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Dan Rubin's SuperfluousBanter

Design, random musings, and the Web. Since 1977


Copy & Paste Mentality

We all know that a digital environment is prone to illicit reproductions: songs, movies, stylesheets, markup, code, graphics, software etc. You name it. All your bits are belong to us! As such this is nothing new, I remember the days when tapes were hot, hot, hot! But somehow there was at least some level of effort put into getting that wicked new album on tape – after which you shared it with your friends getting drunk while playing NHL or Road Rash on a Sega Genesis (yup, those were the days).

Presently sharing requires as much effort as switching on your computer. Aside from the fact that sharing is inherent to a network, a worrisome trend is taking shape: copy and paste mentality is infecting all layers of society, not only the computer literate and hardcore geeks. In the great tradition of client stories from hell, here’s my version.

While working on a corporate web site I get a phone call from the client: “Umm, yes, we just had a meeting with our 3 CEO’s and would like to expand the site with a few extra sections, is that possible?” Ok, first of, what the f***? 3 CEO’s? Ugh, welcome to feedback and approval cycle from hell. Anyway, more business is always good, so I told them I’d send a revised offer and contract. No biggie. Right?

Two days later I get another phone call: “Yeah, errmÂ… we had a look at your offer but found its price rather disturbing.” I get these types of answers most of the time, clients always think any price is ridiculous, whatever the amount (tip: odds are a client will try to bargain, make sure you calculate some safety margin; anywhere between 15% and 20% will do). After getting the “this price is ridiculous” preach, I explain how I calculate my fees, the amount of work it will take and of course offer them a 15% rebate since they’re requesting more business (safety margin, remember). But at that exact moment lightening strikes: “Yes, yes, yes, that’s all fine, but isn’t a few extra pages just a matter of copy and paste.”

Click, click, boom! Copy and paste mentalityÂ…

It’s during moments such as these that I hate clients more than I need them. As if matters couldn’t get any worse, my sensible explainations failed miserably to convince the client otherwise: “Yeah, well, if you’re going to charge for these few extra sections we’re afraid that we’ll be forced to take our business elsewhere.” Talk about extreme measures. Worst of all, I already finished all the compositions and just got approval, from all 3 CEO’s, which is close to a miracle.

So I ask you? What would you have done? Give in, and finish the project without billing for the other sections and keep a client happy (and get the full initial amount)? Or, refuse to do work for free and tell them to f*** themselves, accompanied by the traditional middle finger. Yet bill for the hours already worked and risk losing a referral and money?

This item was posted by dhilhorst on Monday, February 23rd, 2004.


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15 comments on “Copy & Paste Mentality”

  1. Posted by ak on Monday, February 23rd, 2004.

    it all depends on if you want to see them mangle the design with copying and pasting when they have no idea what the difference between one tag and another are.

    if you’ve already done the work, why not? make them happy..

  2. Posted by Ryan Brill on Monday, February 23rd, 2004.

    It’s a tough call, no doubt. I’d say it would party depend on how badly I need the work. If I didn’t really need the work (or rather, the money ;) I would be less likely to play their little game and deal with them. However, since I always seem to need the work, I find myself giving more than I should be expected to and wondering why…

    What I don’t get is *why* they think they should get all this extra work for free, or *why* the prices should be so cheap. We are professionals, doing professional grade work. In the web development industry, technology is constantly changing and being updated, forcing us to constantly be learning and trying to stay ahead of the curve. I realize that a lot of 14 year olds can make web pages, however, they seldom have the experience or skill of someone who does this to put food on the table. Sure, their prices are probably less than yours or mine, but is it worth it? The difference in the quality of the work is rarely a match.

    I guess it all boils down to scope creep. Personally, I’d allow a little bit (you’re probably always going to have some) but be careful how much you do on your own dime. Clients can’t honestly expect to add a bunch of work and not be charged for it, even though they often try.

  3. Posted by Jeff Minard on Tuesday, February 24th, 2004.

    I would tell them this.

    “If you wish to seek cheaper business partners for producing your website, I would not discourage you in your endeavour. However, you must remember that anyone worth their mettle will probably charge just as much as myself and anyone who charges less and agrees that this project is simmply “copying and pasting” will most likely *not* do a good job.”

    You may also wish to mention that since you built the site there is no chance you’ll break it. If someone else does it, your likely to end up with what you talked about in your other story – a mess of bad, redone htm-something.

    Then of course they have to pay you to fix it. ;D

  4. Posted by Andy Budd on Tuesday, February 24th, 2004.

    It’s a bugger isn’t it. Unfortunately most clients don’t get what’s involved in building a site. This isn’t really their fault, as why should they?

    Unfortunately, because the cost of entry in becoming a web designers is very low, this profession has been tarred somewhat by cheap and cheerful ‘$100 for 5 pages’ bedroom web designers. If your 15 year old nephew can knock up a website in DW for the cost of a set of Pokemon trading cards, how on earth can we expect clients to understand what’s involved in a professional project.

