How to get a good business website: 17 Clues to becoming a Valuable Client!

May 13, 2011 Comments Off by

These days getting a new website built is not difficult. The world abounds with website developers – but (and this may come as a surprise to some people) not all web developers are the same. Yes, some are better than others.

So too with clients. Some clients are better than others.

You need to be a “Valuable Client”

If you are looking to get a new website built, then you may engage an external web development company to build the site. One of the keys to your success in having a good business website is having a good business relationship with the web development firm building that site for you.

As the customer, you will choose the supplier – but make no mistake… any good web development company will be very careful who they take on as a client. One of the keys to success for a good web dev firm is knowing when to turn away prospective clients that are not a good fit for the capabilities, culture and strengths of the supplier.

It’s not just technical capabilities, although of course these are important. The capabilities of the firm in how they advise you and work with you along the way are likely to have just as much bearing on the end result.

I reckon 50% to 70% of the work involved in building a website is in the initial planning of the site. It does not matter if your website is larger or small, planning the site in advance of building it is critical – unless you want to pay through the nose for re-working graphics, re-writing content and re-programming the bits that you realize need to work differently after you have thought about it.

Thinking through what you want to achieve, what you need on the site and exactly how the site will work to help you achieve your objectives is a challenge.

If the planning and development process is open, easy, smooth and enjoyable for all parties, the end result is more likely to be great. And if the lines of communication between you and your chosen web dev supplier are not good, then the process may be full of drama, stress and frustration. The end result is more likely to be poor and the website more likely to fail.

“How to Recognize The Good and Bad Warning Signs When Taking On A New Client”

When projects start to go off-track, it is obviously important to get things back on-track quickly before too much damage is done. The damage can be very real, especially damage to previously trusted relationships.  The drama, stress and frustration is felt by both client and the supplier.

In my past life running the online business consulting and web development firm IBC, we had a wide range of clients. Most of them were great and most times we did great work for great clients. But when relationships got off-track, the end results suffered. And everyone involved suffered as well.

A few years back we took on a big client for a big project. For a variety of reasons, the project went off track. In fact, it was never ‘on-track’, not even at the start. It’s a long story and there were cock-ups on both sides. We did not do our best work. And frankly, our business was probably the wrong choice for the client to have made.

Equally, taking on this client was probably the wrong choice for our business to have made. But I learned plenty from it. In fact, after we were finished with most of the dramas of the project, I sat down and put together a list of what I had learned. Part of the learnings became a list that I called “How to Recognize The Good and Bad Warning Signs When Taking On A New Client”.  I’ve updated the list and included it below.

If you are looking for a website supplier, then it is smart to make sure you will be a “Valuable Client” for whatever supplier you choose to work with.

If you are smart, you will realize you do not want to be “the most valuable client” the supplier has, but you sure do not want to be their least valuable client.  You want to be valuable to them – and valued by them.  You want to be treated professionally, respectfully and you want to make sure that the supplier is not learning on the job with you, doing your work and making mistakes for which you will pay.

One Client and The Bad Warning Signs

It may surprise you to know that almost all of these Bad Signs were obvious in the one client I mentioned above.  It was a large organization, but it took us a while to realize that they were big, slow,  overly-bureaucratic and internally quite dysfunctional in many ways.  The organization was risk-averse, and this manifested itself in an apparent unwillingness for anyone to make decisions or commit much to writing – including the scope of work and even our engagement contract.

The CEO gave lip-service support but really did not seem to know much or care much about the web – which made the job even harder.

To start with, we thought winning that contract was a good thing, but it did not feel good right from the start. I ignored my own gut-feelings about it, and I did not have enough experience of big, bad projects at the time to manage it very well.   In hindsight, it was a disaster waiting to happen, but it took our business a while to realize it.

In theory, this single project would have doubled our annual revenues for at least a couple of years and would have put us on a faster track for growth. In reality, this client became a real problem for us. This new client:

  • consumed almost all of our existing employee resources;
  • caused us to hire new staff;
  • did not pay their bills until very late (60-90 days late); and
  • diverted our attention and resources away from many of our really good long-term clients.

