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I've gotta ask a business question...

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  • I've gotta ask a business question...

    Ok, as some of you know, I do e-commerce development for small businesses. In most cases I'm willing to bring my prices down so I can help out another 'little man'. This is the case in my current contract. I offerd 6K but was willing to do the work for 4K. We signed the contract via a middle man website, I wrote up specifications for the project that the client, myself and guru accepted. My client then emails me these "flow chart" which initially we precieved as items to help us, turns out, down the line in development that the client feels the flow charts are the 'real' specifications. We do the job to our specs and do some extras and then at the last minute, the client decides he wants to pay us and stop the contract. After more discussion, he is unhappy that we didn't complete big portions of his flow charts. I'll give you some examples to help you understand better:

    Our specs outline converting 8 HTML pages, he gives us 109 to convert.

    Our specs mention nothing of "affiliates" but he wants us to build the website to accept secondary merchants and their products, when initially the site was to be built to only sell his's wife's work.

    That's just the idea, there were tons of the items he added to the contract. In the end we didn't complete them and today he's been calling me more about the site. He then goes on to tell me he is upset that we didn't complete parts of his flow charts and he is going to find another developer. Then, he decides to try and apologize in his own way and tell me to finish the site.

    The thing is, I'm actually rather bothered, I'm kinda of upset. I've never had a customer dissatisfied and all my previous engagements have gone flawlessly.

    Should I let this really bother me? Even though he canceld the contract, should I work to help him fix things he feels are my "fault"?

    I need some advice, this is the worst client I have every had. But I don't want to screw anyone over, I try to be a good and fair businessman, but I have to draw a line somewhere. I only ask here because most of you have a lot more experience with 'real life' and contracts and clients and I want your input.


  • #2
    Well 109 pages instead of 8 should be a sticking point for sure. Are those things clearly in writing?
    Another thing you might want to consider is if you want a long term relationship with someone like this. What will they need in the form of maintenance and are you willing to deal with similar issues everytime? It might get better once they understand you're willing to hold your ground and demand fair compensation and treated with respect. I've had customers like that in the past and once everyone understood the rules they turned out to be 15yr+ customers. A couple of them I just flat out told them if we had any hopes for a continued relationship that it would have to be good for both of us and I would expect the same respect I offered to them.
    I look at my suppliers as more important than customers since suppliers are limited by nature and customers only limited by my ability to find and keep.

    “People are very open-minded about new things - as long as they're exactly like the old ones.”
    ...Charles F. Kettering


    • #3

      I appreciate the reply. Yes, the 8 pages were in very clear writing but he had a problem accepting we wouldn't do the 109. He seems like a good guy, but I think overall, he lacks business sense.

      I always entertain the thought of a longterm relationship with my clients, but I fear in this instance I do not want any more engagements. He to a point, harasses me and my employees. He calls me around the clock with half thought out questions that I can't even give an answer to. I've told him my business hours but he continues to contact me outside of them which just frustrates me to no end. Both him and his wife run their company and it's like Ying and Yang, black and white. So dealing with them is impossible.

      Heres a situation for you too:
      I coded and connected their merchant gateway, for check outs. I requested a test account from their gateway so they could do dry runs, my client tells me he wants me to just connect it live since it works. So I do so. A week later I get an email from his wife that says this exactly "I tried to check out, but it requires a credit card, can you fix this?". I didn't even know how to respond to that. Neither of them knows what the other is telling me.

      It's just become so frustrating lately that even the people around me can tell I'm stressed. People try to get me to go out and have fun but this contract just eats at me in my spare time. I've worked my ass off to meet deadlines and do things I feel he would appreciate because I try to do little extras here and there for my clients because I respect small businesses. He tries to abus e this.

      I think I've really made my discussion to look over some of the things he feels I'm in fault for, if I truely am I will correct them, but if his "list" is ridiculous, I'm calling it quits and letting him know I appreciate the learning experience and I know which clients to avoid like the plague.


      • #4
        Greetings All !

        Welcome to the real world of Human communications and commerce ...

        They didn't teach you about these kinds of people in college, did they? ...

        Do NOT let this bother you. You're good people, and even if this other guy is good people too, these things happen ... and so it goes.

