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How to Avoid Getting Screwed by New Clients (fishers and wolves)
Saturday, November 04, 2006
Who has time? If you are an independent web designer today, not you. What about that new client who keeps calling and asking questions? You want the work, but you're taxed for time. You may be unsure about the new client's commitment level too. This is exactly where to start. Determine right away if the caller is a good client or one that falls into the category of fishers and wolves.

A fisher is typically well spoken and is experienced as being well meaning. So when they sling a hook, they usually catch you. Fishers want pieces of your expertise (that has taken you years to learn) for free, and he or she is in no position to commit to a project. Though, fishers always lead you to believe that they are.

Wolves, like in fairy tales, symbolize two behaviors: to devour and to self-serve. They are aggressive, use technology jargon (that they have little understanding of) and want to move forward at a lightening pace. In the end, if you're dealing with a wolf, you'll get eaten. They will steal your time, talent and financial livelihood. Wolves have elaborate stories about how they can't pay you right now, and in the same breath will add 5 new features outside the scope of work.

How do you spot a fisher or wolf?
You can spot a fisher or wolf by devising good business practices and sticking to them. Here is the method that I use, and remember, this is for new clients, not existing ones.

::1 Upon receiving the first email or phone call about a new project, I immediately send my pricelist. I offer hourly services, as well as fixed bid services.

::2 When I send out my pricelist, I tell the new client that I offer a free 30 minute phone consultation to better understand their website needs. I provide available times for this free consultation.

Most fishers and wolves stop right here. I never hear from them again. Good riddance! But alas, there is one more step needed to spot them.

::3 In my 30-minute phone consultation, I reserve the last 10 minutes to talk process and numbers. "Here is how I work," I say.
  • I start with a Discovery document. This includes defining each of your website needs and creating a Statement of Work. Writing these documents will take "x" hours of time. Payment of this phase is due before I begin.
  • Once the Statement of Work is finalized, 50% percent of the project cost is due. After payment is received, design and development for your project begins.
Good clients appreciate this type of directness and guidance. Fishers and wolves jump ship at this point, and for a single reason: They want to be the one to create the process (that then you must abide by). As a one-person web design shop, I can never afford this.
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