Category / Business


Don’t believe the hype

This week I came across a new JavaScript framework, called Meteor, which promises to simplify the process of developing web applications. It looks like an interesting project, run by some very smart and talented people, but something about the Meteor marketing pitch rubbed me the wrong way.

The Meteor website is full of claims about how amazingly easy the framework will make web developer’s lives. It will allow us to build “top-quality web apps in a fraction of the time.” Its demo applications require “no programming knowledge.” What “once took weeks, even with the best tools, now takes hours.” In fact, you can “build a complete application in a weekend.”

If building a world class web application was really something that could be done in a weekend, wouldn’t everyone and their dog be CEO of their own Internet startup? If the barrier to entry was as low as the Meteor team would have us believe, then business owners would have no need for developers at all – a few hours of training and they’d have all the skills required to build their own app or website.

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How to spot a troublesome client

I’ve written in the past about how it is just as important to turn down the wrong clients as it is to work with the right ones, but even when a client ticks all the right boxes they might still spell trouble. Here are a few problematic clients to watch out for:

The Carrot Dangler

The Carrot Dangler will tempt you with promises of lucrative work in the future if you agree to take on their first project at a generous discount. Like the carrot that coaxes a donkey to pull its cart, this client hopes that the lure of more work will secure your loyalty, and make you receptive to the idea of lowering your fee.

It goes without saying that the dangling carrot will always remain just out of your reach, as elusive as the proverbial pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. If you do have an opportunity to work with this client in the future they will almost certainly plead poverty again, then dangle another carrot in front of you.

When confronted with a Carrot Dangler remind yourself that if they don’t have the money to pay you fairly now, they probably won’t in the future either. Don’t let the carrot tempt you into putting yourself at a financial disadvantage.

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A website can’t be measured in pages

For a long time page count has been used as a unit of measurement in web design and development. Clients will often phrase a pricing enquiry by asking “how much would it cost for a (x) page website?”, and when quoting on a project it can be tempting to measure the required effort in these terms. Some web developers go a step further by assigning a fixed value to a page, and sell page-based website packages to their clients: a 5 page website for $800, a 10 page site for $1,500 and so forth. This approach is shortsighted for several reasons.

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What to charge when subcontracting

There is an interesting conversation going on in the Drawar forum about how much freelancers should charge when they subcontract their services. The question being posed in the forum thread is whether a designer/developer should consider discounting their hourly rate when they take on contract work.

While I prefer to take on projects where I deal directly with the client, I still do my fair share of subcontracting, both for agencies and for other freelance designers, and my policy is to always charge my full hourly rate.

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The dreaded creeping scope

One of the most frustrating aspects of project management is dealing with “scope creep”, also known as “feature creep” or “requirement creep”. These ominous sounding terms refer to a project’s scope being changed after work is already underway. This phenomenon can impact on the project’s schedule, cost and complexity.

Because an individual change may only have a small impact on the overall project, scope creep can be hard to spot at first. It usually begins with a seemingly innocuous request from your client:

I know that development of our website is already underway, but we’ve decided that we need to have a mailing list signup form on the homepage. Hope that’s not a bother.

If you acquiesce to your client’s wishes without re-quoting the job, then you’ve allowed scope creep to set in. Before you know it the “small” changes are starting to mount up, and the project is turning into a much larger job than you anticipated.

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Picking clients who help your business

I have heard it said that a successful business never turns down work. I think that’s poppycock. For a graphic or web design firm to develop a solid portfolio they need to be selective about the clients they work with. Lately I have been working with a client who is not a terribly good fit for my business, and have been thinking about strategies for choosing projects that help my business to move forward.

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Firing a client

In the client-designer relationship it is usually the client who does the hiring and firing. Occasionally however the roles are reversed, and the designer finds themselves forced to give a client the heave-ho. It may seem to contradict the wisdom that “the customer is always right”, but sometimes the relationship you have with a client does more harm than good, and severing ties can help to restore balance to your business.

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Time management tips for freelancers

Since beginning work as a freelance designer I have found managing my time effectively to be one of the biggest challenges. In previous fulltime jobs I had the luxury of project managers who established timelines and made sure that projects were delivered under budget and on schedule. These days I am responsible for those aspects of my business, as well as winning pitches, meeting with clients, doing the books, paying the bills, and manning the phone. And that’s not to mention actually doing the design work! Fortunately I’ve discovered several time management techniques that help me keep my business – and life – on track.

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Educating your clients

In my experience, most web design clients don’t know much about design, and even less about the web. This isn’t a fault, and it doesn’t make them a bad client. It makes them a regular web user. But sometimes the knowledge gap between a designer and their client can lead to communication problems. I have found that with a little education my clients are better equipped to understand my decision making processes, and we are able to start talking to each other, rather than past each other.

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