Category Archive: Client Manual

Grumpy Developers (it’s all just work isn’t it?)

April 25, 2010

I’ve always assumed I’m the most difficult, argumentative developer/designer in the country. Apparently not, there are far worse and they’re everywhere. A couple of longstanding clients have recently commented on how comparatively easy I am to work with, specifically my degree of tact when dealing with difficult projects. I am not being ironic.

I bitch and moan constantly about some of the work I have to do, friends, relatives and the less knowledgeable project managers look at me like I’m mental and trot out the traditional line “well, it’s all paid work isn’t it?”. Here’s the problem, it’s not about whether it’s paid work or not. Anyone who has entered a creative industry through choice generally has an expectation of the quality of work they will be doing, an expectation of job satisfaction. Sounds pompous, probably is, but that’s the reality. Often I can deal with crappy deadlines and budgets better than bad design and implementation decisions, I don’t expect to have much say on budget or timeline (for agency run jobs), but I’d like to at least have my opinion heard when a client makes a stupid decision which may damage the final quality or outcome of a project.

From a personal perspective, here’s why your developer/designer may be getting the arse with you for what you perceive to be completely reasonable requests:

The constant redo
Asking them to redo the same piece of work over and again because the client can’t quite decide if it should have the blue border or the green border? The repetition can make me very stabby indeed. There’s the next part of the project to move onto and I’ve just wasted a day shifting the same pixels back and forth (or worse a week), and really I already know which is the best decision and have probably yelled it down the phone a couple of times.

The Neverending Project
Mmmm… scope creep the bane of my existence.  Several things here, firstly project fatigue, after a while of staring at the same project you just can’t face it any longer, you need to switch to something else for a while. Adding just another page/button/function may seem trivial but even that ten minute task can make you lose the will to live. Secondly, on a more pragmatic level we’ve probably got something else lined up to be getting on with and if the scope creep has pushed us past deadline there’s someone else on our case about starting their project. Finally, and most importantly, an awful lot of scope creep includes totally unnecessary and pointless additions which I feel (sometimes incorrectly) will have a negative impact on the final outcome, I don’t want to release something crappy and bloated if it can be avoided.

You’re wrong, wrong wrong
Faced with a decision that’s clearly bollocks by a client or project manager I have two options. I can shut up, carry out the bad instruction and take the cash or I can explain why it’s clearly bollocks. The latter has a tendency to go down like I’ve just murdered someone’s granny. Some idiot somewhere has made the clearly bollocks decision and may well be very proud of it (recently: “I’ve used MS Paint to adjust our website layout, can you please implement this”) so there’s a high chance they are going to get offended when you tell them as much, the project manager doesn’t want to pass this message on and so pushes for the clearly bollocks decision to be implemented regardless of how wacky it is, I dig my heels in and explain repeatedly how clearly bollocks it is. No-one is happy. Don’t let the client get involved in the creative process, they’ll only arse it up and piss of those who are being paid to design.

I want to do it properly
Especially with a big project, I might be putting months of my life into a website. I don’t want the end result to be a bucket of sick. It’s partly the portfolio argument, in that I want to be able to proudly display every site I do in my portfolio to try and garner new work, but in reality I never update my portfolio (so rarely I’m not even going to link to it). More seriously, it’s pride in my work, I know that if I release anything that’s got even the slightest issue that’s will be the only thing I will notice when I look at it again, I’ll never be able to show someone the website without apologising in advance for the strange way the menu works or the odd clash of colours in the footer.

There’s plenty more that gets on my tits on a daily basis but it’s nice outside and I don’t want to stare at a screen all weekend. Generalising horribly, if your developer or designer doesn’t get the nark on with you from time to time, they probably don’t give a crap about their work and could work a little harder at it (or they are bottling it up and will one day come at you with a sharp pencil).

Prague Photo Guide

March 25, 2009

Like that, not that, but like that

January 12, 2009

Here is a lesson by example. This is absolutely not how to deal with your designer. This is more common than makes me comfortable.

I’m off to stick my head in the oven.

