I conducted some interviews recently, and one of candidates asked me a series of questions regarding the local design industry; my thoughts on the quality of the work being produced and, of the general state of the industry. I offered my honest opinion then, and may post my thoughts here at a later date. Following that conversation however, I started to think about my clients, and of the difficulties that I have had with some of them over the years.
It is an aspect of the creative industry, and really, of business in general, especially in Jamaica, that I don’t think we all as entrepreneurs raise often enough.
Let me preface my comments, by stating clearly that I have had a great relationship with MOST of my clients over the years. I appreciate every single one of them, and am grateful that they all have entrusted me, my team and my company with their creative needs.
However, and truth be told, there have been some clients that have made this already difficult and very stressful job even more taxing than it needed to have been. Here are just a few:
The “I don’t know anything about web design, but…” guy
This is the one that hires us to do a job, then spends all their time instructing us, exactly how they want every single tiny minute detail done — then after going through that process, slowly and methodically, they change their minds and have us start all….over….again.
(Chris rolls his eyes here and shakes his head before sighing deeply)
Now, don’t get me wrong. All clients are expected to have some idea of what they want us to produce. Some clients want to take a very hands-on approach to the design process, and others want us to “just run with it”. Both of these scenarios are fine with me and can be handled with ease. However, when “hands on” becomes out of hand, then its a recipe for potential trouble.
The fact is that when you become the client of a design firm, or agency, you really need to let go somewhat and trust that the professionals that you have hired, will do as you have hired them to do. Nitpicking every tiny detail only drags the project out, and ultimately hinders the creativity of the firm hired.
Failure to do that, can result in the product being of a standard that is less than the firm was capable of, or of the quality which is less than the client expected (even after they explained exactly what they wanted and you gave them what they asked for).
The Perpetual Procrastinator
This is the most annoying of clients. This is the client that comes with an “it’s urgent, and we must have it now” attitude. However, what usually happens is that THEY end up dragging the project out indefinitely. For example, by taking months to review design concepts or provide feedback or approval. At the end of the day, a project that was to take 6 months for example, ends up taking a year… two years or even more!
There is no excuse for this kind of disrespectful behaviour – and if you are the client of a designer or development firm, and you doing this, then you seriously need to look at your own operations.
I should also state, that in many cases, the very client who drags out projects with their developers, are also the same people who will complain, not to the developer (because they have no grounds to) but publicly when asked “why is your project taking so long?”. They protect themselves by unfairly blaming the developers! It’s unreasonable, but it happens. Such is the nature of this business and industry.
The “Cash Flow Problem” guy
Oh, this one…. this is the client that you can always find when the project is being worked on. He/She responds to emails within a minute or two; jokes around that you’ve been keeping his/her blackberry busy with constant updates; and, the one that you can always get on the phone.
This is, of course, just until the job is finished and you submit your bill. “Mr. or Ms. Always-Available” suddenly morphs, seemingly overnight, into the President of the freekin’ United States; always too busy for the likes of you, or just not available to address any issues relating to payment.
Eventually, if or when you are able to reach them, after weeks of trying, you are given the common “we have been having cash flow issues” story. A small business, you are forced to “hug it up”, until they feel good and ready to pay you what they owe. This can take months.
Also, let’s face it… I like to call a spade, a spade and not beat around the bush. The companies that practice this, are usually, based on my almost eight years of experience, the very same companies that can afford to pay; the ones that record record profits each year for example.
This is extremely counter productive, and frankly harmful to the operations of any small to mid-sized enterprise. As a result of this sort of practice for example, I have been forced on occasion, to withhold payments to my suppliers because I have been unable to collect. It all rolls down hill…. and we all know what else rolls down hill, don’t we?
The “So, what can you do for me?” guy
Maybe it’s just a “Jamaican thing” but some people make a habit of always asking for a discount, or, “bawling down” prices. What gives? The fact is, that most people have no clue how much it costs to develop a professional website. Just because your nephew can do it from home on a weekend while you watch, does not make it professional end product!!
This is not to say that discounts are not sometimes suitable, but when you ask for a discount on every single job, especially your very first job, and worse, combine that request for a discount with a promise of additional work to come — which we all know never does come, it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of any professional service provider.
The “So, what’s so difficult about that?” guy
I remember once, sitting in the boardroom of one of my clients, while making a presentation to their website development committee of the latest iteration of their website development project. One director of something-another, interrupted me to ask a valid question, “how long did it take to design this?”. Confident that what I was presenting took two designers about a full work day to produce, I was also equally sensing where the discussion would then be heading, I answered quickly, “about 5 hours”.
This prompted from said, “director of something-another” a stunned and rather perplexed look, followed by the rhetorical, “This took 5hrs?? I could have done this in a few minutes”.
I bit my tongue as he continued to debate this fact, in front of his committee members while also standing firm on my 5hrs – and attempting to explain all the steps that went into the work that was being presented (photoshop, php, ajax, mysql database etc). Of course, he had now striking idea what those things were, but, continued to insist that he could have done it in less time.
Mind you, he was not complaining about the look, or implying that the design was by any means second rate. He was just… how do I put it… um…. diplomatically…. just being an ass! Essentially trying to justify his existence within the organisation to his committee members, at my expense.
Thankfully, this doesn’t happen very often, but I hate it when people bring me into their internal corporate politics and power struggles. I’m there to do a job, do it well, then go… and don’t need or want the distractions.
Oh, one more thing before I leave this subject. There are some who seem to believe that website design is something that computers do automatically. That is, they seem to believe, in all sincerity, that the designer simply clicks a button and most of the work is done for him/her, instantly and automatically. Most people appreciate the time, effort, creativity and skill required to get the job done right, but… sadly, some people are still not up to speed on how things really work. Maybe this is our fault though, as we may have to do more to educate the public as to what really has to go into the work that we do.
The “Let’s have a meeting to discuss” guy
Look, the cost of gas alone is through the roof! If it can be discussed on the phone, or handled quickly via a few emails, why insist on a meeting?
Some people just cannot seem to function unless everything is done face-to-face. Now, once again, I’m going to get some flack for saying this, so let me preface my comments by stating that meetings are sometimes totally essential to the success of a project. However, in many instances (maybe 50% of the time) they are a grand waste of time.
If a meeting can be avoided, by an email or a phone call, then why not just do that? We would all be far more productive as a nation I believe, if we cut out 50% of the meetings we all insist on having.
If you find yourself working with a development/design firm or agency, please remember that there has to be mutual respect between yourself and the designer/developer/agency if your project is to be a success. Try not to be the client from hell. In most cases, your designers/design firm may not complain, because of their respect for you as clients, and appreciation for your business – but, they will think it.
Here ends my rant for tonight.