‘Warning! Warning!’ Do you ever hear that in your head when you meet/talk with a prospective client? Today this happened – right before the contract was signed. The potential client dumped me, and although I was mad this morning,  I know it’s actually for the best.

For me, it’s taken a few years to get to the point where I can quickly pick out most of the potential troublemakers just from one initial conversation. Having a long intake form usually dissuades the tire-kickers, but there are others who are really serious about their website, have plenty of money to spend, but nevertheless are not the clients I want to have. Spotting these types of potential problems is sometimes trickier than the ones who come to you with ‘I don’t have a lot of money.’

So what are some of the signs that the person you’re dealing with may not be your ideal client? Besides the obvious (‘can you build me a 20-page site for $500 and can you finish it in ten days?’) here are some that I’ve personally encountered:

  1. They insist on going against your stated and preferred ways of doing business. For example, if you prefer email for communicating with clients, they’ll call you every time. They’ll leave voicemails 6 minutes long explaining in intricate detail what they want. And if they catch you on the phone, they’ll take an hour explaining something that should take five minutes.
  2. They ask you to testify against their previous designer. I kid you not.
  3. They want you to take responsibility for the success (or lack thereof) of their website. I don’t simply mean that you should do a good job for them – I had one pre-client that insisted I change the wording of my contract to implicate myself as the cause if they didn’t get more conversions with my design on their site. I wasn’t doing SEO work for them, either.
  4. They ask you to clarify the same thing over and over and over and over.
  5. They balk at contracts. This is a definite ‘run away!’ scenario – I do nothing without a contract.
  6. They have a great design idea that they want you to code. Sometimes they do, but most often this is a big red flag.
  7. They’ve read an article about SEO, or design, or blogging, and are now experts. They don’t believe anything you tell them, no matter how much experience you have in any particular area.
  8. Big one for me – they place little value on their website. It’s definitely an on-the-side kind of effort for their brick-and-mortar business. They want to invest minimal time and effort and thought on the web design project and have no plans to update the site in the future, market it, interact with customers on it, optimize it, or pay any further attention to it once it’s built.

Anything else?

Wow, it’s been so nice since Tuesday – all my clients are gone or otherwise occupied. I’ve only had one phone call from a client since then. That is SO nice!

This coming week should also be great. Wednesday night we’re going to a client’s New Year’s Eve bash; it’s the fourth annual party and there were about 70 people in her condo last year. Lots of good networking and everyone brings food; that’ll be fun.

I’m working on tying up some loose ends this week. This morning I put together the list of clients who need W-9 forms from me (fascinating, I know, but when I remind them about filing tax forms and give them what they need from me without being asked, I’m thinking that just reinforces my helpfulness) and just printed up labels and letters to mail out on Monday.

I’m all ready to do my end-of-year finances but I’m waiting on that December report from the bank. Maybe by next weekend I can get everything into QuickBooks (usually I procrastinate, but I’m all caught up except for this month).  I use a receipt book to keep track of all incoming checks, and save all my deposit slips, hardcopy receipts and bank/merchant account reports in  there too. So when my monthly download is ready at the bank, I import all that cash flow information, reconcile everything with my reports and receipts, and file them away in my folder system. Works pretty well for me and my accountant likes that I just zip her a copy of the QuickBooks file when she’s ready to do my taxes.

I started writing up my business goals for 2009 based on a post in one of my mailing lists a few weeks ago; I need to finish that up and will post the list here in a few days.

I’ve got a new service I’m offering clients beginning in January – I’ve started using Campaign Monitor for my email newsletter and will begin offering accounts to clients after my first successful test mailing. I like Campaign Monitor very much so far. I’ve written up a features document and also need to add a page about it in my website, then add a couple of login boxes on pertinent pages.

One major thing I plan to do in early January is check in with all of my clients individually – find out how business is going and if there’s anything I can do to help them out with their site, or SEO, or email, etc.

Oh… and now that I’m thinking about it… I’m raising my rates as of January 1 so I also need to adjust them on the site…

I think that’s enough for now. I’ll post those goals when I finish that up.

I guess you just don’t know until you try.

I’ve worked with several subs this year. From some, I’ve gotten great work – clean code, a job done in quick order and correctly. From others, I’ve gotten junk – messy code (which makes me cringe), a job abandoned in the middle or some problem that created more work than if I’d done it myself in the first place.

It just makes me really wary about depending on someone else to do my clients’ work for me. Very wary indeed.

Found a pair of good articles by Matthew Griffin today. The first one (which was actually the second one published) is ‘7 Reasons You Shouldn’t Charge by the Hour.’

I don’t, not for project work, but only for maintenance or upgrade work. However, I’ve noticed recently that charging a flat rate on larger projects usually ends up losing me money – something will come up that’s kinda/sorta out of scope, and then I’ll wind up spending more time than expected. So these are the things I’m going to be doing for larger projects from now on.

  1. I always show line items for everything. For the things for which I can pretty accurately estimate time, I’ll give a flat price. This might include initial layouts, setting up a hosting account on my own server, or adding in a rotating text/image template which I can do quickly and easily.
  2. For items where I’m fairly sure about the time but less sure than #1, I’ll provide a range of flat prices. These could be blog integrations or setting up hosting accounts on outside servers.
  3. For those few remaining items where I have no clue how much time they might take, like migrating a database from or to an outside server or setting up a shopping cart, I’ll note that as TBD at the hourly rate of $X.XX.

I don’t think I can do any better than that with my estimates. It will help me not get stuck with tasks I can’t accurately estimate, but will provide the client a more accurate picture than simple hourly rates.

The second article is ‘Pay Me Please: A Freelance Web Designer’s Guide to Billing and Pricing.’ If you’re just starting out and don’t know how to set prices or bill clients, this is worth a read.

Just now I launched Hixon Interiors‘ redesign. Hixon is a prominent local interior design firm that’s been around for many years. They approached me in October about a redo.

The new site has a Slideshow2 slideshow on the home page featuring some of their gorgeous imagery. The Gallery section uses three separate Simpleviewer galleries – learning how to use these two great little programs was a benefit of this project. I ran into issues with the Simpleviewer Flash object and displaying a CSS div on top; this is a known issue but it took me awhile to come up with a fix that worked in both IE6 and modern browsers.

The burgunday floral background and general look of the site was inspired by the great-looking initial photography they sent when we were first starting. The client is very pleased and I’m proud of the elegant look of the site.