Skills, maintenance and proposals

This week on little web design podcast we look at the key skills every web designer should have, how to win over clients and how to manage them over the long term.

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Paul Boag:
This week on our little web design podcast, we look at the key skills every web designer should have, how to win over clients and how to manage them over the long-term.

Paul Boag:
Hello, hello, hello, hello, Marcus.

Marcus Lillington:
Hello, Paul, how are you?

Paul Boag:
The last – the last thing you said just before we hit the record button is you’re feeling deliriously happy, why is that?

Marcus Lillington:
Well in a kind of truly – not sort of deliriously as when people say I’m deliriously happy but in a kind of I am delirious, but happy. Does that make sense?

Paul Boag:
Yes, I guess so. You’re hysterical is the word you’re looking for.

Marcus Lillington:
Not – actually, I am surprised it does make sense because nothing much is making sense to me.

Paul Boag:
We’ve just totally lost control, haven’t we?

Marcus Lillington:
Don’t – mustn’t complaint, I have been complaining too much lately. It’s a good place to be.

Paul Boag:
No, no, it’s not. I’ve once said it once on this podcast and I’ll say it again; I want to sit on the beach and be paid by clients to do nothing. Is that unreasonable? I don’t think so.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, I’ve just done lots of driving over the last couple of days.

Paul Boag:
Yes.

Marcus Lillington:
That’s why I’m feeling a bit tired.

Paul Boag:
I’ve got lots of traveling coming up. So it’s – yes. It’s the way of the…

Marcus Lillington:
The way of the flying last week.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, you were in America.

Marcus Lillington:
I was.

Paul Boag:
That was very rock and roll. Did you have good time?

Marcus Lillington:
America land. I did and I met lots of different – sort of some clients, some potential clients whilst I out there doing some work from – work for an existing client. And it was all – yeah, very successful. Quite a hard week, quite sort of tough but yeah, it was good.

Since I came back, we’ve had – and this is far, far bigger news. We had a bank holiday, i.e. a long weekend and the weather was nice.

Paul Boag:
I know, I cannot, I honestly cannot remember the last time that happened.

Marcus Lillington:
I had a barbeque nearly – virtually apart from one day everyday. So that isn’t everyday, everyday but one. Would you like some recipes?

Paul Boag:
No.

Marcus Lillington:
I started telling Lee about my recipes and he said you should tell people on the podcast that.

Paul Boag:
They don’t care.

Marcus Lillington:
Are you sure?

Paul Boag:
I am positive. What – recipe for what? Tell us what it is.

Marcus Lillington:
I did a Spatchcock chicken one day.

Paul Boag:
That – what? A what chicken? What did you do to the poor chicken?

Marcus Lillington:
See, you are interested. It’s basically taking the backbone out so you can cook it flat rather than as a sort of whole bird so you have to kind of do a bit of butchery but then you slap sort of – I put maple syrup and mustard and all sort of lovely things on it.

Paul Boag:
That sounds very posh. Our barbeques normally consists of Tescos value burgers.

Marcus Lillington:
That’s good. Well, you don’t make your own burgers, Paul?

Paul Boag:
Which is not surprising then that I couldn’t come out last night because I had a dodgy tummy.

Marcus Lillington:
You did.

Paul Boag:
So there we go. It perhaps all adds up.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
So we had a leaving do last night, didn’t we? We lost Charlie and Tom; two leaving dos for the price of one.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah.

Paul Boag:
Charlie, I mean Charlie has been with us for like gazillion years, hasn’t he? I suppose…

Marcus Lillington:
No wonder we’re so busy.

Paul Boag:
I know.

Marcus Lillington:
Because we haven’t got enough people to do the job.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, but I don’t want to get any bigger. We’ve had this conversation before Marcus. Stay small, stay lean, stay nimble, pick and choose your clients.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes. Lean and nimble; that’s me.

Paul Boag:
Just double our rates, that’s what we need to do. That will narrow the field a bit. Anyway, we’ve got some good stuff for this show. I’ll tell you questions are coming in thick and fast, Marcus, thick and fast, I tell you.

Marcus Lillington:
I did notice that there are some audio, I haven’t listened to them. I should shouldn’t I, really? Really – I can’t talk.

Paul Boag:
We could have just filled all audio but I’ve got one that’s a non-audio question because this fundamentally the same question has been asked by three different people. So…

Marcus Lillington:
You like me to read one of the questions, don’t you? That’s what it is.

Paul Boag:
Well, you’ve got to do something on the show.

Marcus Lillington:
Exactly, yeah. Is that all I have to do?

Paul Boag:
No, no, no. This show, you’ve got to do lots because we’re going to be – so we’ve got this one question which is what skills do I need to be a web designer. Then we’ve got…

Marcus Lillington:
You’ve just ruined my line there.

Paul Boag:
Well, that’s alright. You can read it out later. It will be very exciting. We can build up the tension.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah.

Paul Boag:
We’ve got another question which is about the long-term management of clients which is your kind of question. And then another one about writing proposals and winning prospects over and that’s another one…

Marcus Lillington:
That’s definitely you, Paul, that last one, definitely.

Paul Boag:
When was the last time I ever wrote a proposal?

