Don’t Eat The Candy

Cover Image for "Don’t Eat The Candy"

Freelance ProgrammingWeb Development
I had someone contact me recently who wanted a website redesigned and rebuilt. It was a portal site with lots of different features….products to sell, services to book, and so on.
I got on the phone with the owner of the site to learn more. When I asked what the goal of the site was, she said to me, “to be the go-to site for all things related to X.” (Where X was the topic of the site.)
Anytime someone wants to build a site that “does all things related to X,” that means a lot of work, and a huge fat paycheck for a freelancer. At times like this, it’s tempting to jump on the project, throw a large price tag on it, and (if the client goes for it) start building.
“When someone offers you candy, think twice about whether you should be eating it right now. It could leave a bad taste in your mouth (and also, the mouth of the client). ”
– Mike Cavaliere (That’s me.)
After asking some questions, I found out that this prospective client was an individual businessperson (not part of a big corporation). Which means, smaller budget so she’s not looking to burn tons of money. And any site whose goal it is to “do all things related to X” is a whole lot of design and development work. Furthermore, a company who tries to do too many things too fast will often fail at most of them – and if you’re a lone entrepreneur with a small budget, that means your whole venture will die very quickly, and not get back up.
Taking her money at this stage would have been catastrophic. I would have built her something that didn’t make her any money, meaning no future business for me. Or she would have balked at the price tag and went elsewhere. Maybe she would have hired someone far cheaper, who would do a shitty job – and also also waste her money trying to do everything at once.
Here’s what I did instead: I asked her about what she hoped to achieve with the site, and what her core business was. It turned out that she has a few possible ways of making money, but only one or two revenue streams that are stable and reliable. I told her that those are more likely where she should be investing her money for the site – and cutting off all else for now. If we focus on those aspects and see how the site could grow revenue (and/or reduce labor) in those areas, then she’ll be more likely to make money, sooner. Which means that she’d be confident knowing I built something valuable for her. Which means more possible work in the future. Win for the client, win for me.

What’s best for the client (and you) long term?

The moral is that when someone comes to you and says “I want you to build/design me something,” resist the urge to take the project at face value.
Dig deeper. Try to figure out what they’re trying to achieve with this site or app. It may be that they don’t even need one, and if you can help them understand that, you’ll earn their respect by saving them lots of money and stress.
If you can get to what they’re REALLY trying to achieve, and help them achieve that in an efficient way, you’ll build a better relationship with them by helping them truly be successful.