Let us fail so yo don’t have to

louis ck failure

One of my favorite comedians Louis CK has a wonderful bit where he explains that there’s more success and knowledge in a 45-year-old janitor in there is in a young 22-year-old upstart entrepreneur. (paraphrasing).

Whenever you leave behind failure, that means you’re doing better. If you think everything you’ve done has been great, you’re probably dumb.” ~Louis C.K.

There’s no replacement for life experience. When you go to invest your money, would you rather trust a financial adviser,  who’s a 55-year-old father or mother of two or three kids or a 25-year-old newly graduated kid who’s not exactly sure what a family budget is and can’t grasp the concept of retirement.

Over the last 15+ years, FOT has had its ups and downs. Missed budgets, blown timelines, unresponsive employees… 2 kids, a few passed dogs. Like most, I’ve only gotten better and stronger as a result.

I know what fails, I know what succeeds. So to you I say, please, profit off my failures. It will only help you succeed.

Don’t Fence Me In. Defining Business Services

defining business services

Defining Business Services:

A good friend of mine called me the other day.  She loves talking business and asked me a few questions about Frog On Top.  Questions like, are my margins good, what’s your price model, how many price points do you have… I told her that answers to those questions vary.  She then told me that that might be my problem.  A flaw in my business model.  How could I possibly know what clients want if I don’t have any predefined packages for them to chose?

Here’s the thing, having predefined packages work great if you’re AT&T or Time Warner.  They have all these great bundles, it’s all very straight forward.  McDonalds, same thing.  A number #1, number #2… perfect.  You know exactly what you are getting and everyone is happy.  There’s no waiting at the register, no fuss… in and out…done with your order.  That all works great for The Man.  The Corporation.  Actually, many consumers are starting to move away from prepackaged “deals” and moving towards the more free form, HULU and Google TV.  Why am I paying for channels I don’t want or ever use?  We pay because we don’t have a choice.  It’s either AT&T or 5 others.  With Web design and development, it’s YOU and about 10 million others.  Competition is abound.  So unless you are willing to be flexible and dispatch with the rigidity of bundles or packages, you’ll go the way of the dodo.

So how many price points do I have?  I don’t know, when is rent due? Is my team idle? If rent is due tmrw and my team is doing nothing but hanging out, then my price point will reflect the situation at hand.  Within reason of course.

What’s your margin?  That depends on how badly you’ve messed up during the process.

The point is, it’s just never the same.  Client’s needs are all different, their vision and their industry.  Sure it’s all 0′s and 1′s… but we’re not just dealing only with computers.  Not yet anyway…

Why Buy The Cow, When You Can Get Your Website For Free?

small business tips

Offering Website Tips:

Many many many…years back, I worked in retail.  Levi’s 1850 in fact.  Fairview mall in Pointe Claire, Montreal.  It was awesome.  Because we were an actual Levi’s store, the price of our jeans were always slights higher than the anchor/department stores.  However our shop, because it was boutique, had friendly and knowledgeable staff.  We knew everything about the each jean.  You’ve got your 550′s, your 532′s… red tab, orange tab…we were always learning something new about each model, we’d have quarterly meetings about the products blah blah.  You get the idea.  At our shop you paid a bit more, but you got exactly what you wanted and learned a thing or two in the process.  Every once in a while, someone would come in, try on 10 pairs of jeans, waste a good 30-45 minutes of your commission based time only no to buy anything.  They thank you, and leave you with a pile of c*ap to clean up.  An hour or so later, you’d see them walking through the mall with a department store bag in their hand and what do you know, a nice new pair of jeans.  They try the jeans on in your store, waste your time, then go to the department store, they now what they are looking for and can get their product for $20 cheaper.  Kudos to them.

Fast forward 2014…client calls asking for a new website and layout.  You run the drill; you look at their site, drive through it, offer them a few points based on what you have seen, then let them know you are up for the task.  Sharing a few immediate ideas about their website simply helps to illustrate your knowledge and also helps make the client feel confident in their decision about calling in the first place.  You can’t not tell the client anything.  That’s like being a job interviewee and telling the interviewer that you have 5 proven methods to increase sales, but will only tell him, once he’s hired.  The question is, how much do you tell a client?  How many ideas do you spit out in knee jerk reaction to their 1997 website?  You give them a few basic ones, obvious ones.  If the site looks like it was built during the Clinton era, there should be enough obvious issues with the site that you can easily share with the client.

