Part 1 in a 5 part series
Establish clear practices from the start with your clients and your internal team
A well-developed specification from a client often sets the stage for a smoothly executed project. It should include a comprehensive scope of work and ideal timelines. However, a clearly defined spec is hardly the norm, especially with the web as your medium. And it’s the usual lack of clearly defined scope that makes flat bidding on web site projects very difficult. If your client can only provide you with an incomplete scope of work, offer to put one together for them—for a fee. This should be part of your discovery or planning process, not a freebie. And strongly consider doing the project under a time and materials contract. A flat bid may only get you into trouble further down the road.
Once the discovery process is complete, the scope will likely change several times during the project. It is quite difficult to visualize or specify a complete interactive web site. Once the web site starts taking shape you and the client will want to change things up. It’s inevitable. Make it clear to the client that you have processes and goals in place they will need to respect. Outline contingencies such as how to handle time and materials charges for overages. It may also save you a lot of time and frustration if you realize from the start that this project and your team are simply not a good match.
A clearly worded legal contract should identify: the scope of work, timelines for deliverables, who is responsible/accountable for the work on the client end, as well as “worst-case scenarios”—charges for overages, extra work and a well-worded exit clause for both you and the client. If the timeline is too short it may be worthwhile to skip the planning process and dive in with a time and materials contract, especially when working with a client with good history.
The prerequisite for any client project should be to have a clear and open line of communication and established guidelines. There is no such thing as being too articulate or verbose. The web is a medium in a constant state of flux. It is likely the online landscape will change and have some indirect effects on your project. A good client relationship should always be backed up with a contract, regardless of how well you “know” the client. Not only will it make you appear more professional, it will protect you from bumps in the road to project completion. And there are always bumps.
How Pelago learned this the hard way:
When working with new clients, or clients with a history of not paying their bills on time, handing over final deliverables before receiving payment is not a good idea. It strips you of your bargaining power, regardless of how ironclad your contract—legal action is a hassle and should always be a last resort. We learned this after launching a web site without final payment from a new client. The client assured us we’d be paid as soon as they were able. The next communications from them was a form letter informing us their startup was being absolved. We’ll never see that money. Had we made getting paid a higher priority for them it would have turned out differently.