How To Do Client Work Right

While it’s on my mind, I want to reflect on how I think client work can be done correctly.  By ‘correctly’ I mean being happy with the work you’re doing, not being over-worked, making plenty of profit, and satisfying your clients.  It can be done – I know people who do it – but it certainly wasn’t for myself or Pure Adapt.
Based on my experiences, these are the rules you should strictly adhere to if you want to do client work right:

  • Charge what you’re worth.  What are you worth?  Do some math:  if you want to make $100k you need to make around $2k/week, which means you need to make around$50/hr for 40 hours/week.  That $50/hr has to cover every second you’re working – including answering phones and emails, time spent researching and preparing quotes, time required to market your business, and that 5-10 hours/week when random unexpected stuff gets in the way of getting work done.  The best way to do this is to charge by the hour and inflate the price a bit (say $100/hour in our example).  Unfortunately most people – us included – charge by the project and don’t account for the extra 50% of time we spend doing support for the project, which of course drives down our hourly rate and makes the work not worthwhile.  I’d lean towards charging hourly if I did it again, but if not it becomes even more important to….
  • Have clearly outlined terms.  Our lawyer drew up arbitration and indemnification clauses for us, which covered our ass legally.  But that’s not what I’m talking about here.  I’m referring to:  exactly what the client will get, exactly how many revisions they get, and exactly how frequently they can contact you.  Yup – I’d do the unheard of and place limits on how often they could contact me.  This saves me time, and forces them to coherently convey their thoughts. Ten rambling emails a day turn into one well-thought email.    This goes hand in hand with….
  • Have set hours.  I have gotten phone calls on Christmas, Easter, on Sunday mornings at 6 AM, at midnight on a Saturday night….and those are just ones that come to mind.  If you let them, clients will call you 24 x 7 x 365.  Don’t let them.  In your terms, make sure you say “I answer emails and phone calls M-F 10 AM – 4 PM and Saturday from 9 AM – 11 AM”.  Or whatever hours work for you, but you get the idea.  We never committed to doing this, and it hurt us.  Some people will abuse your terms, so you have to be willing to….
  • Fire bad clients.  When you make the decision to do so, don’t let them talk you out of it.  If they have caused you so much stress that you would rather NOT make their money just so you don’t have to deal with them, then you absolutely need to let them go.   As you get better at quoting out clients, you’ll learn to….
  • Turn down clients.  If they don’t meet your standards, or if something doesn’t feel right, don’t go ahead with the job.  Just tell them you don’t think you’re a good fit for each other.  In my experiences, this makes them want to work with you more and they ‘beg’ for you to work with them.  Don’t give in.  If you’re turning down imperfect clients, you better…..
  • Have a way of generating a ton of leads.  When we applied ourselves, we were actually pretty good at this.  Things that worked for us:
    • Have a website with a lot of information about all of your services.  The more content, the better you’ll get indexed and the better you’ll convert readers into clients.
    • Start a blog, preferably about your industry.  This very blog has accounted for probably 40% of the clients I had.  If people get to know you personally before they contact you, there’s no ‘sale’ – they just contact you with a desire to work with you.
    • Buy local business leads.  We paid ~$200 for 13 weeks of leads.  They email a CSV file of every new business registered in your area.  We then sent each lead a post card…and then a follow-up post card.  These are people that NEED websites, so it’s a no-brainer.  Including postage we spent about $1 per lead.  For less than $1k/year you’ll easily make your money back.  The best part is that it’s easily scalable to the ENTIRE country by just buying more leads!
    • Work Craigslist.  At a minimum, post in your area.  We tried paying a posting service to post throughout the country for us.  They did an OK job and brought in some OK leads, but we didn’t commit to it long enough to do it correctly.  One thing is for sure:  lots of people every day who need sites are looking on CL.
    • Incentivize current clients to give you referrals.  You can’t MAKE them give you referrals, and if you’re doing a good job they’ll probably do it anyway, but a little push can make a huge difference.  Send them newsletters frequently updating them on your business, and every single time make them an offer if they refer you a new client:  a year of free hosting, 2 free hours of consulting, $300 off of a redesign, etc.
    • Participate in your local Chamber of Commerce.  Go where the successful business are, and all successful businesses are members of their local CoC.

    This is all a lot of work, so make sure you….

  • Hire contractors.  Your local college is FILLED with computer science students who need part-time jobs and don’t want to work at the local TGI Friday’s.  Albany is filled with colleges, and I’m sure your city or metro area is as well.  Using Craigslist you can usually find a handful of sub-contractors to try out.  Even if they spend the majority of their time generating leads or doing basic maintenance work, the $15/hr you pay them allows you to spend your time on the $100/hr work we mentioned earlier.  And finally, to do all of this right you should….
  • Avoid being a hybrid company like Pure Adapt.  I’m not saying don’t work on some side projects, but if you decide to try to make a run at making serious money off of one of your sites then you might as well ditch clients.  You’ll NEVER want to work on your clients projects ever again.  Your projects are always better, more important, and of course more fun.   You’ll begin to resent your clients, and everything will fall apart.

10 comments on How To Do Client Work Right

  1. Anthony says:


    This is 100% dead on. I’d like to go a step further with your first 2 points. I charge by the project and do set clear terms regarding how much support that includes. Typically, a client can call all they want for about 30 days after a project has been completed. After that, we have a no-fault policy. In other words, if they are calling because of a problem with current service on our end (email server is down, for example), that support is free. But anything else is charged at a standard hourly rate.

    You never are extremely happy to be receiving unexpected problem/request calls from clients, but it makes it a bit better whenever your mindset changes to: phone ringing = $

  2. One other thing I may add that I would recommend doing if you’re going in the services business. Keep your clients credit card on file before you do ANY work. This will save you a lot of time and headaches when it comes to collect your hard earned money. Also, if you bill per change, phone call, etc. you can let them know ahead of time and don’t have to worry about them sending you a $50 payment for a half hour fix.

  3. Adam McFarland says:

    Great additions guys. I know that Anthony does what George mentioned (keep credit cards on file and then auto-bill for minor work). We did not have a proper system in place for this and spent too much time chasing down a check.

    I spent probably 2 cumulative hours emailing and calling about a client that accidentally paid us $50 short. Had I had a CC on file, it wouldn’t have been an issue.

  4. Very helpful Adam, especially the lead generation stuff. Thanks!

  5. Adam McFarland says:

    On this topic, just came across a great post on Site Point about handling client maintenance fees

  6. Hobbes says:

    This is an extremely valuable article, especially for those just starting out in services.

  7. Nev says:

    Great post Adam!

  8. […] The client side of our business was a vital part of our business which started Pure Adapt, but at this point it just isn’t worth it. Client work just started to take up way too much time for what we were getting paid for. One thing we neglected to factor in was we were charging projects as if one of us was working on it. Almost all the projects should have been at least double, since there was the development time and client management time. I still believe in the business of web development, but I’m done with it. Adam recently posted detailed outline on how to do client work, that I totally agree with, called “How To Do Client Work Right“. […]

  9. […] whatever else it takes to get your first clients for free.   For more ideas, check out my post How To Do Client Work Right that I wrote just after we got rid of the service side of our […]

  10. […] and whatever else it takes to get your first clients for free. For more ideas, check out my post How To Do Client Work Right that I wrote just after we got rid of the service side of our business.Use the remaining time to […]

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