On working hours and instant quotes

September 4, 2008

So, true story: I’m in the middle of cooking dinner (8pm-ish) and preparing for an early night as I need to get up at 4am when the office phone goes. Might be urgent so answer it to a client who just reels off a very brief spec for a website and asks for a quote on the spot. Slightly flustered I am quite rude, explain my dinner is burning and tell him he needs to call back next week (I’m off on holiday) during sensible working hours.

Instantly feel bad. This was someone offering me work and I came close to telling him to fuck off. I’m a grumpy fucker at the best of times but particularly ratty when I’m interrupted in my personal time. I don’t like pissing people off, clients or not, but when hassled well outside of working hours for something I don’t really deem as urgent I tend to react badly. My fault? Client’s fault? Probably a bit of both.

Now many people have advised I have two sets of phones, one for work and one for personal, but I’ve never quite got round to it. Firstly, there’s the cost, no explanation needed there. The main problem is that SOMETIMES, admittedly rarely, it’s valid for clients to need to get hold of me at silly hours. The problem is that by allowing this I also allow them to hassle me at silly hours completely unnecessarily.

It’s a difficult choice for me. I chose to be a freelancer/business owner and I have to take responsibility for that decision. I’m always happy for new work, but at some point I need a break. If I allow my entire life to be run at the whim of clients I’ll have a breakdown. My job can be pretty full on at times and without the downtime I’m not going to be effective in my work. This isn’t the client’s fault. They don’t realise that it’s not just them that’s on my case 48 hours a day. I need to find a balance and I need to be firm but polite with those that overstep the mark. Generally I am, tonight I failed as I was caught completely off guard.

There’s also the question of which clients should be allowed to interrupt you at will. While it would be lovely to treat everyone completely equally that just doesn’t make good business sense. I have some clients who will regularly throw me well paid, well organised jobs, most of the quotes they ask me for go ahead and all is nice. But then there are clients who call me on a regular basis and ask for budget quotes for jobs that rarely (if ever) happen.

I hate the idea of telling a client to cease and desist from being a client and as yet have not gone that far but in reality it may well make sense. I’ve dealt with a couple of businesses (who I no longer deal with), who used to call me up and drag me out to meetings about new projects a couple of times a month. None of these projects ever happened.
This was time utterly wasted, and I quickly worked out they would do this until the end of time but I kept thinking that maybe they would eventually come up with a project they could go ahead with (and actually pay for), never happened, eventually they just drifted off and stopped calling (before I had to ask them to thankfully).

These days I need to be harder, it can be more of a risk to let someone eat your time than to just politely ask them to stop calling. Yes, they may one day come up with that big contract you need to pay your mortgage with, but it’s very unlikely. My Dad, who also has worked for himself most of his life, told me a story about a client who just kept wasting his time, turning up with stupidly last minute jobs and generally being a pain in the arse. Dad eventually got sick of him and told him to sod off. Explained to him that he was no longer Dad’s client and that he could no longer order from him. Six month’s later the guy shows up again a reformed client, no more time wasting a (nearly) model client. Take from that what you will. I believe if you do a damn fine job and show pride in your work you can, to some extent, have some control over your clients, oh, and no-one but an arsehole likes a yes-man.

So when is it appropriate to hassle your freelancer/small creative agency about a possible new contract (ongoing jobs and URGENT!11! server errors are another matter entirely)?

  • Between the hours of 9-5.30 is absolutely fine. If you can’t contact them then you should be worred.
  • Maybe up to about 6.30 if you have some actualy tangible work for them.
  • Is it the weekend? Might be polite to email them first and see if they are available. You might be lucky.
  • 11.45 in the evening is really a no-no. Seriously, I was asleep.
  • 6.45 in the morning. Also, a no-no. Again. I was ASLEEP.
  • So pretty much 9 – 5.30 monday to friday. Otherwise we may get all whiny on the internet about it.

BONUS ADVICE on getting quotes!!!!

If you require a quote for a new project we need a bit of time to think about it. 10 seconds is not enough time. It’s really not advisable to wait until you are in a meeting with your director/client before you let us know you were even considering a new project. We need to think about these things a bit, do a bit of research, etc.
Take this question:

How much for a 5 page website, with some photos of producsts on?

