the client should do that. Maybe it would be my job to tell the client to hire one, but the client is the one who has something to say, and if they cannot say it, they'll have to get the one who can. You see this often in books: someone has a story to tell, and THEY hire the writer to write it for them (Three Cups Of Tea, Greg Mortenson is the guy with the story to tell, David Oliver Relin is the writer. Viking and Penguin should hire Relin?).

  13. #13
    SitePoint Zealot ShinoKage's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shyflower View Post
    Here's an excellent contract written by Andy Clarke that's free to download: http://24ways.org/2008/contract-killer
    Thank you for this. One of the issues (which I know is my fault) is that she's a friend of the family's, and I'm a total noob at what I'm doing. I've been stumbling through the process myself, but 1- I need some stuff to add to my portfolio, and 2- I figured this is the best way to learn the process.


    Quote Originally Posted by DCrux View Post
    Next, team up with a writer who understands copywriting. If you practice content driven design you should have at least one writer who you team up with On A Regular Basis. They can deal with this because -- as your content driven site says -- step one is content.
    I have no problem writing the copy for the site, I've edited my mother's business emails since I was 10. I have no information with which to fabricate anything. I can't write the history of the company if I don't know when/why/how it started; which was the exact purpose of the email. I don't need her to make it sound pretty (which I have told her several times), I just need facts.


    Quote Originally Posted by Stomme poes View Post
    I will not argue that websites do not need content first— but if the client cannot supply it, then neither can I. Only the client knows their business, their customers, their goals, their products, their branding.
    YES -- that is what I was just trying to say!


    Quote Originally Posted by DCrux View Post
    What developers concern themselves with is code. What clients want is sophisticated communications deliverable.
    I agree with this; and I do not think that it is the responsibility of the business owner to come up with brochure-quality content (that's what writers are for). I honestly do believe that that particular job falls on the shoulders of the DESIGNER as that's what their title is (whether or not that is technically correct, it seems that that is what the client may be expecting) -- if they cannot produce adequet word content themselves (given that the client doesn't already have something by way of brochures, etc), then they should be able to find someone that can.

    Although you would think that, if they are requesting a website, they have some of these things already (like I said before, by way of a brochure or something).


    And DCrux - Stomme isn't saying that you shouldn't know SOMETHING about your client and what they do, what she's saying is that you shouldn't be writing content for a field that you are not an expert in. I, for example, would not be writing the content for a computer hardware website, as I know nothing about hardware. I can edit the grammar, maybe make it sound a little prettier, but I am not able to write the actual data because I know nothing about it. I agree that you should know something about the content you're working with (which I am sure she is not advocating against) but you should not have to be an expert (meaning that you haven't had the years and years of training in the field, and you shouldn't be expected to have or do so).

  14. #14
    om nom nom nom Stomme poes's Avatar
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    I agree with this; and I do not think that it is the responsibility of the business owner to come up with brochure-quality content (that's what writers are for).
    I agree, "themselves". But, I would trust them finding someone who can say brochure-quality or marketing quality the stuff they are very familiar with than myself.

    And DCrux - Stomme isn't saying that you shouldn't know SOMETHING about your client and what they do, what she's saying is that you shouldn't be writing content for a field that you are not an expert in.
    Well, on that point, DCrux is saying that's when the web dev goes and finds a writer, which in the cases I mentioned would actually either have to be the client (one assumes the client who wants the site is an expert on the subject at hand) or someone else who is both an expert and a writer. But in this case, I would still trust the client with choosing the writer than me.
    Now, I do think I'm fairly good a BSing (or, nobody seems to call me on stuff around here lawlz), and that's a skill that can apply to writing: taking raw content supplied by the client and making it sound like a polished version of your own expertise. Lawlz!

    But, that means you got something from the client in the first place.
    Shino, someone earlier said something about demanding content within a certain timeframe and mentioning that otherwise you'll have to move on to other projects... I generally agree with that approach. It'll give her a little kick in the butt without actually being rude or anything. It'll either work or it won't.

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    SitePoint Zealot ShinoKage's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stomme poes View Post
    Shino, someone earlier said something about demanding content within a certain timeframe and mentioning that otherwise you'll have to move on to other projects... I generally agree with that approach. It'll give her a little kick in the butt without actually being rude or anything. It'll either work or it won't.
    Yep, that's what I'm going to be telling her in two days if she still hasn't gotten me anything.

    Thanks for all the advice everyone! And, of course, if some sees something not covered, feel free to leave more advice

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    is craving 'the potato' slayerment's Avatar
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    Don't do anything until you have the content. If you already started stop. Keep what money you have and move on with other projects until the client gives you the content. It's up to them not you. The site is built around the content. The content is not built around the site.

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    And DCrux - Stomme isn't saying that you shouldn't know SOMETHING about your client and what they do, what she's saying is that you shouldn't be writing content for a field that you are not an expert in.
    For the third time, who says you have to write anything yourself? It wasn't me. What I said was for you to team up with a writer or writers who can write on the topic at hand.

    Since the completely and absolutely bogus objection keeps coming up, I feel it is a smoke screen for what's really going on. It wouldn't matter what the content was, you will not have anything to do with content whatsoever, under any circumstances.

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    Honestly, I'd walk away from it... Which I've done with prospective clients...