Marcus Lillington:
Every day.

Paul Boag:
Anyway, Marcus, you should be grateful. What’s going – at the moment, I seem to be propping up everybody. This Saturday I’m going to be helping Chris out with his work, I am doing that, that strategic review for you.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah.

Paul Boag:
God, I’m just so kind.

Marcus Lillington:
Well, otherwise, you would be on the beach, wouldn’t you?

Paul Boag:
So the least you can do is read one bloody question out and answer a couple of others.

Marcus Lillington:
I’ll try.

Paul Boag:
Okay.

Marcus Lillington:
I don’t know if I am going to make a lot of sense but I’ll try.

Paul Boag:
Alright then. And shall we try a question and see what happens?

What skills do I need to be a web designer?

Okay, Marcus, now it’s your moment to shine, your moment to read the question in a way that just blows us all away.

Marcus Lillington:
The way – I can read the question that you’ve always read out. I can do the pick beforehand.

Paul Boag:
Yes.

Marcus Lillington:
This is the – right, I can’t get two words together…

Paul Boag:
See you can’t do it. You can’t do it, can you?

Marcus Lillington:
The following people added fundamentally the same question. They are Clair Henry, Simon Manson and Steven Newman and they asked what skills do I need to be a web designer?

Paul Boag:
Beautiful, Marcus. Beautiful that was.

Marcus Lillington:
That was quite hard actually.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, well, you really did read it word-for-word from my scribbled notes as well, didn’t you? You didn’t expand in anyway, you didn’t improvise, you didn’t add anything to it whatsoever. You literally just…

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, I did. I said and they asked, oh for goodness sake. Right, I have turned that off.

Paul Boag:
Ah, joy.

Marcus Lillington:
Anyway, so Paul, what do you need? What skills do you need?

Paul Boag:
I don’t freaking know. It’s like – so there is this bunch of people, right, that essentially have kind of done the basics. They have learnt HTML, they have learnt CSS, they have learnt jQuery and they are asking what next.

Marcus Lillington:
Right.

Paul Boag:
And it’s a good question.

Marcus Lillington:
Does that come first then? Is that…

Paul Boag:
Apparently, that does. Yes.

Marcus Lillington:
What about your general design skills?

Paul Boag:
Ah, here you go, see? Yeah, I mean that’s a big part of it, isn’t? People kind of think that they don’t – you don’t learn design. You just are good at design. You either can do it or you can’t. I think that’s a fundamental…

Marcus Lillington:
Pitfall.

Paul Boag:
Yes, pitfall indeed. I think that’s a fundamental skill you need to learn and I think it’s something worth learning about even if you are a developer because I think it’s just good practice to kind of have that broad breadth of skill. So I would look at that, I would look at learning about grid structures, not kind of grid frameworks but how to create a grid from a design point of view. Look at typography, the basics of good typography, the use of white space, color; all those kinds of things. Really get to understand that kind of stuff as well. So that would be – probably be the first step beyond those kind of technical basics. But then I would start kind of personally I would start looking at the tools that are available to you to make the job of building websites easier. So the series that we’re currently running on Boagworld about design – the design process and the different tools that are available to you in the design process may well be of interest. So I’ll put a link in the show notes to that. And, yeah, I think that would be my next step after learning kind of the basics of design, look at design tools and design techniques. Then I think I’d start to look at those kind of softer skills, I think is what they call them in terms of managing clients and how to sell and those kinds of skills because they are just as important as well.

Marcus Lillington:
Well, what is it Mark Bolton does? And he is not the only person but he has a particular name for it which is design critiques. So basically if you do a design, they have a kind of back and forth critique on it which basically teaches you to sell your design which is a very, very important aspect of being a designer that you have to kind of tell people why you’ve done, what you’ve done.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, absolutely.

Marcus Lillington:
Rather than selling – I don’t know whether if you’re going to be a freelancer, then yes, you’ve got to learn to deal with well, all aspects of running a business I suppose and selling – sales as in getting the next job in. But I think a good designer has to sell their – the reasons why they have done what they have done first.

Paul Boag:
Yes, absolutely agree with that. The other thing if you want to learn the kind of basics of web design, there’s a book which is a bit of an oldie but a goodie called The Principles of Beautiful Web Design by Jason Beaird. And I’ll put a link in the show notes to that. That’s a really good book for kind of going through those fundamentals and I think that’s useful whether you are designer or a developer or whatever to check that out. But I don’t think any of that was what they were getting at.

Marcus Lillington:
Isn’t it?

Paul Boag:
It’s what they – no, it’s what they need to know but it’s not what they were asking.

Marcus Lillington:
Oh right.

Paul Boag:
It’s often the way.

Marcus Lillington:
This isn’t what they want to hear.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, this isn’t what they want to hear but it’s what they need to know. It’s like you need to eat your vegetables, but you might not want to.

Marcus Lillington:
Well I was go on and say stuff about what – you should understand that what you – sorry, what your job entails, sorry, the work that you do should be content first and learning about how to write is a…

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
…would be a really useful thing but that’s more of what they don’t want to hear, isn’t it?

