Not Taking My Own Advice

I always advise others never to discount their services. We have a certain skill set that has a value attached to it. I offer very discounted rates to a very few friends but I always invoice them the full amount less the discount – even if the discount is 90%. They then know the full value of what they’re getting.

Problems arise when discounts are given to clients unknown to yourself. I have a number of clients in a small area so when I was approached by one of their own, I offered a 10% site discount. THe quote was in November and the client only replied in March when the quote was well out of date. I could have requoted at a highert rate, particularly as the new year had started, but didn’t.

In addition to more than R1,000 off, I quoted only at 50% of the rate for a logo he wanted. Now, I hate doing logos. There’s no money in them and I made the cardinal mistake of not quoting an hourly rate.

This logo very quickly became two logos but I didn’t requote and it then did what all logo jobs do. It went back and forth. The client couldn’t make up his mind. They never can and after a couple of weeks and several drafts ended up pretty near where we were at the beginning of the job.

He also then wanted – an unquoted – business card. As I had done the logo, I did one. Then he wanted another just for himself. As the two were similar I did that too.

Complicating all of this was the inability of the client to express clearly what he wanted. Worse, he tried to give  long complicated instructions over the phone. This is a recipe for disaster and despite me cutting him off, the next call would again come with instructions.

The website itself went off with very few changes. Except the bloody photos.

Having asked for, and been given, and inserted photos, I was then told that a whole lot of new ones had been taken. A DVD appeared that not only had new pics but also all the old ones mixed up.

All of these things of course make an unpleasant job even longer and more frustrating. Half way through the job he asks “Now how are we with the brochure?” What brochure? It was never asked for nor quoted for but I agree to do a simple layout if I have the time.

Then we get to the hosting package. Yes he wants the package and he wants to transfer to my ISP. And already he has a list of substantial additions to the site. But first, when I tell him how much it will be monthly he asks if that’s the best I can do. I remind him that he’s had R1,000 off the the site, two logos for half the price of one, two free business cards and if I can, I’ll do a brochure draft – and you still want me to discount the hosting? At which point he he backs down.

He asks for a written invoice but before he gets that, the additions he wants arrive in the mail.

Hang on – the cart has just got in front of the horse. Pay first and transfer the site and then the addition – up to thirty minutes only

At this point, I write up a schedule of what actually the package consists of – including the 30 minutes only of attention to his website monthly.

Moral – NEVER discount your rate to a stranger.

Another Durban Web Designer Scandal

Headline in the Sunday Tribune states that Ethekwini Municipality needed a Facebook/Social Media page.

They gave it to Carver Media who charged half a million rands for ten days work. Apparently there is a GetOutofJailFree option where certain jobs do not have to go through the tender process. Then why have tender regulations?

Firstly, all of this can be done free of any charge. Second, ten days? Most web designers would have taken two or three days at the longest.

And thirdly – how on earth did Carver Media believe that this job was worth half a million rands? That’s obscene. I might have really ripped the municipality off and charged R20,000 and felt really lucky to get away with it. This rate is R104 a minute.

Remember the scandal over the three million rand World Cup website? This job is for:

  1. Two FB updates a week
  2. Three pics a week
  3. Send bulk email
  4. Twitter updates
  5. Upload Youtube vids
  6. Upload 20 pics to Instagram
  7. Advertise on it’s website

What a joke. There is a whole communications department with a web team and secondly, the municipality states that they ran out of time and in any case #welovedurban is owned by Carver Media.

It never ceases to incense me when I see huge numbers like this. Where did the half million rand come from????

Carver Media should justify to other web designers how it came to this amount.

Educating Clients

To get the best out of website design, clients should be informed. I’ve always thought so anyway but now I wonder whether I should bother.

alfredenewmanWhy not dumb down everything? Just provide a smart but simple website.

That’s it. Don’t confuse clients with the facts. I don’t think clients want educating – it’s just a website isn’t it?? YOU sort it out.

Educating requires time, adds complications and therefore adds cost to the thing.

