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Client Ideas
when client has a great idea and you know it sucks

 4:03 pm on May 29, 2010 (gmt 0)


I have been working for some time now with a client and so far the relationship has been healthy. Recently he had a "great idea" to implement a reverse phone lookup like service. I try to explain that it might turn out to be a waste of time and resources, but he didn't listen.

Is there a better way to proof an idea is a bad one?



 6:30 pm on May 29, 2010 (gmt 0)

Clients with bad ideas? Say it ain't so! :)

I have learned that a client's "bad idea" will on occasion actually be a good idea. It could be that the idea is actually good, but the client just didn't/couldn't articulate his vision well. In most cases, though, it really is a bad idea and you just need to convince the client. somehow.

In my opinion, one way to go about it is to logically analyze it with your client. Walk though the basic broad questions with him:
WHY do you want to do it?
WHAT is the basic purpose of what you are trying to do?
WHAT are you trying to accomplish (WHAT are the major goals)?
HOW is your idea/implementation different/better than what's already out there?
HOW are you going to meet those goals?
WHO is going to use this idea?
WHAT are their benefits from using it?
WHAT metrics are you going to look at to see if those goals are being met?
And three of the biggest:
HOW much money (or other resources) are you planning to spend to build it?
WHAT resources do you need to continue to maintain it?
HOW is it going to make any money (and how much- will it ever be profitable)?

There are other good questions also, depending on the actual project. Other people can probably chime in with additional suggestions.

For each answer, probe further to really flesh out the answers. For example-
You: What about maintenence costs?
Client: Oh, after the initial database purchase, there's nothing to pay.
Y: Really? You get free updates forever?
C: Oh, I don't need updates.
Y: Why not? People constantly move and change their phone numbers.
C: Oh, hadn't thought about that... Well, that's not important.
Y: No? Then why will people use your site that gets more and more out-of-date every day, while other sites always have correct data?
C: Hmm, I hadn't considered that...

In your case, I would focus on how it's going to be different from what's already out there and how is it going to make any money. Does he already have a database of phone numbers? If not, has he actually done any price comparison (including costs of monthly updates)?


 9:03 pm on May 29, 2010 (gmt 0)

The problem with that approach is by the time you are done with all the analysis someone else has usually brought the idea to market!

One simple question can usually focus them and dtermine if its worth pursuing - how much money are you prepared to borrow to make it happen ? Typically the answer for a bad idea is 0


 9:51 am on May 30, 2010 (gmt 0)

I find that the problem with these situations is that I spend unpaid time trying to convince the client that it is not a good idea. You can hardly charge them for this time and that annoys me.


 12:36 pm on May 30, 2010 (gmt 0)

If you are sure of your position and there is significant revenue to be lost or reputation/time to be lost then document your recommendation to protect yourself in the future. Write up a brief, keep it short, make your points, and have the client read and sign it.


 11:06 am on May 31, 2010 (gmt 0)

I guess only one question will serve your purpose i.e. - Will that help your users? If yes, can you pls explain, How?


 4:09 pm on May 31, 2010 (gmt 0)

Is there a way you could set up some small scale testing? Sometimes real-life user response can show very quickly whether The Bright Idea will be a winner or a dud.

HOW is it going to make any money (and how much- will it ever be profitable?

I think that issue is the one to zero in on. If there is a solid business case for the idea, the other questions are supporting details. If there's not a clear business case, the client needs to be clear that it's experimental.

In either case, the responsibility lies with the client and your mission will be to execute with excellence. Top-notch execution can sometimes turn a second-rate idea into a first-rate profit center.


 3:15 am on Jun 1, 2010 (gmt 0)


Thank you all for your input. I guess we all had had a problem like this.

The business was kind of simple per say, get all US area codes, generate all possible combination of numbers for each and create a page per number with some social tools to have users over. The money making part will be from AdSense and every other ad agency out there, plus some affiliated income from services dedicated to background check, etc.

At first glance it doesn't sound that bad, but if you think about it a little bid you might see the bigger picture. The market for reverse phone numbers is over saturated, every good domain is taken, I even get the spamming feeling of the business itself.

Did I make a mistake discouraging the client?


