Wednesday, September 7, 2011

A Sad Summer for the Hockey Community

These past few months have been brutal for the hockey family. Brutal. First, it was the accidental overdose of Derek Boogaard, the much loved enforcer for the Minnesota Wild and NY Rangers. He was 28 years old. Only three months later, the death of Rick Rypien, who had been battling depression. He was 27. And then, most recently, the suicide of Wade Belak, who had recently retired from the NHL. He was 35. Hockey is a small little family and we reeled from these losses, but we hadn't seen anything yet. Anything like today.

A plane carrying the Lokomotiv ice hockey team from Yaroslavl to Minsk, Balarus for the opening game of their season crashed shortly after takeoff. The entire team and crew perished as the plane broke up and fell into a nearby lake. No storm, no bad weather, just peaceful blue sunny skies, an aging plane, and a group of men in the prime of their lives with family and friends who will mourn them for a lifetime.

Some of them were known NHL names, some were youngsters on the brink of success. There were men from many countries and backgrounds, ready to start a new hockey season, anxious to put skates on the ice in front of a stadium of supportive fans.

Almost every NHL team lost someone today, and we lost something more. That innocence that when our team flies off on a road trip, that they will certainly all return home safe and sound. There is a little bit of doubt now. Just a little bit. Our planes are newer, and safer certainly, but on any given day, who knows what could happen.

RIP, Team Lokomotiv. Our condolences and prayers are with you and with the friends and families that you have left behind. You will be missed. You will be mourned.

Enough, hockey gods. Whatever we have done to piss you off, we are sorry. We have had enough.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Get Everything in Writing

There is a reason, probably several, that I am loathe to discuss particulars of websites on the phone. A "wouldn't it be cool if" telephone conversation does not constitute an agreement about what your final web project will be. A phone call to tell your web designer you want all your Twitter and Facebook icons removed, only to change your mind a few days later, constitutes more work for everyone, and additional charges for you that you will be loathe to pay.

Your contract is your guide. If your contract states that your logo will fly in from the north, spin around and depart to the west, than so it shall. However, if the flying logo is only discussed in preliminary phone conversations and later ruled out as impossible or unlikely, and is NOT included in your contract, it will not be happening. You are, after all, only allowed to demand those things in the contract, not things that might have been cool in an initial phone conversation.

Get everything in writing. This applies to both the client and the web designer. Keep all your emails, you will undoubtedly need them for reference later, and sometimes, for evidence. While we hope this is not the case, it is just a good practice to keep them for your own reference and for handy reminders to others as to what was actually discussed.

While I am often up at 2 am, working on a new design or updating someone's website, I do not miss my days as a book publisher, when there were phone calls at 2 am, wanting a comma removed from page 43 after a book had gone to press. GET IT IN WRITING. Even if it is at 2 am.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

When a Client Doesn't Pay

We have, unfortunately, been put in uncomfortable situations in which a client with a signed legal contract chooses, for one reason or another, to ignore our legally binding agreement and not pay for services rendered to them.

The choice becomes, is it worth the time to hunt down non-paying clients and demand those hundreds or thousands of dollars they have stiffed us for? Do we pay fees to a collection agency? Do we spend the time going to court to obtain the money we are owed?

I don't think there is one answer for these questions.

I do know one thing: A contract between a client and a web designer is a legally binding agreement. We strive to complete a project on time, within budget, and per the terms outlined in these contracts. Our contracts are very specific for a reason. You know exactly what you are getting, and we know exactly what is expected of us.

To claim, as was the case recently, that you did not get those "pie in the sky" things discussed in an early phone conversation, prior to contract, those "wouldn't it be cool" things that were discussed and then dismissed, and use those "wouldn't it be cool" things that were not in the contract as reasons why you were not paying a bill, is not only not supported, not professional, but also not ethical.

We expect our clients to treat us as professionally as they treat them. And we also expect our clients to pay their bills, as per our legally enforced contracts with them. We don't like being ripped off. You don't like being unhappy.

