10 Red Flags that I have encountered when taking on new clients

After more than 10 years of servicing web clients, across the globe, I have managed to quintessence, what in my experience, are red flags that I have come across while meeting with clients for web development and design.

Red flags connote danger. The business won’t happen, and if it does then there will surely be grief. Red flags have to be dealt with early in the project. Effectively.

What follows, is my perspective. We can always debate the answers with both clients and other practitioners. So here goes.

1. The client who doesn't do enough homework

Getting a website up requires a lot of hard work. If clients aren’t willing to answer questions and write a brief out, then you can be sure that you will come to grief. In fact, it’s the acid test for an agency. The client, who does not have time to write or give a proper brief, is in my view, not worth one’s effort. Many clients believe that you can pay someone and hey presto, the website will be up. In all probability, many agencies probably pander to that habit.The fact is otherwise. Clients will get from the website what they put into it – nothing more, nothing less.

2. The client who wants to copy a competitor

Using a competitor’s website for studying features, functionality, design and web copy is one thing. It’s another thing to copy functionality and features and good things on another site. But refrain from copying the design. That gives the game away and does nothing for the clients own image. Or does it?

3.Clients who mistake eye candy for communications

There’s a lot of it floating on the web. So it’s not fair to blame clients for this. Whooshes, swooshes, meaningless art, mootools effects, JavaScript tricks and Flash tricks purporting to pass off as communications. Some do accentuate the communications. Most, however, don’t. The very simple question, you should ask when you come across such instances is:
>> What is being communicated by this thingy?Being visually nice is one thing. But, effective communication is not a warm fuzzy feeling.It requires discipline and restraint. It requires moderation and subjugation of one’s self-interest to that of the product or service being communicated. To goals being served. The practice of design requires every single line, every single image or animation to be justified and have a raison d’etre. If it can’t pass that sieve, it shouldn’t be there.

4. Clients who don’t trust the expert

If you’re dealing with professionals, trust them to give you the right advice for your website. Many years ago, a client of mine wanted a flash website as opposed to one on a CMS. I said we could do it for him but when it came to updating, he would have a problem because he would either have to come to us, or get a Flash designer/ programmer to help. This would be expensive. He said he was OK with that. We built the website and in 6 months there was a request for updating. We sent him the costs for that and till date he hasn’t updated the site.The moral of the story: Understand clearly what can be done and what can’t be done with the web technology recommended to you. That way, you will rule out surprises and needless expense in the long run.Not that all companies are experts. That is always a problem in any nascent industry like the web.

5. The client who insists that Microsoft is what is needed for effective communications

This is the bane of Open Source specialists. And on many an occasion, we get pulled into meetings where this subject crops up. Many clients confuse software for communications. First, let us understand that there are many technologies, which you can use to make a website with. The important thing to remember here is that the technology is only a means to an end. The end is communications. Effective communications that get results for you.I know of many clients, large companies at that, who tell me that their Technology guys can’t use, won’t allow, anything but Microsoft. I say fair enough and take my leave.The issue is Microsoft has nothing to do with communications, let alone effective communications. Microsoft does not add any value to the communications. That is the job of the design agency you choose.Two, there are a whole bunch of technologies out there which can get the job done for a whole bunch cheaper than Microsoft.In most cases, I have noticed that the IT Department’s knowledge of Microsoft technologies is just a personal comfort factor for the IT Head. Not something that was to be put to test ever in the case of an emergency with your web site’s technology. No IT department will want that. The agency was responsible for that anyway. In such a scenario what difference would some other technology make?

6. Clients who insist that the IT department needs to be consulted

Communications are the bailiwick of marketing folks, not IT professionals. Sure, websites involve some technology. But the fact is that most IT Departments aren’t even aware of, experienced in, the web technologies. I have seen ERP guys, Data Center folks, Database Administrators, and actual coders being dragged into marketing communications meetings because it comforted the marketing folks to have some techie around. The marketing folks are clueless about technology. They drag the IT guys in for a communications meeting. Sensing an opportunity to exercise power, the IT guy will only accept what he believes, or the technology he works in, as true.Meeting dies.The marketing folks are then compromised into searching for a vendor that will be acceptable to the IT diktats. Result. Brand suffers.

7. Believe that the cousin, or the guy down the road, can build your website for you

Again the mistake being made here is to confuse technology with communications. The cousin might be proficient in the tools, but tools per se, do not make communications. I have met a lot of cousins, who take all the text from a client put it into HTML pages, prettify it with a few graphics and give it back to the client. Unfortunately, that does not constitute effective communications. The cousin’s price may be attractive but this in the long term only hurts your company and never, ever the cousin. For effective communications, you need professionals who are experienced in communications.That is as true of the web, as it is for any other medium.

8. Start discussing creative before the content or objectives are in place

The important thing here is to understand that content dictates your creative. Not vice versa. So before you start thinking creative, get your content in order. Two, get your website goals in order.On one occasion, I remember meeting with a very enthusiastic client who had called us in for a brief. After the brief was discussed, we asked him to get back to us on answers to a whole bunch of questions. But before he did that, he was anxious to know how we could visualize the project. He then related a scene from the movie Matrix, where the villains were rats, eating at information in a storage room. Comprendez?We had to tell him not to put the cart before the horse.We told him that once all his content was in, then we’d sit and work out the best ways to communicate his objectives.

9. Think of a website as something to please the Managing Director, rather than a company’s customers

This is usually a failing with large companies, where the Corporate Communications Department, effectively shields the agency from their top brass. Again, what we need to understand here is that a website exists for customers. So that they can learn about your product or service, buy, be moved forward to a sale, enquire, download a white paper, etc. Unfortunately, while all this sounds like a truism, I have seen big companies wanting to talk about themselves on the Home Page rather than address customer problems.“We are an ISO 9001, SEI CMM Certified company with 4000 people, offices in 13 locations across the globe, with expertise in blah, blah, and blah.” In other words, what they are saying is “the sun shines out of their arse”, pardon my French. The customer’s retort to this corporate trumpet-blaring is a shrill “Big Deal. Now tell me how you can help me”.

10. What if all your employees leave?

This one hit me like a thunderbolt from the blue. Again a large client was keen on using our services. The client’s previous agency was a monolith, and probably because the account was too small for them, the agency would not deliver the best of service. Their design was outdated, and their service was worse. So the need for a new agency. As part of their due diligence, the client came to our office. I showed them around and introduced them to our modest team of 10. Then, out of the blue, the client asked me this question.My answer to that was that we have been in the business for over 10 years. Many of our team members have come and gone, but we have stayed the course.The issue here is not what I said, but what the client felt in his mind when dealing with a small agency. Two, how justified are such fears? We did not get the contract.

Do you have red flag worth mentioning here for our benefit? Go ahead, comment.

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