However, there is a thing called professional pride and the need to do your best for your client. Whether he wants it or not.

There’s always the thought of course that your client will hold you in higher regard if you treat him to a Web 101 seminar. This effect is seen in many website designers websites – they feel that they have to go on, and on, and on about their knowledge – or lack of it – of things web.

With the average website, there are so many things – simple things – that can be done to improve it. Testimonials, client lists, newsletters are some of the improvements that can be easily added but never come up in client specs.

Although such things can be added later, you run the risk of appearing to the client that you’re upselling.

Perhaps its better to design a website that includes all the elements that you feel should be there – but don’t tell the client beforehand.

Prioritizing Website Design Enquiries

Enquiries for website design come in several categories.

The full spec – an attachment with either an outline or spec for a website. Sometimes you can see that the spec is actually several, cobbled together.

The short descriptive email  – not anywhere near enough information and requires fleshing out.

The simple ‘I’m looking for a website’ email. Completely inadequate.

Finally, the ‘Do you do websites?’ ‘Sent from my Blackberry’. Worse that useless and never replied to. If he’s considering a website whilst sitting in a coffee shop, he’s not serious.

Often the best is the initial email enquiry. The ‘full spec’ folk often get it wrong and will not change. Also there’s probably a preferred supplier but they had to put out the spec so don’t hold your breath.

I always phone back – or ask for a phone number if there is one – because the prospect can hear me (may not be a plus!) and I can hear them and get a much better idea of what they want as well as some background information.

Also forget those people who give you their email address over the phone – it’s always gonna bounce!





A Strange Decision

I had an enquiry a few days ago for a website design. The prospect had a plain vanilla website a few years old. No SEO.

He requested that I put something together based on the existing content. I told him that I do not design on risk but the prospect told me to submit a quote and he would pay the 50% deposit.

He also told me that two other website designers were being considered and that deposits would be paid to them with the same request. One of them I was told had quoted twice as much as myself.

That would mean that the prospect paid around R15,000 to see what was offered. The chosen website designer would get the remainder of the payment and the additional content.

Still haven’t heard from them!

Register. Why?


These things occur by the thousand – Register|Login. However, I don’t think that there is more than a tiny fraction of one percent that tells the visitor ‘Why?’

The absence of any indication that there may be some benefit to the visitor from registering leads to the suspicion that the only reason can be data harvesting.

A couple of years ago, Pick n Pay started their ‘Smart Shopper’ programme and I duly took a fanfold. There was absolutely nothing on it about any advantage. I looked at the application form and it required my cell number and email amongst other items. Pick n Pay ‘REQUIRED’ these details otherwise you couldn’t register.

In the absence of any advantage and because I have enough spam I chose to leave the thing. Eventually, of course, if you spent R500 you earned enough points to get a R2 discount. Whoopee. You’d do better shopping at Shoprite.

Where there is a ‘Full Content’ option or ‘Members’ Area’ I understand the Log in but without any incentive to do so, why bother? I think most Internet users have little or no idea of the importance of email addresses to businesses and that these ‘Register’ boxes are no more than email and personal details harvesting.

I have gone through the registration process a couple of times with no visible benefit from having done so. It seems contemptuous of websites to expect visitors to register without telling them why.






IE8 – Again

For those of you other than the two of you who remember this website, it used to have a dropline menu.  I used  one from CSS Play but have never really been happy with it. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. The dropline either wouldn’t drop or wouldn’t undrop. Anyway, more on droplines later but for now, I thought I would replace it with a standard dropdown.

I am very inefficient with menus. I have dozens of good ones but can never remember which websites they are on so have to hunt around CSS Play and Dynamic Drive. So, the sensible thing to do would be to get one that would work on all browsers to IE7 and would be eminently styleable. I did buy css3menus which has a variety of styles but if you wanted to modify it (always) the CSS was awful – part linked and part inline.