Pay your bills, fulfill the obligations of your contract, and have the website you've always wanted. It's not that difficult a concept. For most.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Working Well with Your Web Designer - Part Two

When your site demo is presented to you, make sure it’s what you want before you give your approval. If it’s not, be very specific about the changes you want, whether in design, functionality or content. Please do not let us get to the middle or near the end of your project before telling us you don’t like something and want some element of the design changed. This could potentially mean a huge amount of work for us, delays in live date and without a doubt, higher cost to you depending on the changes. Do not assume that your flat rate contract fee will include major changes in design and functionality once you have signed off on major design features.

A smart designer has business policies set up just like any other business, whether they are terms of use, contract policies, turn-around times, or simple hours of operation. Whatever they are, you can bet the designer has a good reason for implementing them. What those reasons are doesn’t matter, they are what they are and your respect of them is greatly appreciated.

Please understand that if there is something you want on your web site that your designer might not be skilled in (Flash, for example), that does not mean that you won't get what you want. Most of us have resources to sub-contract that which we aren’t personally skilled in. If you spring this on us when the project is at the mid-way point or nearly done, don’t expect to have it accomplished without a delay or additional cost. If your request is out of the scope of your contract, you will be billed the cost of the sub-contractor’s fees, and must remember that the work will be done on their time-table.

Don’t make demands and expect immediate responses. Do not email updates and changes at 3 am and want to know why they aren't completed by 8 am. Please respect our telephone and business hours. As important as you are to us, you are not our only client nor are you the only need we have on our To-Do list on any given day. Remember that you are not the only one paying us to do a job.

Constantly asking “how much will this cost” will likely add to your cost! If time has to be spent to figure cost estimates for every little thing, most designers are going to charge you for the research and calculation time if your requests for estimates become excessive. Your designer is quite conscious of your budget and will do what they can to stick close to it. If it looks like things are going to go significantly over budget, whether that is due to complications or your additional demands and requirements, a responsible designer will notify you of this.

Once your project has been completed, Visit your own web site (and not just the home page) on a regular basis. Servers sometimes do strange things to web sites. Your host may have changed or updated a script that runs in the background, some host companies change servers without your knowledge which may break something on your site. Your site may be disfigured by hackers. Checking your site on some kind of regular basis is to your benefit. If you find something amiss, let your designer know right away so they can fix it. We recommend checking your site completely at least once a week.

Check your eMail, check your eMail, check your eMail and make it a priority to communicate with your designer. If you change eMail addresses, notify your designer. If you’re going to be gone for an extended period of time, notify your designer. If you send your designer an eMail and don’t receive a timely response, send it again, perhaps the designer didn’t receive it. Although they like to say they can, even the Post Office can’t guarantee mail delivery. Cyberspace is unpredictable. Most designers work strictly by eMail for very good reasons. eMail provides a way for us to document what you tell us. We have your information in hard copy format to refer to.

Using the telephone for edits, updates and design changes means we have to take fast notes. Did you ever try to take notes during a conversation that speeds along and changes direction several times and then have to try to decipher those notes later? Not always an easy task and so very easy to get wrong! eMail input from the client gives us a chance to research a question or problem rather than try to answer it verbally on the spot – which sometimes can be incorrect, misinterpreted or not complete enough.

Don’t fall into the “if you build it they will come” philosophy. Putting a site up on the web does not mean automatic immediate exposure nor is it a recipe for overnight success. It does not mean your site goes straight to the top of the search engines. It does not mean that people are going to flock to your site the moment it hits the web. Once your web site is up, it takes care and maintenance to get it to the point of being seen. You cannot just “set it and forget it, ” there is no such thing as an “automatic pilot” button for your web site. This is where SEO comes into the picture. It’s imperative that you understand that although your site is live, it doesn’t mean the work is done. Please include SEO into your contracts, or be aware that you will be invoiced for this service when you request it later.

Never rely totally on your website for income or exposure for your business. You must have other ways to sell your product, and must use means to promote your web site as a way to sell them. Your web site should be just one tool in your business toolbox.

