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How We Work: The New Client Tango

· Client Services,Consulting

Over the past few months we’ve been refining our process as to how we begin new projects and engage new clients.

We’d like to share some of that insight. (If you’re a potential new client, or a developer/shop looking to see how other companies operate, this post is for you).

As a collective, we’ve been involved with web development and eCommerce projects for about 20 years.

We’ve been through the painful process of estimating jobs: the RFP process, vague client-written requirements, loose estimates that are taken as real numbers, and everything in between.

We don’t believe that anyone can truly give a realistic estimate right off the bat for eCommerce projects.

ECommerce is inherently complex and expensive to get right. We don’t like to give false hope to clients but would rather be realistic about what the actual investment must be to get it right.

A client wants to know exactly what they’re getting into

Ecommerce projects require significant financial investment, but also an investment in human resources. For that reason we perform a collaborative engagement at the beginning of each relationship. The ‘Discovery and Strategy’ engagement consist of an extensive review of the client’s business. This includes: interviews with the stakeholders of the project, interviews with client employees directly involved with the project, and a review of the client’s internal processes. We do this to basically see how the business operates (and to possibly uncover any hidden ‘duct taped’ practices). Many times we discover planning procedures and execution strategies that are often overlooked by other agencies, which is why we pride ourselves on the level of detail we give to each assignment.

We start with a small engagement, then scale up.

We want to make sure that we can work as a team with our clients. As a smaller firm we’re always battling the bigger companies coming in to try and get the whole job. We feel that the easiest way to get past that is to work with a client on a smaller engagement to start. This lets each side know if the ‘relationship’ is going to work. Once we know that we’re able to work together in a harmonious fashion, we move on to tackle bigger chunks of the project(s). This does 2 things: it creates trust in us with the client, and it doesn’t allow either side to over-commit (or for us to under-deliver).

Additional requirements for different types of clients.

We get new clients a few different ways. Clients might come directly to us for a full site. We also work with creative agencies that may use us as a development resource. One of the bigger things that we’ve been working on lately is rescue/salvage projects. Each one of these types of projects requires a slight variation of our general process.

We have additional requirements for these scenarios:

The Creative Agency Client

We have a specific set of requirement that we ask the creative agencies or designers to provide. They include branding guidelines, CSS style guidelines, annotated PDFs, and we prefer separate annotated PSDs, not just layered files, as things may be missed. We want to produce the best product that is as close as possible to what the designer envisioned. This level of detail also prevents changes at the end of the project that kill budgets.

The Rescue/Salvage Client

In this case we’ll do a full code review, standards compliant, documentation review. This gives us a great starting point of where the whole site stands. Usually our first step in this scenario will be to get the site up to standards.

Our typical starter engagement will last two to three weeks.

This includes a written deliverable that describes the process, project tasks, project plan, and a realistic overall cost of the project. We sit with the client at the end of this process and review all the tasks and let the client choose what should or should not be included in the first phase of the build. This allows the client to be in charge of everything on the project.

We start projects this way to see if we’re a good match.

It’s the first date, we need to know if ‘like’ each other. We know there is going to be good times, bad times, and some really bad times (yes, we’ve yelled at our clients and they’ve yelled back at us). Throughexperience we know that there’s going to be times that you need to be at odds to get the best work, then go grab a beer and laugh about it. Our best clients understand that.

We ask a lot from our clients, but in the end it produces the best possible outcome.

The process is intense and we ask a lot from the client but it makes sure that there are realistic expectations on everyone’s part. Our job is to help build successful businesses. We don’t consider ourself just eCommerce developers but a full strategy firm that helps companies accomplish what they set out to do.

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