Today, I’m going through my list of perspective clients, doing my diligence, emailing, following up, the lot.  I check out the website of a client (to get his phone number) and wouldn’t you know it, he had implemented the ideas I gave to him over the phone.  He had someone else do it.  He took my ideas and either paid someone to implement them, or by the looks of it, he did them himself.  That’s the risk you run.  So when a client calls, always lend some general ideas, statements like “yes we can provide a more effective layout, tighten up the fonts a bit, format the images a little better…” can go a long way.  General points as opposed to specifics.  After you go through the general run through of the site, let the client know you will email them a quote.  Once you get paid your down payment, then feel free to go to town with ideas.  Share everything with your client, get their feedback, offer the pros and cons whenever and wherever possible.  Go through a full discovery phase, but don’t offer up all your secrets until you get fair payment.  It may come easy, looking at a website and identifying all the blocks, but you’ve been doing this for 15 years.  So remember, if something takes 5 minutes, it’s because it took you 15 years.

Understanding Your Client’s Business Needs

Understanding your client's business needs

Understanding your client’s business needs:

A new client calls you, they want a website.  Great, you build them one.  But once it’s done, they ask if you can include a blog, or maybe add some additional images within the design itself, maybe a widget or a plugin or two.  You’re now left backtracking, having to convince your awesome developer to stick with you, because you’re almost done and you’ll make it up to them.  You now also find yourself having to tell the client that something they are now asking for is not possible with “this theme” or the new layout.  Everyone is now less than pleased.  Understanding your client’s business needs is critical.

So avoid this.  Ask your client what the goal of their site is.  Or better yet, what their overall goal is and how they plan to achieve it.  A goal of a website is typically pretty standard.  It’s either to inform, or to sell.  That’s easy.  A client has a product and wants to sell it online or a client has a service they want to sell online.  But how?  How do they plan on engaging potential clients? How do they want site visitors to interact with the site.  Remember, how they want visitors to interact with the site, might be different to how they need visitors to interact with the site.  That’s where you come in.

Do they want a newsletter sign up?  If so, do they have an account with a mailchimp type service?  It’s your job to line all these ducks up.  If you don’t, you’ll be scrambling around looking less than professional.  So when a client calls looking for a website, ask them everything about their business.  They may think they need a blog, but once you tell them a blog should be updated at least 1-2 times a week, they might think differently.  Same goes for a newsletter.  Who reads those things anyway?  And if you only end up getting 100 people signing up…you’re now pretty much wasting your time.  Inform the client on the pros and cons of all the details.  Lend your professional opinion and let them make the final decision.  It’s their rope.

To find out afterwards that something was left out because it was never brought up during the discovery phase is on you.   You need to guide them through the process, leveraging off your years of experience.  Your job is to help your client control the bloat.  To make sure they have all they need and don’t need for their launch.

You are the Richard Simmons of web development.

Project Managing Micromanaging Clients

micromanaging clients

Project Managing Micromanaging Clients:

One of the hardest things to do when starting/running/growing your own business is to figure out the value of your time on a project.  Coding and designing are pretty easy to figure out.  How long it takes to get to the end result, is how many hours you’d bill your client.  But project management is a whole different ball game.  Each client is different; therefore the amount of time you spend with your client will vary.

The typical rule of thumb is project management accounts for 20% of the total design and development hours.  So if you’re project is 100 hours, your time handling the client should be billed 20 hours.  But how do you calculate the time if you’re responding to a simple email…20 emails later…they are no longer simple emails.  A “quick question” here and there adds up.  But you only really billed for the design and development… now you’re just giving your time away.  Giving your time away hurts.

We know you can never bill a client AFTER the fact.  If you’re client becomes too cumbersome with their constant hands on approach, you can’t suddenly bill them extra for it.  I mean, you can, but good luck keeping any clients.

All of this needs to be handled up front and in your contract.  In the pricing section, you call out: “20 hours for project management:  $XXX.XX”

Then in your after sales service section you include time and price blocks: “10 hours project management = $XXX.XX”
Or you may decide to simply charge them hourly for anything over the 20 hour mark.  You then let your client know when they have used up 60% of their project management time. So at 12 hours of used time, you send them an email letting them know.  Dear God, I sound like ATT&T.  I have become that which I despise.  I digress.

Anyway, It’s a way to make the client pause before they send you an email like, “I don’t know what I want, but I know when I see it…”

By telling a client up front that you’re going to charge an “excessive request” charge for hours that go beyond what’s in the contract, you’re helping mitigate a possible barrage of emails and phone calls.   Relationships always start out great, and you can make sure to keep it great by simply adding a few extra points to your contract.  If a client doesn’t appreciate your time, they don’t appreciate you.  And why put yourself through that.

