|Difficult Client Situation.... |
or is it my Fault?!?!?
| 3:39 am on Oct 23, 2004 (gmt 0)|
Warning! It's "wordy", but I need your opinions, please!
A month ago I acquired a small handful of accounts from another local web service company who has decided to call it quits. I was thankful and flattered that the owner would trust, and think of me.
One of the new web site accounts would call for immediate attention because they were introducing a new store department. I contacted the new client right away. We met, I got started on the new item pages, and the client was very pleased with the design work and fast turnaround time.
The other design firm had given me a friendly warning that this particular client was 'different'. I could tell when we met right away that she was right. He has a bit of an odd sense of humor and way about him. That's all fine and good. I have no problem with that.
Anyway, the client has been keeping me busy the last few weeks with new logo mocks for his new store and store departments, new domain registration and new site design examples.
I think I have been more than fair with him. I have attended store events and shown a special interest. I was not asked to do so, so I chose not to charge for that time. -- As I mentioned I have shown a special interest and even have given him small discounts. This client has told me more than once that they really like my work and manner.
One of the issues that we would be taking care of AMIDST THE OTHER 50 THINGS WE WERE DOING (logo examples, redesign examples, domain registrations, domain forwarding, store events, etc... you know how it is), is creating a contest form for the web site, which he wanted for the form results to be organized into a database (PHP). I responded by saying I would need the exact contest rules and form fields in order to create the contest, form and database. He told me what it was about, but he is all over the place when we talk. I try to keep us straight and organized but he's all over so the subject got changed and he asked about the redesign and new logos for the store. I can tell when customers come in or another line is ringing because he trys to hurry the conversation, even though we still have many things to iron out and discuss.
I FEEL LIKE I'M ALWAYS WORKING AND DOING SOMETHING FOR HIM BUT NOTHING EVER GETS CHECKED OFF SO WE CAN MOVE ON because he's all over the place when we talk.
Understanding the urgency of the form, I called someone to help me out with the PHP/databasing part of it. He told me he would need to know the exact form fields. I told him I would confirm those things with the client and get back to him.
I have gone ahead with a project or task for other clients too many times, then got in trouble because the client wasn't sure or didn't mean for me to go ahead. Without a confirmation from the client I didn't feel I should have gone ahead with the form, even though I knew it needed to be done due to advertising, timeframe, etc. - In several emails and phone conversations I would remind him that I need the precise form fields and details. I never heard back from him about it.
There were a couple other issues that after one month of "communication", telephone calls, web site changes, meetings, and periodically hearing how much he likes working with me, when we spoke on the phone today and he found out I still had not posted the form, HE STARTED YELLING AT ME AND TOLD ME HOW DISAPPOINTED AND UNPROFESSIONAL I WAS! He calmed a bit and said that he didn't want it to go this way, but when I tried to explain that I did understand the urgency but was waiting for him to confirm the work order, he raised his voice slightly again and SARCASTICALLY insinuated what a no brainer it was to post the form: "Hm, NAME, EMAIL ADDRESS, easy..."
But it isn't MY contest. Of course I know that a form will have a name and email field, but how could I have created the form how he needed it without getting him to FOCUS and tell me all of the details and fields that he needs?
One of the things he was so upset about was that he put a small ad out announcing the contest two weeks ago in one of our local papers. I told him when we spoke about the store contest two weeks ago that I need to know the details before I create the form. He "reminded me" that he paid for an ad that was USELESS SINCE I HADNT CREATED THE FORM.
Then he started 'yelling' at me because "IT SHOULD BE APPARENT TO ME THAT HE DOESN'T READ HIS EMAIL"! I guess I should have CALLED AND CALLED AND CALLED or STOPPED by the store EVERY SINGLE DAY THROUGHOUT THE DAY until I got him to give me the form/contest details. Then he would have yelled at me for charging him in gas and time!
When we got off the phone today I immediately created the new form. Given the fact that I feel like I repeatedly attempted to iron out the details and confirm the work order, but never heard back from him, and the fact that he spent money to advertise it, AND NOW there will always be a terrible experience in our working relationship, I AM SO CONFUSED as to whether I charge him for the two hours it took to create the form and graphics for the page.
As I mentioned before I've given him many discounts which he doesn't seem to realize, even though I note all of them on the invoice.
Do I charge $70.00 for the web site additions, or give it to him for free because of the situation I tried to describe?
The beauty is he announced he pays on a Net 60, so I won't even see this money until the end of December!
