My First Real Client Experience, A real learning curve

Hello people,

I recently purchased the business kit following a very bad experience with a client. I want to know what I could have done differently. This was a large corporate client who requested a redesign to their existing website.

I did two design mock ups. The client approved the second design and wanted this to be coded and developed. The initial response was that they “loved” the design. On this note I started doing the remaining pages until they had a change of heart wire-frames of the design. I ended up having to rewind and do much of the work again. They called 4 on-site meeting with me at their offices, which were 3 hours away from me. I asked for a web conference via skype but they declined, as they wanted me on-site. Please note that in total I spend over 150 EU in travel expenses, which I did not charge for.

The biggest mistake I did was to quoted on the job, and not put in an hourly rate taking into account travel expenses etc., this resulted in some serious exploitation. I ended up spending 3 times the amount of time. Their constant change in heart made managing very hard.

Prior to the singing of the agreement the clients asked to put their site on their host, so that they would not have to pay additional fees to the web designer. Initially I did not have a problem with this. They expected a certain support afterwards in terms of learning aspects of the CMS, again, why would I have a problem with this.

However, once the website was finalized and completed we did have a problem with them. They wanted to retain money back in order to get the support “a couple of hundred” in their words. In my eyes this was like buying a car and asking to retain money back in order gain a response or a level of support, completely ludicrous. I certainly did not agree, the website was on their host and I (or my bank I should say) wanted the money, as they already tripled the work hours spend on their site. The trust more or less went as this stage.

Once the money was finally received I transferred the site over to their host without delay. From here they kept sending emails on support, which were okay, but eventually those emails started turning to into requests for more work, as they expected this to be covered in the support additional payment was out of the question. In the end I asked them to pay my hourly rate. Whenever I would mention money they turned confrontational and in the end I sent them a support package price list but that’s when the company in question took my name off their website and more or less vanished. I suppose I was mainly at fault as I was too good for them, which resulting in them defining the terms I work on and not the other way around.

Hi Sega,
You raised an interesting scenario which could potentially happen to everyone. For some companies, it seems standard business practice to identify and exploit opportunities to take advantage - whether it is of vendors or customers. Such is life I suppose…

I’ve been building sites and web-based applications on the side for nearly ten years now. To date, I’ve never really treated it as a proper business - I have more or less just been doing favors for friends and friends of friends. In my experience, the majority of time spent has been on the maintenance and support side of things rather than design and coding - so much so I have given serious thought about trying to market those services alone and leave the new design work to others.

Setting expectations is a critical - and this is the area I have made the most mistakes. In the software world, ongoing support contacts are expected by the majority of customers, but I haven’t seen many web design firms actually break out the service into it’s own offering and attach a price tag to it.

I am curious to discover where this has been successful. Also, I wonder if the majority of web designers and developers would prefer to not deal with any ongoing site maintenance work.

Merry Christmas!

It depends on the client.

Basic support is always free, like for a 30-day grace period e.g. change this image, help us do this, how do we do that? But when client’s clearly exploit the situation. Just to give you an idea, I spend over 10 hours on these clients after completion, and the favours far exceeded the work in-hand, which is were I has to charge them for additional work. Their apparent lack of appreciation is what did it to me, suppose it was my fault for being too nice. In such scenarios we HAVE to charge for support, without doing so will only bring more of the same. If I were to charge per hour it would have been better.

Another possible solution is to have template website. These would result in less coding and more time for the support. I am now in the process of creating my own templates and providing a budget solution for lower-end clients. Saying this the experience left me at a dismay about the whole industry. I think I might as well get a job at McDonalds if this is how is it.

Customers are very demanding, I’m afraid, and they do everything in their power to get what they want without paying, furthermore if you haven’t done everything perfectly (which was no the case).

The contract or agreement needs to specify what the customer will pay for (example, 3 mock-ups, and after that 3 reviews of the chosen mockup, if pictures are included, if the pics need to be modified, what kind of modification is being done (example: if it is just a case of changing levels/curves or something more artistic), etc. It also should include that anything extra in the job will be charged by the hour.

Support should be provided with an extra charge. You may concede 30-60 days of small changes just to verify that the site works as expected, but then you need to establish what you think it is support and what is not.

Unfortunately I cannot pay bills this way. This is very serious as I am slowly drowning as clients wish to get away with not paying. What’s funny is that when I do all their changes you end up missing vital issues such as performance optimization in terms of speed and certain script fixes.

I did the following favours for them:

  • Transfered the site to their host for free, NetworkSolutions wanted 170 USD for this
  • Serious Design changes after wireframe and design were approved and coded
  • JQuery map on their homepage, which was not included, I paid a development company to help me on this

The clients left without gratitude and were unhappy overall as they did not get that support they demanded for, but like I mentioned, I have to eventually stand on my own two feet and doing work for nothing will not suffice.

I recently did my facebook page, and I got over 300 friends in just the Christmas period, so it worked very well. I am fairly confident if a client tried to save themselves some money by doing it themselves they would hardly have the same success rate. In my opinion clients are too tight for their own good and as such won’t get the results they need. You seriously have to pay to get the results you demand, unless your a web designer too and you’re able to help me by reducing much of the work.

