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.