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  1. #1
    SitePoint Zealot stikkybubble's Avatar
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    Question forms, user info, spam and the law

    this situation has arisen twice now (I have only had 2 paying clients so far so that's 100%). I'm therefore assuming that it will always come up and wanted some feedback on how to deal with it, law and best practice.

    The issue is what happens to personal details entered into web forms and what they are used for afterwards. I have tried without success to explain gently to people that it's at least good practice to include "opt out" links in emails sent out, or failing that have some instructions (email me at .... ) or at least a policy of some sort.

    The fact that they have options for one-click in the admin panel to delete people's records (email, name, whatever) seems to mystify and annoy them. They find it inconceivable that this is in any way relevant or something they want or would ever do.

    Latest situation arose when from the outset I was essentially told a form was just a kind of trick to "collect email addresses we can use later". Getting down to the nitty-gritty of what should be on this form and what the wording should be, the client got quite angry when I made suggestions about how it could me made clear what the form was for, or having options so they didn't get a newsletter etc. That sort of thing.

    OK so there is a case where this is fine. I think I soothed them and talked them round so what we will end up with will be fine. Just a name and email box for "send me X things please!". No confusion there. You want the stuff, you fill in the form. If you don't, there is nothing else to use the form for anyway.

    BUT it does give me the heebie-jeebies a bit thinking about things like:

    - they said from the outset something about it being a kind of email harvesting thing. So they can collect these emails "to use later".

    - nobody seems to realise that spam is spam. People don't like spam. You end up in the trash folder. They want to be able to opt out. They want to only get emails they signed up to get.

    - lastly and most important of all what about the law? I know there are various "good practice" issues, and I know there's some formal document about Spam (can't remember what it's called but I know in theory you could get into some trouble with your web host, or be blacklisted by spam filter software. Not sure this amounts to a law of any sort, just a formal definition of spam - and one of the critical points is OPTING IN AND OUT).

    - I also know about the Data Protection Act. This is a UK law and for one thing you are supposed to keep all personal info secure for 5 years, AND you MUST destroy it on request. I'm not too sure how much it applies to the kind of data websites have about their users but I assume that if they don't have at least a policy for destroying users' email addresses on request then technically that's breaking the law (say if they just never bothered).

    This is an issue because obviously it's coming up again and again. People think they can just use whatever excuse they can to get contact info and then use it forever for whatever reason they like. So far these are HARMLESS. But for all I know they could in theory sell all these email addresses to another company, or whatever.

    Shouldn't there be a written policy on the website, even just a short one? And how do you explain this sort of thing to a client without them getting cross about "I want it so what is it your problem?"

    I should also add that this situation is complicated by clients not understanding that forms take a bit of coding to work, you don't just pop them in and bingo it all just happens. I was trying to clarify the purpose of the form so that I could code its functionality properly. And getting hung up needlessly on this issue of an angry client who just thinks they don't even need to explain clearly what the form does before people fill it in ...

    Maybe I am being oversensitive. But these ARE the nice clients. God help me if this is a sign of things to come - there are some shady characters about who WOULD be bullying me into doing dubious things. I need a bit more clarity on where the boundaries are and how to be diplomatic and explain simply why opt-out options are a really good idea ....


    Any help?

  2. #2
    Life is short. Be happy today! silver trophybronze trophy Sagewing's Avatar
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    What, exactly, is your question? It sounds to me like your problem is that your clients are asking you to participate in sleazy and illegal practices. That is probably not a good idea, so I think you just need to do two things:

    1) be sure to have language in your contract that deals with this type of thing (i.e. indemnification, limitation of liability, professional standards, etc)

    2) be sure to be very clear with your client exactly what you are willing to do and what you are won't do

    As for the idea that you are somehow expected to counsel and advise clients about what is appropriate and what isn't, don't get too stuck on that. Some clients want advice like that, some need advice like that, and some deserve advice like that but it's not your role to provide such guidance unless THEY ask for it.

    So, I would think about what YOUR business practices are going to be and identify and solidify what you do and don't do. Then just execute accordingly.
    The fewer our wants, the nearer we resemble the gods. — Socrates

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  3. #3
    SitePoint Zealot stikkybubble's Avatar
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    yes last time this came up I ended up just saying "oh well I guess I'll just make an opt-out page and add a link to the email".

    I think I am coming to the conclusion that it's wisest to just say "yes dear" and then get on with doing the best practice things anyway.

    I'm just surprised that the response to really - genuinely - gentle and polite suggestions about things like opt-out options or explanatory text are met with such a hostile response. I searched for another word to use there because it does sound a bit strong. These are not nasty people at all.

    I think you are right that there should be something in writing right at the beginning stating that email letters etc will have opt-out links, there will be a privacy policy. That sort of thing.

    Sorry if my question wasn't clear enough. I was wondering where the line came where someone was breaking the law (if any) by doing something with people's email addresses. If there are relevant laws then obviously that would be a hard bottom line. "I can't do that it's illegal" is where the buck stops...

    But last time the issue was just over the question of having any sort of policy at all about un-subscribing people from mailing lists. Like I said I got nowhere. I think I may even have mentioned that there is, as far as I know, a legal obligation to delete information if people ask you to do that.

    I didn't expect it to be a big deal. I thought it was common-sense. If someone doesn't want to get emails, big deal. Delete them. "Look you have buttons to make it easy for you". I just expect to hear "OK thanks, yes if you say my letters should have a link in them go ahead and add one".

    I'm mystified. I think the more I get into this web business the more I am discovering other elements of human nature that I wasn't really aware of before. People with little technical knowledge are able to easily get websites, etc, and can end up with things like databases full of contact details that they fully and sincerely believe they have the right to use any way they want.