Paul Boag:
It is more of what they don’t want to hear but it is good stuff, yes, writing – having a basic ability to write copy, it’s really, really important and there’s loads of great books about doing that as well or just check out Relly Annett-Baker – link in the show notes; she shares loads of stuff, does some great talks on writing copies of designer and that kind of thing. So check her out, that will help you there. But I think what you were – I think they were getting at is they were wanting ‘what technical skills do I learn next?’ I think the obvious way to go these days is responsive design as being a good thing to look at pretty early on but then I would start turning my attentions to kind of some basic server side stuff. So maybe look at WordPress as a good starting point to kind of get you into PHP and kind of work from there really. But I have to say, I think those other skills that we’ve talked about are as important, if not more important, and also I’m kind of – I’m always vaguely amused at this attitude, well I have learnt HTML now and I have learnt CSS and I have learnt JavaScript, what should I learn next? And the truth is I don’t think you’ve ever finished learning HTML, CSS and JavaScript…

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah.

Paul Boag:
… because best practice is moving on all the time and techniques are changing. So I think it’s more a matter of deciding where you want to focus. Once you’ve got some of those fundamental skills, the ones that we’ve covered today, I think then you have got to decide, well, okay, you begin to – you’ve built up that kind of broad cross-section of skills, now you need to decide on the area where you’re going to dive down deeper. I think it’s Andy Budd that describes it as a T-shape, with the top part of the capital T being this kind of broad breadth of knowledge and then in one area you dive down deeper and that’s the kind of the vertical stroke of the T which is quite a good way of describing it. So, yes.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, interesting but I kind of help but think if you’ve – well, if you’re thinking that you’ve learnt HTML, learnt CSS, then well, get a job doing that.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
And get better at that is surely a good thing to do. I don’t know.

Paul Boag:
Yes. But in order to be able to do that, you are going to have to be able to justify the work that you build, you are going to have to know about responsive design and there are other things that you can build upon. But yeah, I mean ultimately, I had no career path as such. I had no kind of list of things I had to learn, I just kept learning and I kept fiddling with whatever I fancied and whatever excited me. I think really the things that you should do, the things you should learn are the things you’re excited about learning and I think a lot of people get maybe a bit overly concerned about I feel I need to learn these particular skills before I am qualified to be a web designer and I think once you’ve kind of got the basics, it’s then a matter of doing what you love and exploring what you love and then you can make a job out of that.

Marcus Lillington:
There’s a musical analogy here. See, I really can’t talk today.

Paul Boag:
Is there?

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, there is. If you are learning to play an instrument you – and this is a long time ago for me, but I can remember thinking that I wasn’t good enough to play in a band but the only way…

Paul Boag:
Right.

Marcus Lillington:
The only way you will get a good enough to play in a band is to play in a band. So…

Paul Boag:
Yes.

Marcus Lillington:
…I suspect if you want to get better at being a web designer then you should start doing web design work in some sort of shape or form.

Paul Boag:
Absolutely. It’s not enough just to sit and learn the skills. You’ve got kind of do the rest of the job. You’ve got to live it and work on real projects with real clients and if that means working for small local charity, then go and work for small local charity for free.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah.

Paul Boag:
Just start producing work.

Marcus Lillington:
Absolutely.

Paul Boag:
Great stuff. Wisdom from Marcus. See you may be incoherent but it’s pearls of wisdom.

Marcus Lillington:
But the thoughts are there inside somewhere.

Paul Boag:
Yes, you delve down deep enough. I don’t think there is a lot more else we can say to answer that question.

Marcus Lillington:
No.

Paul Boag:
I know it’s – it must feel a bit wooly for the people that have asked it, but that’s the reality of the situation really; explore different skills and see what takes your fancy.

How do you manage maintenance work?

Colin Grey:
Hey, Paul and Marcus. I thought since you were begging so pitifully about getting some audio questions that I’d send one in and save you. My name is Colin and I run my own little web agency in Edinburgh called Wild Trails Media. We do web design, web development, a bit of internet marketing too. I’ve actually been listening to podcasts since episode 6, I think it was, when I picked it up on the front of the old Web Designer magazine. So you’ve given me many enjoyable hours over the years so thanks very much for that. But enough of that and my question is around sort of long-term management of clients and more about when I do a project, so say I am working with a client for three or four months, we make the project live, website’s online, I tend to offer a sort of six-month warranty with the website. I’ll fix bugs, I’ll set what the scope is for that. But how do you then migrate onto sort of maintenance plan? Where do you set the limits in terms of what you’ll take care of as a warranty feature or as a bug, as opposed to what then becomes sort of a new quote or becomes maintenance that’s chargeable on top of that? I just find it quite tricky to, even if it’s sort of only seven or eight months down the line when something goes wrong, it’s quite hard to explain to the client that actually it could be to do with changing server configurations or something they’ve put on the website. It’s quite a tricky thing to handle. So I just wondered how you go about that and where you draw the line with it all. So thanks again for the great podcast and looking forward to hearing your answer.

Paul Boag:
Begging, pitiful? I don’t like Colin. I don’t know why we’re doing his question. He called us pitiful. I mean that’s just hurtful. I am not pitiful. I am sulking now.

Marcus Lillington:
I don’t really remember him saying that.

Paul Boag:
He starts off right at the beginning, he says because we’re begging for audio questions.

