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How bad clients drive out good clients – The Bad Client Series Part 1

Monster-men © by MShades

Have you ever said something similar to

  • “If only I had more time to work on that cool record store site before the deadline”.
  • “If only I had thought of that function before the client decided to buy that new software”.
  • “If only I hadn’t made all those stupid mistakes after working on that project for 20 consecutive hours”.

What causes all of these “If only” moments?  Bad clients.  How?  By taking up all of your energy so you can’t spend it on your good clients.

It’s a lack of energy, not time

You only have a limited amount of time per day –  24 hours worth per day.  You should be billing for your time, and you probably are.

You also only have a limited amount of energy per day – far less than 24 hours worth per day.   Probably far less than 8 hours worth per day (It is not easy to bill for your energy – if you have a good method, please leave it in the comments).

Happily no one needs to be “on” for eight or more hours a day.  All of us go through our working lives in  peaks and valley of mental exertion and that is the way it should be.  The real question is – how are you spending your peak energy?

Are you using that energy to produce something?  Or are you using it to stay awake while the client tells the story of his childhood trip to Michigan?  Or are you using your peak energy to create that new ticket ordering system or new logo?  Or are you using your energy to hold your tongue while the client goes on yet another political rant?

Here’s a hint – if you are expending energy for a client and you produce something, you have a good client.  If you expend energy for any other reason you have a bad client.

Warning signs of bad clients

You have a bad client if they

  • Yell, scream and throw things (No, this is not a myth, I’ve seen it)
  • Try to renegotiate the contract midway through project for no reason (it’s a unbillable use of energy to deal with)
  • Are eager to talk about religion or politics while at work
  • Answer every request for details by telling you how important the project is
  • Respond to every question over a period of weeks while not actually answering your question
  • Disparage and praise your predecessor in the same meeting.
  • Ignore the chain of command and lean on your subordinates directly
  • Have a methodology they created at their last job that they just assumed was an industry standard (and tell you about at the last minute)
  • And many others (please put them in the comments)

The above items are but a small sample, but even if (and you should be) getting paid for the experience of them, they still consume energy that you could spend making something wonderful.

An Example

My last real job had many talented designers.  The one who did the best work was not the most talented, but rather a designer who had a somewhat inflated but fanatically held belief in her creative prowess.  She carried herself as a breed apart, and above the corporate fray.

No one bothered her with excessive emails, distractions or temper tantrums because they knew they would not affect her, because she was so “creative”.  As a consequence, she could spend all of her energy doing great work, which she did.  The rest of them had to endure endless meetings, change orders and “branding discussions”.

I did not recognize the brilliance of this strategy at the time, but I do now.

How bad clients drive out the good clients

If you are spending all of your energy on unproductive work for your bad clients, what do you have left for your good clients?  Bupkus, that’s what.  It’s a horrifying investment of time.  Sadly they go away and find other vendors, leaving you stuck with the bad clients.

In economics, this is known as Gresham’s Law – where bad money drives out good money.  The same principles apply (broadly speaking).

This is part one of the series, the next will be on how to quantify bad clients.

PS – I love my existing clients,  I have had bad clients, and I have gotten rid of them over the years.  My current client base is small, but good.


Editor’s Note

This blog post originally appeared on the Profit Awareness Blog – as that app is up for sale, it has been consolidated into the main Digital Tool Factory blog.

Nov 11

Written By Steve French


Hiring a copywriter – A surprising insight from the CopyHackers book

Yesterday I wrote a quick review of the Copy Hacker’s books.  Today I found myself contemplating either writing the copy myself on the eventual main site for Profit Awareness, or hiring a copywriter.  I was surprised because the Copy Hacker’s books do a great job of telling you how to write copy – and I am a cheap do it yourself-er.

Another printing press at villa d

Showing the importance of copywriting

I thought a bit more about it, and I realized that (prior to reading the book) I had not even thought about the copywriting, and had assumed that the words would just appear on the page.  After all, a product page should describe the product, right?  The thought of hiring a copywriter was as foreign as hiring an alchemist.

I did not consider the copy a separate part of the process, and something to be crafted, but rather an offshoot of the site’s conceptual theme.

After reading the book(s) I now understand these important things:

  1. Your website needs a message
  2. Messages need to be crafted
  3. Copywriting is essential to crafting that message
  4. I can probably write adequate copy
  5. Copywriting can be a lot of work for me
  6. I can identify a good copywriter
  7. I can manage a good copywriter tolerably well.

Doing it myself or hiring a copywriter

My innate stinginess will probably win, and I will write the copy for myself, but at the moment I am split on hiring a copywriter or not.  I am now convinced of how important copywriting is.   In either case, there will be some copywriting going on.

Giving it away

The important thing I learned is that if you give away your methods, people will see the value of your craft, and they see how essential it is.

