Every time you win a bid with a client, you are not just getting money from them. You are creating a relationship that is not unlike a relationship that you would develop with a friend or a loved one. There are unspoken and spoken rules of conduct and there are also obligations that must be met in order for the relationship, and ultimately the project to be a success.
I've been in the web design and development business for almost 10 years, long enough to see many of these such relationships come and go. Some are one-time things, and some are lasting partnerships. With all of the different types of projects and relationships, there is one thing that remains the same. And that is the position with which you start the relationship. In order for any project to be a success, the relationship has to be initiated from a position of strength. And more importantly, it must be beneficial for both parties. The money might only flow one way, but there is an equal and opposite energetic response to that check.
I've seen companies in the past that would do anything for a check. They would lie, mislead, and sell you up the river and back again. I've also seen companies underbid the first project and then attempt to get the money back in future projects. There is no room for prospecting in client-based work. I've seen companies set up with an amazingly large gulf in between the sales and development departments. Sales always over-promises which in turns causes the development team to under deliver. This cycle always exists to the detriment of the project and the client relationship.
Bidding is never fun. You do your best to come up with the most appropriate solution for the client and hope that you hit the mark, one that is going to achieve their goals and will also be beneficial for you as a design/development company. Every now and then, a project comes across your desk that appears to be the makings of a great relationship. However, there are a few things that you must be cautious of that can sour an otherwise great relationship.
In order to function with clients you need to have a solid understanding of who you are and who you are not. This applies to you as an individual and also to you as a company. In the courting phase, pre contract signing, you need to be able to put your best face forward. And you'll also need to stand your ground when you're boundaries are pushed. If you don't have a solid understanding of yourself, your business, and your product the client will pick up on this and the relationship may never have the chance to come to fruition.
Every relationship starts off with predefined expectations. Managing them is paramount to navigating a successful project. Does the client have unrealistic expectations? Are they asking for too much work for the budget? Do they have extremely tight deadlines? The old saying applies now just as it did then: "There are three things a project can be: cheap, fast, and good. But you can only have two."
You can have it cheap and fast, but it won't be good. And you can have it fast and good, but it sure isn't going to be cheap.
If a client is demanding that they get all three. Walk away. No project or relationship that is founded on those expectations is worth it and it will never result in a quality product. Furthermore, you will be setting a precedent that will never be able to be broken with that particular client. And when the next project for that client comes along, you will be stuck in the same unprofitable mode that you were in with the first project. Knowing when to let a project pass you by can is a tough lesson to learn. However, it will define you as an individual and it will define you as a competent and ethical business.
To sum it all up, working with clients is like dating. Be open, be honest, and be true to yourself. It could lead to something amazing.
Co-founder and Development Partner at Station Four