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David C. Dalton

Web Application & Database Development, Responsive Website Design, Programming & SEO Services

Choosing clients may seem like a silly idea to many developers but the fact is a lot of developers seem to accept any job that comes down the road completely unaware they may be walking into a minefield. I used to be one of those developers.

How To Choose A Good Web Development Client

As I have mentioned before many times here I am very fussy about who I work for. No it’s not arrogant it’s experience! Over the many years I have learned the hard way that some clients just aren’t worth the aggravation. I’ve also found what I think are warning signs that every developer should look for, signs that may point to a 'problem client' and they might just save you a lot of time and stress.

The 'Flea Market' Customer

Ah yes, this is what I consider the 'lead from hell'. This is the person that thinks so little of your talents that they feel compelled to try and haggle you down in price as if you were selling used nick knacks in a garage sale. This is also one trap way too many web developers fall into. A potential customer that feels they have to 'get a better deal' will more often than not be the same client that doesn’t understand why you have to have additional fees for the 25 new features that have appeared out of thin air during the project. Plain and simple this potential client has shown you they have no respect for your work, time and talents and they will more often than not keep trying to get 'freebies'.

Good, keyword good, web developers are in high demand these days and they are paid well for their knowledge and talents. What I would LOVE to say to these potential clients is 'Do you try and get a better deal at the doctor, the grocery store and the movies too?' but of course I don’t. Do yourself a favor, assess your talents and compare them with other developers in your area. Set your prices accordingly and then stick to them! What you will soon find is that you have some great clients in your portfolio, a lot less stress in your life and you are actually doing less work for the same amount of money.

The 'Review and Discuss' Customer

Many, many years ago I worked as an engineering assistant at a smoke stack manufacturing company. Each and every day the boss would open the mail and tag 20 or 30 pieces of mail with a post it that said 'Review and Discuss' along with a spot for everyone to initial the post it once they read the mail. Every Friday the entire staff had to spend 8 hours talking about what they read in this mail. Of course this was also the boss that was constantly complaining about how little work got done!

Unfortunately I have run into this scenario in the web development world, most recently with a huge SEO client that required meetings every Monday with myself, my partner and their staff of 5 or 6 department heads. Now weekly meetings are well within the scope of a developer but what we soon found was the meetings were nothing more than 5 or 6 people, each with their own agenda, trying to get to the head of the pack. The meetings soon became 'meetings about meetings' with no clear path to what they wanted us to do. Sure enough after a few months of this their CEO called me to ask why nothing was getting done. Of course he wasn’t pleased to hear this about his staff but even after my full explanation of what was happening he terminated the contract (and I was THRILLED he did!).

This particular problem is not always easy to spot when interviewing potential clients but there are a few warning signs that might tip you off. If the client tells you there will be different people handling different aspects of the project and they want all of these people to be able to contact you as needed you may be looking at this situation. What they are saying (at least in my mind) is they have no project manager and they are looking to you to fill this position while also building the application. The main problem here is your time and the fact that you may end up becoming a mediator between their staff! This is fine if you make sure to add in fees for all the administrative time but many developers don’t want this 'position' and may need to tell the client they need to assign someone to manage the project and only that person will be allowed to contact them.

Another early warning sign that may point to this problem is a client that really has no idea what they want and feels hours and hours of phone calls are needed to hash out each and every detail. Again, helping guide a client that is not web savvy is one thing but hour upon hour of discussion about mundane parts of the application will chew up time like there’s no tomorrow if you aren’t compensated for your time.

The 'I Have No Money Now' Client

These are the potential clients that feel they have a great idea but have no money whatsoever to build the project so they try to get developers to work 'on spec'. Luckily I have never fallen into this trap but I know quite a few developers that have and I have yet to see one of these jobs turn out properly. I guess what really bothers me with these clients is the fact that even though they think they have the next myspace.com they are not willing to invest one cent of their own money into the job yet they feel you should spend countless months investing your time and talents. Now working at a reduced rate (if you really feel the project has merit) along with an ownership percentage is fine but make sure you really believe in the idea and make sure to have an attorney write an iron clad contract stating your ownership in the project. If the customer is not willing to do that you probably want to decline the job.

The 'I have a friend that is a designer' Customer

This is one mess I have gotten myself into and I see it far too often. The customer has 'a friend' that is a 'designer' and they want them to handle all the design work. More often than not the 'friend' is not a professional designer and probably has no idea what is involved in developing an application. I recently fell into this trap with someone who thought they were a professional designer and of course I didn’t question them at the beginning. What I later found out was this so-called designer was one of those 'Photoshop to GoLive to Dreamweaver 'slice n dice' developers that honestly didn’t understand the most basic forms of HTML. What made matters even worse is the client wanted their application to be usable on non computer devices, something that is all but impossible with the design code I had been provided.

Before agreeing to any such arrangement ask to see the designer’s portfolio or previous work. Check their code and see if it is usable in the new application and if not tell the customer (in a nice way of course) you have major concerns using them. Make sure you have your concerns written down along with the exact problems you see and be ready to explain the functionality problems and how they can effect their application.

The 'I want to copy another site' client

This client is a disaster waiting to happen and under no circumstances should you get invloved with them. I have had more than my share of potential clients call and tell me they want to duplicate an existing site in every detail, both functionalality and design. Now we all know just about every developer out there 'borrows' and idea or two but the good ones take the idea and make it better, that’s called evolution and it brings some amazing applications to light but outright theft of someone else’s code and design work is downright wrong! Becoming involved with a client like this can not only get you into legal trouble, they can also destroy your reputation. Plain and simple just say no!

Make sure to read the companion article to this How to choose a web developer. It may help you become a better developer!