Listen to and work with your designer. You are, after all, hiring and paying them for their expertise. We are all aware of the phrase “the customer is always right.” If you insist on something, more than likely we will comply even if we feel it’s detrimental to your site. Please remember that it is part of our job to guide you, to look out for the best interest of your site, make suggestions, provide solutions and advise you of what might be a serious mistake. However, we can’t force you to follow our advice. The final say-so comes from you. If you don’t listen to us and your site doesn’t do as well as you’d hoped, you don’t have a leg to stand on when you blame the designer.

An experienced web designer is a walking talking wealth of information that has taken years and a tremendous amount of work and hours to accumulate. Pumping us for information and then taking that information and doing your web site yourself or giving the information to another designer you’ve hired to do the work is no different than stealing. A smart designer will not give too much information without being paid for it – this kind of conversation is called a consultation. If you go to a lawyer, they may give you an hour’s free consultation but if you want more, you pay for it.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Tips for Working Well with your Web Designer - Part One

Web designers work with a wide variety of people anywhere and everywhere in the world. And as is the case with any workplace, virtual or in person, people are people and things happen. Personality conflicts and in general life’s happenings sometimes cause friction and problems.

A web designer’s job is to know web design, and your job is to know your business. Please don’t expect us to know your business and we won’t expect you to know ours.

Don’t automatically assume that because you had a bad experience with one web or graphic designer, that this will be repeated with each and every design company that you have contact with.

If you have your text and image content ready in digital format before hiring a designer, it will save you money. You can scan the images and send them to your designer via eMail or mail them on a CD in digital format.

If you have a page preference that a particular photo or image should go on, tell us. We are web designers not mind readers. Our idea of where an image is best placed may be totally different than yours. We can always discuss this with you if there is a mis-match of ideas on this.

A web designer builds and develops web sites. Most do not teach web design. If you want to learn web design or build your own site — we suggest that you do what we had to do; find a way to learn on your own. Please do not come to us and ask us to show you how it’s done for free, or ask for our guidance so you can do it yourself. For most of us, our web work is how we make our living and giving it away for free will not feed our children nor pay our bills. NOr will it pay the high fees necessary for our daughters to play hockey. Would you go to a car lot and ask a salesman for a free new car and expect to get it? Would you go to an open house and ask the realtor to give you the home for nothing?

Have all pertinent information such as log-ins, passwords, FTP information, and anything else related to your web site where you can get at it readily. Don’t wait until you hire a designer to obtain this information.

When sending content to your designer, organize it first. Send the data in digital format via eMail, text eMail attachment or on a CD, not faxed, not handwritten, not in pdf format and NEVER by telephone. The content should already be checked for spelling and grammar errors. If you are not especially good at spelling or grammar, get someone who is to proof-read it. If your bill is higher than you had anticipated, and you left this work to your designer, don’t complain about the additional cost. You are billed for anything outside of the scope of your contract, and content editing for grammar and punctuation might not be something that your web designer includes. Most do not.

Please let us do the job you are paying us to do! Don’t try to micromanage. If you absolutely must do it yourself, please do. Don’t waste your money and our time by paying us to do what you feel you can do better on your own.

If someone refers you to their designer, don’t expect the cost of your 25 page eCommerce web site to cost the same as their 5 page personal web site. Each site is unique with it’s own functions and needs. Please have this in mind when your designer is writing up your contract proposal, so that everything you need is included in your contract.

Everyone's first question is how much their web site will cost. We cannot estimate a cost for your project until we know what you want. It’s a waste of everyone’s time to try to do it the other way around. Before you contact a designer to ask “how much will my web site cost,” do your homework first then shop for a designer. Again, remember that additional features and functions requested for your website that are outside the scope of your original contract will be invoiced at an additional cost to you.