Marcus Lillington:
Oh, because we were begging for questions? Right, yes, yes.

Paul Boag:
And sounding so pitiful.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes. Well kind of probably – that’s probably quite accurate really – for you any way, Paul.

Paul Boag:
Collin you are an arse. Oh, so are you, Marcus.

Marcus Lillington:
Collin you are a really nice chap and listening since episode six?

Paul Boag:
I know, that’s pretty impressive. I think that was – was that before you? When did you join me?

Marcus Lillington:
I think I joined on episode three or four. So, yeah.

Paul Boag:
Okay. It was that early was it?

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
There was only like three episodes of me droning on by myself.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, exactly. And now I am going to talk to you about web design.

Paul Boag:
Yes. My first ever podcast was on PDFs; how exciting is that? What was I thinking, seriously?

Marcus Lillington:
Oh we must go back and have a listen.

Paul Boag:
We ought to because that is such a hoot. It would be terrible. Anyway, we’ll forgive Colin for his horrible and nasty comments.

Marcus Lillington:
I thought they were pretty accurate; you’ve been groveling for weeks.

Paul Boag:
Yes I have, but now we’ve got more questions than you can shake a stick at so it’s great.

Marcus Lillington:
So now you can just abuse the listener?

Paul Boag:
Yes. Oh, we’re up to more than three now.

Marcus Lillington:
We must be.

Paul Boag:
We’ve had at least two or three people join us since then on Twitter, they’ve told me. And I personally had to put quite a lot of pressure on one guy – I think his name was Alan as I remember – to get him to listen because it was…

Marcus Lillington:
What?

Paul Boag:
Well, his mate said ‘oh, you ought to listen to Boagworld,’ right and this was all on Twitter and of course I follow mentions of Boagworld. ‘You ought to listen to Boagworld, it’s actually one of the better web design podcasts out there’ and Alan was like, ‘Oh I dunno, you know, maybe.’ And so then I waded into the conversation and basically blackmailed poor old Alan into listening to the podcast.

Marcus Lillington:
No doubt he is a car salesman or something.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, probably. Not in the slightest bit interested about web design.

Marcus Lillington:
Well, there you go. What was the question?

Paul Boag:
So, long term management. How do you – actually this is a question really for you, Marcus. How do you manage clients over long term, when they turn round – so, yeah you have the support period, six months we’ll fix bugs and stuff, what happens if they come back six months and a day or what happens if they come back with something that they think is a bug and we think isn’t.

Marcus Lillington:
You have to talk to them and explain to them why it’s isn’t, I guess.

Paul Boag:
Right.

Marcus Lillington:
To answer the first part of the question, you have a maintenance/support agreement from day one, not from the end of the warranty because they are different things.

Paul Boag:
Okay.

Marcus Lillington:
Well, not day one, so day one from launch, day one from the end of the project if you like.

Paul Boag:
So you are talking about a maintenance contract being a buying X number of hours because they want to add new functionality or whatever.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah. Or equally and it can – using Colin’s example of there is some server configuration has changed, which means they need to do some work which is no fault of theirs, it’s the hosting company’s then that’s maintenance and that might happen week one.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
Would be a bit unlucky but, yeah. We offer a 12-month warranty but that is for fixing of genuine bugs, so stuff that’s broken because of our – stuff that’s a kind of…

Paul Boag:
We’ve cocked up is what you’re getting at.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, or – that’s what I was going to say but I thought that’s not what I mean but things that come out of the woodwork that just do. I mean, things, just from being used a lot, CMSs start to kind of creak usually and you have to go in and may be sort of change the odd setting or something, which certainly within the first year would be a bug fix in my view.

Paul Boag:
And would that say for example, because they begin to creak when you put in new content, right? So let’s say somebody put in a news item that title went to three lines and we had only designed it so it could have accommodate two lines. Is that a bug or is that a maintenance issue.

Marcus Lillington:
That’s a maintenance issue.

Paul Boag:
Okay. Because that could go on forever I guess.

Marcus Lillington:
Because it’s something that you could – you should have covered in the design phase. I mean I am not saying you will never come up against an argument on these particular issues because people say that is your fault and you will say no it isn’t and then you will get back and forth over it and sometimes you’ll have to kind of come to some kind of a compromise over these kind of things and say well, look – I am trying to desperately think of an example but I am struggling with it but sometimes you will go, okay I can see your point of view but can you see mine, can we agree to sort of split it halfway down the middle and that’s normally where you will end up agreeing on it. Another one is, if you have a 12 months warranty and, let’s say – and this applies to sites where you are doing the backend development more than – far more than just front-end development, but it may be – and this has happened before, two years down the line, our client has decided that they’re going to start using a feature of the CMS that they hadn’t used before and they’ll come across a bug in using that. Now then you could argue that it’s out of warranty, but again you need to take a kind of sensible look at that and say well chances are to keep our relationship as it should be I’ll this time we’ll make the change but obviously it gives you an opportunity to kind of basically state again that the site is no longer under warranty and this would normally be work that we’d charge for. I think that’s a really important thing.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
You need to say, if you are doing someone a favor you need to state it quite strongly that, A, it’s a gesture of goodwill, and B, normally we charge for this and next time we will and then issues tend not to come back and – or similar issues tend not to come back again. But basically if something is debatable then try and reach some kind of compromise over it, but equally don’t just do stuff because you think, that shouldn’t have broken like that. If something’s – you built something five years ago it’s well out of warranty and you should be charging to fix it.

