business clients

Understanding The Web Designer – 10 Critical Questions You Should NOT Be Asking

There is an interesting article on Small Business Branding blog – “10 Critical Questions To Ask A Web Designer”. The post is wrong on so many accounts, it’s would have been easier to ignore it altogether. However, being a lead to a Zealus web design studio for so many years I can’t help but notice how irrelevant most of these questions are – and here’s why:

1. What skills do you or your team posses? HTML, CSS, Drupal, WordPress, MySQL, PHP, CGI, Ruby on Rails? – author argues that by listening to the white noise the project lead makes while trying to answer your question you will be able to pick something useful. Wrong – you won’t. If he’s technically savvy he (or she, doesn’t matter) will sink you in the sea of gibberish technology talk, and if he’s not – he will sink you even deeper in semi-technology blabber. Point is – you will leave thinking that you have talked to a smart guy while in reality you have learned nothing.
What you should be asking – what’s the technology called, how widespread is it, how mature is it. These are the things you can understand, remember and cross-check after the conversation. What’s important – you will be able to make a business decision based on things you can comprehend.

2. How quickly can you provide a first draft of the site and how long does a job like this normally take? – author argues that such preliminary estimates can help you manage your schedule. Wrong – before signing the contract all dates are so grossly underestimated that you really have to live outside of the reality to base anything but future negotiations on those dates.
What you should be asking – how long projects like these take typically? What are the pitfalls, what could drag the project, how to prevent dragging from happening.

3. What is your working procedure and how will you communicate your progress? – if you are working with freelancers they most likely have no procedure in place and if you have with some established group they will tell you about project status reports even before you have to ask. The reason being that people who’s been around long enough know that if they fail to communicate properly they fail to get paid. So they will make damn sure their client knows all the hard work they put in, they will create a dashboard with tasks, timelines, heck, you might even see Gantt chart!
What you should be asking – what is the phone number of the person responsible for the project. One single person has to be responsible, if there is more than one – walk away.

4. How much support comes with this package deal? – obvious statement that no one works for free is obvious. Make sure you ask this question before negotiations begin, otherwise you can negotiate that sweet low price only to find out that support costs painfully extra. Unless you’re dealing with “Cheap web sites for r$499 per 5 pages” type of designers – there is no point in asking this question aside from the other negotiations.

5. What kind of after support do you offer? – same thing. Best thing to do is negotiate a support contract for some period immediately after launch so you will be covered in case something comes out immediately after your web project is live. In addition to that you might want to get a per-incident support after initial support contract is expired.
What to ask – nothing, keep negotiating.

6. What is your normal procedure if the job does not turn out satisfactorily? – author is then ventures on a journey of how everyone is spoiled by generous refund policies. Well, you just go and try to get a refund from anyone, I just want to watch how easy it would be. Speaking of service contracts, I may not live long enough to see the end of it anyway.
What you should be asking – nothing, just get a copy of the contract BEFORE you sign in and show it to your lawyer. It just another one of those things you want to negotiate as hard as you can. We have actually dropped a number of contracts because we could not successfully negotiate this single point. Everything else was set, but because client wanted a full refund or had some other crazy idea about how he gets all of his money back at the end when he tells us he doesn’t like it – it was dropped. It’s cheaper than a lawsuit anyway.

7. What software or technology will you be using to build my site and will I be able to use and update it myself? – the tragic story of a person who was asking for white noise in question #1 and ended up with useless application without anyone around to support it. That’s the illustration right there why pretty much everything that post is telling you is wrong.
What you should be asking – see question number 1: how widespread this technology, how mature is it. Is is Open Source or is it proprietary (former is better than the latter, unless you’re talking about Flash which is a whole another can of worms altogether).

8. Does it cost extra for this software or does anything you recommend to build this site going to require additional license purchased? – this is the only sane question in the whole ten, however, the justification is flawed nonetheless. As with any contractor, he brings his own tools. If your project lead is a geek he will force you into buying the top-notch hardware and software so that he could play with new shiny toys that he otherwise could not afford. If your project lead is a sales agent she will sell you whatever she will make the most of. Either case – you loose.
What you should be asking – is for a detailed chart of costs, including anything and everything your project needs to be completed successfully. Let your future contractors know that you have such and such assets and if anything needs to be purchased – it has to be put on that chart. Time, licenses, hardware, image and sound rights and royalties – everything goes there. This way you can cross-check with other contractors and actual vendors to see who’s charging you and for what. It’s your money, don’t waste it.