We ask you what you want for a site look, color preference or other features for a reason. Our goal is to have our design efforts hit the mark as close as we can to your description and hope you’ll love your site the first time we show you the mock-up. When we ask, be honest, up-front and to the point. Provide examples of web sites that you like, if possible. One of the biggest right-hand assistants a designer has is a visual of the look you’re hoping to achieve. Draw us a picture, send us a photo. If you simply tell us “I’ll leave that up to you” don’t be disappointed if we don’t hit the mark the first few times around and don’t complain when you’re invoiced for additional design(s) and time spent to create them.

That being said, please don’t ask us to create a site that looks “just like” another site. Do not ask us to "clone" another website's appearance, content, or functionality. Copyright law prohibits us from copying another web site. This includes both the look and the content.

To Be Continued.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Contract Issues - Happy Endings, Not So Happy Endings

Contracts between clients and designers end in a variety of ways.

Most of the time, a project comes to its natural end, and the designer and the client part ways amicably. In many cases, clients return to the designer to extend or renew a contract to cover updates, revisions or redesigns, and their collaboration continues for many years.
Sometimes, a contract will come to an end, and updates and revisions are passed along to the client's employees or volunteers. Some projects grow to a point where it is necessary that they be handed over to larger entities to manage, and they are passed off in a seamless, professional manner.

Other contracts do not end on such high notes. For example, just recently, we worked with a client, a dog breeder group called American Coton de Tulear Association (ACTA), with contract for what was to be a very small simple website; no bells, no whistles, a small information only website. And that was the contract that was provided to and signed by the client. This "small simple" website quickly expanded through a series of literally hundreds of emails (sometimes upwards of 40 a day) far beyond the scope of their contract to a huge unwieldy website of 50 plus pages, with a complicated dropdown menu and several proposed flash photo galleries, as well as repair, major editing and redesigning their club logo; all things that were completely out of the scope of their contract. And these requests, or should I say demands, would have continued had a stop not been put to them.

I blame myself for letting it get as far as it did; I was too nice, too accommodating, and allowed myself to be manipulated and taken advantage of, which is something very much out of character. It wasn't even a situation that could be considered scope creep, which is a common and usually minimal thing. This project was scope barrelling down a hill out of control.

When the out-of-scope demands got completely out of hand, I put a stop to it, indicating that no more out of scope work would be performed, and that invoices would be issued at an hourly rate for the continual additions and expansion of the site not included in the original contract. This included an extra fee for the creation of flash galleries that we were notified would be added, which in no way were included in the original scope of the project.

Suddenly, I was the bad guy. How could I charge them for anything at all over and above what they'd paid for the contract?? After all, couldn't they just continue to ask for the moon and the stars and the sun, more and more and more, and not pay another dime? Didn't the flat fee they paid with the original contract cover anything they wanted to add, regardless of complexity or scope, for the next year?

Since they were facing having to pay for scope creep, and could not continue to demand additional features for the site without payment, the client decided that they would just walk away from the contract as if it didn't exist, ignoring all emails, changing password access to the site, and violating the terms of a binding and legal contract blatantly and with quite a bit of arrogance.

After repeated attempts to solve this problem in a logical way and being ridiculed and even threatened, I did a bit of research on this particular breeder organization, as well as contacting other breeder clubs. I found that this client had been in legal trouble in the past, and has caused quite a bit of drama in the Coton Breeders world. It didn't occur to me to do this kind of research while in the contract writing stage, it was never something I had come across before. I have since learned that it may be a new requirement for our company, to do a bit of research on a client before offering them a contract. It might also indicate that our contract needs to be expanded and "toughened up" a bit, so that a prospective client knows that they will be responsible for payment on any items not included in the original contract. In the meantime, we will be forced to take this client to small claims court for hundreds of dollars of unpaid fees, an unfortunate consequence of them violating our legal and binding contract.

I will be writing a much tougher cancellation policy into our new contracts, as well as our Terms of Use. It will protect our clients, it will protect us, and it will eliminate those clients and those contracts that become a drain on our talent and our time. This is sad, but unfortunately, true. We should all strive to treat each other in the most professional manner possible, whether client or contractor. When that doesn't happen, it is a sad day indeed.