    Maybe they do. I just keep remembering those words "Data Protection Act" and it gives me the chills.

    I should probably ask a lawyer about this sort of thing.

  4. #4
    SitePoint Zealot stikkybubble's Avatar
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    OK here we go:
    Web Hosting and the Data Protection Act

    that links seems to be mainly some company with secure hosting advertising themselves, so this is a better link:

    Internet Privacy | Web Data Protection

    Here's a (long, sorry) quote for those in the UK who may not be bothered to click. You will see why I'm so bugged about this. I know the Data Protection Act worried the Ethics Committee at university very much, and is taken very seriously indeed.

    "There is a whole web of UK and EU data protection laws and regulations which apply to online privacy and the collection and use of personal data via websites. These include the Privacy Regulations (full name: The Privacy and Electronic Communications (EC Directive) Regulations 2003.

    One key aspect of internet privacy compliance when collecting personal information online is to obtain a sufficient level of consent from the person providing the data ("data subject").

    As a starting point, you need to have a detailed website privacy policy which explains in detail what personal data you collect via your website, what you use it for, who you disclose it to, how you protect it, your use of cookies etc. However, in some cases - e.g. if you want to use personal data to send marketing emails or provide details to third parties for email marketing - you have to go further and get appropriate consent from web users at the point where you collect the data.

    There are different and rather complex rules applicable to the privacy consent wording (known as "opt in", "soft opt in" or "opt out") depending on the information you are collecting and what you plan to do with it.

    If you don't get the right level of consent, then amongst other things you can be sued by data subjects or subject to regulatory enforcement action."


    I have added the bold emphasis myself as it's the relevant parts.

    I was right to be concerned about being bullied and absolutely from now on this WILL be in writing before beginning any work at all on anyone's website. Otherwise it's just going to be one incident after another where someone starts stomping their feet and insisting that it's a good marketing strategy and they want it so they are going to have it ...

    It wasn't a nice feeling at all either time. It strains my skills of diplomacy to the limit. They essentially are ordering me to do what I'm told regardless of my own knowledge and expertise. We need to have these boundaries clear from the beginning, so they know well in advance. AND why.

    I realise that you live in a different country with different laws, but this is the law here in the UK. Other people on this site may not be aware of this, and it hasn't often come up to be honest. I wasn't even certain it applied to normal websites with little forms to enter email addresses etc.

    Now I am sure. Yes I answered my own question but also thank you for telling me how to deal with it. DON'T LET IT COME UP IN THE FIRST PLACE.

    Thanks for your time.

  5. #5
    SitePoint Zealot stikkybubble's Avatar
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    for some reason I can't edit that but I found some more info:

    - the only time you are exempt completely from the DPA is if you have a private address book.

    - businesses which only keep information that is really needed for their business, including marketing, do not need to register as data processors (good thing!), but they do still need to comply with the act.

    - it seems that there can be implications about hosting websites on servers outside the EU. This bothers me and I will have to look into it later. My server is outside the EU.

    There is a huge amount of info on the Information Commissioner's website and they try to make it easy to understand. I think these little videos are excellent as they make it really clear what is or isn't OK in real world situations. The second one is quite funny.

    http://www.ico.gov.uk/upload/images/...notices_02.mpg

    http://www.ico.gov.uk/upload/images/...notices_01.mpg

    I think the point is I have read a lot of articles lately about good practice in form design etc etc, at least one here on sitepoint. But because laws are different all over the world the articles aren't phrased like that. It's all put in terms of "good" and "bad" practice, user experience, company image, whatever. But if you are in the UK then you actually have to be "transparent" when someone enters their information and tell them that you may use the info later to send them more emails later (or such).

    It's not enough to opt out either, they have to actually opt in. AND be able to opt out later AND be given your contact info so they can do that.

    You don't have to tell them why you need information if it's so obvious that it doesn't need explaining (like your phone company needs to know your address so they can bill you). But you need to explain if you collect anything more than that. They need to know what the info will be used for BEFORE they give it to you.

    They also have advice on privacy policies etc. These turn out not to just be good practice but a legal requirement. I guess at the simplest it's just a statement that "we will not ever share this info" and "you can opt out any time". Not something that should be a major sticking point for a legitimate business!

    And so on. My brain has turned to mush now. This upset me quite a lot really, I was surprised myself. I didn't sleep a wink all night. I have someone coming round tomorrow who asked me to do a simple website for him, so of course I will discuss this with him and explain that there will need to be a written agreement, etc. I am sure he will have advice as well as in his line of work people often ask for things that would be against the law and he has to deal with that somehow!

    That's enough, I'm sure. I don't have anyone else to share this info with so at least maybe someone here might find it useful.

    If there's only one thing worth remembering, it's that it's not just "good practice", it's actually THE LAW.

    Oh - and before I forget, I understand you saying it's not my place to advise unless asked. But these people are naive rather than evil, and I was just trying to helpfully steer them in the right direction so that they don't get seen as spammy. I think that I WILL be able to deal with them quite fine now I have checked the exact laws. I think they are just genuinely unaware that there are any rules at all or that their business will in fact look better with all this done properly. They are not the sort of people who would knowingly break a law of any kind!

  6. #6
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    Oh - and before I forget, I understand you saying it's not my place to advise unless asked
    You have to ask yourself what services you are providing your client, and where you draw the line. Data protection is a complicated field, I'm sure many solicitors struggle with it (unless it's their specialist field), so it's unfair to expect a web developer to know about it, let alone offer professional advice on it.

