I have been doing web development for over 12 years, and have learned many valuable (and hard) lessons. This post was inspired by a comment I made on a Smashing Magazine article.
There is plenty of advice on how to interact with clients. How to estimate projects, deal with problems, and so on. But how do you decide whether to take on a client in the first place? Your relationship with a client must be a good fit.
Your chances of success are set the moment you choose to work with a client, so choose wisely.
If you think the client chooses you, think again. Even if you are bidding with other hopefuls and your bid wins, it is you who are picking your clients, not the other way around.
Before you consider a new project, it is vital to assess the fit between your agency (or you as independent) and the client. A business relationship is a human interaction. There must be chemistry and understanding for success. I have learned from experience, that if it does not feel right from the start, no amount of rationalization will change that. Trust me on this one.
The top 5 tips for determining good fit:
1. Client resources. Do they have staff with time to devote to the project? At minimum you need them to show up for review and approval of your work. Even better if they can do some of the work, like planning. The less resources on the client side, the more work you will have to do managing the project, and the longer it will take to get done. Remember, you get blamed when the project is late.
2. Client experience. Specifically with buying creative and/or programming services. If they are inexperienced, be cautious. If they are aware of their ignorance and willing to learn, maybe.
3. Client’s expectations. Related to #2. Does the client know if what they want is feasible? Have they done projects like this before?
4. Budget. Clients either have an idea of budget or they don’t. If they have a budget in mind, then the question is if the expectations in #3 will fit into that budget. If not, then cut scope. The cut items can be future phases that are paid separately, or just leave them out. Do not cut price. Once you set that precedent, expect clients to continually ask for price concessions. If you don’t value your own time, why should your client?
If they do not have an idea of budget and want to know the cost to do it right, consider offering a paid specification phase. This is a small project, which would normally happen as a first phase of the full effort. If the client does not have experienced staff (see #1), this can be straight-ahead consulting, and a value-add on your part. The result will be a document with clear scope and costs. It can even be used as an RFP to let out for bid.
If the client declines a spec phase, we’ll offer an executive overview. A one page summary with a ballpark estimate. We stipulate that this number is preliminary, and a good faith estimate based on limited information, and subject to refinement if the project is approved. If the number is in an acceptable range (get client signature on that), then you have set clear expectations and can proceed with a detailed estimate and statement of work. If not, then you have saved time for you both, and you can move on to other jobs.
5. Only accept work that is portfolio-worthy. This is an ironclad rule – do not break it. While it is tempting to take work for the paycheck, even in a bad economy, don’t do it. Your portfolio is an investment. You will not get better clients if you can’t show past work. Our business improved once we had the courage to say No. Honestly and professionally, of course. Ways to say no include, “This is not a good fit for our firm,” “Your needs would be better served by another firm,” or simply “We respectfully decline.” Getting respect starts with respecting yourself.
I am the Interactive Director at HitchCreative