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.

When to Submit the Website Draft to the Client

You want to impress the client with your work and the interpretation of his needs. You also want to impress him with the speed of your response.

draft-smallBut, if the draft website is largely incomplete, the client will pick lots of holes in it and think you don’t know what you’re doing. So, what do you do?

If you work and work at the website to get it as complete as you can get it, any wholesale changes will be resented. Further, the extra time you have taken to get it right will not be appreciated by the client as well as the possibility that your interpretation is not his.

I try and complete just enough pages to give the client an idea of his website, if necessary using dummy text and pictures on the major pages. Knowing when to stop is not easy and is based on a site by site basis.

The other problem is how to submit the draft. Often, there is no face to face communication. Do you just post the web site draft and inform the client by email? Do you add a short explanation? A long explanation? I often write my justification as the home page text if none is available or add a separate page.

The best way is a face to face without the client having previously seen the draft which also has the advantage that the client’s response can be observed and there is no time for him to develop an entrenched opinion.  It’s easy then to discuss the various merits and nip problems in the bud.

If that’s not possible, then a phone walk through is the next best way.

 

Prospects – Meetings 101 or Why You Were Invited

Un-ideally, and usually, the meeting  takes place after you have submitted the quotation. In other words, your prospect has shuffled a bunch of quotes together and for reasons unknown, you have ended up on his little pile.

Why You Are There

The reasons could be a low price (Ugh!) or, you hope, the professional service you offer. Or anything else. But, you need to go into this meeting with a good mental picture of what you quoted for and the amount you quoted. Take any emails because for sure, he will have them. Look through the correspondence in relation to the quote. Have I missed something?

angrymanIn most cases it’s the price that got you there and not your fancy quote form so expect some horsetrading.

At the meeting, additional functionality/pages will be brought up either by your prospect (to squeeze the quote) or yourself  (to increase the quote).

The Curve Ball

He has had the chance to look at several quotes and thought to himself – “Hmm, didn’t think of that!”, “Ooh, I want LOTS of those!’ or “That would be nice”.

He will try and get you to commit your price to this additional functionality, which may be significant – (“Oh, we thought we’d have a database driving those extra 20 pages”).

Your Response

Resist, although things may may otherwise going swimmingly. There are probably a bunch of people round the table BTW so there may be a little pressure. He may ask you there and then – “Well, how much extra do you think this will cost?”.

interrogationResist – although there may be some pressure. Tell your prospect that you need to evaluate the new spec. and you’ll submit a new quote tomorrow.

Tell him that your quotations are prepared very thoroughly. Get your breath back when you get to the office – and don’t leave it too long before reissuing the quote. I have done this and even got mixed up with what client wants what.

When You Get Back

No matter how much you impress him with the approximate-ness of the figure, this figure gets itself set in concrete between the meeting and your quote submission. What you’re going to do is have a relook at the quote, add stuff from the meeting and have a REAL thorough inspection of the existing website in case that content is going to be reused.

The devil is in the detail. Too true.  I have found some horrific stuff in the basement over the years.  Some little, weeny text link leads to a whole new 30 page website.

quote_timeOnce you have done this, put the quote together making sure that the new stuff from the meeting is itemized in there together with the unpleasant discoveries from the resent website.

If there was stuff discussed that was optional, include them and quote for them separately so your prospect has a choice.

Cover Yourself

In your quotation make sure you specify exactly what you are going to do for what fee and that extra pages/functionality will be quoted separately.

Don’t submit the new quote ‘tomorrow’ – leave it a day or two. Chances are, he will be seeing other webbies so get your quote in after theirs JUST after, before he chooses. Otherwise he may use your quote to get a lower quote at a subsequent meeting.

Next Post

What to take to the meeting.

OMB Web Designers

I’ve not seen any figures as to the employee numbers of web designers businesses either here in South Africa or overseas. However, I would hazard a guess that a good 25% of the businesses are OMBs (one man bands).

The calculation would be complicated by the fact that website design is sometimes not the principal endeavour of the business and may exist along with hosting, marketing, design and printing.

The Choice of Website Design

durban web designers businessI worked in a university environment for many years and when I left I was faced with the ‘What now?” question. Universities get technology very early on. We had email from the early 1980s and the web from around 1995.

I remember my friend bursting into my office in 1982  telling me that he’d found a way of writing a letter on one computer and getting it read on another remote computer. I thought “This’ll never take on”. Remember that there were very few people who could read the letter. Mostly those in other universities.

In 1995, there was only a single browser and you could have the website background any colour as long as it was grey. Nobody knew what direction the ‘Internet’ would take – or even if it would take any direction at all.

The Hardware

durban web designers computerWeb design is not demanding of hardware. All you need is a computer and an internet connection.  Even the computer can be a very simple one. A Pentium P1 would probably handle the programmes I use.

You don’t need clean air, three phase electricity, running water, cooling towers. You don’t even need anyone else. An aircon is nice though in Durban.

The Brainware

What you do need is a knowledge of HTML, adequacy with a graphics programme and a good understanding of usability.  Common sense in other words.