“That’s Easy”

I’ve begun my third year of running Nevis Technology full time.  A huge piece of advice in negotiating I’d like to share is not to use words that explain ease or simple solutions.  I don’t mean to take advantage of your clients who may or may not know your technical explanations – it’s more about setting expectations.  I’m pretty transparent with the way I think out loud.  For example, a client might ask for me to add something to the work we’ve already written a contract and outline about.  It always happens.  Sometimes I find myself blurting out, “That’s easy”, “That won’t take long”, etc.

When I started to think about what I said from the client’s point of view, I noticed those phrases set expectations of lower cost, and quicker turn around, which may not always be the case.  Not only do I always have multiple projects with multiple clients going on at all times, sometimes the requests clients ask for can be harder or take longer than I initially thought.  Some requests will disrupt your initial plans for the other elements of the project.  It could be the difference from writing text that is manually in the website template, because it won’t be edited often, if ever, and if it needs to, I can update it quickly at any time – or creating fields where the admin can update the text.  For example, say there’s a simple copyright in the footer of a site, I’d set that manually in the footer template, but if a client wants to add a small menu of links in the footer, that can be a “simple”, “easy” addition, but is it really?  Now you have to create fields in the admin to edit those fields, create a menu, test it.  If the website framework I’m working on is a custom solution, something as common as CRUD (Create, Read, Update, Delete) needs to be built out, and tested.  All of that building and testing takes time.  If you use words that generate the thought of cheap and fast to the client, they might be upset at the additional costs, or when they update the data and it’s not working as expected because you may not have allocated a budget increase because you yourself thought it would be a quick and easy task – and you cut corners because it started taking longer than you anticipated.  I’ve done that plenty of times.

Starting year 3 of Nevis Technology, I’m reviewing how I’m working what feels like 24/7, but my income for year 2 was down from year 1.  The major factor was a better work-life balance.  I haven’t had a typical weekend, as you’d realize as an employee of a company, in at least 5 years.  I’ve been freelancing on nights and weekends before Nevis Technology, and that constant working carried over in my first year of running the business.  Another huge factor, I’ve come to realize, are situations where I’ve quoted a project greatly in the client’s favor, or I set the expectations wrong.  I don’t like a tense situation and I don’t want to go to a client three-quarters through the project asking for more money – I don’t want to be the typical thought of a contractor…right at the most opportune position for myself, go to a client demanding more money or the project won’t be finished.  I take the hit and learn for the next time.  I mean, obviously, within reason.  If a client asks for more than we initially agreed upon, I quote that work, but I mean if I quote a project, and it just takes way more time than I thought, I take the hit for the lost revenue, the loss of time, etc.

I’ve  started a new process when working with clients, and when a client likes to have a project quote versus weekly checkpoints (billed hourly and having weekly checkins on the progress), I make it very clear in my contract that the quote will be affected with any change.  Each change will be quoted on its own at $X hourly rate.  And each change is its own line item in my final invoice.  As well as when a client mentions a new feature, a change of any sort, in an email or phone call, I preface it with some indication that I’ll have to think about and quote that, or if I can confidently say it’ll take an hour or 2, I’ll let them know (because they already know my hourly rate), and get a quick authorization.  I always get an authorization for the go ahead of the work – and I’m glad, because there have been a few times the client has said no once they heard the work that goes behind what is needed for the request.  If I would have done the work, it wouldn’t have been fun, or good customer service, to force them to pay for something that was more expensive than they wanted to spend.

In 2016, I need to further refine my invoicing for large projects.  They almost always take longer than originally thought or discussed – a lot of it from client changes or the time it takes for a client to respond to a question.  I currently do 50% to start and 50% to end, but that can take months to get my full payment.  I want to refine that, maybe, into 4 25% milestones.  It’s easier on the client, and ultimately the same amount of money will be exchanged, but it’ll help my income fluctuation as well.

I want to go on a little tangent and explain where saying “easy” could really affect you as a business owner, in a non-website related story.

My wife and I have created a tradition of spending New Year’s Eve at a hotel in town.  It’s fun because it feels like a little vacation, you don’t have to worry about parking, or getting home late at night, or worrying about getting hit by a drunk driver, or even about breakfast in the morning.  Going to a hotel is a lot of fun, and I love going to the Embassy Suites.  There’s a manager’s reception at night with free snacks, there’s a hot tub, pool, and free breakfast in the morning.

For New Year’s Eve 2016, we were in the atrium, getting our snacks, and if you’ve never been to an Embassy Suites, most of them have an open atrium, and you can see each floor with rooms surrounding the perimeter.  It’s a cool effect in the room, you have a window that essentially views towards the atrium and another in the back to view outside.  Anyway, I looked up, at at the top of the 11-story hotel, I noticed the air vents that condition the atrium were extremely dirty.  The idea of dusting or even heavily cleaning HVAC vents is pretty easy, but put them 100+ feet in the air, it’s quite a task and the cost to do the job increases significantly.  Whether you’ve done it before or you’re doing it for the first time as a cleaning company, there are many costs that could come up in the middle of the job.  Say there’s a major clog or malfunction in the system that you notice when you get up there, you’d have to adjust your invoice, with reason.  This idea may sound simple, and it is, but I think, for myself, working on websites for so long, since I was about 12, and not doing any freelancing – charging people – until I was in my mid 20s, it’s a concept I have to work on more.  I know for sure that working on an job is almost always different than you first envisioned, but I’m so used to doing the work for myself, for a website I was building as a hobby, and not thinking about how to bill my clients more now that I’m making a living in web technologies.

Building and running a business, like many things, changes constantly.  The work stays relatively the same, serving the client, and invoicing are essentially the same, but the details change as you refine your process and make it more efficient.  I’m really excited about year 3 of Nevis Technology, and I hope money comes easier each year as I learn ways to make my business more efficient and refine processes that don’t result in me having to take a hit on losing time and money.