I’ve seen how different design agencies handle their clients, both through external stories and first hand. Some individuals and companies have their business tactics spot on. While others have it all wrong.
I want to target the wrong ones for a moment. Let’s say you’re working with a client on a web site. How do you handle the following requests:
– I want my logo to be 50% bigger. Visitors need to know where they are!
– Place keywords all over the page. It will put me at the #1 spot on Google!
– I want a person to walk out on screen, covering the site, to talk to the user and push our product. And I need it to work on iPhones/iPads.
As a professional, it’s your job to educate the client not only as to what can be possible but what will work best for the company, its image, and its sales. You’re not just designing or building the site; You’re effectively acting as their interactive marketer as well. You should know what is best practice and what will help and hurt the client.
However, this is not always the case, is it? Here’s the reality most of the time:
The client gets in touch with you, saying something like: “We need you to take this Photoshop our in-house guy made, and make it work on the web. We’ve already had extensive meetings on what we want on the site, and we need you to make it work. Give us an estimate on time, so we can plan our budget around it.” You make an estimate and the project begins. During the development process, the client changes the look—several times—requiring more time to complete than originally estimated. The client wants the site compatible for IE6, because that’s what their offices run on and they “can’t afford to upgrade.” They give split-decision changes that need to be made ASAP for review in meetings, but the changes aren’t seen on their end instantly, because their browsers cache everything and they don’t know how to clear their cache. The estimates get blown away and the client cannot exceed their budget for the project, but explaining to the client that their changes are out-of-scope could risk losing them.
So what’s the typical response to everything they ask for?
“Yes! Of course! We can do that! We’ll get right on it!”
You have no longer kept your role as a professional in the field. You are at the client’s beck and call, salivating for them as they ring their bell. They give a request—any crazy request—and you just “go for” it.
You have now become a “gopher.”
The example I gave above is from an experience in my life and from a very big-name client. Those of us working on the developing end of the project try our best as professionals to give the client what they want, but understand the issues with what they’re asking for and have little to no say in the direction of the project. To keep our jobs, we do as we’re told because the customer is always right.
And hey, what do we really know anyway? We’re just gophers. We “go for” this, we “go for” that. When conflict and differences in opinion arise, we dig our opinions underground to avoid losing our jobs. It’s not like we’re professionals or anything… right?
While this may be a client-friendly attitude to give, in the end it also will hinder our public portrayal as professionals and, ultimately, our wallets. You may act on the client’s demand, but slip up once and they consider you a failure. Their idea of professionalism is being able to deliver what you promised, when you promised, and at a cost you promised.
And they are absolutely correct in this.
If you cannot deliver what they are asking for, when they are asking for, and at the cost they are asking for, you need to tell them. And I’m not talking towards the end of the project when they’re already resenting you for your lateness. These types of discussions need to be made in the very beginning.
If you’re charging flat-rates for a project, let them now explicitly what is in and out of the scope of the project. If their project calls for an initial design they supply, five revisions will slow down production time and cost them more. If there is an hourly charge, make it clear that every hour the project is touched upon will be billed accordingly. Therefore, if they decide they want changes, they’ll better manage them to save themselves money in the end, instead of just pipelining updates every few minutes via email. Estimates for a design/development job are similar to that of a car repair: If something unexpected comes up, the price will change. And we trust the mechanic because he is the professional.
And here’s a radical idea: If the client is going to push back hard on you about their terms versus yours, turn them down! Yes! Turn business away! You may get paid for working on the project, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to make money from it. You can work on several smaller jobs that will pay you for your time and efforts, and you can almost guarantee that money to be worth more in the end.
I know it’s all easier said than done, but if you don’t take a stand in the beginning, you either get screwed over in payment, look untrustworthy, or both. If you want to be a nice guy, go volunteer somewhere. If you want to make money, you need to step up your game a bit.
Or, you can be a gopher. It’s your call.
Have you had this sort of thing happen to you or the company you work at? Have you or someone you know become a gopher on projects? I’d like to read your thoughts in the comments below.