 3:59 pm on Jun 1, 2010 (gmt 0)

So basically, the guy wants to start with no unique content and not even provide any content until/unless someone "claims" their phone number? With no content, it's doubtful the SEs will give it much juice. With no content, users aren't going to use it.

Did I make a mistake discouraging the client?

Absolutely not! From what you describe, this is even less useful that duplicating what's already out there for real reverse lookup sites.


 8:34 pm on Jun 1, 2010 (gmt 0)

Squidoo stepped into that kind of thing a while ago. And the smell still hasn't washed off.


 7:52 pm on Jun 7, 2010 (gmt 0)

There are two ways I usually deflect customers with bad ideas without hurting their feelings. If it's a simple idea, I tell them I used to run something similar and it didn't work out so I shut it down. If it's a complex one, I tell them it's beyond my ability and don't have the time, and then get a quote from the most expensive developer in town. Usually they back off. :)


 10:23 am on Jun 11, 2010 (gmt 0)


Tell your friend its already been done. Just go type your phone number in Google.


 11:58 am on Jun 11, 2010 (gmt 0)

The client is always right. :)

Your job is to convince them there's a better way of doing it (and telling them politely they are wrong). And at the same time (if you want the work) doing what they asked, having provided all the caveat emptor you can.


 2:06 pm on Jun 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

Guy Kawasaki said at Pubcon Austin 09 that Twitter was one of the dumbest ideas he had ever heard of. Look at it now. Guy also talked about another company with a dumb idea that he declined investing in that went on to sell thousands of products and become profitable.

Maybe this will fail, maybe not; just cover your rear with an agreement that you are not to blame and take his money. or do it @digitalv's way.


 6:11 pm on Jun 12, 2010 (gmt 0)

Brings to mind two caveats: "anecdotal evidence" and "exceptions that make the rule"


 12:14 pm on Jun 13, 2010 (gmt 0)

The client is always right. Even when they're wrong.

There are different levels of wrongness to consider though, and I've found that my stance is usually dictated by that level.

I'm involved in a design project right now in which the customer wants something really ugly on their website. It won't necessarily impact traffic. From an SEO standpoint it's moot. There are no coding issues. No accessibility issues. What they're wanting is harmless. It's just plain ugly. Is it my job to tell them it's ugly? No, it's not. My job is to make sure they sign off on finished work and deposit the check.

When a client wants something that can do real damage to their site in whatever fashion, then yes, it is my obligation and responsibility to make them aware of this. I won't refuse to do the work though, not unless it's too far over the top or could get me in trouble.

I assess what they want and react accordingly. If they want ugly and ugly is harmless, well, ugly is what they'll get.


 1:26 pm on Jun 13, 2010 (gmt 0)

@tangor and @wyweb are correct, in my practice: TCIAR. I give the client plenty of detailed "best practices" warning, with a clear layman-level explanation of what may happen. I repeat the explanation face-to-face and in writing.

That done, if the client insists, then so be it: go with the flow. (It may lead to an occasional dropped client if the client later says in effect, "No, that's not what I meant and you didn't warn me: TWIAW.")


 1:47 pm on Jun 13, 2010 (gmt 0)



 2:23 pm on Jun 13, 2010 (gmt 0)


What makes your idea unique? What does is add ? Why are you the one who can do it (better) than the others? What keeps others from doing it as well (or even better)?

No good answers to all of them: very difficult business.

A "bad" idea that's unique can have success. A "bad" idea that has dozens if not hundreds of existing players in the field, will never work unless you find significant differentiators.


 3:51 pm on Jun 13, 2010 (gmt 0)


TCIAR = The Client Is Always Right (in my generation it was, "The Customer Is Always Right", but same abbreviation)

TWIAW = The Webmaster Is Always Wrong


 4:03 pm on Jun 13, 2010 (gmt 0)

I never would give my opinion on a client's ideas unless they asked me. If asked, I was honest. If they didn't ask, it really wasn't my place to try and convince them of my stance on their idea. I know I've had plenty of ideas I thought were good that turned out bad, and plenty that I thought would not work that turned out great. You never know until you try.