    Unfortunately many clients see web design as a low cost medium and this doesn’t look like it’s changing in a hurry. It’s a buyers market out there. The right thing to do is stand your ground, explain your reasoning, and hope that your clients see sense. However, if you do this, somebody out there is always going to be willing to undercut you. If you give in, you get stuck in a cycle of charging much less for work that you actually should be, and helping to devalue the industry even further.

    I wish there was some rock solid answer, but at the end of the day it’s really a judgement call. If you’ve got plenty of work, then stand your ground. If you’ve lost the last 3 clients because of pricing you either need to get better clients (which is tough) or cut corners and manage the project as tightly as you possibly can, to get back what you’re losing.

    A while ago, somebody from a big web company said to me that they never end up charging out all the time they spend on a project. They probably spend at least 20% extra on top of their chargeable time, probably more. The thing to do is to keep good time logs and track your profitability over each project so at least you can make sure you’re making money and not doing work for charity.

  5. Posted by Daniel on Tuesday, February 24th, 2004.

    This fundamental philosophy, that everything online should be cheaper and faster, extends beyond web design. I work in the advertising research industry, and we often compare the cost of conducting research online to the cost offline (phone). Usually, online research is less expensive, but not necessarily because it’s online; rather, it’s less expensive because our methodology doesn’t translate completely to an online medium, so we gather less rich data. In those projects in which we mimic our methodology as closely as possible online, the price normalizes.

    Clients (and client service) are befuddled by this. Apparently, the amalgam of magic from all the MMP RPGs is supposed to seep into online interview research, at once exposing the true, intimate, hidden core of respondents to clients and agencies, while doing so for pennies on the dollar.

    Folks, work is work. Copy isn’t cheap, online or off. Getting people to complete your survey isn’t cheap, online or off. Design work isn’t cheap, online or off. You get what you pay for, so you should pay for what you expect to get.

  6. Posted by Nollind Whachell on Tuesday, February 24th, 2004.

    First off, I gotta say, I love these last two posts of yours. I just stumbled across your site and when I read your last two posts, I went “bingo!”. Why? I’m starting to do some research on “client behaviour”, if you want to call it that, and this is exactly the type of stuff I’m looking for.

    As for your answer, I would say is this job going to lead to more work with them? If so, then if you give in, they will step all over you in the future. Guaranteed. I’ve experienced it myself working for a web firm in the past. Therefore, if you don’t like being stepped all over, I would stand behind your beliefs.

    The thing is though, while these clients may be assholes for expecting more work for nothing, this type of thing is commonplace in web design so you have to be prepared for it. More often than not, everyone hopes things will go smoothly and work out. Well, as we both know, RealLife doesn’t work that way. Being prepared for the inevitable and educating people about it prepares you both for it. The first time this happened to me at this web firm that I worked for, I asked those who were in contact with the clients something to the effect of, “Did you tell them at the start that modifications outside the approved scope is extra billable work?” “No” came the response. Well, if you don’t set guidelines or boundaries from the start, then the client can do whatever the hell they want.

    More often than not, I find people get upset about something when they are surprised about it (doesn’t matter if they are being unrealistic or not). The thing to do is to tell the client this up front in a nice, polite, and, most important of all, easily understandable way. Make them see your logic up front. If they seem happy with your process, get them to approve it. No it doesn’t have to be a sign on the dotted line thing but just a quick email saying does my process sound acceptable to you. Once you get that reply saying “Yes”, you can refer back to it down the road. If they don’t agree with certain aspects of it at the start though, then at least you won’t be wasting your time getting frustrated later. You decide before the work starts how much leeway they can have. Define it.

    An extra step I would have taken here for this incident would have been to make them realize that it isn’t just a simple cut-n-paste solution. Cutting and pasting takes like not even a few seconds to do, at worse an hour maybe. Adding site sections adds on not seconds, but hours or even days to a project. Explain the details of what actually goes into adding those extra sections and even more so, explain the impact those extra sections will have on the site (i.e. navigational structure, extended timeline, delayed launch, etc). Explain we are talking hours/days, not seconds or minutes (and then start calcuting the cost to you for this extra work, since someone has to pay for it).

    As I said above, this will happen again, therefore be prepared for it. Memorize that response you know you will have to use again. Even better, inform them before you even begin. Tell them scope creep is normal and this is how we deal with it. Show them your scope creep form and explain the impact to the timeline and cost of the project. Once they are informed, it is their option to choose that path or not. At least being informed ahead of time, they will know the consequences of their actions (i.e. increased timeline and costs).

    Now if you did all of the above, let them know ahead of time about scope creep, showed them the form, explained the consequences and they still turned around and screwed you, well then they are assholes. Do you want to work with assholes who will probably screw you again in the future? I wouldn’t.

    BTW for a good book that talks about these realities, check out Web Redesign: Workflow That Works. It’s probably the only book that I’ve come across that contains most of my process beliefs.