        If I may presume to comment ...

        I wrote up specifications for the project that the client, myself and guru accepted. My client then emails me these "flow chart" which initially we precieved as items to help us, turns out, down the line in development that the client feels the flow charts are the 'real' specifications.
        This is where the "breakdown" occurred. It is at this point that the "expectation set" between you and your client began to diverge. If such a divergence proceeds undetected and unresolved by either party, things always ... at least in my experience ... end unhappily. Oftentimes with no one at fault ... go figure.

        I encounter this kind of potential problem regarding aquaria design/installation all the time. What a customer wants and believes he's getting/paying for, and what I believe the customer wants and what I believe I'm producing for him at an agreed upon price has the nasty potential/tendency to evolve into two different things as the project progresses ... unless I make the extra effort at communication. I shouldn't have to ... after all, there was prior mutual agreement ... but I've found that it saves much irritation in the long run.

        The thing is, I'm actually rather bothered, I'm kinda of upset. I've never had a customer dissatisfied and all my previous engagements have gone flawlessly.
        Am I correct in presuming that we both share the curse of an attitude which might be described as "perfectionism"?

        If so, we're both screwed ... ...

        It's been my experience ... arrived at after alot of frustration and personal lameness ... that we exist within a highly ordered, yet strangely flawed temporal space populated by fellow imperfect creatures, and that no long-term outcome set can ever be accurately described as "flawless." These things happen ... don't sweat the small stuff.

        Easier said than done ... ...

        ... welcome to the wacky world of capitalism ...

        Should I let this really bother me?
        Nope ... not as long as you've fulfilled your part of the contract. Learning what there is to be learned from this experience and moving on may be the best you can do, under the circumstances. And so it goes ...

        Even though he canceld the contract, should I work to help him fix things he feels are my "fault"?


        I need some advice, this is the worst client I have every had. But I don't want to screw anyone over, I try to be a good and fair businessman, but I have to draw a line somewhere.
        Once dissatisfied, some clients will never feel satisfied, no matter what you do. IME, good karma is good karma ... and reputation, particularly the one you have with yourself, is priceless beyond measure. Ridiculous as some of my commentary may have been ... sorry about that, but you asked ... hehe ... it seems to me that at this point you might consider asking yourself something to the effect of, "What do I need to do to position myself to feel as good about this situation as I can?" If that means stepping into the ring for one more round with guy ... why not? If this means cutting your loses and walking away ... why not?

        A final thought ... it may yet be possible to resolve the situation to the "reasonable" satisfaction of both parties, and, there may yet be profitable knowledge to be learned/acquired from this experience. Okay ... that's two thoughts, but they're true, yes?

        You're good people Sean ... it's been my experience that good people who are trying to do the right thing usually succeed. Don't sweat the small stuff ... in the end we're all detritovore munchies anyway, right?

        JMO ... HTH ... sorry for the rant
        "When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro."
        Hunter S. Thompson


        • #5
          I like that post Thanks.

          I am a perfectionist, I work hard to make sure everything works perfectly and it did on his site. He just feels he deserves much more for his money that was no agreed among.

          I need to sit down, relax and clear my mind before I can really answer any of those questions. I would love to help this guy and make sure he was satisfied, but as you mentioned, I know know if he ever will unless I do an exceptional amount of work for free. To put a price on it, he is requesting, at my rates, nearly 6K in free work.

          I don't advertise because I'm a college student and I'm a small business, I use word of mouth and the thought that his guy could go out there and tarnish a pretty damn good rep, bothers me, but you know I guess all the other people will stand beside me and my products.

          I just strive for top notch communication and customer service and this is a blow to that. I feel I did more then my share to work with this client and meet with him and discuss things, bu I think in the end, no matter how hard I try, he is set in his ways and there's nothing I can do.


          • #6
            Sean, like others have already pointed out, the root of the problem is a breakdown in communication. Not through either party's fault though. The one thing you have to keep in mind when doing this sort of buisness is the experience level of the person(s) you are dealing with. While those of us in the industry would regard 'flow charts' merely as design aids and not acutal requirements, you need to remember your clients level of experience with this sort of process - and based on everything else you have told us about this guy, I can fully understand why he thinks these flow charts are requirements and why he gave them to you after you guys had a contract.

