Complaining about lousy clients became part of our IT culture. I guess every industry has their own stories, jokes and peeves about their clients. You can be sure that somebody in car sales is laughing right now about that ridiculous thing you asked when you were buying your car two days ago. Everybody is a laughing stock in every other industry they don't know much about, and that's perfectly ok. Life would not be worth living if people were serious all the time and never laughed at other people's expense.
But guess what? We can all laugh as much as we want, but automobile industry is not losing money because their clients are "lousy". Us - programmers, designers and developers of the world - we are losing money as we go, and can't stop blaming everyone else for it.
What makes a client "lousy"? A lousy client is a difficult client, i.e. every client that is not perfect by our own standards. Don't you pretend you don't agree with me: There are only perfect clients and everybody else. Everybody else I call "lousy". If I wanted to make less people angry, I would have used a milder word, but this is the first word that came into my mind when I was thinking about this post. So I decided to stay true to my feelings and thoughts and write it like it is. After all, this is what we all think, but few of us dare to say in public, isn't it?
Are clients causing you these troubles?
- Your web design is perfect, but the client complains about too much "wasted" white space.
- "How come our website is still not listed first on Google?" (Their website on a brand new domain was launched yesterday).
- "You are gonna charge us how much for custom programming? It can't take your more than 15 minutes of work!"
- "I expected this visual content editor would work exactly like Microsoft Word because it looks exactly like it. Tables are hard to work with, your CMS is lousy!"
- "Whaddaya mean, sorting feature is not included in the price? Excel has it!"
- "Why did you send me the invoice for maintenance? I only asked for one small thing to be changed!"
- They expect you to "guarantee" their website will work in 5 years from now, on all the browsers and all the servers of the future, but refuse to pay for maintenance and upgrades. If it doesn't work, it can only be a bug, and bugs are something of your fault.
- They don't read sales quotes, but later complain how they thought application B was included in the price of application A - although you clearly wrote in ALL CAPS that it was not.
- They want to pay one application license for one website and use it on their second, third and fourth website - for free.
- "You are too expensive. My neighbor's kid said he could do it over an extended weekend."
- "I know we ordered the content management system, but we didn't use it at all during the last year. We want a refund."
- You have trouble collecting your fees for work done.
- They never have time or show little interest in working with you on the project, expecting you to handle everything. But when you do it your way, the best way it can be - and charge them for it, all hell breaks loose.
- Your development studio writes beautiful code and designs stunning websites, but you're having a hard time selling your services at a profitable, fair price for your great work.
In general, clients don't accept the concept of choosing only two between "fast", "good" and "cheap".
They blame you for all the problems they think they have with their website, even though the problem actually lies with their ISP, their hardware, their installation of the OS or the way the universe works.
They don't want to understand the difference between quality (you) and crap (the neighbor's kid). It's all "IT guys" to them.
You are either too expensive, too slow, too fast for the money you charge, uncreative, inflexible, incompetent, uninterested or withholding information. You know you've been working your ass off on their projects and did a damn fine job. This injustice is killing your spirit and everywhere you go, you expect more lousy clients to come your way.
And you complain, complain, and complain about how lousy your clients are.
News flash: in the grand scheme of things, it's not your clients' fault
Let me go back to the automobile industry. Today, you are an easy sell to any car salesman in the world:
- They don't have to teach you about security.
- They don't have to preach to you how it would be smart to buy extra airbags.
- You know exactly what to expect from the cheapest car on the market, and that's why you don't drive one.
- If the stereo is not listed on the accessories list, you don't expect it to be there. You know you have to pay extra for it.
- You understand the principle of trade-offs: if you drive a tank, nobody will be able to touch you, but you'll never win any speed contests.
The automobile industry had more than 120 years to educate you about all that stuff.
But it wasn't always easy for them either. They had to fight for everything good in their products too. I remember a great moment in the movie about Preston Tucker, an American automobile designer from the forties. Originally, he put seat belts in his cars, but had to remove them, because "If cars came with seat belts, buyers would think cars weren't safe to drive".
Of course it's hard for us! We are working in an industry that did not exist 20 years ago. This is exactly what we are dealing with today: We are forced to explain what a seat belt is, over and over again. We have to convince our clients they should buy seat belts because it's a smart and safe thing to do - but it costs extra. And when they go to the competition, buy a car without a seat belt and have an accident, we must stay polite because nobody likes to hear "I told you so".
We can't wait 120 years for our clients to become smart, because we'll all be dead by then.
What we do right here - right now - will make all the difference in our businesses.
Start educating your clients about every little thing you do - and start doing it now
It sounds like a handful, but it's a worthwhile goal that will bring you big payoffs in the future.
If you are looking for an easy way out, stop it right now. There isn't any. You have only two options: continue complaining about lousy clients and eventually run out of energy, or start working with smart clients.
Every client you will ever have was not born smart. Smart clients are grown and it does not happen overnight.
Don't expect anyone else to do the educating for you. IT magazines are somewhat good at education, but guess what: your clients don't buy IT literature, you do.
You wouldn't let others run your business, would you? Why would you let others educate your own clients then? If you can control what people think and know, you can control the whole market.
Educate in a smart way that pays off for you and for your clients
You can talk your clients' ears off every time you work on a project, and repeat talking to every new client. This sucks because it does not scale at all.
You can send clients links to other people's educational websites, but you'll lose the opportunity to position yourself as an author - an expert, and reap great benefits from your writing in the future.
Or you can start educating your clients by creating your own content for them. Written word is my favorite form of education: Google loves it, clients can print it out and take it home with them, you can link to it directly, and it scales well.
Write articles, news, faqs, books, reports, white papers, manuals, haiku... Whatever helps your clients gain more insight into the wonderful world of web development.
Go beyond writing: make podcasts and movies where it would enhance your message. Create original content people can refer and link to.
My way of educating clients about web development
Whenever something or somebody pisses me off, I write an article. I get pissed off a lot lately, which makes me a very productive writer. It's a form of therapy for me. Instead of yelling at people, I focus all my negative energy on something positive: a piece of educational text. Instead of explaining myself to just one client, I can make a story out of it and influence more and more people over time.
Everybody wins: Clients get free education and become smart over time. The company sells more stuff more easily, without having to put on dog and pony shows. I stay away from the therapist.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go, there's an article to be written. A client demands that ISPs of the world refresh their DNS cache records only after 5 o'clock in the afternoon, not before.