    Web developers code web sites, they don't offer legal advice. Yes, advise them on basic stuff we all know about, like offering privacy policies, opt outs etc, but if a client wants advice on an area beyond web development, you should perhaps suggest they discuss it with a suitable legal professional. Make sure your clients know that you are not the 'guru' of everything remotely related to their online business - you're just the guy who handles the web site design and coding.

    Just use common sense and your moral compass to steer well clear of the dubious clients, offer advice within your comfort zone, have a well written water-tight contract, and don't offer advice where it isn't wanted

  7. #7
    SitePoint Zealot stikkybubble's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by shadowbox View Post
    Yes, advise them on basic stuff we all know about, like offering privacy policies, opt outs etc, but if a client wants advice on an area beyond web development, you should perhaps suggest they discuss it with a suitable legal professional. Make sure your clients know that you are not the 'guru' of everything remotely related to their online business - you're just the guy who handles the web site design and coding.
    Yes .. originally this was purely and simply a question of discussing the issue of opt out/opt in and the general wording on a form. It hasn't really escalated beyond that, we are talking one conversation where I felt suddenly out of my depth. I wasn't expecting even to have to worry about legality - just some simple common sense things, that maybe hadn't occurred to my client. Just trying to get clear exactly what the form needed to have and ordinary things like that!

    I think what bothered me and made me come and ask advice was the tone which was used to me. Suddenly I realised I was dealing with a hard-nosed business person who expects me to just do what I'm told and isn't respecting me as a professional (I felt). Now, perhaps in that particular situation I was being over-sensitive. After all, the conversation was productive and ended well. BUT in future I am likely to have to deal with people who aren't nice in the first place.

    I'm glad I asked because now I realise that even a seemingly trivial detail such as this could blow up at any time, and that a well-written contract would protect me and possibly get me out of a situation that otherwise I couldn't deal with. I can't be expected to know all laws, therefore what if something they ask me to do turns out to be illegal? I don't want to be the one to take the rap. Similarly, if the client turns out to be demanding something that I know for a fact is illegal that should be grounds for terminating the contract immediately. They should not be able to then sue me for breach of contract!

    I did discuss all this with my new client today. He did have plenty of good practical advice as well. He said if people ask him to do things he knows are illegal and try to bully him into it, he simply will not work with them, end of. His professional standing is worth more, and it's too bad. He also picks his clients wisely, taking into account signs that they might be difficult from the first meeting.

    As for the whole "I am not a lawyer" thing - well we had discussed all of this, and I had said about how I can't possibly know all the laws etc. (I had also explained to him that we'd need a well-written contract, just because, and he understood completely). Later he asked me advice about what he was allowed on his website from a legal point of view - and of course straight away I pointed out I only know a little bit, and I'm not a lawyer and don't really know these things for sure. It turned out to be a very specific question indeed, and the conversation quickly developed into a more deep discussion about what sort of image this would project and what customers would think.

    It was a very interesting and creative conversation. It left me feeling positive and inspired. All I had to do to answer his "legal" question was to point out that if he was in any doubt whatsoever to leave it out and not risk it. (It really was a very, very specific issue I'm not going to go into here.)

    I did say that it's best to ask lawyers legal questions. But this never got beyond common sense.

    I don't want to make too much of it as maybe I misread the other person's reaction - but it was very interesting that I had such a different feeling about this conversation. If I told him I thought he should ask a lawyer he probably would take me seriously and do just that. Later on we may need to do this, but we have left this concept for a potential later phase and not part of his initial project.

    He did make me feel validated - and he says he seriously thinks I am undercharging and that I shouldn't. He gave ME lots of really good advice.

    Now I still have an issue I need to deal with, but at the end of the day I can just forget about it, move on, and be prepared in future. Just thank my lucky stars that this IS a trivial thing for a harmless website for some NICE people, and that I realised there was a potential problem before I found myself being bullied into doing some really crazy stuff for a nasty spammer.

    Thanks for your reply. It all helps. I need confidence more than anything else and part of that is knowing what is or isn't OK. Both for me and my behaviour and other people.

  8. #8
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    In the U.S., knowledge of Email marketing laws begins with the Can-Spam Act of 2003.

    In an effort to better inform you on the contents of the Can-Spam Act of 2003, I have written a simple synopsis of the act, sort of a Do’s and Don’ts list. Lawyers are always hesitant to create a Do’s and Don’ts list because sometimes it is not black and white, it is Gray. A good example of “gray” in the current law is the requirement to provide, “clear and conspicuous identification that the message is an advertisement or solicitation”. Certainly, preceding your subject with “ADV:” would satisfy this requirement. However, putting a disclaimer in your message would also satisfy the law in an altogether different way, and one which you might rather use.

    Under the act it is a felony punishable with jail terms, fines and forfeitures:
    1. To use proxies or relays to send your mail,
    2. To falsify your header (by definition, you are falsifying your headers if you purposely disguise the e-mail’s origin), or
    3. If you falsify the registration information when buying domains or setting up e-mail accounts, or when registering for IP addresses.

    The act goes on to list civil penalties unless you take the following actions to conform to the requirements of the law:
    1. Your header information and registration information has to be true and correct.
    2. You must have a valid from address, registered with true and correct information.
    3. You cannot use a subject line that would be likely to mislead the recipient about the contents of the e-mail.
    4. You must have a conspicuous opt-out mechanism which works for 30 days after the mailing is completed. (This can be at your website).
    5. You must honor your opt-outs within 10 days of request.
    6. Your message must have a conspicuous identification that it is an advertisement.
    7. The message must contain a valid physical postal address of the sender.
    8. You must not use recipient addresses that were obtained using an address harvester or by means of a dictionary attack. (Triple damages apply.)
    9. You cannot use automated means to register for multiple e-mail addresses.
    10. Sexually orientated material will require special marks of content.
    11. Customers who know their products are being sold in violation of the act are also held to be liable.

