Stop Doing the Same Things and Expecting Different Results

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Okay, so my title’s a bit of a cliché, but you know how it goes: If you keep on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep on getting what you’ve always got. Assuming you’ve followed my Stop Client Abuse of Web Designers series from the beginning, you now realize the first step to doing different things to get different results begins when you take full responsibility for how you allow clients to treat you.

Hey, no condemnation; you were naïve and excited about freelancing or starting your own business. I was, too. But that naivety led to some bad decisions. And those decisions developed into habits, and then into a workflow. Waiting weeks and months to get paid because the client never provided content became “standard procedure” for me. Perhaps for you as well.

By now, you’ve learned a better methodology, such as:

  1. Disqualify prospects who aren’t serious by having a preliminary fact-finding conversation before you rush off to meet with them
  2. Refusing to give away free information by discussing the WHY and the WHAT, but not the HOW
  3. Closing business on a verbal agreement, then writing a proposal to finalize it
So before we move on to Action Step #4, let me just say that I’ve never actually owned a farm; but if I did, I wouldn’t want to give it away …

Action Step #4: How to Quote a Price without Giving away the Farm

Now it comes down to the wire. Your soon-to-be-client had agreed to hire you, conditional on price. But how can you give an accurate price without knowing all of the technical details of the site? After all, you want to be sure you don’t short-change yourself by leaving something out. As web strategist Joel Hughes recently commented to me on Twitter: “a fixed price with a shallow spec is a big problem.”

So, motivated in part by self-protection and the need to “wow” the client, you end up writing a comprehensive project plan. Even if you use hourly billing to avoid becoming entangled in scope creep, you’ll still need some type of project blueprint.

If you are providing a fixed quote, don’t do so unless all aspects of the project are discussed, agreed-upon, and completely documented. That’s a given. Yet, that creates a new set of problems; namely, how do you prevent your prospect from stealing ideas from your incredibly detailed (and incredibly free) project plan? Or worse, handing it off to a cheaper competitor? I once thought this didn’t happen very often, that it was the exception rather than the norm. But after reading many of your comments, sadly, I’m finding it’s not.

That’s why I keep pounding into your head to discuss only the WHY and the WHAT, not the technicalities of HOW. Yet, the client did reveal many of the technical details when he told you WHAT he wanted. You merely didn’t reveal HOW you were going to create it. (And just because you’ve taken copious notes during the entire meeting doesn’t mean you must turn those notes into a document and hand it over to the client.)

Agree First, then Document

Here’s how it works. Suppose my prospect tells me he wants his visitors to be able to search for time-share condominiums based on location, availability, number of rooms, and other such criteria. I’m going to write down everything he says and ask follow-up questions so I can translate that information into geek-speak—meaning, I know that entails a database-driven website, some back-end programming sprinkled with a little JavaScript and CSS, and a user friendly-way to search and filter the results.

I gather just enough data to allow me to work up a price. Later, I can turn that into a written plan … but not until he agrees to the price. So the proper order is: discussed and agreed-upon, then documented and finalized (meaning, he signs it and gives you a check).

But we get into trouble when we arrange it like this: discussed and documented, then agreed-upon and finalized. That’s backwards. Get your agreement before your documentation. Make sense?

Not every project requires detailed documentation. A basic static site can be scoped out in a two-page “executive summary,” but overly-complex sites will require more. In many instances, we found it effective to charge for the project plan—much like one would pay an architect to draw up floor plans for a house. Clients who needed a site this complex understood the architect vs. builder analogy and didn’t have a problem paying for this phase; especially when we made it clear they were free to take our blueprint to another developer. (None did.)

You Closed the Deal; Now What?

You did it! You closed a deal without having to write the equivalent of War and Peace to do so. The hard part’s over … or so you think. If your contract isn’t air-tight—dare I say bulletproof—you’ll find yourself rowing a sinking ship you’ll soon wish to abandon. We don’t want that to happen so, starting next week, we’ll make sure you’ve crossed all your I’s and dotted all your T’s.

Next week: Get Paid! Even when Your Client Keeps Delaying (also known as Action Step #5)

Questions? Comments? Fire away!

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It’s not too late to get my free guide, 27.5 Must-Ask Questions for Consultative Selling. Just follow me on Twitter and I’ll send you a link.

This is part 6 of the series Putting a Stop to Abusive Client Behavior:

  1. Stop Client Abuse of Web Designers Now!
  2. Stop the Abuse! 7 Steps to a Well-Trained Client
  3. Stop Wasting Time with Prospects Who Aren’t Serious
  4. Stop Giving Away So Much Free Information!
  5. Stop Writing Proposals to Win Business
  6. Stop Doing the Same Things and Expecting Different Results
  7. Stop Waiting to Get Paid! How to Collect Even when Your Client Delays
  8. Stop Getting Walked on and Set Some Boundaries Already
  9. Stop the Slippery Slope of Scope Creep
  10. Stop Making Endless Design Changes
  11. Stopping Abusive Clients: The Complete Process
John TabitaJohn Tabita
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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. When not working or spending time with his family, John offers great sales and marketing advice on his blog, Small Business Marketing Sucks.

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