What do you all think?
| 3:49 am on Oct 23, 2004 (gmt 0)|
If you don't charge for the two hours, you have a strong desire to work for free,and you will establish that all this client needs to do is put things off and you'll guilt yourself into a no-pay or low pay circumstance.
Even if you plan to ditch this client, get paid for your time and talent.
Some of us do regularly provide web and marketing work for free, but at least in my case, it is 100% by choice for a non-profit organization I care about. It has nada to do with the client not meeting the client's end of the responsibility.
| 3:59 am on Oct 23, 2004 (gmt 0)|
In my opinon, I'd go ahead and charge him for the work on the form. If there are any questions, explain that you had several times asked for specific guidelines but never received them. You can't make something without knowing what exactly what it is first.
I had a similiar situation not too long ago. I was building a site for a division of a local newspaper company. The guy in charge was always all over the place when describing what he wanted. He basically gave me a montage of other division web sites similar to his that he printed out and said "I want it like those." I gave him full access to the developmental site and explained that if he wanted anything changed, to let me know as the site progressed. After the navigation was made, he never asked to have it changed. I made the site with an administration center with a PHP/mySQL structure, so he could update every pretty much every page. After the site was completely finished and we were looking at hosting options for him, he emailed me and wanted the entire navigation structure changed. The project itself was actually setup to be free of charge through school at the time. I even volunteered to finish it after school had ended (I graduated) and help him get it online. It was probably a couple months after school ended, and I explained to him that changing the navigation would pretty much be remaking the entire backbone of the web site, and would be more work that time allowed. I offered to help him find someone else to complete the project from the Career Center I did it through, or setup an hourly rate for the work he wanted. He sent one angry email, and I haven't heard from him since.
But yeah, I'd ask a few more their opinion on what to do, Good Luck!
| 4:03 am on Oct 23, 2004 (gmt 0)|
Anyone who doesn't read email when that's a normal part of the business equation isn't worth agonizing over. If a client doesn't for some REAL reason do email, they need to tell you that up front so that all of you are on the same page. Sorry - "I don't read my emails" is nothing but a crap excuse giving the guy in his own mind an easy out from the decision process.
This guy is the classic example of the account where EVERY LAST DOTTED I AND CROSSED T or vice versa MUST be approved in writing over sig....
Cut your losses. Eat the $70 or however much it turned out to be, write out a detailed "invoice" itemizing the whole situation, mail him hardcopy return receipt requested, and get on with your business (write it off on taxes).
[That's the bottom line for me now: if a client won't do business by email except for necessary hardcopy contracts, I send them on to someone else. I live "out", and half the time or more I'm traveling. I don't DO telephone or face-to-face after the meat&potatoes meetings.... only reason for phone is dialup line when I'm home....]
| 4:35 am on Oct 23, 2004 (gmt 0)|
Get the book "Clients For Life" give it a read this weekend and you will know exactly what to do come Monday morning. The book is a literal God-send for SEO and webmasters alike.
| 11:36 am on Oct 23, 2004 (gmt 0)|
Charge the guy for your time giving him details of your work time used etc.
If he doesnt pay which I suspect he wont you now have a reason to drop him. If he pays then your too busy right now for his work.
Ive come across people like this they make every effort to to make you look small because THEY dont know a thing about what your doing.
| 12:01 pm on Oct 23, 2004 (gmt 0)|
Been a consultant for 15 years. In my experience, clients who act like this are trying to get you to work for free. It's that simple, and usually it is a conscious act. They are actually trying to make you feel guilty to you will give them services, and then, down the road, an excuse to leave without paying.
Charge him. Get it in writing and if he pulls the "it's a no brainer, you should have done it because it's so simple" routine, make sure he understands you don't do anything without a written, signed work order. Make this clear from this point onward.
With a "we need it in writing" policy, he cannot claim you cost him money by not proceeding. He must sign or it doesn't get done.
And don't stress out over it. Truly, that's what he wants.
At least, in my experience, that works very well.
| 2:39 pm on Oct 23, 2004 (gmt 0)|
Sounds like this guy is a real problem, and you can look for more of the same in the future. I'd certainly bill for the time, and make sure he understands that professional work is not free. I might also include a note on the invoice saying that the design was done without customer spec and that any changes will be at the standard billing rate.
The worst part of the situation is that you said he informed you that he pays on net 60 days. That would be absolutely unacceptable to me. I don't let clients tell me when they want to pay. I bill them net due in 15 days and add late fees and interest for late payments. I've never had a complaint about it, and only very rarely had late payments.