To make matters worse, they were not happy with our work. And neither were we.

Sure we made some money along the way, but it all ended in a very ugly mess! Life went on – and our business was a lot better after the client left but it took a while to recover from the emotional drama of the ugly mess.

Was it worth taking on this client?  It was profitable for us, but the money was definitely not worth the drama of it all. Had we managed things better, then perhaps it could have turned out okay. In my heart of hearts, I doubt it. I think it was just the wrong fit.

The Clues and the Warning Signs

I’ve used the term CPM in the list below.  CPM is the Client’s Project Manager.  That is, the  key staff member  of the client’s organization who is assigned to liaise with the web development firm for the project.

The Good and Bad Signs are written from the perspective of the  web development firm.

If you want a great website and you want to be a really valuable client, then put yourself in the place of the web developer. Think about how they will assess the value you and your web development project could bring to their firm.

1.  The Client Must Treat The Project As Important

Good Sign:

  • The web development project is important to the client.
  • The CPM works at a senior level in the client’s organization.

Bad Sign:

  • The Project is insignificant and troublesome for the client.
  • The CPM is a ‘junior’.

2. Ideally the Client Should Be A “Growth Client”

Good Sign:

  • The client is growing as an organization.
  • The client is discovering new needs and uses for the web.
  • There is a high probability of ongoing roll-out of planned web development work.

Bad Sign:

  • Web project plans are already shrinking even before start of project.

3.  The Client and the Web Dev Firm Should Have Compatible Cultures

Good Sign:

  • The client is flexible in thinking.
  • The client is not overly bureaucratic.
  • The client and the web dev firm share similar cultural and organizational philosophies.

Bad Sign:

  • The client is inflexible, slow and bureaucratic.
  • The client has meetings for the sake of meetings.
  • The client and the web dev firm have vastly cultures and philosophies.

4.  The Client Must Have or Develop Web Experience & Knowledge

Good Sign:

  • The client and the CPM understand the web enough to have a good basis of knowledge but recognise that they don’t know everything.
  • The CPM is open to learn, attends our education workshops and asks intelligent questions.

Bad Sign:

  • The CPM thinks he knows it all, tells us our jobs, doesn’t listen to our ideas and does not admit when/if he is wrong.
  • The CPM appears to be new to web work, but he does not listen to or want to understand our advice.

5.  The Client Must Demonstrate Smart Decision Making Capabilities

Good Sign:

  • The CPM can make both Yes and No decisions. (ie can make decisions to do something and to not do something.)
  • The CPM makes timely decisions to work with our agreed timeframes.

Bad Sign:

  • The CPM can only make No decisions (ie decisions NOT to do something.)
  • The CPM procrastinates over petty decisions.

6.  The Client Must Be Attractive For Long Term Relationships

Good Sign:

  • The client’s senior management and CPM are types of people we would like to work with more over the next few years.

Bad Sign:

  • We start to think it would be good to let the client go when this project is finished.

7.  The Client Must Show Continuity of Client Project Management

Good Sign:

  • The CPM is going to be with the client for long term.

Bad Sign:

  • The CPM is on a short-term contract just for this project.
  • The client is not preparing to have a long term CPM.

8.   The Client Must Show They Believe In Win:Win

Good Sign:

  • The client understands that mutual gain is critical in a business transaction and ongoing relationship.
  • The client is thinking about long-term benefits of project.

Bad Sign:

  • The client or CPM seeks to win from the ‘deal’, continually tries to screw us  and does not care if we lose.

9.  The Client Must Avoid or Fix Internal Client Clashes

Good Sign:

  • All the client departments are agreed on the need for this project and how to implement systems.
  • Departments are well balanced in decision-making importance in the client’s organization structure.
  • The client CEO ensures harmony between departments.

Bad Sign:

  • A single department of the client (eg IT or marketing) wants to maintain total control over the web project despite the wishes of other departments.
  • The CEO is not involved and appears to do nothing actively to increase harmony in the organization.