I picked a default dropdown from Stu Nicholls CSS Menu site – nothing fancy but quite flexible. Those looking at this in a civilized browser will see a bunch of radii with some styled buttons in  the middle.  Even IE9+ deals with it. But, IE8, what a disaster.

I spent a whole day using CSSPIE and a bunch of other .htc and jquery workarounds  with no luck. When radii could be imposed, they had to equal – unlike the end menu buttons on the site.

I would have thought the it would be possible to style a <li>. IE8 had no problem with the menu wrapper or the menu <ul> but it stuck at the <li>. Finally, I removed the radii altogether on IE8.


IE8 usage is down to about 7% which is reflected on my own stats. IE7 – about 3% but what surprised me was IE6 – 6%. Perhaps this is an aberration – I’ve certainly seen it a lot lower and as far as I know, it’s about 1% worldwide other than China which loves it. So what to do?

I haven’t bothered with IE6 for years – if a site looks about right on it or can be made to look about right without spending more than 20 minutes, I’ll acknowledge it. Now, I think, I am going to employ again what I used to do. Put a conditional comment banner across the top of the home page telling the visitor to basically get a life and offering a link to a screendump of the website in a decent browser – plus some links. While I am at it, I’ll use the conditional comments to add IE7.

There are so many elements to make a site interesting that I hate to go back to – basically – tabulated design. Perhaps that’s the answer? Do everything in tables so absolutely every browser will support it. BTW some of the CSS3PIE type hacks involved either adding image corners or blanking image corners. I’m sorry, I refuse to go back to pngs that are a pain to change the colour of.

Back to droplines.

I like these because they are economical with space. All the big news sites use them so there must be a good reason. I love Stu Nicholls’ work on CSS Play, cssmenus, and  I am always in awe of his imagination. So, back there I went and ploughed through the droplines.

I discovered one that had a sticky submenu so that when one of the items was active, all the other items in that menu group were always visible. It also highlighted the active submenu item. Not only that but the dropline submenu has a dropdown if a third level is necessary. It required a small donation but considering the inspiration Stu has been, a small price. I think it’s a ‘sliding door’ menu but I’ll deal with the images.

It’s difficult to get a decent colour change on such small images so I create big versions and resize them. A pain in the proverbial.

The Website Development Window

Here’s a problem I don’t have an answer for.

Any website designer will agree that a web  design project that proceeds smoothly from start to finish results in a superior website to one that stutters piecemeal over a long period.

So, how to get clients to organize for website development and what to do if they don’t?

No matter how much encouragement they have to paginate their website, get their content refined and graphics ready, there is always a point where you have to accept what they have at that time.

Sometimes it will be pretty nearly perfect and others – mostly – will be largely imperfect even if they had years to prepare. My experience has been that however substandard the content is and however much you want to create a first rate website, the client may end up arguing with you over edits you’ve made so leave his mess alone.

The only sane approach I think is to make it clear to the client that a website ‘development window’ will be created for his site development. Typically, for the small business website, about four weeks which allows for the to-ing and fro-ing needed to complete the website.

The client should be aware that if the content is late arriving the development window will shut to permit the development of other websites and their site may be delayed. One might go a step further and inform the client that he may be charged for the allocated time whether or not the content has arrived unless he has asked for a rescheduling with due notice or that he will be kicked out of the queue completely.

The clients who cannot get their act together are usually those which have several personnel adding to the website, one or more of whom is always late. Still, that is their problem and not yours. As soon as I hear that there is a ‘website team’ which expects to be consulted at every step, the quote doubles.

I have just finished two websites. One has taken 15 months for fairly straightforward work (the contact went and had a baby in the middle – and there was a ‘web team’) and the other, four months. All web designers hate to have to go and find files, edit them and repost them time after time. I eventually lose interest in the project and it turns out often to be mediocre. Occasionally I have refunded deposits and told the client to go elsewhere.

