As the father of two boys, I’m continually amazed and confounded by the difference in their personalities. My oldest tends to go with the flow, but my youngest always feels the need to push the boundaries. One day, he’ll grow up and become your client.
How are you going to handle him, when he does? As parent, it’s my job to define the boundaries and let them play within them. Your job, as a web consultant, is not so different.
Am I suggesting you treat your clients like children? To a certain degree, yes. Children do not have a complete understanding of the world around them. When left to their own devices, they tend to make foolish choices. Likewise, when a client steps into the world of web design and development, they have an incomplete picture of how that world works and may have unrealistic expectations. Bill Cosby once said that with 200 active two-year-olds, he could conquer the world. A single over-active client can overrun yours. It’s time to set some boundaries.
Don’t Assume Your Client will Read the Contract
Boundaries and expectations live or die by a written contact. Don’t assume the client will read yours.
Signing the contract without reading it? Seriously! You are legally obligating yourself to my terms here. Make sure you understand them. It’s great that you trust me, but we’re still going to have an awkward conversation when you do something not allowed by the agreement.
- Michelle Gower, author of How to Fire a Client
You can avoid “that awkward conversation” by sitting down with the prospect, face-to-face if possible, and discussing each point of the contract before he signs.
It’s not as nerve-racking as it sounds. Let’s take the issue of getting paid even though your client delays sending you content. You accomplish that by setting up a payment schedule, rather than attaching payments to production milestones. Here’s how to have that conversation with your client.
First, discuss the project timetable and let the client see that the projected completion time is 60 days (or whatever time frame you’ve agreed upon). From here, it’s easy to transition into the reasons why a project can get behind schedule:
Mr. Prospect, one of the problems I often encounter is busy clients who end up delaying completion of their site because they take too long to send me written copy and images. It’s usually not intentional, but I end up waiting weeks or even months to get paid when that happens.
To prevent it, my contract stipulates that final payment is due in 60 days. That means, if you don’t send me the content I need by then, and your site’s not finished because of it, you’re still agreeing to pay me. Did I explain that clearly?
Each and every aspect of a site design has the potential to be miscommunicated, misunderstood, or assumed by your client. Here’s an example of a client who assumed that something I left undiscussed was included: setting up all the domain email accounts on his office computers. He didn’t know how and, after all, I registered the domain for him. (What a pain; I hate doing that stuff, especially when I get stuck doing it for free.)
But where some see problems, others see opportunity. From that point forward, I asked each client whether or not they could handle this internally. For those who needed help, I sub-contracted to my cousin’s networking business (marking up his fee slightly). After that, he got to keep them as a client, if they needed more work.
And, as an aside, when I started asking the same question about copy writing, I found that clients would pay extra to have me provide this service.
Consider some of the “abusive” behavior we’ve discussed throughout this series: scope creep, endless design revisions or technical support, clients deliberately stalling to delay payment, client site modifications after-the-fact. What parameters can you set to minimize or prevent these, while still providing the client with enough latitude to accomplish what he wants? Draft a policy for each and write down what you will say to the client. Sitting down and explaining each of these points has never been anything but a positive experience. I’ve found that the other person appreciates this and understands completely. Besides, you just saved him or her 45 minutes of reading and translating your legalese gobbledygook.
In my next (and possibly final) installment of this series, I’ll discuss some of these behaviors and give you suggestions on how to address each one.
This is part 8 of the series Putting a Stop to Abusive Client Behavior:
- Stop Client Abuse of Web Designers Now!
- Stop the Abuse! 7 Steps to a Well-Trained Client
- Stop Wasting Time with Prospects Who Aren’t Serious
- Stop Giving Away So Much Free Information!
- Stop Writing Proposals to Win Business
- Stop Doing the Same Things and Expecting Different Results
- Stop Waiting to Get Paid! How to Collect Even when Your Client Delays
- Stop Getting Walked on and Set Some Boundaries Already
- Stop the Slippery Slope of Scope Creep
- Stop Making Endless Design Changes
- Stopping Abusive Clients: The Complete Process
Former owner and partner of web firm Jenesis Technologies, John is currently Director of Digital Strategy at Haines Local Search, a company providing local search marketing solutions to SMBs, including print and Internet Yellow Pages, web design, and local SEO. When not working or spending time with his family, John offers great sales and marketing advice on his blog, Small Business Marketing Sucks.