You Gotta Know When To Fold ‘Em…Receiving Final Payment

website development receiving final payment

Never launch a website until you receive final payment.  Some exceptions apply, but we’ll get to that later.  Simply put, a client’s lack of planning does not constitute an emergency for you.

Most projects will encounter some sort of delay.  That’s fine, because in your proposal, you allowed enough time for testing, bugs, reiterations, vacation time, sick days, weekends, Sharknados…anything you can think of.  Because you have been doing this long enough to know that something always comes up.  As long as you stick to your delivery date, the less the client knows about “delays” the better.  Deliver on time, and no one’s the wiser.

But what happens when the client causes the delay, yet somehow still expected to deliver on time? Assuming you have established a deadline prior to start, you must let the client know that delays on their end will inevitably result in a delay of final delivery.  When you book a project, you put your team together and create a schedule based on a number of variables.  Skill level, budget and availability of resources.  So if a project becomes idle, so do your workers and no good comes of that.  You now put those idle workers on another project, only to have the client want to start up again, and of course that means, right now, today.

You shift gears, have your workers stop their new project, and get them back together to finish up, doing your best to make up for the client’s delay.  After all, you want to make sure the client is happy.  You want to make the deadline.

As the deadline fast approaches, it’s clear the client does not have all the material together so they ask you to launch the site anyway and they’ll give you all the final content after site launch.  Um, OK?

You’re now launching an incomplete site, because you want to help the client make their deadline, but you’re not going to get paid because the site is…wait for it, wait for it, INCOMPLETE.  How many issues do you think will come up by the time you launch the site and the time you get final content?  If you guessed one zillion, you’d be correct.

Trying to get your final payment now becomes an exercise in patience, self-control, and inner reflection “how could I be so stupid?”. With little regard to your efforts, the client will start to grind you down.  Requesting small changes, resize an image or two (“just a quick 5 minutes” they say).  All until they are satisfied.  Now they might start having issues with their new email, or newsletter…all points that really fall outside the contract, but that doesn’t seem to matter.  You can say NO all you want…but you want your final payment, so you acquiesce, foolishly thinking OK, NOW, now they’ll pay?! But on it goes.

The exception to this rule is client legacy.  If you’ve done work for them before, and they’ve always paid on time, then of course you trust them.  And don’t forget to break your payments up so in the event you are left hanging, it won’t be for more than 25%.

Be firm, make sure to add “will not launch until final payment is received” into your contract. If a prospective client has issue with that, you should probably walk away.  If they ask to launch the site, then pay later, run.

The Malcontent Clients

malcontent clients

adjective: (the) malcontent (client)
1.    1. Dissatisfied and complaining or making trouble.

Far be it for me to speculate on the life of a malcontent, and how they got to be that way.  I just know it’s a pretty Grimm situation when you run into one.  Moreover, doing business with one.   It’s easy to spot one in the flesh, they have they classic sour look on their face, wagging their finger at passerby’s. But over the phone, or on the line, it’s tricky.

At first, everything is always rainbows and lollipops during the discovery phase.  Laughs abound.  But then you deliver the mockups.  Majority of the time, the client likes parts of sample-0a and parts of sample-0b.  Perfect.  You combine the differences come up with sample-0c and you’re now in development mode.

Sometimes they don’t like either of them.  That’s fair, we love feedback and we’ll come up with another round.  It’s the way in which they deliver their discontent that always interests me.  I’m fully aware that I work for the client, but to accuse me of having just come out of design school, or of being deaf when we were talking…is pretty choice.  Especially when at the end of the conversation they ask when the new concepts will be ready.  You already cashed the chiseled down check and paid your team the dozens of dollars they are rightfully owed… so you bow your head, careful not to make eye contact and sputter out your standard, 5-7 days response.  But of course that’s not good enough, they want it in 3…

Finally when the design does get approved, you think your headache is gone.  Fool.  These are malcontents.  It’s never over.  The font is wrong; their bio picture needs to be bigger, now it’s too big.  They constantly tell you they are frustrated, they keep making change requests, because you just can’t be bothered, and want the project done.  Fool.  It’s never done.

The most frustrating part of the whole process is not that you have to do the work, or that you’re way under appreciated.  You have kids.  You can take all that.  No, it’s that you feel into the trap once again.  You thought you’d be better this time around, you thought you were better prepared.  But rust never sleeps, it’s just creeps real slow.  “It’s A Trap” indeed.