Paul Boag:
So I mean you talk about putting a maintenance contract in place from day one.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes.

Paul Boag:
I mean how does that go down when you talk to clients about that because a lot of clients still have this attitude, you build a website and then it’s done. Or don’t they, do you find that clients are quite open to maintenance contract.

Marcus Lillington:
Much less though these days. I do always say that you don’t have to. There is no obligation to sign a maintenance contract with Headscape if you’ve worked with us. We just say that it would be – most clients want to have something official, they want to say this is our agreement with you to fix things should they go wrong, even if it’s something that’s – or add a new feature because we desperately need it, that kind of thing.

Paul Boag:
Yes.

Marcus Lillington:
They want to be in a position where there is a piece of paper, a contract that says this is our ongoing maintenance agreement with Headscape.

Paul Boag:
But why would they do that, sorry, I am just – I am trying to ask you all the questions that I think people might be thinking of so, sorry if I’m attacking you with loads of questions. But why would – okay why would a client want to do that rather than just coming back to you on an ad hoc basis? Because I presume if there is a maintenance contract, what does that say? That you’ve got to spend a certain amount with you a month or how does it work?

Marcus Lillington:
What we normally agree and it depends on how much the client – obviously the first one we’ve taken a bit of a guess on but any subsequent agreements will be knowing, we’ll have an idea of how much effort they – or how much time they want to buy from us over a particular period. And we will say, based on previous usage, we estimate that you should be buying I don’t know 30 hours a years from us. But one thing just worth saying is we set up time banks rather than maintenance contracts. So if you use your 30 hours in a six months then that’s fine, just set another one. Equally, if it takes you 18 months to use it then equally that’s fine.

Paul Boag:
Okay, yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
The main advantage is we’re doing this – well, firstly, as I’ve just said, it means that you’ve got it written down this is how we will respond if – and how we do it. And we don’t have to create a contract for every piece of work or even worse you don’t bother with the contract because it’s just another little piece of work. That’s the reason why we the agency would like to have one of these things in place because it’s faff basically. But it’s faff for both ends. So it’s less on the faff factor, but the main one I would say is that we sell – basically we call them credits. So rather than buying 30 hours you buy 30 credits. What that means is that we will have in place in the agreement a way of spending more credits to get things done more quickly.

Paul Boag:
Okay.

Marcus Lillington:
We are very, very careful about how much we promise on that because obviously I am even slightly wriggly about saying it here because as soon as you start doing that you are effectively bumping clients.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
Which isn’t good. But as long as all our clients know that they can do that, then I feel more comfortably about it – I feel more comfortable about it. But we’re talking about here are if sites fall over and they need to be fixed quickly. We have in place – it’s written down that we will respond within X amount of time. So that’s why you want a maintenance agreement more than anything else I would say.

Paul Boag:
So would you recommend that people offer a lower rate for their maintenance agreements because people are committing for a long length of time or not?

Marcus Lillington:
No, quite simply.

Paul Boag:
Right, because why would you want to reduce your rate when..?

Marcus Lillington:
Yes. And we’re not looking at doing – probably I should have said this at the start. If they want to come back and I don’t know build a micro site or create some really new crazy functionality or something like that, that would be a one-off new project. It wouldn’t be – that’s not maintenance. So we’re only ever looking at a few hours a month tops here. So, it’s not the kind of project where you’d be dealing with ongoing big projects.

Paul Boag:
Yes, that makes sense. Alright. That’s actually – I feel like I’ve just interviewed you, Marcus. Thank you for being a wonderful guest on the show.

Marcus Lillington:
That’s okay. This is not my favorite subject actually. It’s kind of like oh, dull.

Paul Boag:
I think you’ll get more interested in our next question so should we move on to that one?

Marcus Lillington:
Okay.

How do you win over prospects?

Chad Warner:
This is Chad Warner from OptimWise.com. How do you write proposals that win prospects over or what other techniques can convince prospects to choose you over competitors?

Paul Boag:
Good, Chad, short and sweet.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, that was much shorter and much sweeter. I do need to say that even though I find the subject of support and maintenance boring I know a lot of people are interested in it so sorry.

Paul Boag:
Since when have we apologized for our sweeping statements?

Marcus Lillington:
Oh, no I just don’t – I can imagine him up there in his agency worrying about these things and we’ve worried about these things many times in the past and I think the lesson to be learned from second guessing and worrying what clients are going to think about things like that just goes away if you just think what do I want to do here. What’s the right thing, what’s the correct thing for us? This is what we’re going to do. Make a decision, do it, and everyone goes, yeah, alright that’s fine generally.

Paul Boag:
Yes.

Marcus Lillington:
That’s the lesson I’ve learned over the years about sort of potentially sticky situations.

Paul Boag:
But don’t give Colin too much sympathy because he called us pitiful. You’ve got to remember that.

Marcus Lillington:
No, he called you pitiful.

