I’m not sure if a written contract is the equivalent to terms of service but I’m sure of one thing though…
If you’re going to do ANY kind of work for someone (online or offline) please DO PROTECT YOURSELF using a written contract and add a disclosure for terms of service.
For each and every thing you forget to include on your work agreement, you can easily get screwed on that gig.
My First Offline Client Has Been A Nightmare So Far
It all started like this…
A friend of mine (let’s call him M.F. for “My Friend“) found out I was working developing websites locally so he called me on the phone to talk about it.
We got together and after explaining I was using a CMS (wordpress) and templates (wordpress themes) we agreed that we were a good fit and decided to go ahead with the project.
I explained that I was NOT doing custom websites a few more times just to make sure we were on the same frequency and yeah, M.F. agreed once again.
So a few days later, I received a PSD mock-up from a graphic designer.
Let’s call him G.D. for “Graphic Designer” (I’m not going to use any names btw to keep it clean for all these guys).
To be honest with you, I wasn’t expecting any mock-ups but information to put on the site instead; I didn’t say anything and proceeded to accept the information received.
It wasn’t anything fancy, just a big header, some navigation links, two big boxes for twitter and facebook to the right and about three boxes on the left that mimicked post excerpts.
My first thought was “Great, this actually looks like a blog“.
And the second thought was… “Hmmm… we have some sort of a communication problem going on in here as well…”
The mock-up they sent was clearly not on the budget they initially paid so I called M.F. and explained it all to him.
He wasn’t too happy about it in the beginning but he said he was going to take care of that and as soon as he found out we already spoke to his team and they were happy with us, all went smoothly.
WordPress Theme Design
So I immediately got started working, I chose the Genesis Framework from StudioPress Themes, particularly the Prose Theme which allows you to tweak a lot of stuff without actually having to deal with code.
I have to say I was pretty happy with my final result.
I did the whole site in just one sitting but it took me about two days to fully complete it since I started fine-tuning everything that didn’t look perfect to me.
So I uploaded everything and told M.F. the site was done but I explained it was on maintenance mode so normal visitors wouldn’t see a website without information as they just sent me a mock-up and a header image but no information.
The Theme Design Review
A few days later they called me to do the live training for one person on all the basics about WordPress (logging in, creating a post, editing a post, updating widgets information, etc).
I e-mailed Ronald so he could get ready to go with me (my brother in law and business partner on this) and as soon as we got there some random guy said he didn’t like our design.
Let’s call this dude B.A. for Bad Attitude.
Needless to say, the guy was being a complete asshole to us.
I immediately replied the design was based on the mock-up they sent and his reply was that he didn’t even know the person who sent the mock-up in the first place and that the design was going to be changed no matter what.
“Okay” I replied and I was very upset about it but I kept myself under control and didn’t say anything else to him.
I gave the training to W.E. for the WordPress Editor for about two hours and then before actually leaving I called the project manager, let’s call him P.M. (I’m not creative with names, sorry!)
I made sure the asshole, er… I mean the B.A. dude wasn’t around and I told the P.M.
“You know what? Your B.A. dude is saying he’s going to change the theme design, I’m not going to do it. At all. We never agreed on strictly custom-made website design, you can ask M.F. if you want, I just want to make this clear to you.”
I can tell you the P.M. guy was confused as hell and not sure to agree or disagree with me but he said it was okay in the end.
We waved them good bye and spent the rest of the trip back home agreeing that maybe having a verbal agreement with M.F. wasn’t a great idea after all.
The Second Theme Mock-Up
We already had collected the money for the project, gave the consultation and we STILL received an e-mail from M.F. with a link and a short sentence:
“[some link here] <- They want the site to look like this one.”
I received exactly that text (only in Spanish) and it wasn’t a “could you please check this out or can you guys possibly do something else, maybe like this” no, it was that sentence only.