    There is really no way for an individual to sue a spammer under this act, only the State or the Feds, or an ISP that has suffered a loss. The act supersedes State internet laws, but with many exceptions.
    Andrew M. Jaffe
    Attorney at Law
    attorneyjaffe@aol.com
    330-666-5026 www.netlaws.us

  9. #9
    SitePoint Zealot stikkybubble's Avatar
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    Wow, that's a really complete and interesting answer there. That's the kind of thing I meant when I asked if anyone knew anything more specific about laws. Obviously that's an american law, but we all deal with people abroad from time to time. Also, my server is actually in america.

    Again, *most* of the time this won't be a major worry to someone who is doing things the right way and being honest. Occasionally it would be worth thinking hard about whether or not something is OK and how something should be worded. For example - the email "from" address needs to be valid etc. That's the sort of thing to remember when hand-coding your php auto-emailer script. Not hard to do, and could save a lot of trouble later on.

    One way that someone with innocent intentions could end up in trouble is, I suppose, if a malicious hacker had taken over your email script and was using it to spam left right and centre. At least if your original script had conformed to the requirements that could get you out of a lot of explaining. Maybe unlikely, maybe not. I know I get paranoid about scripts that send out automated emails that I have written. I did my very best to make sure they were bullet-proof, and to hard-code information about how to contact me to get yourself taken off the database etc.

    Fascinating really. I'm glad I'm not a lawyer though as it's really complicated. There's a ton of stuff in your post to remember if or when writing something like that.

    I suppose the only reason I knew about Data Protection Act issues in the first place, and how seriously they *can* be taken, was because it was relevant when I was at university a few years ago. Having seen how seriously it's taken in those circles was a little bit scary. Certainly enough to make you remember ever after: if you have someone's information on a computer, it's a serious thing.

  10. #10
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    A few posts back you quoted "you have to go further and get appropriate consent from web users at the point where you collect the data". I don't know how it is in the UK, but here in the Netherlands that means that the user actively has to tick a checkbox, or type "yes", or something along those lines. Having a checkbox on your website with "Yes, please send me your newsletter" that is checked when you enter the page is not allowed (by LAW).

    Also, the text has to be clear, i.e., "I agree that company X and it's affiliates can send me e-mail" is too vague, and not allowed either. I'm not a lawyer, but if memory servers you need to at least state what kind of e-mails you will send (newsletter, advertisement, etc), and how frequently (once a week, once a month, quarterly, etc) you will send them.
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  11. #11
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    Basically from what I'm seeing, you're hitting up against part of why I retired.

    There are SO many sleazeball ****'s out there looking for web developers who seem completely oblivious to what total SLEAZEBALL ****'s they are!

    Your bit about "and these are the NICE clients" mirrors me two years ago... when I finally had to tell one client who pretty much micromanaged the project to DEATH "look, if you're going to ignore everything I tell you and do the opposite of everything my decade of web experience and three decades of computing experience says, then what the **** did you even hire me for? Much less your sleazeball business practices that have me to the point of not even wanting my name anywhere NEAR this project! You think you can do better? You **** do it!"

    Though as predicted, they went under six months after I walked away from it... I told them they wouldn't last out the year. Admittedly, the passing of the person who was acting as my intermediary between myself and the client certainly didn't help matters, as really I should never have said yes to helping said nimrod client in the first place, and was only doing it as a favor to Dan.

    It's all part of what I've come to call "my disgust to the point of nausea with the Internet industry as a whole." It's truly sad when the most secure and respectful of the individuals right to privacy are the pornographers. I'm more likely to trust filling out a form on a pornography website than I am for one on a "respectable mainstream" equivalent!

    Between SEO Scammers, people vomiting up websites any old way who cares if they're useful to the end user, people who want websites without knowing what they want on it for content, and sleazeball "data miners" who's sole reason to exist is SPAM.

    Well... let's just call it burn out.

  12. #12
    SitePoint Zealot stikkybubble's Avatar
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    deathshadow: this is what worries me. I'm starting to realise that possibly the majority of people who want websites are dubious in one way or another.

    At the most harmless there are the people who simply don't know anything at all about computers or the internet. People who could be tiresome simply without meaning to be, because they really don't understand what is involved with making a website.

    Moving on up through, I guess this is another layer where people are slightly more informed and yet still have little or no concept of the amount or type of work involved, who have never actually thought that there might be more to having a business online than they realise. They are not dealing with any money online - perhaps if they were, then they would be expecting issues of this sort. There really does seem to be an attitude that once they have people's data they own it. They believe they have seen things like what they want on websites, whereas almost certainly they haven't. What they have seen almost certainly included some information such as "we may use this to send you emails later but you can opt out at any time". They just were not paying that much attention to the details.

    I have been trying to curb my words when describing what I feel about these people. But nevertheless the fact remains that there are a whole lot of people out there much, much worse. People who are dealing with money and people who do know perfectly well that what they are doing is dubious, sharp practice and illegal and probably love the idea of getting away with it. Also, people who have risen to the top through bullying, intimidation and manipulation, and have made a lot of money through dirty tricks.