9. We would like the domain name administrator to be in our representative’s name and email. Can you arrange that? – unless you trust your contractor sleep in the bed with your husband (or wife) – never ever even mention this to them. Spend as much time as it requires, but BUY THE DOMAIN YOURSELF! Do not give access to your domain to anyone else, if there are any modifications – learn how to do them yourself or register a domain with registrar who has telephone support – like GoDaddy. You can rebuild the site in months, but rebuilding a reputable brand name, replacing domain that all your customers know can take years.
What should I ask – can you develop on test platform and them move the site to our domain? But any decent developer should do that anyway.

10. Can I see a portfolio of previous sites built. Or is there a demo of a site similar to what you will be building us? – this should be first question that you ask a contractor (designer, programmer or whatnot). Why is it #10 – I have no idea, I guess just to reiterate how much wrong is with initial post. In addition to portfolio (if there is any) you should briefly explain what you are trying to do and how does the designer see it solved. That should be the first thing – before you put anything else on the table.


Not Another Dumb Customer

Retail store - Small Business, Marketing and Web Design BlogDealing with customers who built their businesses in the old-fashioned brick-and-mortar retail stores and offices has its advantages. You get to learn from professionals how to build your business based on personal touch, attitude and having a feeling of your customers. It’s amazing if you think of it. Almost all the marketing techniques that we use on the internet came straight from offline world. But that’s not what I am getting at here.

The downside of talking to such business owners is that not many of them truly realize what internet can offer to them. For example, one of the prospective clients I get to talk to recently denied almost any attempt to build their store’s internet presence on the grounds that the one they already have built for them earned around $1,000 for last year. That’s for a store that sells merchandise priced between $10 and $300 dollars per item!

annoyances clients

Late Night Post About Clients

Late Night Post About Clients - Small Business, Marketing and Web Design BlogIt should be a common knowledge already that the less the client pays for your service, the more of your time he/she consumes. Usually this happens because they try to save every penny and argue about minor things that naturally should have been let go. However, by concentrating on such minor issues, the client totally misses the major stuff that needs his/her attention.

For example, let’s take an online store. By being a royal pain in any place you can imagine the client takes about a week to decide between the two offered ways of presenting a single product on per line in the store (a decision of two hours at most, really!). Then we, thinking of a better way to promote the product the client sells, offer an addition to the store that (by our calculations) should increase product exposure by large volume. It’s a trendy perk, not many stores have it, so it would naturally rise confidence in web site. Client impolitely declines, since it will be more expensive and push us to complete the project. Which we, of course, did.

On the closure meeting that lasts two hours instead of 40 minutes client politely listens to the presentation on how to use their store (almost without taking any notes), after which goes on about how he wants us to change the design since “we never discussed that there would be only one item per line”. That is – after they have agreed on the draft, confirmed (no less then two times) that no additional changes are necessary and that web site will look exactly like on the picture. And after the week-long heated discussion on how to present single item per line in a best way. They delay the last installment. We offer that they keep the last installment and go with another web design studio, since they are dissatisfied with the job we did (although we did everything according to the specs, offered additional functionality and features, accommodated their shoe-string budget and so on).

Now, I am not writing this to bash clients – they are in their right to make mistakes. They probably just need to learn how to take responsibility for them, but that’s not my concern. The more clients come in our way the more I see a trend where people who pay more money for essentially same product (i.e. web site – in any of its form) take less of your time by managing important parts of their web sites and leaving technicalities to us. After all – that’s exactly what they are paying us for. People who can afford to spend more money value their time and our time more then those, who spend less. In different terms – they know how to delegate responsibilities because this makes them more money. This knowledge, as far as I understand, comes after certain level of acquired business experience. What’s cause and what’s effect – knowledge or money – I think is obvious.

So the next time I see this client (hopefully it won’t be as painful as it was last time) I will give them couple of links to a good articles on delegating responsibilities. No matter how much hard time our clients give me, I still believe in educating our customers. Can’t vouch for this particular case, but the general trend says that it helps.