There are No Absolutes in Business


I saw this post come up across my twitter feed.  “Samuel” wrote about 10 Absolute “Nos!” for freelancers.  These are things he thinks a freelance web developer should ever do for a client.  While, on some level I agree with him on many of those points, I tend to think that there are no absolutes in business.  For every reason not to do something, I can think of many reasons why you would want to do something.  Let’s go through each item in his list.  Samuel’s answer to all the bullet point questions is, of course, no.

1) Can you show me a mock-up to help us choose a designer/developer?

I can respect that no on wants to work free.  And this type of work is often looked on badly by graphic designers.  However, as a freelancer you do want to be able to provide a portfolio of work so that potential clients can get a feel for your skills.  In that portfolio you should include some info about the project goals, and how the end result achieved those goals.  I say this, because, unfortunately, any thing that properly achieved your clients goals is probably going to be complete crap from a high moral good design stand point.  The important thing with any freelancer I hire is that I believe they can help me achieve my business goals.  Not that they can create pretty pictures, or beautiful code.

In programming terms, I do not understand how anyone can define a scope of work without some type of spec, though.  And often up-front would meet with the clients pro-bono to help them put together that spec.  These meetings help build up my relationship with the client and my understanding of their true needs.  Sales is all about the relationship.

2) Can you give us a discount rate?

Samuel recommends opening the conversation w/ the client by stating an hourly rate.  I tend to believe that anyone working on an hourly rate is approaching their business model in a fool-hardy manner. There are only a certain number of hours in a day that you can bill.  The only way to grow a business like that is by adding more people.

If you’re not working on an hourly basis, then you are working with a fixed fee.  A professional should be able to estimate the amount of work based on the client’s requirements.  And a professional should have the appropriate documentation, and people skills to manage the client’s changing requirements.

I personally tend to believe that everything in the contract is negotiable.  I step into negotiations with the intent to make a deal.  I have a default set of terms and a standard proposal.  But, every client wants something different.  I used to ask clients to rate these things in terms of importance to the project:

  • Budget
  • Timeframe
  • Functionality
  • Ease of Use

Often a client will be willing to sacrifice a feature in return for an early deliver date or smaller bill.  I could use that info to tailor my proposal to the clients needs.  In retrospect, I wish I had saved data on how clients ordered that list.  I bet it would have made a fun research study.

3) Will you register and host my site?

Every business model is different; and someone somewhere has to provide web hosting services.  To say you should absolutely not offer hosting services to your clients is just wrong.  There are plenty of pluses and minuses to any service you offer to your clients.  And there are too many factors involved for me (or Samuel) to decide whether or not it is good, or bad, for you.

4) Can you copy this site?

I agree with Samuel on this one.  I would never take on a client [again] who told me to “just re-purposes this other site”.  For one, we parted ways w/o finishing the project.  For the other, I was able to succesfully educate them about creating their own content.

5) Can I pay for my e-commerce site from my website sales?

6) I have a great idea. Do you want to…?

I used to get a lot of questions like 5 and 6.  Some people, especially start-ups, want you to work for a future piece of the pie.  I have found that if you ask those people for a business plan you’ll never hear from them again.  I think that is a much more elegant way to say “no” to them w/o burning bridges.  And who knows maybe they’ll come back to you with the best business plan you’ve ever seen and decide you really want a piece of it now.

7) Do you have an IM account?

[insert sarcasm] Why would I give you my IM account?  Do you think I want to talk to you or be accessible?  Of course, I don’t!   [end sarcasm]

You should give clients as much ways to get in touch with you as possible. IM accounts are free.  So are Twitter, Skype, Facebook, and and at plenty of other social networking systems.  With IM just create a “BusinessName” type of account and give that to clients.  When you’re off the clock don’t sign into that account.  You can still have a personal IM account so your GF / Wife / Mom can tell you to bring home milk.

8) Can I just pay the whole amount when it’s done?

Everything is negotiable; including payment terms.  I rarely sign contracts that make me wait until “it’s done” –or even worse “It is live” — for payment.  Often projects are split into milestones, so I’ll often ask for half of Milestone 1 up front.  Upon completion of MileStone 1, I’ll ask for the rest of Milestone 1 and half of Milestone 2.  And I Force the client to approve things at each step of the way.

9) Is there any way you could get this done tonight or this weekend?

Of course there is a way.  But, you’ll have to sign off on the rush charges…

10) Can I be sure you won’t use this work in anything else?

This one is always tricky.  IP concerns are very serious.  I believe I am the one consultant in the world who was never able to negotiate ownership / re-use rights of the code.  Every client wants to own everything that is built for them.  Almost all projects I’ve built have been from the ground up.  Which is kind of sad because a lot of stuff, such as user account management, could be easily “Shareable” between multiple projects.  Before I Started getting out of the consulting biz I spent some time to building my own DotComIt Modules that I could use / re-license on projects like this.  I never got far enough to have any projects.

Overall, everything I do is about keeping communication lines open w/ potential clients /contacts and I find that blatently saying “no” is a good way to cut yourself off.

One Response to “There are No Absolutes in Business”

  • Julie Says:

    I got to #1 and was confused – what does designing on spec have to do with writing a spec? In design terms, I'd view the later as helping the client with their creative brief – not equivalent to actually producing a salable product.

    Also, to quibble with the near-absolute you proposed – I think it "absolutely" possible to produce an empirically good design that also achieves the client's goals. If it weren't, why hire a professional designer at all? A poor design can hamper your business goals just as much as a poor product or poor salesmanship.

    Wait… do you work for CrowdSpring? ;)