Sounds simple doesn’t it? Well it’s not that complicated but that’s not enough information to give an accurate quote on, yes there are some agencies that will quote on a per-page basis. We don’t. We prefer to build something appropriate for the client and this can be a little more involved. Here are some questions we may need to ask you before we can give you a rough price on the above query (these are just examples):

Will we be dealing with the entire project or working with another agency?

Will we be creating all graphics?

Is there existing branding we can use, will we need to create branding?

Will we need to supply copy-writing or is the copy already written?

What’s the deadline?

Will we be supply SEO?

Is this a static brochure site or will we be doing any sort of CMS system?

Will we need to source a server?

What can we do that makes this site a bit special? Will the budget/deadline allow us to do any research or give us a chance to try some new technologies out.

… and it can go on.

So give us a bit of notice, a few hours can be enough but for best results give us a day. The more information you can supply up-front the more accurate we can be. I personally prefer to take a client out for a coffee and chat through what they want to achieve with the project and get an idea of their expectations and requirements before I even think about a price. This doesn’t suit everyone but I think it gets the best results.

Copyright, what’s that for then?

July 25, 2008

Often in the past I’ve discussed the possibility, in a tongue in cheek manner, of writing a manual that prospective clients must read and be tested on before I/we will start working for them. I’ve had a few experiences lately which have reminded me of this concept, and although I will certainly not be sending these notes to actual clients I feel I should get them down here, if only for my sanity, and possibly your entertainment. I’ve created a category ‘Client Manual’ which I’ll post them in. This is the first one.

Copyright, it’s a difficult concept (apparently)

One of the problems with being so heavily ingrained in an industry or culture is that you sometimes forget that those outside it may have trouble dealing with concepts you take for granted, and explaining them can be, putting it politely, a challenge. I spend a fair amount of time reading Not Always Right which seems to mainly focus on retail customers. It amazes me, the utter lack of logic people can display on a day-to-day basis, but then I compare it to my own industry, where people are spending ten times as much dealing with long term projects, but still they don’t appear think it through any more deeply than if they were buying a Big Mac.

As an aside, I feel I should point out, that although I will rant and bang my head on the desk over the decisions and dealing with some clients, for the most part (I’d say 80%) the people I deal with are intelligent, easy to deal with professionals. I don’t talk about them because there’s no story there.

Anyway, back to the point. We were recently approached to do a website for a small business. Should be a simple job, a straightforward attractive layout with 10 – 15 pages of light content. Basic SEO and some nice photographic treatments. So, off I went, did my research, got the quotes in from the designer, copywriter, etc and went back to the prospective client. I had, as is habit, sent the proposal/quote to a few colleagues and peers as I like to ensure we are generally competitive and not about to charge massively outside the going rate, feedback was that we were massively undercharging, but I let it go on this one as it was for a startup business and it’s good to hook ’em in when they are young.

Prospective client was not happy, quote was apparently MASSIVE, and way more than anyone else had quoted. I doubted the veracity of this claim but agreed we could try and cut it down a little for them if they were happy for us to cut out some of the services we were supplying.

I offered a discount on the photography and copy if both could be supplied up front. No problem says the client, they can supply both photographs and copy. Excellent, that will make life easier all round. Here are some of our competitors and suppliers brochures for they copy they say. Excuse me? Here are some of our competitors and suppliers brochures for they copy they say. Err, we can’t do that, I explain why not. Oh.

Photography, we don’t really need that do we? Well, it will help sell your products. We can take some photos ourselves? Urm… you can but they may not be up to the quality we would like for the website (no offense and all that). Oh, ok here’s some trade magazines, just scan in the pictures and use those. Excuse me? Oh, I know some of the people in the trade mags, it will be ok. Urm… not sure about that, if you can give me the photos in a sensible format with some written permission we might be able to do something but we can’t just take other people’s photos. Why not? I explain copyright again.

Some time passes, prospective client is not happy, we are messing them about, they need a website and they need it right now, we are not playing ball by being difficult over this whole copyright thing. In what I suspect may have been a moment of utter madness I get a missive from one of the heads of the business something along these lines

Can you visit [url of another web studio], they did a website for one of our competitors, can you just copy that website, just get it done and then we can work out the money later.

