There is a great scene in Robin Williams 1994, Ms. Doubtfire, where Sally Field is interviewing potential nanny’s for her kids. One candidate in particular starts off the interview process with everything she won’t do, “I don’t do windows, I don’t change diapers, I don’t cook…” you get the message. Lately I’ve heard a lot of web designers and developers add a list of things they won’t do in their website contract. Now, it all depends on how you present the contract, but we don’t list anything we won’t do in our contracts. Why? Because, if we aren’t careful, the language we use can cause conflict and mistrust from the very start.
Years ago when the web was young we really didn’t have a precedent for the web. We were literally making it up as we went along. When working with clients the only thing we had to go on was our graphic design experience and our software experience. When writing contracts we did the same. The only problem was, they weren’t the same. The web is instant, public and open. Our contracts contained language from the CD ROM era that was over litigated by years of illegal CD Copying. At that point, and still to this day, anyone could copy a websites code and images and make it their own. We really didn’t want that to happen, so we lawyered up, put disclaimers on footers and had really thick contracts. Ha, there was no way we were getting screwed!
It got worse. We made the clients come in to sign the contracts. They would bring their representatives, we would have ours. It was like we were doing a merger! The rooms were often fairly large and sterile and there was this awkward ambiance in the room. It always felt weird and uncomfortable, with semi-serious comments like, “So you aren’t going to take our money and disappear, are you? Ha, ha…” Our contracts were so large, it could take an hour or three hours depending on how much the client wanted to read. Many times it didn’t go well and clients were intimidated by the experience. Some even walked out.
A trend began to develop where it seemed that every project had a point at which some heated comments or threats were exchanged, followed by a letter from our lawyers. It was disaster. A roller coaster ride that you wanted to get off, but couldn’t.
As the years past we learned to make our contracts thinner, fax them back and forth and make the process less complicated and a lot more fun. Today our contracts are only five pages. In a nutshell, the client owns everything they’ve paid for up to that point, they agree to pay us for the work we did, anyone can cancel at any time and here’s the kicker, “Any additional requested tasks not specifically included in this estimate are subject to a new estimate and approval.” That being said, we also tell our clients, “We guarantee all of our work. We will work on it until you love it. It may take longer, but you are going to be looking at this website for a long time and we want you to be proud of it.”
WAIT! Oh my god, you are giving away the farm! Clients will take advantage of you! No, we haven’t and no, they haven’t. We came to a point where we thought about listing all of the things we wouldn’t do and maybe we even did, but eventually that list grew longer and longer. How many No’s do we need in a contract? What did happen, is our clients chose us to build their website. They got exactly what they wanted and they were happy when the website went live. It took a long time to learn this and there were many mistakes made along the way.
Couples that have been married a long time are always asked, “how’d you make it last all of these years?” I asked one couple that once and the answer surprised me, “when I realized that we were going to be together forever, our arguments weren’t about blame, it was about overcoming the issue.” Today I think about that concept quite a bit,
What would it look like if we were totally committed to making our clients successful? What if clients trusted us to not “disapear?” By taking away the no’s and just addressing the issues, we have created an environment of trust and ultimately, we are creating better websites.