 4:04 pm on Jun 13, 2010 (gmt 0)

There's big money in the reverse phone sector if you have the right connections. I don't understand why this is a bad idea...

Competition = Money

If you can't one-up, and out-earn your competitors on the same traffic that's on you, but by no means is this a bad idea.


 4:48 pm on Jun 13, 2010 (gmt 0)

It also works the other way: Money = Competition. The more competition, usually the higher barriers there are to entry. The more competition, often the more money is needed to enter the playing field and compete effectively.

Building a better mousetrap is only one part of the equation. You almost always have to spend lots of money to convince eveyone that your mousetrap is actually better. Even if it IS a better mousetrap. people aren't always convinced that it is.


 5:19 pm on Jun 13, 2010 (gmt 0)

I have a friend/business mentor who recently discussed something similiar with me (not the idea, just dealing with people who are doing things you consider 'wrong').

Rather than attempting to punish their behavior, reward yourself for the same thing. So perhaps mention or document your reservations, but the business decision is still theirs to make. Your job is now to make sure you get paid for doing the work required - make sure you reward yourself appropriately. In other words, do the job, make sure you get paid for the work rather than the results.


 6:30 pm on Jun 13, 2010 (gmt 0)

I worked with someone in the past who constantly, consistently had some of the worst ideas imaginable - mainly about usability, marketing, supplier relationships, staff management, everything. He was completely single-minded in his approach and would refuse to back down, and we'd always have to implement things his way.

Amazingly though, even when his terrible ideas defied every bit of conventional wisdom, they seemed to work really well.

So I've learned to be not quite so cynical.


 9:45 pm on Jun 13, 2010 (gmt 0)

It's not hard to find that there are two types of existing reverse lookup services: Directory search sites, and sites which collect people's opinions about calling numbers. As others have pointed out, the existence of similar sites is not a reason to not try to do better (see Yahoo, Altavista, Google, Bing).

Personally, I hope that this guy comes up with a twist which is so much better than all the others that the others go away. Or at least that they stop cluttering the search results.


 10:19 pm on Jun 13, 2010 (gmt 0)

It's not hard to find that there are two types of existing reverse lookup services: Directory search sites, and sites which collect people's opinions about calling numbers.

I'm guessing the opinion sites are actually being built by the directory search sites as a means of driving traffic to the directory sites, akin to hosting review sites created by hosting affiliates chasing commissions.

I'm probably wrong though...


 11:04 pm on Jun 13, 2010 (gmt 0)

If developers only took the jobs which we thought were good ideas, there wouldn't be enough jobs to go around, and the Next Big Thing would probably never happen.

Is the guy looking for a business partner or a developer? Unless you're being paid a percentage of revenue, what does it matter how good of an idea you think it is?

I understand clients are often stupid and unrealistic, but there's some reason they have the money and we don't.


 11:27 pm on Jun 13, 2010 (gmt 0)

I think the question relates more to the core beliefs of your company rather than anything related to the customer or the idea itself.

The question comes down to:
Is your company one that offers it's advice freely to the customer and presumes that the customer has not done their research? Or is your company one that simply quotes on jobs supplied and declines jobs which you don't feel will end in a mutually beneficial result? (presuming that this is the type of result your are generally after)

I'm not saying one is better than the other but I am saying that it's important to have a base position, and stick with it - otherwise you'll find yourself spending hours analyzing every decision. If you're anything like I was you'll end up over thinking things and turning down the project because it becomes too complex/risky.

Internally, I have one line/motto which sums up what my company is about and how it operates. Every decision is measured against the motto. I find this keeps the business on track and makes all of the descisions much easier.

That's my 2cnts anyway :)


 11:35 pm on Jun 13, 2010 (gmt 0)

The problems with this sort of thing:
  • impossible to charge for the analysis thus = waste of time
  • client might confuse it with an "attitude" of not wanting or not being able to develop the idea
  • client might feel bad of the results of the idea and change his mind about paying
  • clients often confuse your work with guaranteed results

In my experience almost nobody will tell you "you where right" and value your experience of being able to deduce the factibility. My local market has the heavy problem of clients thinking traffic is easy to get, build on monday and on friday you have tons of visitors... that's very hard to deal with.

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