I nearly cried. Although it did clear something up. This other studio is where one of the alleged ‘reasonable’ quotes came from. I checked their pricing guide, their price for an absolute basic 2 page site was what prospective client has said they quoted, their price for what prospective client wanted was pretty much the same as I had quoted. At this point I am considering a polite ‘please go away’ letter to prospective client. But I can never give up on a challenge.

The saga is a continuing one, I would imagine if someone points prospective client at this they will decide to go elsewhere, I don’t mean any malice towards prospective client but they have made several basic mistakes in their dealing with us, let’s go through these:

Copyright is serious business. I’m not going to go into details here because I would imagine you know this. The client didn’t. They did not understand either the legal implications or the moral implications. Basically, you cannot just take someone else’s work and use it without permission/license/etc.

There often seems to be a misunderstanding over the value of services, I find people don’t get why they should pay for one or more of:

  • Copywriting
  • Photography
  • Design

These are all things that people have to work on, as easy as we make it look, it isn’t. We have studied and practiced at our respective areas and as much as anything else you are buying experience and knowledge. We will not lead you down the wrong path, in fact we will steer you straight as much as possible. If you ask for something retarded we will tell you as much (politely), we won’t just do it because it’s what you ask for. Ok, that was off the subject a little, but my point is that effort goes into creating this stuff. When someone has created these things for someone else we have no right (morally or legally) to just take them and use them. Don’t think for a moment that no-one will notice. If we do our job right and promote your business effectively then I hope someone would notice.

I personally, and this extends to Shinytastic, have a zero tolerance attitude to stealing other people’s work. We will not lift photos, copy, design elements, etc from another site without express permission. By express permission, I mean from the copyright holder, not from the client as a sort of ‘we’ll deal with it if anything goes nasty’ type permission.

Quoting is no fun at the best of times, it’s less fun when the client pulls unrealistic numbers out of their head and claims they are quotes from reputable sources. We do this for a living and we have a fair knowledge of what other people charge for the same service. Frankly if I’m given something astoundingly unlikely I’ll just phone the studio/agency it’s purported to have come from and ask them if it’s real.

A website can be expensive, but it depends on your demands and requirements, if you want something massively impressive, then I’m afraid it’s going to cost more, if you are willing to cut down your requirements it will cost less. We will not make it cheaper by just stealing the more expensive bits from elsewhere.

We don’t do cheap and nasty websites, I don’t think theres much point, I think it makes the client’s business look cheap and nasty and does nothing for our portfolio. If you don’t have much to spend now we can come up with a cheaper solution (within reason), but you need to take our advice on board. If you don’t have a multi-national budget you won’t get a site to challenge a multi-national, but that doesn’t always matter. Buy within your means and work upwards, we are here to advise as much as to create.

If you have a budget you need to stick to, just tell us. We are not going to screw you over and it makes it much easier to write a proposal if we know up-front if you can afford it. I know people like to play the whole battle of wills thing between client and supplier to see who does best of out of the pricing, but honestly, it’s a waste of both our times, tell us what you can afford to spend and we will tell you what you can afford.

Supplying assets can be a source of confusion. Putting the legal issues aside for a moment. If we were willing/able to take copy and photos from an existing printed publication we would expect the photos supplied on disk and the copy supplied in an email or word document. Otherwise we are just going to have to charge for the time spent slaving over a hot scanner/keyboard. Fine if you have the budget, but if your aim is to cut costs in the first place, this isn’t the way to go about it.

One last thing Logos. As part of the package offered to prospective client, we included a corporate branding package, just a simple logo with colour scheme and stationary. Prospective client decided they didn’t want to pay for the logo and asked, ‘Can’t you just do us our name in a pretty font instead’. Yes, we can. We call that a logo.

I feel I have waffled far too much and strayed from the point to a silly degree. But there’s lessons in there for both clients and studios (if you can cut through my crap to find them). Have I missed the point? Am I being too much of an evangelical perfectionist?

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I am Bob. This is my blog. It is an outlet and a substitute for real life. It contains my art, photography, illustration and thoughts on mental health (I deal with anxiety on a pretty much constant basis).

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