Danger Clients #43: Those With Secret Ideas

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All my clients are great. Yours probably are too. But once in a while, you’ll be approached by someone with an idea which is so revolutionary, they can’t possibly reveal the details. They fear you’ll steal their concept … but they still expect a quote! And then start haggling.

My advice: run away. Quickly.

Perhaps you’ve just rejected working for the next Google, but the chances the client will make millions are infinitesimally small. The reasons…

1. Their idea won’t be good or original
Neither Facebook or Twitter were particularly pioneering, but they took existing concepts, added a few twists, implemented them well and generated publicity. A secret idea usually means zero market research and no pre-launch marketing.

Besides, dig a little deeper and you’ll discover it’s yet another social network or auction system. Or a social network with an auction facility.

2. They’re not an expert
The client may be an expert in their field but they’re approaching you for your development knowledge. They may have considered the overall concept and how amazing it’ll be for their customers, but it’s a long, long way from implementation. They cannot build it themselves yet only they can explain it. If they’re unable or unwilling to do that, the system won’t ever be completed.

3. They have trust issues
I don’t mind signing a Non-Disclosure Agreement, but a client who doesn’t trust you at the start won’t suddenly change their attitude. They’ll never trust you; you’ll never trust them. It’s not a basis for a profitable relationship.

4. Money is not your motivating factor
I don’t know a single software engineer who’s in it for the money. Most of us learned the techniques — unpaid — because we were interested in the subject and created our own projects. We’re passionate about programming; not ripping off client ideas.

That said, the client shouldn’t expect you to work for free because…

5. Your ideas are better than theirs
The best developers are full of great ideas. You may not have the time or inclination to complete them all, but your project has a far greater chance of success than someone who doesn’t understand the industry. It’s always more rewarding to work on something you truly believe in.

But Don’t…

…be tempted to do work on a project out of curiosity — unless they’re willing to pay for every minute of consultancy time.

The worst clients will instantly offer you a partnership or share options. They don’t know you and are not willing to share their idea — but are happy to give away part of their company? Ultimately, it means they’ll do the fluffy thinking while you the hard work translating their unworkable ideas into reality.

What’s the worst client approach you’ve ever received?

Craig BucklerCraig Buckler
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Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.

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