Paul Boag:
While Chad on the other hand is to the point and direct, no messing around; this is the kind of question I like. Good old Chad, that’s a really good, strong American name as well.

Marcus Lillington:
That is. I believe that’s short for Charles.

Paul Boag:
Is it?

Marcus Lillington:
I think so.

Paul Boag:
Which is not at all an American name, is it? Charles is a very British name.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, I suppose but Charlie – then it becomes Charlie Brown an American, doesn’t it?

Paul Boag:
Yes, that’s true. No I like Chad. Chad is cool.

Marcus Lillington:
I might be completely wrong on that; it may be just a name all on its own.

Paul Boag:
Could be. Well if you know dear listener, post in the comment, show up Marcus’ ignorance unless of course he is right, in which case stay quiet about it.

Marcus Lillington:
I tell you what; I am going to use that thing called the Internet.

Paul Boag:
Ah. Well, could actually answer the question rather than becoming obsessed with his name but I mean that’s entirely up to you.

Marcus Lillington:
Carry on talking, Paul.

Paul Boag:
Oh, God. See this is why we’re not – well, what am I supposed to talk about? The question is all about proposals and winning prospects over, that’s you again; I’m making you work this week.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, sorry I am looking – this is far more important and interesting.

Paul Boag:
Is it really?

Marcus Lillington:
It also short for Chadwick or Chadrick.

Paul Boag:
That’s funny. Chadwick. See suddenly Chad doesn’t see as cool now. I thought her was this…

Marcus Lillington:
Chandler maybe.

Paul Boag:
Chandler? That just makes me think of Friends.

Marcus Lillington:
Or someone, my favorite commenter on this particular post has said Chadaktalasaurus.

Paul Boag:
I don’t believe that one. I don’t think that’s true. So what’s the answer to Chad’s question?

Marcus Lillington:
Oh, someone has said Charles.

Paul Boag:
Oh good. See one person agrees with you.

Marcus Lillington:
It could be Charles or Charlie says another person.

Paul Boag:
Can we please move on to the actual question?

Marcus Lillington:
Right, sorry, what was it?

Paul Boag:
The question was about how to write proposals and win prospects over. What are the techniques to convince people.

Marcus Lillington:
One of the very few lengthy articles I have written over the years covers exactly this. I’m trying to find it.

Paul Boag:
We will put a link in the show notes because Marcus is going to pull it up instantly, he knows exactly where it is and refers to it often, I’m sure. I thought this was quite interesting actually because you’re immediately going – you’re going to go off down the proposal line and what goes into a proposal and that kind of stuff but the bit that influenced me – not influenced me, that’s the wrong word, interested me about this question was, how do you win prospects over and what techniques are there to convince a prospect to choose you over your competitors and that’s not just a proposal thing, that’s also a pitch thing.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, it’s all in here.

Paul Boag:
Oh is it, oh you cover pitching as well.

Marcus Lillington:
If I can find the bloody thing.

Paul Boag:
Do you cover my most – my personal most important tip for winning pitches which is enthusiasm. Do you cover that? I bet you don’t because you are not enthusiastic. You’re just a miserable shit.

Marcus Lillington:
That’s so unkind and I’ve, ay found it. I have to say Mr. Drew McClinner your search isn’t very good on your site.

Paul Boag:
Oh, is it on 24 ways?

Marcus Lillington:
It’s on 24 ways, and it’s called ‘Charm Clients, Win Pitches.’

Paul Boag:
Ah, there we go. As I remember didn’t I write the outline of this for you and you just filled in the gaps?

Marcus Lillington:
It’s quite possible you did have some input onto this particular article.

Paul Boag:
Because ‘Charm Clients, Win Pitches’ is one of my workshops that I run.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes

Paul Boag:
You’re just ripping me off, Marcus. So yeah, I was saying enthusiasm I think is a big thing for making you stand out from your competitors because, let’s face this, I think a lot of times when we tender for projects all of the people tendering have got the same basic skills; they can build websites and they can do so to a fairly high standard. So then it becomes a price issue, but to be honest lot of the time price…

Marcus Lillington:
You should have sorted that out well before you’re standing in front of them.

Paul Boag:
Exactly, so you should know by that stage whether you’re in the right ballpark or not. So then it comes down to things like your experience in the particular sector that they are working in, that can make a difference. But I think a big one is how much you give a monkeys about the project. I think so much of the time it will come down to whether you’re enthusiastic, whether you seem passionate, whether you actually get along and can make a kind of a connection with the client. And that’s not just in the pitch of kind of coming across well but I know Marcus, you often, well almost always ring up a client before we get to even writing the proposal stage and that’s where the relationship starts to get built. And I think, personally, I think the relationship is a crucial component because, let’s face it, to create a successful website there needs to be good working relationship between the client and the agency. And I think clients know that and they try and establish that out of the gate whether there’s going to be that rapport there to make it work or not.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, I agree with you entirely. I’m not sure I agree with what I wrote back in 2008 now.

Paul Boag:
Oh, that is interesting. What did you write that you don’t agree with?