I hope this guy is not a large portion of your business, because he is the type of customer you don't need.
| 3:11 pm on Oct 23, 2004 (gmt 0)|
Richard you beat me to the award for Cynic of the Year!. Clients aren't all crooks but you are spot on when you advise Ddesign NEVER to do anything without first getting something in writing.
| 4:50 pm on Oct 23, 2004 (gmt 0)|
ddesign, your client is a kook.
One of the hardest things for clients wanting web sites to understand is that they will have a lot of work to do if they want a good site. Getting that info, content, whatever out of them can be difficult and time consuming.
Not to be overly psychoanalytical, but your client is projecting his own failures (inability to focus, as you astutely point out) on you so he can blame you and not himself.
Whether you charge him is up to you. You are certainly entitled to. However, if he has a big mouth and could hurt (unfairly) your reputation it may not be worth it. However, if he were my client, that would definitely be the end of discounts.
Picking up clients from other webmasters can certainly be problematic. If they were treated a certain way they may expect that from you too. But he is your client now and how you handle this situation will determine the nature of any future relationship between the two of you. If you don't want to be run ragged you'll have to put your foot down (and charge him). Otherwise his behavior is not going to change. Good luck :)
| 6:07 pm on Oct 23, 2004 (gmt 0)|
|One of the hardest things for clients wanting web sites to understand is that they will have a lot of work to do if they want a good site. Getting that info, content, whatever out of them can be difficult and time consuming. |
| 11:52 pm on Oct 23, 2004 (gmt 0)|
THANK YOU ALL for your comments, thoughts, suggestions and time! It was what I needed.
| 2:20 am on Oct 24, 2004 (gmt 0)|
|he announced he pays on a Net 60 |
That is why the previous webmaster went out of business. Ask him how many of his customers get a Net 60? (not many business models can handle that)
It is your business and you decide the payment options. If you normally bill at Net 15 and you like his business, tell him you will give him you will make an exception with Net 30 if a set # of hours/$$ are billed, other wise it is net 15. If a bill is late, the Net 30 goes away.
| 2:32 am on Oct 24, 2004 (gmt 0)|
I'll second what richlowe said above - get everything in writing.
This doesn't have to appear to be a zero tolerance policy - just do it in a relaxed way. Whenever you have any contact with a client, fill in a contact report outlining what you talked about, what was asked of you and action points for yourself and your client. Email this to clients soon after the phone conversation or meeting and you'll iron out any issues like this early (and, if not, you can at least point to an email which states 'so and so asked somesuch to produce content and fields to be collected for competition form - eta 00/00/00').
With regards to your client - charge him; or he'll get even more used to getting his way by throwing childish tantrums.
| 3:45 am on Oct 24, 2004 (gmt 0)|
Your customer is ignorant and fully expects that poor planning on their part constitues an emergency on your part.
Don't ever work for free! Just because your customer was Net 60 with the previous business shouldn't cause your company to offer the same terms right? You should let the customer EARN net 60 status through timely and accurate invoice payments.
| 4:57 am on Oct 27, 2004 (gmt 0)|
Always work with a retainer, and when it runs out, the client refills it. Use the model of an attorney, they know better than to work in the reverse, that is how you get stiffed with your bill. The client can cancel anytime, and if there is a credit, refund it, but don't ever do the work first and get paid second. You are too good for that!
| 6:48 am on Oct 27, 2004 (gmt 0)|
Business relationships are like any other relationship IMO and should be based on mutual respect and trust. Quite frankly if a customer treated me like that I'd be inclined to walk away.
| 6:50 am on Oct 27, 2004 (gmt 0)|
<One of the hardest things for clients wanting web sites to understand is that they will have a lot of work to do if they want a good site. Getting that info, content, whatever out of them can be difficult and time consuming.>
Im just a junior designer but I find this a real drag too, by the time you explain the details of whats involved the clients head is spinning cause they cant follow once you get technical but its hard to avoid it, and ive got a few that can barely send email.
Maybe start charging for consultation or have some minimum charge?
| 9:16 am on Oct 27, 2004 (gmt 0)|
>>Maybe start charging for consultation or have some minimum charge?<<
Absolutely. I provide an initial consultation free of charge. Once everything has been explained (for example, that I charge for consultation) they get a bill for my time. When you make web sites for other people you spend half your time building the site and the other half consulting (OK, a slight exaggeration, but you get the idea).