The second client mentioned above wanted a revamp and submitted a list of edits which was quoted on – and more edits kept coming and coming. The final amount of course was three times the original quote and when invoices are submitted in these cases with just an amount, the queries may start. ‘But I understood it was RXXXXX’ etc. So, now I also put in the hours that were worked and if there is a query I also put the hours that were originally quoted for and the EXTRA hours that were worked. If that doesn’t work I send a full, itemised bill with hours worked for every edit.

It normally doesn’t come to this for most clients.

There’s no easy answer, particularly if it’s a redesign for an existing client who you don’t want to lose. Usually, threatening to back-burner the site gets things going, particularly if the back-burnering  extends over Christmas. It gets the client to focus on what they really want. One of the clients above wanted the site to be set to music (‘Sitting on the Dock of the Bay’ I thought appropriate), have a sound effect on mouseover, have a promo ticker, have a news ticker, have an exchange rate ticker and have a conversion calculator all on the same page. And they complained about it being slow.

I saw it described well on another web designer’s T&Cs. It said ‘a dynamic relationship exists between ourselves and the client’.

Excellent. It means that both parties respond timeously at all times. Perhaps one needs to invoke contracts? I’ve never needed one but it’s a piece of paper to wave when things go wrong. Contract or not, it is sensible that the client must be aware that the development window opens with the first of his content submissions and will close at a prearranged date, website finished or not. Thereafter either additional charges apply to ensure the speed of development continues or the website is back burnered.

Trouble is, us small developers need the cash.

The Pleasures of Pro Bono Website Design Work

Every so often I get the chance to do a site for free. Not free as in the case of family members wanting something for nothing but free as in a charity for a deserving cause.

In this case it’s the Centre for Animal Rehabilitation and Education or C.A.R.E. as they’re known. It’s a long title but basically it’s a baboon sanctuary. I have a soft spot for baboons and I think they get a bum rap.

I did two sites for them years ago and then they went somewhere else. Years passed and last I looked them up and they had a dreadful site. For an operation that relies absolutely on charity with no governmental help, the website is critical and this was a poor site.

The problem places such as these have with money extends to the website. They cannot possibly afford a professional website of probably in excess of R10,000 so rely on free help. They are loathe to turn down an offer and are at the mercy of the skill level of the offerer – as in the case of the current website.

I came across the same crappy site a month ago and thought ‘Bugger this’ and got hold of them.  I can do a far better job – and got the job. Doing a website for a cause you believe in is very satisfying.

One of the problems with charities is that they are full of those who believe passionately about its causes and they tend the run off at the mouth, churning out scads of readerless prose. Secondly, you have to have a Web Nazi. The web Nazi is the single person in the organization who has the authority to filter the more ridiculous agendas from the charity. You cannot deal with a mob.

The mob lose the plot early on. Charity websites are business websites. They are in the business of getting money out of people and their currency is compassion. Compassion is what they sell and in this respect they are a standard marketing website.

primatecareHowever, they are different to standard business websites. These often do not need to engage the visitor to any extent and many purchases are impulse buys. Someone who wishes to donate cash or kind to a charity will scrutinize it thoroughly to ensure that his donation is not mismanaged and therefore every part of the website has to work towards this end. A business website’s pages more often than not are for search engines rather than humans but not in the case of charities. A charity website has to answer every question a potential donor might put to it and will have to establish credibility in a big way.

This charity also relies on paying volunteers so the experiences of volunteers are essential to the recruitment of others.

Fortunately, baboons are very photogenic so it is not difficult to tug at heart strings. But, the serious side of the operation is not the sanctuary part but the coalescence of groups of orphan baboons into viable troops and their eventual release to the wild.


The site is currently at draft level at

Do Not Change What They Want!

An  easy mistake to make.

You can see clearly that what your client wants is deficient in some way and you have the right answer at your fingertips. If it’s something related to the design of the website and it’s not a show stopper, let him have it.

My experience is that all you end up doing by inserting your sensible improvement is upset the client. Even if you get your way, there is still residual resentment. It’s a little thing he thinks he got right and you got wrong.

Even if you win a couple of battles, your client will declare war and you will definitely lose.