    It's those people that make it really worthwhile worrying about all this as though it was a much more serious situation. Because I certainly don't want to find myself suddenly completely out of my depth and unprepared. Although I say my diplomacy was strained, I don't have the impression that I didn't manage the situation pretty well to the satisfaction of all. Largely the "diplomacy" comes in resisting the urge to go one-up and right-back-at-you: saying something like the example you gave! Although my experience with computers and the internet is less than yours, the fact is still that I am a very highly qualified professional in another field entirely. I therefore am simply not well-disposed to being treated like an inferior by someone far less qualified than myself. They don't realise this - and to be honest, in these situations (there have been other, analogous examples) it's hard to avoid the impression that a big part of the problem is a lack of equal intelligence. Probably my explanations go over their heads. I try to make it as simple as possible but there's a bottom line, I'm afraid, where someone can't understand new information fast enough.

    In life in general, many, many times I have been told things like this, by people with a lot of experience of aggression:

    - people who resort to aggression or violence are not good with words. They become aggressive because of their inability to verbalise. Remember if someone becomes aggressive to keep talking to them, express for them what they cannot. Eventually they will calm down.

    - people become angry when they know that they are wrong. If you are having a discussion with someone which suddenly blows up in your face and you find yourself verbally or physically threatened, remember this. It may not help but it can stop you from feeling guilty etc.

    Obviously these don't cover any and every situation. But the point I am trying to make here (without being too insulting or big-headed, and probably failing in that) is that my fundamental first feeling is that I suddenly realise I'm dealing with someone who is not too bright. And who is starting to throw their weight around as a way of dealing with a situation which is uncomfortable to them.

    It's unfortunate but true that success in business does not correspond with intelligence or altruistic personality traits. There are obviously intelligent and/or moral and decent people who are successful in business. But to be honest, when I look around at the types of people who advertise wanting a web designer or who run businesses that may want a web designer, I'd say 75% of the time I know I am looking at a sociopath.

    I'm glad to know at least someone else has noticed and hates it too. It's going to be very hard on me. For one thing, my background is such that I'm the opposite of a cynical business person (don't want to be too specific - I may remove my link from my sig so I can talk without so much concern). For another thing, I'm likely to get very annoyed with people who talk down to me because I'm "just" a web designer or developer. I'm usually nice and diplomatic, but I simply don't take crap easily from people. I also respect people who can take what they dish out - so in many cases a friendship begins with a heated argument! But that's "real life" not business!

    I predict a mess ... unless I seriously get my head together. Prices must go up simply in order to remind people that I am doing a technical job. But even that won't save me! I have read horror stories about things clients have said or done to people they are paying about a zillion dollars, yet still seem to somehow think that it's an easy job! So it's going to have to be hardball all the way - cast iron contracts, and being prepared to just walk away from bad clients.

    At the end of the day I may just not be able to hack it. But it's worth a shot.

    OH: and PS, I am right with you on the subject of pornographers. When I first became interested in this my mentor was someone who runs 3 porn websites. They really can be the most advanced in this field. Not all though! I have my own horror story about applying for a job as webmaster for a porn site recently! LOL.

  13. #13
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    Flipping heck, I've been making web sites for nearly a decade now, and I can tell you that it's not in any way the doom and gloom you seem to think it is. Sure you will meet some dodgy people on the way, you do in all walks of life, but it's up to you to suss them out during your first phone call, and run a mile.

    99% of my clients are wonderful people, that's because when we first talk, I'm sussing them out as much as they are sussing me out, and I choose to work with who I feel comfortable working with. The odd bad apple slips through the net, but you deal with it and move on.

    I have to wonder how on earth you are attracting all these 'bullying' people - where are you marketing your services?

    At the most harmless there are the people who simply don't know anything at all about computers or the internet. People who could be tiresome simply without meaning to be, because they really don't understand what is involved with making a website.
    That's most clients you'll ever meet. that's why they are hiring you. Most clients don't care what's involved in making a web site, they just want the end result and will pay you to produce it in the most hassle-free way possible. Seriously, if you find that tiresome, it's definitely worth thinking about whether running your own web dev business is right for you.

    It's unfortunate but true that success in business does not correspond with intelligence or altruistic personality traits. There are obviously intelligent and/or moral and decent people who are successful in business. But to be honest, when I look around at the types of people who advertise wanting a web designer or who run businesses that may want a web designer, I'd say 75% of the time I know I am looking at a sociopath.
    Really, read that back and tell me how that sounds. An attitude like that is going to shine through when you are meeting with potential customers, is it any surprise that you're finding these clients aggressive?

    I predict a mess ... unless I seriously get my head together. Prices must go up simply in order to remind people that I am doing a technical job. But even that won't save me!
    Again, client's don't care how technical and complicated your job is

    I'm sure you can hack running a web design business and I'm sure you are a very good web developer, but I really think you need to have a step back and decide what attitude you want to take when dealing with your clients. Try being more positive, learn how to assess problem clients before you waste time on them, and look at your marketing to work out why you seem to be attracting so many low quality leads.

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    SitePoint Zealot stikkybubble's Avatar
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    thanks shadowbox, it's good to know that the majority are harmless people who just want something with little hassle. I'm very glad, indeed to hear you think that I am mistaken.

    The impression I am getting is from adverts posted on freelancing websites. Possibly not a representative sample - there seem to be a lot of sharks in the water.

    I've only personally had dealings with a few people in business, so far the only clients I've had have been easy nice ones. I'm really only starting out. My impressions of the characters of people in business are also influenced by people that I have had to deal with at other times (like the psycho plumber from hell) or people I have applied for jobs with and then felt like working for them would be an absolute nightmare anyway. All the "business" advice I get from people who are experienced in business sounds like instructions on How To Be A Psychopath. I'm often quite shocked to find out that is apparently how most of the world works.