By convincing the potential buyer (in this case, me) of the value of the whatever it is you’re selling, your craft transforms from an unknown element to an essential element.  Giving away the secrets of your craft is the best way to show how essential your craft is, which creates demand.

Now I want to write my own book on the bundle of services I provide and it to potential clients.


Editor’s Note

This blog post originally appeared on the Profit Awareness Blog – as that app is up for sale, it has been consolidated into the main Digital Tool Factory blog.

Nov 11

Written By Steve French


Copy Hackers book review – go get it now

Short Version of the Copy Hackers Book Review

These books rock – go buy them now.  They will pay for themselves in an hour or so.  That is all you need to get from this copy hackers book review.

Long Version of the Copy Hackers Book Review

Copy Hackers at work

ep66mnl © by Ed Passi ©

I heard Joanna Wiebe’s interview on TechZing and I was intrigued.  A good friend recently suggested that I consult a branding expert to refine my offerings.   I liked that idea.

However I’ve never met a branding expert (and I’ve met many) who was anything other than a talented high end salesman.   Their “branding” efforts consist largely of repeating what you say back to you and ending it with an impassioned plea to “make the hard choices”, which only you can do.   The choices are just as hard as they were before you met the expert, but this way you’re out an hourly fee.

But I digress – a book on copy writing (which is not branding, I know, but something is better than nothing), seemed like an ideal middle ground between doing nothing and finding an expert.   And what a happy middle ground it is!

I bought the first book in the series “Where Stellar Messages Come From” and was thrilled to discover that it met the three golden criteria of work-related reading

  1. It was short
  2. It was well written, and on-topic
  3. It was actionable

The third point is the hardest to find.   I would put this book on par with the Start Small Stay Small by Rob Walling in terms of actionability.

In this book you will find both general strategy and specific worksheets for the specific things you will be doing while you read this book.  Did I mention you can do specific things after you read this book?  Things like determining which of your customers you are writing for, or splitting out benefits and features, or doing keyword research, or doing a content audit.  This book leaves you in a better spot than you were in before you read it, which is rare these days.

So anyway, this is the only Copy Hackers book review you need.  Go buy them now.


Editor’s Note

This blog post originally appeared on the Profit Awareness Blog – as that app is up for sale, it has been consolidated into the main Digital Tool Factory blog.

Nov 11

Written By Steve French


Explain SEO to clients by using the greatest metaphor ever

I have created the golden metaphor to explain SEO to clients.  I was trying to explain SEO to a non-technical 80 year old client (the single best businessperson I have ever met) and I came up with the following metaphor.

Start to explain seo to clients like this:

Your website is like an ambitious young man trying to meet lots of attractive women.  Web users are like impressionable women who make a lot of bad choices with men.  Google is like her parents.  Using a search engine is similar to letting the woman’s parents pick suitors for her at a high society party.

Explain SEO to clients by using this metaphor

IMG_2102 © by dbking

Then use these comparisons

Getting considered in the first place

The Party: The biggest part is being there, you have to show up at the party to meet the women.

The Internet: Your website has to be online to be found at all.

Standing out from the crowd, i.e. Keywords.

The Party: The woman (and her parents) are looking for something specific, be it a left handed Methodist that plays hockey, or a progressive biologist that loves ice fishing.

The Internet: Your website has to be about something specific, like finding unprofitable clients or a fun and easy way to share audio clips.

Staying out of bad neighborhoods

The Party: No one wants their daughter to be with some loser that spends all his time in the ghetto shooting meth.

The Internet: Your website should stay our of internet “bad neighborhoods” and avoid link exchanges and link farms.

You should come from an old family

The Party: Who wouldn’t want their daughter to be with the a duPont, a Rockefeller, or a Roosevelt?

The Internet: Google likes it when websites have domain names that have been registered for a long time.

Everyone should be talking about you

The Party: Is everyone at the party talking about you?  If everyone else is interested, the woman’s parents will be too.

The Internet: If lots of people are linking to you, then Google will put you much higher in search results.

Prominent people should be talking about you

The Party: People from old families should be talking about you.  A kind word from a long time friend and member of the Mellon or Rothschild family will go much farther than a kind word from that guy her parents just met.

The Internet: Google likes it when prominent websites link to you – a link from, or will matter far more than a link from a new blog.

Everyone should be saying the right things about you

The Party: If everyone else is talking about what a great left handed Methodist hockey player you are, or how you’re a pretty good ice fisherman for a progressive biologist, her parents will swoon over you and throw their daugher in your arms.

The Internet: If you get many inbound links with find unprofitable clients in the link text, Google will throw throw users your way whenever some searches for “Find Unprofitable Clients”

You have to dress the part

The Party:  For some reason, er parents love a man that wears a full tuxedo, though they will make exceptions for the right man.