Marcus Lillington:
One of the headlines is ‘What makes a client want to hire you?’ And I’ve written ‘in a nut-shell: confidence, personality, enthusiasm’, which is kind of what you are talking about but…

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
…it’s not. It’s rapport and a client that wants, I don’t know, diligent, data-first, logical isn’t going to hire us. And we know that now.

Paul Boag:
Well they might hire Chris. It depends who is running the project.

Marcus Lillington:
But if it is you and I going into the pitch, we would make them feel uncomfortable and they would think I can’t work with these guys.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
So it’s about rapport. It’s not necessarily about enthusiasm and personality – well, I suppose it is about personality but what I was imparting there was you’ve got to go in there and be excited and I’m not sure that’s actually the case. I think it’s just like you’ve got to be true to yourself actually. God this is – that’s like really kind of hippie, isn’t it? But, you’ve got to be true to yourself, kids.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
Because that way you will get across your personally and if it is a good fit with the people you’re talking to then chances are they will feel comfortable about working with you.

Paul Boag:
But I guess it depends on how you interpret those words that you use. Was were they? Confidence, for me you’re saying you’re confident and you can demonstrate a confidence that you have got the ability to delivery that project.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah, I’m not saying they are wrong but I’m saying that’s – I know what I was thinking when I wrote it.

Paul Boag:
And what were the other ones? Personality – well your personality could be a my type of personality or a Chris type of personality. You know, it could be a details person or an over the top broad-brush person. And then, enthusiasm – for me that’s about actually caring. It’s caring about the project and finding something in that project that you actually do care about and communicating that you care about it. And I would argue that that’s possible on most projects. There’s normally something there of interest. Now that might be because you get to try out a new piece of technology. It might be because the user group is particularly interesting. It might be because of the challenge – particular challenges relating to the content. Whatever that is, you need to find it and hang on to it and communicate that. But you’re right, rapport is everything. I’ll never forget going and pitching for the RAF Benevolent Fund, were you with me on that pitch? I think you were, weren’t you?

Marcus Lillington:
I was.

Paul Boag:
When they asked the best question ever which is what are you going to do to make this project enjoyable for us. And I just think okay, most clients don’t say that outright but I think that is a big deciding factor for a lot of clients. They want to enjoy the project, they want it to be an engaging project that leads to a good result. Because if they don’t enjoy the project then they are not going to be happy with the final result and if they’re not happy with the final result, they are not going to promote and maintain their website and so it is going to wither and die. The relationship is everything, isn’t? Basically.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes, definitely. I go on to have actual point by point advice, blimey. Do you want to hear some of it?

Paul Boag:
Yeah, go on man.

Marcus Lillington:
What makes a client like you? Engaging with a potential client is tricky and it’s probably the area where you need to be most on your toes and try to gauge the reaction of the client. We recommend the following. Encourage questions throughout, is one. Because it gets the conversation going and actually ask questions of them, don’t just say at the start oh, please feel free to ask questions because people who are – kind of people tend not to. But if you actually ask them questions, the next point is ask if you make sense which encourages questions if you’re not getting any. Humor: though don’t keep trying to be funny if you’re not getting any laughs. Be willing to go off track. That’s really important. Really important. I mean it shows creativity for one thing. Read your audience. This is something you are very good at, Paul. Which is basically, and again this comes down to asking people questions especially if you – if you’re getting a kind of bit of a blank stare from people, just carrying on to the end of your presentation hoping everything is going to be alright; it probably won’t be.

Paul Boag:
Nah.

Marcus Lillington:
You need to probe a bit to sort of see what’s making them tick and what aren’t you covering they would like to be seeing.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
Empathize with the process because the chances are most of the people in front of you would rather be doing something else. I’ve even written think about what you wear. This sounds daft but do you want to be seen as either the stiff in the suit or the scruffy art student. Chances are neither character would get hired, maybe. Don’t know. Maybe that has changed a bit.

Paul Boag:
We normally go as both, don’t we? I go as the scruffy art student and you go as the stiff in the coat. Actually you don’t, you’re not. It’s Chris. When Chris turns up he’s like impeccably dressed. And I – I look like I’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards most of the time.

Marcus Lillington:
Indeed.

Paul Boag:
But there you go. What about – that’s all talking about rapport and how important rapport is which is all well and good when we’re talking about the pitch. But what about proposals, can you get – I mean how – can you get that into a proposal?

Marcus Lillington:
Hmmm.

Paul Boag:
I mean you certainly can by the questions and you’d ring them up and you have a chat with them and that kind of stuff.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah.

Paul Boag:
But in the actual document? I think you probably can.

Marcus Lillington:
We even tried to do that lately.

Paul Boag:
Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
I mean our latest version of our proposal, the way it’s changed more than anything else is trying to get a bit of an idea of what our ethos is – I hate that word but that’s what it is. We’re trying to get across our personality in our proposals just by the way we talk about our processes and the way we talk about what we deliver, the way we talk about previous work we’ve done was much less dry that it was previously. I suspect some people don’t like that. But frankly I think that’s a good thing. I think it helps in the process of being kicked out early on by clients that wouldn’t really get on with us.

Paul Boag:
Yeah, because it is better that you get kicked out of the proposal stage then when you go all the way up to do the pitch and then they go oh, no these guys are too laddy or too humorous or whatever else.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah.

