The Website Development Window

Here’s a problem I don’t have an answer for.

Any website designer will agree that a web  design project that proceeds smoothly from start to finish results in a superior website to one that stutters piecemeal over a long period.

So, how to get clients to organize for website development and what to do if they don’t?

No matter how much encouragement they have to paginate their website, get their content refined and graphics ready, there is always a point where you have to accept what they have at that time.

Sometimes it will be pretty nearly perfect and others – mostly – will be largely imperfect even if they had years to prepare. My experience has been that however substandard the content is and however much you want to create a first rate website, the client may end up arguing with you over edits you’ve made so leave his mess alone.

The only sane approach I think is to make it clear to the client that a website ‘development window’ will be created for his site development. Typically, for the small business website, about four weeks which allows for the to-ing and fro-ing needed to complete the website.

The client should be aware that if the content is late arriving the development window will shut to permit the development of other websites and their site may be delayed. One might go a step further and inform the client that he may be charged for the allocated time whether or not the content has arrived unless he has asked for a rescheduling with due notice or that he will be kicked out of the queue completely.

The clients who cannot get their act together are usually those which have several personnel adding to the website, one or more of whom is always late. Still, that is their problem and not yours. As soon as I hear that there is a ‘website team’ which expects to be consulted at every step, the quote doubles.

I have just finished two websites. One has taken 15 months for fairly straightforward work (the contact went and had a baby in the middle – and there was a ‘web team’) and the other, four months. All web designers hate to have to go and find files, edit them and repost them time after time. I eventually lose interest in the project and it turns out often to be mediocre. Occasionally I have refunded deposits and told the client to go elsewhere.

The second client mentioned above wanted a revamp and submitted a list of edits which was quoted on – and more edits kept coming and coming. The final amount of course was three times the original quote and when invoices are submitted in these cases with just an amount, the queries may start. ‘But I understood it was RXXXXX’ etc. So, now I also put in the hours that were worked and if there is a query I also put the hours that were originally quoted for and the EXTRA hours that were worked. If that doesn’t work I send a full, itemised bill with hours worked for every edit.

It normally doesn’t come to this for most clients.

There’s no easy answer, particularly if it’s a redesign for an existing client who you don’t want to lose. Usually, threatening to back-burner the site gets things going, particularly if the back-burnering  extends over Christmas. It gets the client to focus on what they really want. One of the clients above wanted the site to be set to music (‘Sitting on the Dock of the Bay’ I thought appropriate), have a sound effect on mouseover, have a promo ticker, have a news ticker, have an exchange rate ticker and have a conversion calculator all on the same page. And they complained about it being slow.

I saw it described well on another web designer’s T&Cs. It said ‘a dynamic relationship exists between ourselves and the client’.

Excellent. It means that both parties respond timeously at all times. Perhaps one needs to invoke contracts? I’ve never needed one but it’s a piece of paper to wave when things go wrong. Contract or not, it is sensible that the client must be aware that the development window opens with the first of his content submissions and will close at a prearranged date, website finished or not. Thereafter either additional charges apply to ensure the speed of development continues or the website is back burnered.

Trouble is, us small developers need the cash.