I built my client's site to his design using ems for column widths; and I have implemented every change he's asked me to make in several rounds of edits.
Regarding what we negotiated for this project:
Originally he posed it as a tutoring project, where he'd build it and I'd watch and help him with whatever problems he ran into. Then he said he needed the project done right away and he had other priorities. When I said that my consulting fee was higher, he hesitated, so I said I'd split the difference between my tutoring rate and consulting rate and bill him hourly. After I'd built the majority of the site (to my eye it looked close to his pdf), he wanted to renegotiate for a set fee. He said it didn't feel fair that he was paying me at that hourly rate to do what he considered was just production work and for which he'd paid lower, and that he wasn't going to make anything on the project because he only charges $5 more than what I was billing him. I agreed to the set fee, and he paid me part of the fee, and said he'd pay the other part when the project was done.
We had a week-long break while I waited for him to get in touch with his client (the ones for whom this website is being built), during which time I got busier and was no longer able to work on weekends. Because I took two or three days to get back to him on two occasions in the past month, he's taken advantage of that and started blaming me for everything being wrong. The other day he vented on me because he says he can't present the site to his client. He wants everything to be exactly like the pdf he gave me, yet he's kept asking for changes. I even did a little Flash animation that wasn't in the original spec, and he complained that because it took four rounds to get it right, it indicated I wasn't very professional- he said anyone else would take his comments and figure it all out and send it back right the first time.
He asked me to increase the font size in one column, but then wanted the text in the links in that column to stay on one line, so I increased the column width, which threw off the proportions with the other two columns, so I made those bigger. This enlarged the gap between an image in the middle column and a rule on the left that divides the middle and right columns. I tried to explain that the gap is there because the photo doesn't resize when the browser font size is enlarged, he got pissed and said he's had 7 other sites built and this is the first time there's ever been a problem and that I'm making preposterous statements that it's his fault.
He just tore me apart for a second time. When I said I've implemented all the changes, and that we're in our last rounds of tweaks, he said, "No we're not. There's a number of changes that need to happen. It's not enough to do everything on the list... you have to do whatever it takes to make it ready for primetime."
He continued on, saying that I need to learn to take responsibility when I make something that's broken and that I need to fix it, and I said that I would change the widths to pixels to match a screenshot that he did of the earlier version I'd built, and also bump up the font sizes.
It was a horrible conversation that got worse and worse.
We ended with him saying, "You're failing. You really are, and you need to take responsibility and fix it. I want you to succeed", and me saying, "OK, well, I'll make these changes and send what I have by tomorrow morning and I'll meet you at your office tomorrow evening."
Am I really in the wrong for not making the boxes work in all browser text sizes? What is a reasonable answer I could have given him?
I can understand why you need to relieve your troubles on Sitepoint. It can be tough working with some people. I know what it is like when you feel you like you've given your all (or very nearly your all) to something and others don't appreciate it or worse, in your case, say that "you're failing". I can't give any specific advice but from my limited group project experience for one or two software (not specifically web design necessarily) projects, in general I think the best approach is to keep your composure with him and with the project. At least from your end of the story, it sounds like you've worked hard on the project and he's being unreasonable -- nevertheless it makes sense to keep your cool with him even if you completely disagree with him and feel personally hurt by it.
Try and make yourself blameless wherever possible. I know that sounds kinda funny but if he really cannot find fault in what you do (e.g. by not promptly keeping in touch with him), even if that comes at your expense sometimes, overall you'll benefit. Try hard to avoid giving him any ground to accuse you -- even if that sometimes means staying up a little later to finish something off before going to bed -- obviously you have to gauge whether getting less sleep will have a knock-on effect the next day on your productivity overall but if its a something that would make you look good if you have it done before he wakes up the next day and looks in his inbox then its often worth it. I'm not suggesting staying up late every night because I think you'd burn out doing that, however it may be necessary sometimes.
All this (general) advice is from my (limited) personal experience. Others might have a completely different approach. But I'm sure keeping your composure about it is always a good idea.
Stick with it.
What was your exact agreement with the client regarding this project?
I verbally agreed to build the site. When he wanted to renegotiate for a set fee, I agreed, and he paid me part of the fee at that time and said he'd pay the other part when the project was done.
We don't have a written contract. When he complained the other day, I offered to do a new animation for him, even though it was not part of our original agreement. He slipped in that the homepage needs a redesign to accommodate the animation. I half-assedly committed to that as well because I said that a redesign was also out of the scope of the project, and that it would take hours to redo, and then when he asked how long it would take, I thought of another solution and said it might not take as long as I had originally thought, and that I wasn't sure. Then on top of that he said he needs to create a new page.
Get out of the project ASAP! Last year I had 2 insane clients like that. If he said he wants the font bigger, the text all on one line, and the column width stays the same, then there is something very wrong in his brain.
When he said it wasn't "fair" that you charge only $5 less than what he charges, I would have run right then. How is that your problem what he charges his client? Let him go elsewhere and see if someone will do it for less. Don't sell yourself short!
So really, there was not much agreement on what was to be done. Even though you had some verbal agreement, it sounds like there were ongoing changes and half-assedness that probably made things confusing. It sounds like you didn't do a great job with this client when it comes to making things clear, and the client wasn't exactly easy either.
I wouldn't be so quick to label the client as 'insane' so quickly without hearing both sides of the story. Even from the one side that we've heard, we know that the project was mismanaged.
Given the circumstances, though, it might be best to start working towards an exit to the project asap. To me, that means:
1) consider where you really are with the project given what the current expectations are, what money has been paid, etc. and WRITE out a VERY clear reckoning of where you are on the project. try to honestly assess where your client thinks you are from their perspective
2) find a middle ground, if possible, where you can exit the project. that can mean just ending it or it could mean doing some more work to reach a reasonable stopping point depending on the circumstances
3) then WRITE a VERY CLEAR email to the client explaining the position and offering a route to the project end. if you were fair in your position, you should be fine
And did I mention that you should write it all down?
Thanks so much for your input. I really appreciate your taking the time to help!
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