10. The Client Must Show Their Business Security

Good Sign:

  • The client has been in business for more than 12 months and preferably over 3 years.

Bad Sign:

  • The client is a new business with not enough money to get what it wants and needs.

11.  The Client Must Encourage the Rise of Internal Web Champions

Good Sign:

  • Within the client’s organization, there are several or many “Champions” for the new project.
  • The Champions sincerely want the project to succeed.

Bad Sign:

  • There are no real champions for the project within the client’s organization.
  • The client CEO thinks the web is a waste of time and/or money.

12.  The Client Must Understand How Pricing Works

Good Sign:

  • The client accepts our price as being fair and reasonable because the client trusts us.
  • The client understands you get what you pay for.
  • The client does not want the cheapest price.
  • The client haggles a bit but knows when to stop.

Bad Sign:

  • The client screws us for a low, low price and then wants us to include more for no extra money.

13.   Both Parties Must Agree The Engagement Process

Good Sign:

  • The client and our firm agree on what is required in the project.
  • The client takes the time to document their requirements.
  • The client reads, understands and intelligently clarifies our documentation of their requirements.
  • Both the web firm and the client provide written sign-off.

Bad Sign:

  • The client wants everything to be ‘verbal’.
  • The client does not sign our documentation when asked to do so.

14.  Both Parties Must Share Their Processes

Good Sign:

  • The client understands they need to be a bit flexible in working with us.
  • The client shares their own processes very clearly with us.
  • The client is keen to learn our processes so they can work with us more effectively.

Bad Sign:

  • The client expects us to fit in with their own processes, but doesn’t tell us what these processes are in sufficient detail for us to be able to comply.
  • The CPM does do not know the processes for getting work done internally to fit in with the project.

15.  The Client Must Make Payments When Due

Good Sign:

  • The client pays our bills when they are due.
  • The client is happy to pay us in advance if and/or when required.
  • The client has a good payment history with other suppliers.
  • The payment milestones are very clear and agreed with the client up front.

Bad Sign:

  • The client has a bad payment history with other suppliers.
  • The client always pays bills very late (in excess of 60 days).
  • The client seems to find petty problems and uses these as reasons to delay paying accounts.
  • The client only complains about charges on an invoice when payment is already late.

16.  Ideally, The Client Should Offer To Provide References

Good Sign:

  • The client will (or is likely to) provide a good verbal or written reference for us when asked in the future.
  • The client is willing to provide us with a live or video testimonial.

Bad Sign:

  • Whatever we do for the client, it feels like they will never say good things about us.

17.  The Client Should Be Prepared To Share Their Prestige

Good Sign:

  • We gain by having this client in our portfolio because the client provides a good project and allows us to be publicly associated with the client’s well-known trusted brand name.
  • Our competitors would consider that picking up this client would be good for them.

Bad Sign:

  • The client has a crappy reputation.
  • Competitors are happy to get rid of the client.


So, there you have a few points on how to become a Valuable Client. Here are four little Don’ts.

  1. Don’t think that every web development firm you talk to will consider it a privilege to do your work.
  2. Don’t be a nuisance. Agree a plan and a process, then stick to it.
  3. Don’t just be a customer. Try to be a valuable client right from the start.
  4. Don’t under estimate the power and value a great relationship with your chosen web development firm can bring you.

There is a lot more to having a good and successful website – and I’ll be covering more in future posts.



PS  I was prompted to write this by a question my friend James Bull posed in his weekly column when he asked, “When should web development companies say “no”?”   I was unable to contribute my thoughts at the time.

So, when should a web dev company say No? It obviously depends on what question the web dev company is being asked.  But when looking to take on a new client, the web development company needs to make its own assessment based on the best information it has at the time.

I suggest running through the Clues and the Warning signs is a very good idea. And consider your own gut-feelings.

Do businesses take on some clients just for the money? Of course.
Can taking on bad clients ruin a good business? Yes.

If you are taking on a web development firm, be smart.

Don’t let it hurt your business. Be a valuable client.


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