That Company provides white label digital marketing solutions and a majority of our partners are freelance web developers / web development agencies. Today we’re going to address how to manage unlimited client design change requests. If you’re a web developer/designer I’m sure you’ve experienced a situation with a client who wants to change their mind over and over. They approve things and then after seeing the next revision they want to go back to a different design comp you had previously provided. Talk about frustrating, time wasting, and a killer of profitability! Another problem you’ve probably faced is when you have to wait for 6 months to get the content from them to finish their website!
In fact we can speak from experience on this one. That Company way back in the beginning of starting our company before we became a digital marketing firm, or even a white label marketing company, we were previously marketing under the brand Buildtelligence Web Solutions LLC and we were a web development company. In fact in the beginning we sold really inexpensive sites, I’m talking $500 websites. HA! How far we’ve come.
Anyways, early on in our business we have an example client of what you want to avoid. I find that it is always in the best interest to share not only your successes, but your failures so others can hopefully learn from your experiences, and hopefully avoid having the issue themselves. In this story however we’ll obfuscate names to protect the guilty, we’ll call her “Mrs. May”.
Mrs. May had a fantastic idea she was going to revolutionize a consumer services industry and she wanted a site that was going to connect consumers, vendors, and ultimately provide a ton of resources to her target market. We did the right thing, by selling her a scope development service prior to just jumping into the project. She paid about $2,000 for us to develop the scope of work and map out everything that the site would look to accomplish. The scope was exceptionally detailed and mapped out all of the pages that the site build would include, the functionality that needed to be built into the website, etc.
Tip 1: Build a Scope of Work before you begin work.
You can stop a lot of client back and forth revision requests by building a detailed scope of work before getting started. We recommend getting paid for building the scope of work. If you are not currently building out your scope of work prior to signing a web development deal, then you’re likely going to get burned. As you’ll discover simply building a scope doesn’t completely solve all of your issues, but from our experience we highly recommend it as a starting point. A majority of the web development partners we work with have executed a “paid discovery process” in their sales cycle to ensure they can properly fulfill their customers’ needs and to prevent misunderstandings down the road. In fact if you want to learn how you can execute this kind of model in your web development business we recommend checking out www.UGurus.com as they teach this pretty extensively.
Tip 2: Have strong contracts.
Building a scope is great, but if your contract is weak and doesn’t actually integrate the developed scope of work as the deliverable, then you might as well not have a scope. In addition, aim to get paid more up front. All clients are familiar with the 50 up front and 50 after the job is done approach, but we found clients are just as likely to sign an agreement that is 80% up front and 20% when the job is complete. You might get a question about this, but if they’ve invested time and are ready to sign an agreement with you then simple responding to their inquiry of “Why is it not 50/50?” with a strong answer of “This is how we do things.” If they sense that there isn’t any weakness/wiggle room they’ll usually the client with go ahead and sign it as the psychology is it’s on the paper so it’s official. Beyond getting paid more up front which is just a nice bonus for your cash flow, your contracts should clearly lay out time-lines. A customer needs to reply to your questions in how much time? What happens if the client doesn’t give you the content within “x” amount of time? The fact is your customer has a business to run, and building their website might be a priority, but often it is not the top priority (especially if you’re working with small businesses that are just trying to “make ends meet.”
I hear all the time how a project gets “stuck”. Why? Because rules were not established on how the interaction will take place. You need strong, fair rules. Something a customer can agree to when they sign the agreement, but that are strong enough to help you get a project completed without infinitely going back and forth or playing the waiting game.
An example might be that the client has 2 weeks to provide you the content to use on the site once you finish the design/development. If they don’t provide you the content then you will bill the final amount due for the project and consider the project complete. Any additional work such as adding the content to the site after the 2 week deadline will need to be serviced under a maintenance agreement and be an additional cost. This is a hard fast rule that is far. After all the client can be preparing all of this while you’re putting together the design & developing the site. Tired of Content Creep? Establish rules inside your contract that ensures the client can’t hold up the project and keep you from getting paid what you’re owed.
Tip 3: Require that you receive credit card information for payment.
A contract is only as good as the collect-ability of the that contract. If your current process is to submit an invoice to your customer and then wait in good faith that the customer will send you a check, then I can guarantee that you’ve been burned before. Want to stop getting burned? Own your future. Require that they provide their credit card information for billing purposes. Stop invoicing and accepting checks. This might be hard for you to change current customer expectations, but you can definitely get new clients to accept this as the standard process.
What good is it to have a rule that they must give you content in 2 weeks, otherwise the project is considered complete, if you can’t collect what’s owed? Get the credit card!
Tip 4: Break Your Process into Stages & Have Official Sign Offs.
Have a very clear process.
Step 1 – Design Approval
Step 2 – Development Page by Page structure
Step 3 – Input content / Double check 301 redirects are properly in place to retain their SEO rankings. Step 4 – Testing in various browsers / mobile friendliness for any issues.
This allows you to have a very clear approval process. If you’re in the development stage and the client already signed off on the design, then if the client wants to change something, remind them that you’ve already passed that stage and received their sign off on the design. You then can say that if they want design changes that you’ll address future design changes in a maintenance retainer (WIN! Upsale and reoccurring revenue!)
When we move from design to development we literally have the client sign a form saying the design is approved. This makes everything crystal clear. Nothing is worse than starting to develop the site and then losing time/effort when they want to make a design change that blows up your current development structure.
Tip 5: Always keep them to the scope
If a client asks for something out of scope then politely remind them that it is not in the scope and would need to be addressed in a maintenance retainer after the project is complete. What if it’s a small issue? While I of course want to ensure clients are happy, but I warn you that it’s a very slippery slope. Small concessions become larger and larger. This was our largest problem with the example client I mentioned above. We bent over backwards to make the client happy, instead of keeping them committed to the scope which led to a disastrous project.
Tip 6: Learn From The Past
After every project ask yourself what could have made the project smoother? What can you do differently? Should you make your contract a little stronger in certain areas to push a project to completion? By taking the time to reflect on every completed project you can continue to hone your processes so you can build the best web development firm possible. 🙂
Overall if you can begin to execute the tips listed above I expect this to help you keep projects running on time, increase your overall profitability, and increase client satisfaction. Good luck!
VP Marketing & Sales