Big mistake

Paul Boag

Every web design agency screws up from time to time? We’ll tell you our screw ups, if you tell us yours!

I recently received this email from Dinu…

Looking from afar, established agencies like yours seem to be almost perfect. However, I’m sure you’ve had to deal with missed deadlines, over-booking, etc. I would like to hear about some of these #fail stories (just to get a “you are not alone” feeling for the rest of us), and also to know how you managed to overcome these common pitfalls.

Its a great question and one that few in the industry discuss. After all who wants to admit their failures. To be honest, I am just as interested as you to hear how other web design agencies screw up! As a result, I am going to keep this post short. What I want to do instead is open it up to general discussion in the comments – What have your big mistakes been? Please share, I am dying to know.

That said, it would be rude to ask for your failures without revealing my own! Here are my top 5 (there could have been many more!)

1. Not nurturing our biggest client

We nearly lost our biggest client once. Our work was good. We delivered on time. We kept our pricing realistic and fair. However, we nearly lost the client because we started to take them for granted.

When we first started working with them, we were hungry and enthusiastic. We would be proactive and suggested loads of ideas. Overtime however, we got stuck in a rut of delivering whatever they asked. We stopped innovating and suggesting alternatives.

Fortunately we had a good enough relationship with the client that they didn’t drop us immediately. Instead they told us they wanted the “magic back” and so we worked hard to repair the relationship.

We discovered that a good agency has to do a lot more than deliver. They have to be proactive, enthusiastic and work hard to provide the best customer service over the long term.

2. Ignoring culture when recruiting

We made a major mistake recruiting a developer. His qualifications were good and on paper he looked great. He even interviewed well. However, when we got him on board it quickly became apparent we had made a terrible mistake.

His previous job was working in the public sector and he could not adjust to the culture of an agency. The speed and variety of work overwhelmed him and the cultural shift proved too much.

This wasn’t his fault. It was ours. We should have spotted the problem before we  offered him the job.

3. Not challenging clients

In the early days of the company we were so desperate to please clients that we basically did whatever they asked. I remember one client in particular who turned into a micro-manager, picking over every aspect of the design. We would dutifully make a change only to have him decide he didn’t like it, and get us to change it back. Unfortunately once the relationship had been established it was very hard to change, and we were a doormat to this particular client for a long time.

Things have moved on  and we now view our relationship with our clients as collaborative. We work together to produce a great website. Part of providing a good service is a willingness to challenge bad decisions and provide our design expertise. We used to be nothing more than pixel pushers, and clients were paying for a better service than that.

4. Allow scope creep

This is a mistake we didn’t just make once, but rather again and again. In fact we still occasionally do this now, although we have become much better.

Because of our desire to please clients, we would allow them to add new features late into the development cycle. However, ultimately we were doing our clients a disservice. Scope creep leads to additional expense and slipped deadlines. It also adds complexity, which can often damage the user experience.

Features added late in the development cycle are often less considered and rushed in their implementation. Ultimately this can lead to a second rate product.

Today we encourage our clients to phase development and so move new suggestions into an upcoming phase.

5. Under pricing project

We still do this! However, the reason we do it now is at least different to the early days. If we under price now it is because we have made a miscalculation over the time a project will take. In the early days we would under price because we were desperate for the work.

However, as with scope creep, under pricing can lead to cutting corners. It is easy to fall into the trap of taking shortcuts to keep the project profitable and ultimately that costs the client. Also, it is hard to ever pull back from low pricing. Once a client has been given a low price they will expect the same for future projects.

Under price at your peril!

So, what about you? What are the biggest mistakes you make running your web design business? Let us know in the comments.