  7. Posted by hemebond on Tuesday, February 24th, 2004.

    Don’t give in. It affects not only you, but other designers and developers as well.

    Maybe there should be unions or something. No wait, I hate unions. You do need to stand together though. It’s the only way to get changes made.

  8. Posted by Nollind Whachell on Tuesday, February 24th, 2004.

    You do need to stand together though. It’s the only way to get changes made.

    Well said. Actually this is why I’ve been wondering why a group of developers haven’t gotten together to educate clients in a simple easily understandable way (via a website). With it, every developer who agrees with the same principles, could point to it and tell their clients “Why am I asking you to trust me? This is why.”

    As many have said so far, clients seem to be out to touch with the realities of web design. I’m seeing a lot of great work by web developers communicating to other web developers about web standards and such. Change is occurring and it’s great to see but why hasn’t a group gotten together to try to create a site focused towards clients to help them understand and realize the important aspect of web design as well (i.e. scope creep, etc)?

  9. Posted by Emily on Wednesday, February 25th, 2004.

    while you’re at educating clients, why don’t you educate all the 14 year olds too? If these clients start getting all the standards/time/professional speak from people like me even (I actually am 14 years old) they’ll be more likely to listen. If you mean to change the whole tone of webdesign you will need to change the view points of all these kids and W3bD3s1gneRs (who you at least partially blame) as well as the clients, because we aren’t going to disappear, and most of us won’t try to educate ourselves like I do. Not that I’m probably actually one of the people you think of since I only have built sites for friends and myself (pro bono), but speaking for my age group.

  10. Posted by Brian on Wednesday, February 25th, 2004.

    Ask them, “When you bought your last car, did they give you an extra set of tires for free?”… the process to make them is the same over and over… they have so many, why not give away a few extra sets?

    or better yet, “Do you get free refills on your favorite wine as long as you sit at the table?”… it’s all from the same liquid… it’s already made up… it’s just a copy and paste, oh… excuse me an extra pour from the bottle.

    PS. thanks for the good read.

  11. Posted by Dustin on Wednesday, February 25th, 2004.

    Clients can be so horrible sometimes. I haven’t run into this problem yet, but I’ve had my share of issues with clients. It’s amazing how picky they think they can be for the small amount of money they are paying.

    Anyways, I would have just done the work I think. I’m a pretty easy-going guy, so I’d do it if I were going to get some referrals later on from the company.

  12. Posted by brew on Thursday, February 26th, 2004.

    This is a difficult one. If you choose to do the work for free, send them a breakdown of the hours you spent on it and how much you would normally charge out for those hours. Then ask them to pay what they think is fair. It would be interesting to see what they do. If you get some money out of it – bonus!

  13. Posted by robert on Friday, February 27th, 2004.

    Great comments all.

    It’s true you know… offline you can go to kinkos and print out the Annual Report the admin person put together in MSWord. Heck, they will even bind it for you and it will look decent.

    But it won’t be designed.

    So go to your local business card mom and pop print shop. They’ll offer you multiple colors even and it’ll look decent. It may even have a small hint of design.

    The next step is the professional designer with a professional marketing message all printed in four color process for your shareholders.

  14. Posted by Brandon on Wednesday, March 3rd, 2004.

    When you look at things from a client’s perspective, it does seem like you would only need to copy and paste. I just started designing sites a year-and-a-half ago, so I remember how the internet seemed before I understood how it worked.

    Clients have probably never seen HTML or CSS, and they assume that making a site is simple drag-and-drop. They don’t realize how much work goes into the whole process. If clients actually saw what it takes to build a good site…

    Also, since I’m 14 years old, I think I should address the issue of young, cheap designers stealing business. My rates are low ($10 – $15/hour), but I am only doing small stuff. If there’s something I know I won’t be able to do well, I tell the client this and refer them to a more experienced designer who can handle it.

  15. Posted by Nate Logan on Wednesday, March 3rd, 2004.

    I wholeheartedly agree with Nollind.

    Due to all of the uneducated design, development, and pricing (AKA baggage) associated with the professional web design/development world, the only way to be on the same page with a client is to establish expectations before the work begins. Something in writing should clearly identify the expectations, deliverables, and compensation for a given project. You can also specify (or minimally, discuss) what additional work (scope creep) will cost (in terms of time and money). The point is – make sure that expectations on both sides are clear.

    Why? What are the benefits? Primarily, there are no surprises for either party. They are not surprised in what they are getting; you are not surprised in what you are getting. It is my experience that such disputes/disagreements come from initially wrong expectations rather than from a client who is trying to weasel more work out of you than he originally thought fair. Secondarily, if the relationship goes sour, such a document puts the law on your side if the client tries to screw you 3/4 of the way through the project (at least in Idaho).

    In a sentence, *clearly set expectations before the work begins*. Be somewhat flexible (sell yourself, your service, and your reputation), but never let yourself get screwed. By the way, beyond agreed upon deliverables, *you* determine what it is to be screwed.