Working with Clients as a Flash Web Designer

Unless you're independently wealthy, you create Web sites for friends, or you play with Flash as a hobby, you need to generate a profit from your work. If you're going to survive working with clients and still keep your sanity, you need to do a few things.

Don't hesitate to seek the advice of a competent attorney who can advise you on contract details.

Create a client survey

On your Web site, you likely have information about yourself, information about the services you offer, and examples of your work. Web designers can and often do get clients from distant locales. Sometimes the only way you can establish a preliminary contact and know what the client needs is to create and post a customer survey on your Web site.

Customer surveys can be kind of lengthy, so think again about using a form created in Flash. Instead, rely on its butt-ugly — that's a technical term — HTML counterpart to gather information. In your questionnaire, you need to get the following information:

  • The potential client's contact information.
  • Whether or not the client has procured a domain name.
  • Whether or not the client will provide edited text, images, and so on for the Web site.
  • The client's expectations and why he wants a Web site. This should be a definite reason, such as promoting a product or expanding the customer base. If the client says he just wants a Web site, this should raise a red flag — the client has no earthly idea of what his expectations are.

The information from your client survey will help you establish a line of communication and eventually will be used to create your proposal and price quote.

Create a static mock-up

After your initial meeting with the client, you should have a pretty good idea of what he wants for the final Web site. You can easily create a mock-up of the banner and the navigation menu in less than an hour by using the powerful tools built into Macromedia Fireworks. After you have these areas laid out, you can create the area of the page where the initial content appears. Typically, this will be a combination of text and images. If you don't have an extensive portfolio or don't come highly recommended, some clients will want to see something before they sign on the dotted line.

Get the client to sign off on the design

After the client decides on the winning mock-up, get the client to sign the mock-up. In fact, you might consider having a stamp made that says Approved By:on the first line and Date: on the second line. Stamp each of the mock-ups, and when the client swoons, whip out your pen — or felt-tipped marker if you print your mock-ups on glossy paper — and ask the client to sign. After the client signs off on the design, file it in the client's folder in case there are any questions later.

Cover the bases

When you're done with the Web site, the contract can serve as your checklist. Go through every paragraph and clause of the contract. For example, if you say you're going to submit the site to six search engines, make sure you have done so.

Document that you've done everything listed in the contract. One problem that arises is documenting sundry details like submitting the site to search engines. Your client won't know the results of search engine submissions for several weeks. Take a screenshot of the site being submitted to each search engine and keep this with the client's file. If any questions arise after you've completed the site, you have all the documentation needed to prove you've done what you said you would.

Get it in writing

Never do business on a handshake; it will always come back to haunt you. Make sure your client signs and dates your original contract. If minor changes are to be made, cross out the original and then write in the revision. Both you and the client need to initial the revision. If the client requests significant changes in the contract, rewrite it — or tell the client to take a hike. Then make sure all additional client requests — with the exception of really small requests — are handled with a change order.

Get an initial payment

When you submit the contract to the client, make sure you add a payment clause. Always ask for an initial payment of at least 40 percent of the total contract price. Because this is a Flash design and you won't have anything to show the client until your initial prototype is published, 40 percent of the total price is a fair initial payment. Your contract should also include an additional 40 percent payment when the site has been published and uploaded. The final 20 percent is paid when the client signs off on the site.

Get feedback in writing

When you request feedback from a client, don't rely on a hasty telephone call where he tells you, "Yeah, it's great. Rock on." Unless you've recorded the conversation — which may or may not be legal in the state where you live — this won't hold up in court if the client pitches a hissy fit when you're done with the site. Get the client's feedback in writing. If you rely on e-mail for client feedback, after you receive the client's feedback, send an additional e-mail to the client acknowledging and thanking him for the feedback.

Bill for extras

Your contract states everything that you and the client have agreed to. Your contract should also have clauses for extra work. When you perform extra work, generate an invoice immediately and send it to the client with the invoice for the applicable incremental payment. For example, if you perform the work at the final stages of the project, send the invoices for the extra work with the request for final payment.

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