    Oh and again: where you ask me how this sounds?
    It's unfortunate but true that success in business does not correspond with intelligence or altruistic personality traits. There are obviously intelligent and/or moral and decent people who are successful in business. But to be honest, when I look around at the types of people who advertise wanting a web designer or who run businesses that may want a web designer, I'd say 75% of the time I know I am looking at a sociopath.

    Oh I don't know how to explain. Perhaps it's a shock to hear someone talk about things like sociopathy (and intelligence) in such a blase manner. I'm used to it myself. Did you not know that it's an old saw in psychology that psychopaths are very well suited for success in business? The reason I think "sociopath" about a lot of business types is that I am a psychologist. It's the sort of thing I notice, and I am actually serious and not kidding. You may not like me saying that success in business doesn't correspond with intelligence or altruism, but unfortunately it's factually correct as far as I know. I could be mistaken. Then there's also the fact that I am showing you my soft underbelly here - yes I know it's not "nice" to have the thought go through your mind that someone is actually just not too bright. I can't help it, it happens sometimes, and usually I try to push it to the back of my mind and try to think of things in a different way - perhaps I haven't understood their point of view? It could be me that is being stupid and not understanding the whole picture. And so on. I knew I would probably get flak for admitting it.

    I'm a fairly dominant person used to dealing with other people who are also fairly dominant. I wouldn't last long in any environment where being submissive was part of the deal. It's hard to say without sounding awful but nonetheless true. I don't normally suffer a fool gladly. I actually get on better with people who are equally dominant.

    I'm not sure how much is environment and how much personality. I've been picked out before to sit on important committees simply because it's known that I'm not intimidated by high-ranking professionals in suits, when someone is needed who will have the nerve to argue a point with them. I'm actually well known for my tendency to have flaming arguments with high-ranking professionals, and for my ability to get them to take me seriously. (I get invited back for consultations by the self-same people later, policies have been changed on the basis of some of these arguments, that sort of thing.) Remember I'm not talking about business here. I'm talking about medics and scientists: there is no such thing as "losing the deal" or "keeping the client happy". It's a big sea change to step into a world where people are doing what they do to try to make money, rather than to try to treat medical conditions or find out facts.

    When I say my background is psychology, it's not the fluffy nice kind either. It's hardcore neuroscience. I had come to the conclusion that my character was better suited to becoming a neurologist as, at the end of the day, you don't care if your neurologist has "people skills" so much as long as they are right. Yes, it's better if they are also nice and sensitive. I would rather be a neurologist but my health precludes that now, unfortunately. I'm just trying to make the best of a bad situation but it may not work.

    I spend most of my time being apparently-harmless and can often be far too easy going. Or so I'm told. It's not a simple thing of being one way or the other. I also save the confrontations for people who can actually deal with them. I don't go picking on people at random.

    I'm hoping that things are the way that you describe - mainly nice harmless little people. Like I said, a lot of this is impressions formed from advertisements and a few actual encounters. I also haven't yet had any experiences of people being tiresome as such. That was hypothetical rather than a criticism of actual clients.

    I tried to edit this several times to make it read better, but I'm not sure if it makes sense. Yes I can be a bolshy ***** when I want to be. But really honestly I am normally very patient with people. It's the sort of thing where I can be just the person you need if you are in a scrape. But I can be too intimidating for some. Horses for courses and all that.

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    Life is short. Be happy today! silver trophybronze trophy Sagewing's Avatar
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    This thread is exploding with emotion, feelings, sensationalism, hyperbole, and long journeys into a soulful and cerebral world of business that I don't think really exists.

    The bottom line is simply this:

    As in all businesses, clients range in quality from great partners to immoral scumbags.

    To be successful in business you need to learn to protect yourself by not stepping out your comfort zone, understanding the general legal and ethical parameters within which you work, and you need to learn how to find, engage, and retain great clients who bring you profits rather than trouble.

    That's it

    There's no deep river of psychological discourse to be had, and if you spend time doing some kind of complex anthropological analysis of the situation you'll soon be run out of business by people who simply avoid bad clients and dangerous situations and learn and recover from mistakes quickly.

    Keep moving forward, steer towards good clients and away from risky business and you'll be fine.
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    SitePoint Zealot stikkybubble's Avatar
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    Yes thanks for that, I did feel that things were veering well off-topic. Deep discussions of What It All Means have a place but are essentially navel-gazing that doesn't Get Stuff Done. And it's about doing the thing, whatever it is.

    I popped back here on purpose because that was bothering me - I didn't get a notification that there had been another reply, but it's right in line with what I was thinking. I was just going to edit my post actually, to try to explain perhaps I was a little overwrought yesterday because of some things that have been happening here. I only really realised after my last post, when as a continuation of the Real Life issue from the night before someone fell in the river outside my house and needed to be rescued. It's all quite hairy and emotions have indeed been running high, but not for reasons that are related to this discussion.

    On the other hand, the same people (in RL) have been giving excellent advice about business, dealing with stuff etc. In general the advice is to be focussed on the task and results, not let emotion get in the way, try to screen clients before you agree to work for them (this is where they say it's best to be able to meet in person so you can assess someone's character).

    Sorry, I guess I felt defensive. It's been a hard weekend. I was already running on empty when this issue came up, which probably contributed to my reaction.

    Thanks, it's all good advice. At the end of the day I'm actually starting to develop an interest in business as a topic, I'm finding myself reading blogs about business and enjoying them ... I would never have thought that was even possible!

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    This has been an interesting thread to read.

