"If you can't define 'Done', don't do it."
One area that requires the most client management is content development. Most Web developers find building databases and interactive CGI programs preferable to designing graphics and presenting copy, because the requirements are relatively clear-the program either works or it doesn't.
The success of a graphic design, writing, editing, and/or lay out initiative is so subjective to what hits a client's fancy that it can be more difficult for a Web firm to succeed and be profitable in this area.
As much as possible, we try to make the client responsible for our creative initiatives and document any and all conversations regarding this sub-ject. That way, if the client has asked us to develop using a blue background and red logo, and we have completed this task, the firm has this documentation to fall back on if the client does an about-face and demands red background with a blue logo.
To a client, I'm sure this doesn't sound like a big request. However, to the Web firm, which must pay a good graphic artist $40 an hour, it's a big deal. When I first began to build sites, I would go through the local fast food drive-thru and wonder if the person serving me my hamburger was doing better per hour than I was. This is because 90% of Web sites are flat bid up front. If there's no documentation to support that the client veered from their original direction, the project manager has a hard time billing any additional hours to the client.
Another area that makes content development difficult is a scenario in which the client keeps changing their copy. Many clients see changing Web documents as being as easy as making a change in the word processing program. True, if the changes don't impact on the site hierarchy or radically change an entire page, it does not entail a morning of an HTML developer's time. However, if there's some fairly complicating formatting on the page, which needs modification after being built to a client's earlier expectations, this causes a time overrun. In the Web development business, time is money. If the Web firm graciously makes these changes with the idea that the client will not yet again change their mind, often the client will do just that, expecting the Web firm to turn tail yet again and make changes on the fly. In a project specification, the project manager can stipulate that after two to three exchanges between the client and the firm with regard to the Web site copy, the content will be locked. Any additional changes will need to be implemented at the end of the project.
The success of how everything goes really hangs on how honest and up front project managers are with their clients. I often use the same analogy that I used in Chapter 8 with my clients, and it works out extremely well: If we've painted the living room yellow, please don't expect me to get excited about painting it pink for free.
As a business grows, so do your choices when it comes to keeping long-term clientele. I have clients that I'd walk through fire for. I feel a very strong sense of loyalty to them, and I'm very grateful to have a working association with them because not only are they good businesspeople, they are good people, period. When they call my firm, they know what they want. And if they do not, they understand that we are going to put together mock-ups, and our time needs to be covered. It can't be an open-ended sort of deal where we work until we make something the client likes. They know that I'm sincere about wanting them to be 100% satisfied, but they know that this is my living, and I can't afford to work for free, so they respect our need for a defined scope of work. Fortunately, as time has gone on, I've had the luxury to drop those clients who do not value my firm's time. No one likes to turn someone away. I certainly do not. But, after a pattern exists-the person is difficult to deal with, the person keeps changing their mind, and/or it's then difficult to collect payment-there's no reason to keep these clients on, as they are highly unprofitable.
Again, these are all client management issues that seem to become stumbling blocks more in the content development stage than any other, once a contract is signed.
In mentioning the pitfalls and typical scenarios encountered during this phase of Web site development, I'm really just urging project managers to be as clear as possible with the client. Never take something on faith, but rather ask the question before work progresses. Therefore, if work is being done according to a client's instruction and it is later rejected for reasons other than the quality of the work (e.g., a change in direction), the Web firm does not have to take on the financial burden of this change.
Most people who go into Web developing as a career truly enjoy the creative aspects of it. As a former software analyst, I found the use of graphics and written copy quite liberating. Suddenly, the Web site becomes a sculpture, and the computer is a chisel. As long as the lines of communication remain clear, this can also be a very rewarding phase as the client sees their vision take shape. Often, it's the successful completion of creative tasks that really cements the relationship between client and developer, helping to seal the client's faith in the Web firm's ability to perform other noncreative tasks.