I am now in the process of creating my own blog, and I am going to drive traffic to it via post and tutorials, looks forward to it, going to be very exciting!

Sega, I think this experience is a good one for you to have gone through; it should be a lesson to you that being overly altruistic will not pay you the bills and as soon as (some) clients get the feeling you say yes to favors one time too many, they’ll eat you alive…

All of what you’ve described above you should have had in your contract, agreed to and signed by your client before coding a single line. You should have your hourly rate in your contract, you should describe exactly what kind of support can be expected of you for free and which support tasks need to be billed. Having all this (and more) formulated in detail in your contract will not only help you sleep at night, but it will also allow both of you (yourself and the client) to know where you stand, during and after the process.

I feel your pain, Sega because it happens to me all the time and I’m afraid that when you don’t know when to say “no”, it happens over and over. So learn your lesson well :slight_smile:

Sega, I think this experience is a good one for you to have gone through; it should be a lesson to you that being overly altruistic will not pay you the bills and as soon as (some) clients get the feeling you say yes to favors one time too many, they’ll eat you alive…

They did, and once they finished eating me they wanted seconds :stuck_out_tongue:

I feel it’s a good experience too. I have to be firmer as I cannot pay by bills and let’s face it, favors don’t pay the internet and electricity bills. I will have to form a stronger contract, and go back to it whenever clients ask for additional work, this way I can sleep well as night.

I charge 50% at this point before starting any coding work (I do the mockups in Photoshop) and make it clear that ‘significant’ changes to the agreed layout will be chargeable above and beyond the quoted price. They’re always happy to pay as they’ve had some work that they’re happy with, or they wouldn’t agree to pay…, and I get the financial commitment I need to continue with the project.

That usually stops what you experienced from happening because I’ve thoroughly explained that it’s the point of doing mockups before doing any coding work so they understand why it’s hard to make changes after the build has started, and if it happens anyway you can charge for it.

An alternative is to use a detailed contract.

I use a detailed contract now, but specify an hourly rate in the contract. Fixed prices are gone, as they never helped me anyhow. The goal is to be in control, it’s your business after all. Once you give control away you’ve lost the game.

Just today somebody called me for a website and was rather rood, informing me that I would an a problem with payment if I did not do what he said as I had to keep the site confidential. This was too much for me to handle, so I asked the potential client to go elsewhere and ignored him thereafter. Problem Solved! We also have to be good judged of character so we save ourselves some head ache.

It’s far worse having a bad client than no client at all.

I also use a fixed price, it reassures the client and helps me get the work in the first place and also provides me with the motivation to ensure that I think the job through properly before quoting.

If I make a mistake it’s my problem.

So basically the fixed price is on the work assumed? What if a design takes 3 times longer because it was not originally to the clients taste?

That’s the risk I take but I have an information gathering method that should prevent that from happening most of the time. It’s not unreasonable to expect a client to want to make some changes, I expect it happen to a certain extent.

Then I invoice for 50% and that’s the end of the changes unless they want to pay extra.

It balances out in the end.

It’s not a risk I’d like to take. I now charge hourly and give an approximate price on the job, which 90% is the actual price. When I see a client is too demanding I say we’ve spent more than our man-hours for this job. This is how I see things. Unfortunately I do not feel counting on people’s good will and nature would do the job. If they understand they pay per hour they will know that more work means more money. The estimated price comes with changed in-hand (so it’s worked into the pricing). I don’t see how we can give a fixed price on such a diverse topic with client demands changes as they see things evolve.

How and why do they evolve? I attempt to understand right at the beginning what the client needs so when I come to actually building the site, there’s no evolution going on, that happens during the design stage but my information gathering should help the client figure out exactly what they need before I quote for the work. There shouldn’t be any surprises.

I understand that evolution can happen, but the majority of jobs should be like building a house, you design it and agree those designs, then you build it. If changes are happening to the house during the building, then there’s been a failure during the design stage, that can’t be allowed to happen and if it does it’s my fault, not the clients.

Take this scenario:

Client approved design, is happy now, but after hears something from a friend and how wants changes to this design. They now do not like the design and are screaming at you for changes. What would you do?

If you charged a fix price then you’d have to make sure they are happy and work extra to meet those demands. If you work on an hourly rate they’d just pay more for your time. I see no alternative than the hourly thing. I would be interested to know how you would tackle this. Evolution in my experience happens only when clients are allowed to double think what is happening.

That’s not likely to happen. I go through a questionnaire with new clients to help me understand what they want and if they’re not sure it helps them to figure it out. There’s no way they could go through that information gathering exercise and then just completely change their mind. If I got the slightest indication that it might happen and I should do if I’m asking the right questions, or if they still seemed uncertain or wanted a second opinion, I’d ask them to be sure before going any further.

I’ve arrived at this way of doing things after a lot of experience with clients who aren’t sure what they want.