    To throw in my 2˘ ... for me, one of the biggest challenges has been getting clients to understand that they are the subject-matter experts, not me. They should know what their business is about and what they hope to achieve by having a website. But we usually get there in the end.
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    SitePoint Zealot stikkybubble's Avatar
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    Glad to hear someone at least got some entertainment from it! And as they say, all's well that ends well. I think what originally caused my concern was that the clients actually brought in an outsider just recently to "handle all that technical stuff", who has never spoken to me before etc. It will all be fine, I'm sure!

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    This thread came to mind last night as I was booking some holiday travel online. On one website (.co.uk) they had a section about marketing emails, but interestingly you have to check the box to opt OUT of receiving such emails - my understanding of the legislation surrounding this issue is that you're supposed to have to opt IN.
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    Some things are relative. For example offline, its not uncommon to offer a free raffle for the purpose of collecting contacts for mailings. Whereas, online this is considered bad practice.

    The thing I would be most concerned about is that it puts your service in jeopardy. Too many spam complaints can get you banned from email service providers.

    Can you tie down the system? Services like Constant Contact will not send the email without an unsubscribe link. They also automatically remove names that have had a spam complaint and opt-outs.

    If these features are not feasible for you to implement, Campaign Monitor is a pretty slick email blast reseller service. Email marketing software for web designers - Campaign Monitor
    This will keep your bases covered, and offer a premium service for your clients.

    E

  21. #21
    SitePoint Zealot stikkybubble's Avatar
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    That may be a good idea: I will look into your suggestion and also what other options there may be. The previous website was one that was already up and running when I redesigned it, meaning no wonder the client was confused about the whole thing if it meant changing what she was used to. This is all new, so I have the opportunity to try and design it properly.

    The story about the travel website made me wonder if a similar conversation had happened there! Or maybe they just didn't know. It's better than nothing. These days the designer/developer could have been anywhere in the world - I was trying to think of what exactly I would put in writing before beginning something and I guess there needs to be some way of indicating that ultimately it's up to the client to check relevant local laws if there is any doubt. (???). I mean, I can try to comply with american / uk laws and best practices, but I wouldn't even be able to read say, dutch or french laws. Probably nobody would even bother to check but I don't want to be held responsible in the case of some problem.

    Sometimes people really do get asked to do dubious things. I remember seeing an ad on a freelance site for someone to replicate a login page/members page exactly. I read it very carefully and came to the conclusion that it could only be for phishing. The website deals with very large purchases of thousands of dollars at a time. So I looked at the freelance site's policy and it said it was up to you to decide the right thing to do. So I emailed the website and showed them the ad, and said it looked like someone was going to try phishing against their customers. They did write back and say thanks, too.

    And no I don't want to get my server blacklisted for sending spam. I already agreed with my next client (who was quite interested in all of this) that this means that anyone with forms really shouldn't be hosted on my own server. I already decided that if they want to upload their own content that isn't something I want on my server - just in case the whole thing gets taken down because of a picture they used. Not a biggie, I could still easily arrange hosting for them. But if I ended up with 30 small websites hosted on my server and they all went down because of one picture of a kitten someone swiped from google image search I'd have a lot of explaining to do! (I also decided to change some of my images - I only started blogging again recently, and didn't even expect anyone to find my site. So I swiped the odd pic. Most of them are OK, but now I'm getting 100 visits per day and people are asking me for little 1-page websites that I can host myself it's time to change all the dodgy ones. I don't want someone else to be affected by my behaviour!).

    The more I think about it, the more obvious it is that the real reason this all happened the way it did is just because this is a completely new person who has had no dealings with me before. The site is almost complete. To be honest I'm just as bothered by their remark that "of course we won't be paying until we are completely happy with the website" when in fact this was a project with a fixed deadline, and I'm basically waiting for their content. Classic scenario! I always firmly impress on people when I am first approached about something that I never agree to do anything without a deadline. At the time I handled this comment by firmly redirecting their attention back to the fact that essentially there is not much more I can do without the content. It didn't seem worth making more of a scene at the time, especially as it was our first phone call. But I really felt someone was playing the hotshot business person, probably thinking they are doing everything right (getting what they want, not paying until happy) but not realising they are creating waves. It crossed my mind to phone my original client and have a little chat. Anyway, I don't think this is something I can't handle - just normal people skills and assertiveness should be enough. I was caught out because when I took the project on I had been ill for a long while, and wasn't quite up to speed with my usual methods of setting ground rules at the beginning.

    I used to do paintings on commission. I'm used to setting the rules at the beginning: deadlines, payment, etc. I actually started asking for payment just to make the people who were already asking for paintings behave themselves and respect the time it takes! Cutting down on changes to the brief, making people turn up to view rough drafts, and all that. I said to my next client the other day that this suddenly made me realise perhaps there is a different scale of payment here - I should stick another 0 on the end basically! Just because what I'm charging is cheap for a website ... yes that sounds utterly psychopathic but it's a way of thinking about things that works (at least it did in the past). When I did paintings, these things would happen and the rules would be adjusted and the prices would go up. The more I charged the more people asked me to do, and the better they respected my efforts and my time.

    I'm lucky to be dealing with such nice people so far. Yes I have actually avoided the real sharks. This is like practicing so when I maybe some day have to deal with someone really nasty, I won't even need to think about what to do - I'll just carry right on with my established procedure.

    I have done that before with other things too - amazing how having some simple rules that you can tell people in advance cuts down on a lot of angst. If they break the rules they are "out", and that's that.

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    They don't sound like nice clients at all. And in the extraordinary amount of time you've spent describing the story you could have probably dumped then and got yourself another two clients. It all sounds very low-rent and suss to me, if in fact any of these people even exist.

