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The Freelance Web designer aches and pains

The processes to succeed



12:30 pm on Feb 6, 2002 (gmt 0)

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As a freelance web designer, the biggest difficulties have been the following:-
Estimating the time required to fulfil a project.
Pricing the requirements.
Obtaintaining the content from the client.
Ensuring a legal contract is in place.
How can you estimate
Obtaining the specifications from the client.
Writing the legal documentation

Generally project management would suggest that you take the time you think it would take and double it. Well I tried this and it wasn't enough - so in addition I needed to add some contingency. Outside factors such as host server downtime - Development software bugs, obtaining the right information from customers - all delayed my projects. So where web design is concerned I'd suggest trebling the length of time you think it will take.

But how can you price something by these standards? Do we risk overcharging the customer. Quite simpy - don't charge by the hour. Charge by the job. For example Introductory, Standard and Luxury Designs. Separate pricing for each of these categories - Eg. Initial design, Splash page, text only page, small flash animation. I've even created individually priced packages. Reputable limited companies in the uk charge around 75 per hour. Freelance web designers generally charge 25+ per hour. Anything less is hardly worth the effort of being independent.

Obtaining the requirements and contents from a customer can be so frustrating. I've actually started creating interview forms which are signed and form part of the requirements specification. Where e-commerce sites are involved this is absolutely essential - As is documentation - FAQs for customers. To avoid delays I know inform my customers that I will not commence the design work until I have all the required information. I have found that this works well. I have all the information gathered and it tends to save me around half of the time usually delayed by chasing up information. It also allows me to clear up any issues with the customers before hand, so that time wasted when the customer changes his/her mind doesnt happen. Once the design process begins and all the documentation is in place the customer cannot change their mind unless they pay for these changes.

Where content writing is concerned, many customers can write information, but they dont know how to present it on the web. I tried providing a simple content writing FAQ sheet. (Keeping content short and sweet, using bullet points, rather than lengthy text etc). This helped in some cases, but was not always successful, so I started to offer a content writing service. This has not only made things easier but has also generated extra revenue.

Writing legal documentation can be expensive when going to a solicitor. I went to a company who specialised in e-commerce. They wanted to charge 2,500, so I decided to write my own and then get them checked by a solicitor. I also looked at various resources on the web to assist.

url snipped

If any body can point me to some useful resources on email marketing I'd be very grateful, and any feedback on my own experience above.
Thank you!

(edited by: engine at 1:12 pm (utc) on Feb. 6, 2002)

7:30 am on Feb 11, 2002 (gmt 0)

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WebmasterWorld Senior Member tedster is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

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Nice post. You raise some good issues.

The debate between charging by the hour and charging by the job continues in our company. We're very firmly on the fence right now, but will probably end up staying with our current, hybrid solution.

We started out charging by the hour. As you've mentioned, this can appear to be inequitable to the client, so we switched to charging by the job.

Then came the time leeches. So we started folding in "by the hour" charges on each "by the job" contract for those clients who can't stop with the long phone calls -- or the "simple" email questions that take an involved answer.

Each job has such unique qualities that we often start out charging by the hour until both parties are clear about exactly what services are going to be involved. We then nail those precise services down with a "by the job" contract, always including a few clauses to handle the time leeches. And deadlines with penalties for each party (that can unclog the raw material gathering process very nicely.)

Another area we've struggled with is the apparent "prospect" who only wants to pick our brains and then take the job in-house wiuth their new found knowledge. We're setting up paid Evaluation Services to break the ice with new prospects but still make it clear that our time and knowledge is valuable.

Offering copy writing for the web is a good thing. There is one challenge here - good copy is still not valued as highly online as it is offline. Just tour a few sites and the proof is right in front of your eyes.

It is my opinion that copy is THE major untapped resource in e-commerce. The web allows a company to establish a much more human voice, but how many do? When someone puts down a brochure, they may pick it up again -- but that's not so likely when they leave weak copy on the web.

I've been writing copy since 1993, and offline I can command, well, let's say a very healthy rate. One of the elements surrounding online copy that keeps me from taking on more is the way it is undervalued. I will lower my rate for a client if I'm providing other web services, but I won't go dirt cheap. I've honed my skills, and add in a healthy dose of SEO to my writing. That's worth a lot. Good copy, well tuned to the audience, brings in healthy ROI. Thats's why offline copy can command good fees.

So I feel it's important to know the value of what you offer and fight the good fight until the clicks people wake up to what the bricks people already know.
(Sorry for that overworked metaphor, but it's late, you know?)

12:51 pm on Feb 11, 2002 (gmt 0)

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Hmmm, dcollier I sympathise entirely. A lot of that sounds SO familiar

We find that sitting down with the client, and doing a couple of hours on what exactly they want to achieve, whos responsibility it is to provide what content etc usually gives us enough information to give a good estimate of pricing and time required. We charge by the job, but we are as specific as possible about what the job entails. Anything over and above that which is agreed is extra money

E-commerce isn't such a headache for us. We use a web design package with an integral e-commerce engine. Setting the e-comm site basically comes down to tidyng up, or writing a database, and plugging it in, which is much easier to estimate than a scratch build. Its even got WorldPay integration available if they need it (and I understand that dealing with WP directly can be a right PITA)

>> Obtaining the requirements and contents from a customer can be so frustrating

Tell me about it. I estimate that 90% of project slippage is directly attributable to clients dragging their feet. The rest happens when all of them pull their fingers out simultaneously, and we have to complete half a dozen projects at the same time. Nightmare.

A project plan/proposal document is a good route to take, IMO. It allows you to crystallise your thinking before commencing work, it allows the client to check that you have correctly understood the brief, and it gets everything down in black and white, which stops the customer coming back with the old "I thought we had agreed X" when plainly you hadn't. It also looks pretty professional, which goes a long way to getting people on board in my experience

1:12 pm on Feb 11, 2002 (gmt 0)

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WebmasterWorld Senior Member tigger is a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member

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>I estimate that 90% of project slippage is directly attributable to clients dragging their feet

Aaaaar they drive me mad !! they want a site, don't make any plans or preparation for a meeting, then expect us to wave a magic wand and instantly know & understand there industry and produce a site

One such client phoned me in a panic as he needed as site ASAP (his words) so like a mug I met up with him and had a very long meeting, mainly due to complete lack of preparation, I produced a template design for him to approve while he was collecting the balance of the information I requested, this was in November.

One lesson I've learnt don't start anything until you have all the information from the client & never believe them when they say the information is in the post


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