Think Global, Buy Local. The Benefits Of Local Web Developers

sherman oaks web developmentThe Benefits Of Local Web Developers ~ The hippie adage, think global, buy local  doesn’t just apply to buying groceries.  Much like the corner farmer’s market, shopping around for a local web designer or developer has huge benefits.  Mainly, you know exactly what you are getting, and if you don’t get it exactly what you want it, you can drive right up to their shop.  It’s a lot cheaper than a plane ticket to India.  Your website is your identity.  You need someone who will sit down with you, and listen to your wish list, ideas and goals.  Remember when we actually used to sit down with someone…in the same room?!  Crazy, I know.  So that couple/few hundred dollars that you think you’re saving yourself by hiring a company overseas, will be spent on the extra luggage fees they charge you on the way to Delhi.

Lalo Schifrin Just Got Way Cooler!

bullitt vinyl release

Coolest composer (and client) on the planet just got cooler. How? Limited release vinyl of the movie classic, “Bullitt” BOOM!

From Theresa Eastman Schifrin:
“Excited to share our first vinyl release to the classic film score of “Bullitt” starring Steve McQueen. Art and design by yours truly, liner notes by the fantastic Nick Redman and the hippest score I know by Lalo Schifrin. It comes out tomorrow exclusively for Record Store Day and it’s a limited individually numbered edition of 1000 and features both the record and movie versions of the score. If your visiting a record store this weekend have a look!”

Lose The Fat. Convert To WordPress

convert website wordpress

Lose the fat.  All that extra weight making you feel sluggish and tired?  Can’t keep up with the others?  Tired of being picked last?  Then get back into shape.  Convert that old, over inflated website of yours into WordPress and get yourself back into the game.  Lose all the redundant code, cut the fat and streamline your online presence.  You’ll look and feel much better.  Convert to WordPress today.

How Much For A Website? Prospecting New Clients.

prospecting new clients

A good buddy of mine runs a photobooth company, hollywoodphotobooth.com We love getting together to talk business.  We’re in completely different  industries but it’s always interesting to compare notes on our various work projects and clients.  What I have learned, regardless of industry,  is that our grievances and challenges always seem the same.

He told me about someone who called him and immediately asked, “how much?”

One challenge we face as small business owners is prospecting new clients.  Learning what questions to ask, learning the difference between clients that are serious about buying, and those who have just come to waste your time.  If someone calls you and the first thing out of their mouth is, “how much?” then safe to say they’re not really looking for anything but the cheapest price.  They are not asking any qualified questions, they are
not giving you any info, they simply want to know, how much.

Of course, “how much”, depends on what and how.  What kind of website are we building, what is the functionality and how will it be built.  Are we going with a, from scratch custom CMS, or are we going the more convenient and cost effective WordPress route?  How many pages, forms and how many images do we need to treat and prep.  What is the time frame?  The client should already have some answers to these questions.  If they don’t they haven’t done their research and are expecting you to do it; which is fine, so long as they are willing to pay you for consulting time.  If they don’t seem organized and are just calling to ask random questions, always be courteous, but be respectful of your own time.

Cost is crucial component, and a client’s budget should be respected, even if it falls well below your going rate.  It’s not the concern of cost that’s the issue, but that cost is the ONLY concern.  Not quality of work, nor ability or experience.  If the only concern is about price, chances are you won’t make the sale.  You won’t make the sale, because you shouldn’t make the sale.

So if there’s no consideration given to the dozen or so variables that go into determining a final quote, it puts you in a corner.  And NOBODY put baby in a corner.

Finding A Good General Contractor Is Hard To Do

reliable webmaster

If you own a home, then you know that finding a good, reliable and honest general contractor is pretty hard to come by.  In fact, finding anyone these days who’s reliable and honest is pretty dificult.  It takes time.  Maybe you hired a guy to fix some wiring in your house, messed it up, doesn’t take accountability for his mistakes and now you find yourself having to find another guy not only to undo the mistakes that were done but to fix whatever was broken in the first place.

I hear it all the time with web development.  “My last guy did this, or told me that…”  leaving the client in the dark with a half working website.

So how do you find a good reliable general contractor for your website?  ie. a webmaster.  Like most things that matter to you, you ask people you trust.  You ask people who have websites and are happy with it.  How is the response time when you need something updated?  Does the webmaster provide different options, explaining the pros and cons of each.  Is the webmaster responsive and attentive?

If not, then you need to get with Frog On Top.  Our team of responsive professionals will make sure all your questions and concerns about your website and your web presence and thoroughly answered in a timely manner – typically within 12 hours.  So if you’re not happy with your current web situation, it’s time to end it.  Why go through another day of aggravation when there are better options out there.

Get in touch with us today and we’ll have your brand new website up and running before you know it.  Ask us about our WordPress solutions starting as low as $800.