            I too am a perfectionist and my word is my honor. If I say I am going to do something, I will do it or die trying. This is how I would handle this situation:

            First, I would make sure I had all the requirements of the mutually agreed upon contract met (CYA).

            Second, I would establish one point of contact. You are to only deal with that one person - but make sure EVERYTHING is in writting - no phone calls, nothing. This will also take care of your around the clock harassment. Also make it clear that their point of contact is to only deal with your own point of contact. Instruct your people that if they receive communications and they aren't the POC, to tell the person, 'I'd love to be able to help you, but I need you to email (Whoever) and he/she will deligate the issue to the proper person'. And when you bring this to the table with your client, you need to put a positive spin on it - '... and by doing this, we are making sure that both parties are aware of what is going on, that no requirements, questions, concerns bla bla bla, fall through the cracks'.

            If you decide that this business is worth all the extra effort - you need to come to a common ground on these 'new' requirements. You need to have him identify the most important ones and you need to do some analysis on what it would take to make them happen. At this point you also need to see if you need to charge more. We both know your rates are rock bottom and this guy will have a really hard time find someone else to do it for a cheaper price. Again explain to him why you have to charge more - 'I quoted a price based on abc, but after we had a contract, I was presented with xyz which fell out of the scope of our agreement. I have no problem doing xyz, but it will cost $XXX extra.' And you may want to throw something in there about how if this were a new contract, you would charge X, but you are giving him a discount to try and meet him half way.

            This guy may not be worth all the extra effort. He may never be happy with anything you do and he will just run you into the ground taking advantage of you. He may know exactly what he is doing and is trying to rip you off??? You need to decide if you want to put up with all of this.

            We both know you are a reputable person and do high quality work. You need to remember this is buisness, not personal. You have done several other successful projects where in the end, your clients are happy with the work you did for them. This one experience won't tarnish your reputation - you already have several positive references.

            OK, so this is rambling - I am just waking up and having my first cup of coffee, so if it is a bit off, please understand. Sean, if this were my client, I would make sure I met the requirements of the original contract, get paid, and cut this guy lose. He's been this much of a pain so far, I don't think it will get any better. But, this is your decision, not mine.

            Let us know what you end up doing.


            • #7
              I'm going to go ahead and end this working relationship.

              There have been further developments today and I can clearly see there is no point trying to work with this individual.

              I appreciate the comments as they've helped me realize this is business and it shouldn't eat at me when I'm out of the office.


              • #8
                Alright - glad to hear you made a decision. But after that rambling post this morning, BEFORE my coffee, you at least owe us an explanation of what happened today...


                • #9
                  My client contacted Dispute center and requested a block on the funds transfer. Guru contacted me but denied him the request because they had already determined I met and exceeded my specifications.

                  Yesterday he asked me to help him finish the site, "If you can help finish the site", then after his Guru defeat, he again tried with Guru to dispute the last $500 funds for the final site, which I don't mind giving him. So obviously he doesn't want me to help finish the site. Guru contact me on that instance too and told me I could win the sum if I wanted to fight it since they stand behind their developers. I think I'm going to choose to just let him have the $500 and get lost.

                  I intend to write him a rather large letter today and give him some idea of what really takes place in development. He is a graphic designer who THINKS he knows how development works. Explain how specifications work in this industry and let him have a piece of my mind, professionally.

                  The whole situation has left a foul taste in my mouth and the perfectionist in my is having a field day making me feel ****ty but oh well. I'm not beginning to doubt my knowledge, but I know it's just a temporary thing, I don't accept "defeat" very well. I'll just have to turn around do another site for another happy customer and realize I let this guy do more damage then he should have.


                  • #10


                    • #11
                      yeah that's a lot of bull sh!t - glad to here Guru sided with you. After all of that, I defintiely wouldn't help him finish anything. That and I wouldn't even waste the time to write him a letter. This guy is not worth it. And it seems like he is the type who thinks he knows it all - your letter would be falling on deaf ears.

                      Don't let this one guy ruin everything for you Sean. You do good work and people know it. I think this guy was trying to get something for nothing.