Paul Boag:
So, I prefer that to happen at the proposal stage. I prefer it to happen before the proposal stage but I mean that’s trickier.

Marcus Lillington:
Sometimes it does.

Paul Boag:
Yeah. Well, I guess you never hear about them.

Marcus Lillington:
Yeah. The biggest – sorry, the biggest rule? The most important thing when writing a proposal is to respond to the brief which might be one sentence, which might be a 25 page – it might be a 60 page document. If it is a 60 page document I would suggest maybe you don’t want to respond to it. But the point is if people ask you to talk about your X and your Y and your ABC, make sure you talk about your x and your ABC. Don’t just talk about your X and Y and think well, we don’t really do ABC. Or if you don’t really do ABC, say you don’t do it and this why. And this is why you still…

Paul Boag:
And why it doesn’t matter. Yeah.

Marcus Lillington:
Exactly. Don’t just go back with a proposal which is your interpretation of the brief which is different and no explanation – sorry, I’m not making, I’m thinking out loud here. Sometimes you might want to propose something different to the brief because it might be the logical thing to do. But if you do that you must say why you are doing it. But yes, so basically it is just responding to people’s questions. Don’t just respond with what you think they want to hear.

Paul Boag:
And don’t also – just don’t do the – we’re wonderful, this why we’re wonderful without addressing their questions which is what a lot of proposals seem to end up being and that’s really unhealthy because it just – it looks like boilerplate and it looks like you haven’t put any effort into the actual proposal.

Marcus Lillington:
Exactly, exactly.

Paul Boag:
Anyway. It’s interesting people could never get enough of this question. I’m going to – one day I’m going to do a kick starter project. I think I’ve said this before on the show.

Marcus Lillington:
I think you said it last week actually, Paul.

Paul Boag:
Oh did I? Oh, I’m that repetitive. I’ll shut up then. So, on that dull note – oh no, we’ve got your question to liven things up before we go.

Marcus Lillington:
It’s not a question, Paul. Well maybe it is a question.

Paul Boag:
Oh, did I say question? I’ve really lost the plot now. Actually, in last week’s show you know we talked about Tommy Cooper. So I was doing the show notes earlier today and I thought oh I’ll include a video of Tommy Cooper in the show notes. And I just became addicted to watching Tommy Cooper videos on YouTube. I lost about half an hour of my life just kind of…

Marcus Lillington:
Only half an hour – that’s quite impressive.

Paul Boag:
Well I’m so busy at the moment it couldn’t have been any longer than that. But it really – it’s horror – it’s just so hard. But I really don’t know whether other people are going to get it when they watch it. Whether it was just this thing of its time. I mean I still laugh like a drain at it, but it is stupid. It’s not funny, it shouldn’t be funny.

Marcus Lillington:
Some of it is.

Paul Boag:
It’s very weird.

Marcus Lillington:
Anyway I do have a joke from Donovan Bailey I think.

Paul Boag:
You’ve actually got the name. Blooming heck.

Marcus Lillington:
I know that’s quite impressive but this one, yeah, it’s bad but hey it’s the only one I’ve got. A pirate walks into a bar. The bar tender asks why he has a ship’s wheel stuffed down his pants. And the pirate replies, arrgh it’s driving me nuts.

Paul Boag:
That’s terrible. It took me all of that time to actually work out the punch line and then when it did dawn on me it was like, is really, is that it? It’s driving my nuts. It doesn’t even make sense because it is driving me nuts, not it’s driving my nuts.

Marcus Lillington:
Well, yeah, I said me nuts.

Paul Boag:
Okay.

Marcus Lillington:
You didn’t like my pirate?

Paul Boag:
I didn’t like your pirate.

Marcus Lillington:
You should have done it.

Paul Boag:
I should have in my west country accent.

Marcus Lillington:
You being a pirate and all.

Paul Boag:
Smugglers I think is the term. Anyway that’s quite enough. I think so. We’re not on form this week, are we? But next week will be good because next week is going to be live from future of Web – no, it’s not because you are not going now.

Marcus Lillington:
No, I’m not.

Paul Boag:
So that shags the whole thing.

Marcus Lillington:
Well yeah it does, doesn’t it? Hey, never mind.

Paul Boag:
Oh God! Just lost the will to live. I’ve got an idea about that, but we’ll talk about that off air. We are going to have a great show next week, but it won’t be live from Future of Web Design but there you go. We just – the lack of commitment to this show is outstanding.

Marcus Lillington:
No, we are committed. We are just being pulled from pillar to post. I’d record one of these everyday it that’s all I had to do.

Paul Boag:
That’d be awesome, wouldn’t it? Does everybody want to pay us? How much will we need with our six listeners? Our two salaries divided by six, that would get quite expensive for those six listeners, wouldn’t it?

Marcus Lillington:
Maybe there are thousands of listeners out there who would all give us a little dime.

Paul Boag:
All chip in. No, I know what people on the internet are like; they’re tight arses every single one of them.

Marcus Lillington:
Yes. People on the internet.

Paul Boag:
Bloody miserable lot. Right, okay, on that note we shall return again next week with a new and exciting show and a new and energized Marcus Lillington with me.

Marcus Lillington:
Bye.

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