    Though usually getting content from them usually sits between the NDA phase and the actual contract for work phase, as I won't quote somebody on a website until I know what's going on it for content... since I won't lay down one line of code until there is content.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DCrux View Post
    And, since just about all CMS 'systems' are programmer centric -- just about all are fully capable of manipulating data strings, and incompetent at managing content as a human interaction design challenge.

    What developers concern themselves with is code. What clients want is sophisticated communications deliverable.

    Most developers are CMS installers as online frontpage wannabe "boxes" for shoving around some nebulous thing called content. Clients supply spec sheets, and the shop slaps up the one CMS they specialize in.
    That pretty much sums up my general feeling of how most websites are designed and deployed. That first paragraph touches on what I say differentiates programmers from software developers. Software developers have moved beyond code and study the nuances of human interaction with the software they develop.


    Quote Originally Posted by DCrux View Post
    99&#37; of CMS shops are installing the text editor window -- a playpen the client can edit their "content" with that keeps them from corrupting the code/structure. And that's it.

    In most cases, there isn't even a concept that, say, Drupal would work in one application and Joomla in another. That's an atrocity all on its own: The "solution in search of a problem" atrocity.
    I wrote Barebones CMS because I see a large and very real problem in the enterprise every day - the inability to communicate between programmers, designers, and content editors.

    <snip>

    I would like to think that I did not waste the past year I put into developing Barebones CMS. I carefully thought out the interactions between programmers, designers, and content editors. I also spent considerable time just listening to people in the industry and what they implicitly were desiring but not directly vocalizing.
    Last edited by Black Max; Jun 30, 2010 at 13:58. Reason: link to site removed; self-promotion

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    I would like to think that I did not waste the past year I put into developing Barebones CMS. I carefully thought out the interactions between programmers, designers, and content editors.
    Very good. So you know about the concept of a plog, and the CMS is for plogging. Right?

    And, hey, since you can't manage what you don't measure and never test, you've advanced it with plog-based metrics, analytics, and in the case of a plog the all important forensics.

    Dang, I bet there is a full suite of user tests, methods and tools. Like for instance, Personas and Scenarios.

    Of course, since we've been talking how atrocious those designers and developers are at conceptualizing a purpose for the site or a user, it might be a lot easier to do just the opposite and support dysfunction.

    Software developers have moved beyond code and study the nuances of human interaction with the software they develop.
    What developers are you talking about? Most of 'em would sooner chew off a leg than do a user test. Pontificate about their "imaginary friends," sure. Actually design for a target user and conduct user testing with would contradict their preconceptions, no.

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    When I've been in this position I've just made stuff up. In my experience, people are much quicker to correct information than to fill up a blank space.

    You already have the contact info so you can chuck that in, and you only need to write a couple of other lines of anything else to get her to email you corrections.
    Do something different. www.thecareerbreaksite.com.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Pachey View Post
    When I've been in this position I've just made stuff up. In my experience, people are much quicker to correct information than to fill up a blank space.

    You already have the contact info so you can chuck that in, and you only need to write a couple of other lines of anything else to get her to email you corrections.
    Yep, I agree. Especially for small businesses where I know they are obviously not going to get a proper writer to create their content for them. Most of my clients keep all the "sales speak" that I dish out on their original websites because they were not game enough to talk themselves up. Most small businesses are a "me too" crowd, so they want to just have what everyone else has anyway, so if you are just serving up content - just write something about the subject and let their clients contact them directly for more information. And give your client access to edit their own.

    You need to discern what type of client they are. Are they technical, need lots of help? Eg. Some of my clients don't have dedicated internet connections. Some are old school or don't use computers everyday.
    You need to gauge what kind of client they will be at the beginning. If they can't give you a simple email with typed text, then maybe it's time to get a dictaphone or learn how to record phone calls, if this is the type of client you are currently attracting.
    It's a different client from one that would login, edit their site, etc. You need to decide what type of client you want, because one client will talk to another client, and usually, they are all similar in nature. This can be a good thing.
    If you get a savvy client, they'll probably know other savvy clients... catch my drift?

    ... if she's still being difficult, just shelve the project. Without any sort of payment, you have absolutely no obligation to do anything. Life's too short... your future clients are waiting.
    Last edited by Black Max; Jul 17, 2010 at 17:59. Reason: removed enormous size markup :)

  23. #23
    Non-Member Musicbox's Avatar
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    if you really want to get in online business you must just count money but not ask for information.

    Keep yourself money oriented but not information oriented and look for more clients.

  24. #24
    SitePoint Wizard
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    I was in this shoes before... For these clients, best thing to do is make multiple assumptions, make a prototype, and let them choose. They basically don't know what they want until you built them something... then~ they start rolling on criticism and improvements.

  25. #25
    Word Painter silver trophy Shyflower's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Pachey View Post
    When I've been in this position I've just made stuff up. In my experience, people are much quicker to correct information than to fill up a blank space.

    You already have the contact info so you can chuck that in, and you only need to write a couple of other lines of anything else to get her to email you corrections.
    And how much time did you spend "making stuff up" that would later need to be completely revised? My time is much more valuable than that and I certainly wouldn't charge a client for trash work that I knew wouldn't fly.
    Linda Jenkinson
    "Say what you mean. Mean what you say. But don't say it mean." ~Unknown


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