  23. #23
    Life is short. Be happy today! silver trophybronze trophy Sagewing's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by stikkybubble View Post
    I already agreed with my next client (who was quite interested in all of this) that this means that anyone with forms really shouldn't be hosted on my own server. I already decided that if they want to upload their own content that isn't something I want on my server - just in case the whole thing gets taken down because of a picture they used. .
    No forms or uploaded content? That seems a little drastic. I think you may be over thinking this - just use common sense and you should be OK. No reason to avoid an entire world of hosting (if you want to be in that world) just to avoid what is generally a manageable risk.
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    SitePoint Zealot stikkybubble's Avatar
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    OK point noted, but it still makes it more important to get terms and conditions that cover this. I was hoping to be able to host smaller sites myself. I think I certainly need to plan ahead and think carefully. I suppose if I'm hosting a site on my own server then "my server, my rules" probably is a good rule. If they want to do crazy-stupid things they can go do it on some other server. There is something worth thinking about here - after checking I found plenty of examples of IPs being blacklisted (this happened to me a year or so ago - a whole block of IPs were blacklisted by spam software and it really wasn't funny to find all my emails disappearing into a black hole), and also examples of people being sued, fined etc (OK, much less likely).

    Anyway, there never would have been a problem if someone hadn't reacted to some gentle steering by playing the Boss card: making it seem that they intend to get what they want and it's my job to do what I'm told. I didn't like that. This may be less an issue about the law than it is about people and how they behave sometimes. It's a bit corny but perhaps we wouldn't need laws in the first place if people behaved a little better. On the other hand they didn't know that there was a law (I did but was caught on the hop and more concerned with keeping the converstation on track - perhaps I should have been more forthright).

    The more I think about it the less clear it is that this is separate from the other thing they said that worries me - that they weren't going to pay until "we are completely happy" etc. It was the way they said these things as much as what they said.

    They are not paying me enough to put up with this. I seriously nearly just downed tools. If I had wanted to be confrontational I would have said immediately that I never work without a deadline at all. I pointed out that I had been working to the deadline that I had been given, but this new person has suddenly (and nastily) stated that there is no deadline.

    I really really had to resist the urge to kick back hard. STILL resisting the urge. My first instinct really IS just to write a formal email or letter stating that as far as I am concerned a deadline was agreed upon at the beginning and I won't work without one. Maybe mentioning the legal issue of the form as well (but to be honest it bothers me less).

    Yes I know I should have had a proper contract. I'd been ill, they asked out of the blue, I'm almost just accepting the job as a favour to a previous client. There was considerable confusion at the start (just getting the word on whether the project was actually going ahead ate up valuable time - from what I thought was a short deadline). The house flooded as well, throwing me into time-management panic. I was aware that there needed to be more formal agreements of terms, and kind of had that goosebumpy feeling when you know you are doing something wrong. Even without written contracts I make sure I set ground rules very firmly at the beginning - but this time everything had to go past a committe... who were slow ...

    Oh well. You are right, oh person who says they sound low-rent and suss. I was doing this for portfolio and references, but that's starting to seem less and less likely. For one thing they have very, very specific ideas about how everything should be (so it's not a fair representation of what I could design - it's what they want me to create). For another it is EATING AWAY AT MY TIME for too little money. They already extended the deadline once - from 4-6 weeks to SIX MONTHS. Even my school-age daughter is annoyed that I haven't got rid of this project yet. And at the eleventh hour a stranger is brought in and creates issues ...

    I keep reminding myself to be fair. Nobody else has caused any offense whatsoever. This person perhaps needs to be reminded of some ground rules. Or I should just let it flow over me and use the experience next time.

    I basically tidied up what I needed to do on their site, and now it's in cold storage until they either get me some content or the date on their quote comes around. You are right about getting new clients - it has got to the stage where two people are waiting.

    I will not be letting this happen again. It makes me cross, and when I get cross I get my s*** together.


    OH and PS they are real and so am I - it doesn't take me long to write these posts (I'm a wordy person), and also there really is nobody to talk to here. Starved of human interaction, and all that. Sorry!

    PPS I wrote up all this legal stuff in a blog post - I guess that's Covert Aggression and makes me dysfunctional but hey. The blog must go on. And it's good material ...

    PPPS: no I haven't missed the massive subtext that basically they keep extending the deadline because they are nowhere near ready themselves. Fool me to believe people when they say that something has to be ready for their own launch dates. So far this has never, ever, worked. I broke my own rule - my oldest rule of all - which is making damn sure people know that I must have a specific deadline and that is the deadline on which they either pay me or reject it outright (if that was an option - this has never happened, and so I dropped this condition ages ago. It's ready on the agreed day, you pay. You get your stuff). But their original "must be ready by" date was looming by the time I even got a go-ahead. Stupid, stupid, stupid me!

  25. #25
    Life is short. Be happy today! silver trophybronze trophy Sagewing's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by stikkybubble View Post
    I keep reminding myself to be fair. Nobody else has caused any offense whatsoever. This person perhaps needs to be reminded of some ground rules. Or I should just let it flow over me and use the experience next time.
    Indeed, this is all you need to do. Make the policies clear, and stand by them. That's it. They don't have to be 'ground rules', those are what you give children. They are policies, which are what you use to conduct business and you don't need to justify or explain them to anyone.

    Most importantly, the 'flow over me' comment is crucial. I think you are very connected to this relationship in an emotional and passionate way which is getting in your way - it makes your mind noisy and takes away from you ability to do business.

    One great way to reduce that kind of noise is simply to slow down by not responding to emails/call from the client right away. Instead, write them calm, concise email each morning based on the previous days correspondence. Then, don't worry about them all day and give yourself a little time to reflect. Things usually seem simpler after a nights sleep.

    Think: 'mind like water'
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