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Ten essentials for designers before they start a project

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If you’re a designer then you probably have had a bad client or two. By bad client I mean someone who doesn’t pay on time, or at all, or maybe they pushed the scope out a little each day until the original spec was completely indistinguishable from the mast revision. After a few trial and error experiences we developed a way to filter the good clients from the bad clients even before a project started. We called this filter “The Lens” and we still use it every time we start a new project or have to develop a proposal for a client:

1. Never start a project until you have received a signed contract and a deposit for at least 25% of the project estimate. In some cases, like projects under $10k or if the client is overseas, a deposit of 50% is acceptable.
2. Make sure you know who the contact person is at the client company responsible for payments. In larger companies admin and A/P (accounts payable) staff may be in a completely different department or even in a different country.
3. Ask your contacts at the company how many vendors they have worked with in the past and if they have had any bad experiences. If there is a trend of vendor issues then it’s most likely because the client has some internal issues that no vendor will ever be able to solve, no matter how good they are.
4. Find out if the company’s leaders are ‘first-timers’ or if they have started and built several companies before. Our experience leads us to believe that entrepreneurs with 2 – 3 successes under their belt make better clients.
5. If a client asks you to revise your proposal more than 3 times they are either never planning on working with you or deliberately wearing you down. Walk away.
6. Whenever possible work for a flat fee and not on an hourly basis. Provide a detailed spec at the start of the project, get sign off and get signed change orders every time the scope is changed by the client. If you stick to the spec your projects will be more profitable.
7. Establish if the client values outsourcing to a professional services company like yours. There are some cases where clients are forced to use outsiders but don’t value outsider’s efforts. They think they can do it all themselves and they won’t be proven otherwise no matter how hard you try.
8. Don’t start work on an existing site or application until you have had the chance to do a full audit. Never ever work on a project if you don’t know what’s ‘under the hood’ and don’t take the client’s word for it that everything is in working order.
9. If a prospect tells you that you are one of several companies that they are considering then either walk away or ask who the other companies are. If the prospect refuses to tell you, then tell them that you cannot provide them with a complete proposal without being able to compare apples to apples. If this doesn’t work make the bidding process as short and painless as you can. Long bidding process waste your time and resources.
10. Check your client’s references. Ask around your industry about your client and their leadership team. Google them and check out their online profiles. You’ll be very surprised with what you sometimes find out.

This is not a flawless system but it’s  pretty good at weeding out the bad clients from the good ones.

Author Richard Banfield

As CEO, Richard leads Fresh Tilled Soil’s strategic vision. He’s a mentor at TechStars and BluePrintHealth, an advisor and lecturer at the Boston Startup School, and serves on the executive committees of TEDxBoston, the AdClub’s Edge Conference, and Boston Regional Entrepreneurship Week.

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