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A Breakdown In Communication

Hey kids! I just read a story about a small business that commissioned a redesign / rebrand of their website. I think some of the lessons in this story are really important to digest and understand.

I worked for several consulting firms like the one Tinypilot hired and I can say confidently that the business model in those places worked for both large and small clients. I worked with several clients that had multi-million dollar budgets, as well as clients that had a few thousand in their budget. We had a solid communication setup and a detailed SOW (Statement of Work) that broke down estimates, hours, updates, billing, communication, scope creep, tasking through Jira (or a comparable ticketing system) that the client subscribed to they knew exactly what was happening and if there were roadblocks.

I have also been a freelancer and have followed the same structure of communication I learned from these consulting firms. When I create an estimate for work to be done, that work is priority unless the client tells me to pivot.

If there is scope creep, a new estimate is created, reviewed and signed off on.

What this agency did was quite common and I also think it’s a shady business practice. If you choose to try to upsell - be upfront with the client about their cost rising. Transparency in billing is the minimum requirement to a good relationship. No one wants a surprise bill for their business or personal life. Could you imagine getting an electric bill 10x larger because the company had to hire more contractors to deliver your electricity but didn’t bother to tell you the extra cost could have been declined? That kind of business practice may fly for large companies who can eat the extra cost, but individuals and small businesses cannot.

Never make the client feel like they are not a priority no matter how small the project is. Ever.


Potential clients

When vetting an agency or consulting firm, please make sure you follow this checklist to cover as many bases as possible so you don’t go into business with a company that doesn’t meet your needs.

  • Ask to have a referral to speak with a former or current client of the agency that has a similar project and budget to yours

  • Ask for several examples of work they have done that is similar to what you need done

  • Ask how they communicate and at what frequency

  • Ask how they handle scope creep and overages in billable hours

  • Ask if you will have a dedicated project manager to oversee your project

  • Ask for proof of their ability to handle your project requirements

  • Make sure the SOW covers as many scenarios as possible, including what happens to this project if either company is dissatisfied OR if either company dissolves or disbands - you would be surprised how many companies close their doors and do not fulfill existing contracts and the client is then stuck to start over with someone else and sue the folded company.

Potential agencies

Communicate more than you think is necessary. Your clients deserve to know what’s going on - or what’s not going on. If their work had to be postponed even by 1 day, tell them. If the cost rises due to something they didn’t authorize or due to an issue the staff has … the agency doing the work should eat the cost. Period. The client is paying you to deal with the pain points, not to charge them for pain points they have no control over.

If you would like to read the full account of the story I’m referencing, check out the post below, they do a great job explaining all the highs and lows and the lessons learned.

Cheers, my friends!

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