I forwarded the e-mail to Ronald and we both laughed about it but not jokingly, it was that kind of laughter that is in disbelief and anger at the same time.
Ronald was furious and I was so mad that I still wasn’t going to do anything about it but we decided to cool down and get together to see what we were going to do.
After all, it was the first offline gig and we thought it was very important since it is for a political campaign (I hate politics btw).
The site was from their competence but it came from a random state in Mexico.
It had a lot of stuff going on and it didn’t look ANYTHING AT ALL to their first mock-up, which by the way, we had already delivered.
After a little bit of swearing, laughs and some more frustration about the whole situation, we decided to start looking at the code of the suggested site they sent and said “Ok, let’s just do this and let’s get off these guys already.”
Give Them What They Want Even If It Is Crap
“The client is always right.”
Honestly, that’s far from the truth but if some client is telling you they want “X” and not “Y”, you give them “X” no matter what.
So we followed instructions and what we tried to do, was to take the positive things of the suggested site and enhance that on their site.
We got rid of the junk though.
B.A. guy kept sending me e-mails about what we were still missing on the site.
Again, there wasn’t a single “please” or “thanks” ANYWHERE in any of his e-mails.
I have worked with assholes before but I never had the power (like right now) to just decline with a sarcastic smile right to their face if I don’t want to do something.
But I still made the changes and e-mailed the P.M. about it (which I have to say, P.M. dude is actually a cool guy).
I got ANOTHER e-mail from B.A. pointing out I missed a sentence on a graphic I made.
I actually didn’t forget, I just thought they didn’t care about anything at this point so I didn’t included that line.
So there I am, manually re-structuring the whole theme layout so the new graphic would display correctly.
And finally, re-doing the graphic (we never agreed on graphic work either and I ended up doing more than 10+ custom graphics for them) and uploaded that to their site.
They Screwed Up Our Theme Layout
While I was working on that last change on the new graphic, the whole home site disappeared.
I laughed and I immediately though maybe it was just a bug or something with my browser’s cache.
I refreshed my developing tab and… nothing was there.
They had deleted the whole freaking layout.
(That’s what you get when you give too much control to an idiot by the way – they had a wordpress admin role that I later changed to editor)
I’m not even mad at them, I’m mad at myself for not being more strict on our terms of service and that stupid verbal agreement with M.F. was good for nothing.
I ended up doing the whole site from scratch…
For the SECOND time… (The first time was when I migrated from my testing site to the live environment, long story).
I’m currently working on a hard coded solution when they would have the role editor but won’t even see the new theme’s control panel.
I also ended up using Headway Themes for re-doing their site.
If you plan to do some work for somebody, make sure you are in the same frequency before agreeing to do anything or you can end up in a bad situation like I did.
So here are a few pointers for you:
- Always use a written contract and make them sign it, keep the signed copy for yourself
- Specifiy every single thing of what your work includes (and what doesn’t) on your terms of agreement/service (make them sign this too)
- Include in one of your TOS clausules that you’ll be responding to ONE person only (avoid communication noise)
- Explain what your refunds policy is (since you’re doing a service, you could even say you don’t even do refunds but that’s your call)
I’ll write my own contract and terms of service TODAY to prevent this situation from happening again in the future and like Justin Ledvina says, “let’s turn a negative into a positive one“.
So I think I learned my lesson the hard way.
I believe in over delivering.
I have always lived under that line of thought because that’s how I am but I’m pretty sure there’s a limit somewhere.
Question: Have you ever been in this situation where you offer your services and somehow end up doing a lot of EXTRA work and your clients thinking is part of the deal?
Let me know in the comments area and thank you for reading!
PS. There are some great things coming here as I am starting a new project for offline work again with a twist.
I will let you know all about it before next Monday since that’s when I’m actually going to start promoting this so stay put if you’re interested!
If you want a hint, check out Dan Sumner’s comment on Learn How Offline Consulting Could Easily Lead You To 30K A Month