What I Learned From Dealing with Clients

Here you’ll find five situations I learned to solve when dealing with clients.

1. The Promise of ‘More Work’

Morningtime has been developing websites for clients almost 2 years now. The most common trap I learned to avoid is the promise of more work. Clients approach me with a web project asking for a quote, but they are quick to remind me, if things go well, there will be a long term relationship waiting for me. They promise in advance to keep coming back to me and refer their clients to me as well. The bottom line: since they will send more work my way, I should be happy to do theirs at reduced cost.

I call this situation: psychological blackmailing.

Of course I want more work. Of course I want a long term relationship. Of course I want their referrals and extra leads. But waving this in my face to get a reduced rate is suspicious. I have learned the hard way to stick to my prices. I believe the aforementioned long term benefits should come naturally. They should be based on the mutual effort put into building a work relationship.

Anecdote: a client asks to build a website completely for free, because -if it becomes popular- it will also generate many new leads. I said ‘no’.

Problem: client not willing to respect the value of your work.

Strategy: stick to your rates. This may mean losing a client once in a while. You are better of looking for more respectful clients. In the end you will earn more with better clients. And if people really want a free website, tell them to send X thousand $$ of billable leads your way. As a reward, you’ll build them that free website after you received billable leads.

2. Setting Rates for New and Existing Clients

Every year I evaluate my hourly rate. What is the competition charging? What is my service worth? What are clients willing to pay? If you find out the competition is charging five times more for the same quality you provide, then don’t pride yourself on your cheapness. Instead, raise your prices four times. You will still be cheaper than competition, but you’ll earn a hell of a lot more.

As a matter of fact, Morningtime charges a bit more than market average. This has been a deliberate choice. A higher rate tends to keep away the wrong type of clients, namely those who’d like ‘a site like YouTube’ for a few 100$. I’m not into that. I want to have leeway to work hard at quality. This means I need clients with a bit more budget. That’s just my style, but it works out for me.

But in general, your rate should simply represent how you value your work. Don’t let other people tell you what to charge.

Anecdote: one particular client once tried to force me to lower my rates. He believed I was so expensive that I’d soon be out of work. Stubborn me, I didn’t listen. The next thing I did do, was to raise my rates by 20%. And I never had so much work to do as I do now.

Problem: raising your rates will upset your clients

Strategy: clearly communicate your rates and the conditions under which your rates can change. In my case: once every year for new clients and per-project for existing clients. This means existing projects are completed under the original rate, but new projects will get the new rate.

3. The Self-Appointed ‘VIP’ Client without a Budget

Often clients approach me with a project, we discuss on the phone or even meet up in real person. I later work out a project proposal for a quality end result at reasonable prices. My proposals are clear and contain a lot of background information to explain the cost in laymen’s terms.

But how should you react when clients (sometimes aggressively) reject your proposal?

Anecdote: I proposed a project for a multilingual website with about 100 pages of content per language, with a CMS and several custom features and with SEO included. My proposed cost was three times above their budget. We were both surprised. They couldn’t believe my cost, I was shocked about their low budget. The client’s reaction was that I was missing out on a great opportunity to work with them. I was walking away from a great long term relationship. The client even went so far to say my costs were not realistic and went on to claim I’d probably “fantasized” the cost.

Problem: a self-appointed ‘VIP’ client thinks he’s so special you should crawl on your knees for him.

Strategy: stand ground. You don’t need this client. There is no budget for quality.

4. The Great Pdea without a Plan

Regularly, people approach me with their ideas for a website. Most of these tend to fall in the category ‘get rich quick’ schemes and they will never work. (Why wouldn’t I work on such projects myself? Because I already found out they don’t work.) But occasionally, a friend or client does have an interesting idea. But what about a plan? How are we going to make this work? Who’s the  target audience? How much marketing is needed? Ideas aren’t worth anything by  themselves. Ideas become valuable when you invest time, money and people in them.

Anecdote: a friend come up with an idea for an online community. It sounded solid, but after working out the details, I figured it would rely heavily on marketing promotion to make it successful. However, there was no plan for that, and definitely no budget. I decided I couldn’t make this idea work. I could have built the site, but I couldn’t make the idea work.

Problem: a great idea without a plan means someone will have to carry the project on his shoulders.

Strategy: explain your friend/client he will need to find and investor to back up his idea. It doesn’t fly for free.

5. The Sociopath Client

The first time I realized I was dealing with an authentic sociopath was a shocking realisation to me. Let me explain what a sociopath does. These are normal people on the outside, but have no feelings on the inside. They abuse you with a friendly smile on their face, whilst making complements on your skills and abilities. They make believable promises and pretend to be your friend. But they are playing a game, and in reality don’t care about you. I’ve learned to recognize such people after a while. I avoid  them as if they are infested with the black plague.

Anecdote: A very long time ago, when I built websites as a student job, I ran into a sociopath client. He was a European publisher facing bankruptcy after a conviction of mass spamming private people. The authorities sentenced him to pay tens of thousands of Euro’s. When I received a call from this client, this was unknown to me. We started working on a few small projects. As a publisher after all he had a great network of potential clients for my web services. He’d arrange new clients, I’d do the work. After he’d earned my trust, we set out for bigger projects. And  that’s when all hell broke loose: I didn’t get paid anymore. For months he claimed money was under way. Clients had finally paid him and he’d wire transfer my money soon. Any day now. They were false promises. We started having a few angry phone calls and after a while, there was no more contact. No phone, no email. I went by the office once, but it was empty. This guy had disappeared after benefitting from months of my work. But it opened my eyes to this world of conmen and sociopaths.

Problem: there’s always people out there who just want to use your services.

Solution: learn to recognize these kind of people and avoid them as hell.

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What I Learned From Dealing with Clients by Mathijs Koenraadt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.