The Internet: Your page should be arranged the way Google wants you to arrange pages; with the proper mixture of header tags, canonical urls and alt text.


And there you have it, the best way to explain SEO to clients – it worked for a non-technical 80 year old consulting client of mine, and I bet it will for your clients as well.

And if you were interested in how to explain seo to clients, you will like this other post on how to sell to marketing departments.


Editor’s Note

This blog post originally appeared on the Profit Awareness Blog – as that app is up for sale, it has been consolidated into the main Digital Tool Factory blog.

Oct 11

Written By Steve French


How to sell to marketing departments – hook them with SEO

How to sell to marketing departments

How to sell to marketing departments

I’ve been presenting to many new clients this year and I’ve been struck by how well the SEO parts of the proposals resonate with them.  I meet with a variety of clients on a regular basis, and for the most part there is always someone from the marketing department there.    In the past I’ve found it difficult to sell to marketing departments, but if I structure my presentation through the framework of SEO then the representative from marketing becomes a zealous advocate for my services.  My usual advocates have been in either their IT or design department, never in marketing.

To sell to marketing departments, structure your presentations this way:

  1. Describe how you are going to the people to the site with SEO (appeals to marketers)
  2. Describe the graphic look and feel of the site (appeals to designers and marketers)
  3. Describe the platform and database choices (appeals to IT)
  4. Describe deliverables and scheduling (appeals to management)
  5. Describe customer loyalty efforts and provide partial recap of the sites SEO capabilities (appeals to marketers and management)

The marketing folks love it, and the technical and creative folks do not seem to mind the shift in emphasis from my usual selling point (technical proficiency) to search engine optimization.  It’s the same product of course, but just with different points emphasized.

I recently discussed this with a friend.  We came up with the notion that SEO functions as the perfect bridge between the technical aspects of marketing and the technical parts of building web sites.  It’s the language both web developers and marketers can understand and value.  In the past marketers have been delegated out of leadership roles in web projects.  As of even a few years ago the marketing folks were there just to write the copy.  Now they’re equal partners and SEO gives them a seat at the table.  There has never been more of a chance to sell to marketing departments than the present time.

To recap, to sell to marketing departments, start and finish your presentations with mentions of search engine optimization.  It will prove to the marketer that you not only are willing to speak their language (with a technical accent) but share their priorities.


Editor’s Note

This blog post originally appeared on the Profit Awareness Blog – as that app is up for sale, it has been consolidated into the main Digital Tool Factory blog.

Oct 11

Written By Steve French


Looking For A Graphic Designer – Here is a simple guide

So, you’re looking for a graphic designer?  Do you need a new logo, a new website, or just some infographics created?  Here is how you find one

  • Referrals (always the best way)
  • Depending on your needs, try Sortfolio
  • Google “Graphic Design in [Your City]”
  • Put an ad on CraigsList under Gigs > Creative (one thing to bear in mind, almost all graphic designers call their profession “Creative”, it is a proper noun for them.)

jacob99 © by Rarely Obscure

So you get some responses back, what then?  How do you filter responses when you’re looking for a graphic designer?

First, filter by specialization.  Graphic designers will be some mixture of

  • Print
  • Web
  • Motion Graphics
Filter out the designers who do not fit your need and then ask the remainder the following questions:
  • How do you normally work?
  • Are you opposed to a work for hire agreement?  (if they are opposed, find someone else)
  • How busy are you right now?
  • What have you done in the past that is most similar to my project? (note, you do not ask “Have you done anything like this before?”)  Force the designer to pick something.
  • What do you need from me to get started?
  • What do you need from me to finish the project?
  • What do you consider the deliverable to be?
  • When can you deliver this project?
  • Tell them what your idea of a happy ending will be, and make sure to phrase it in some sort of objective language.  I.E. a flyer that tells people that my new store will be opening on May 26th 2011, or an infographic that shows the average height by profession.  Do not assume that the designer will understand your primary objective (this is the single most important thing to express when looking for a graphic designer)
  • Get all of the above in writing
  • Get at least three references

Now, you actually have to check their references.  Ask the references these questions:

  • What did you think of the end result?
  • How fast was the turn around?
  • Did they actually start on the project when they said they would, or wait until the last minute?
  • How much upfront guidance did they provide to you (i.e. how much hand holding and upfront prep work)
  • How much guidance did they need from you?
  • Do they communicate well?
  • Are you recommending them now? (get is as a yes or no – people can be quite coy about this for some reason)
If you like the answers to all of the above, then proceed with looking for a graphic designer.  Be aware that the design process takes a fair amount of work on your part as well, I’ve found that for every hour the graphic designer works I spend 15 minutes answering questions or supplying information.

Editor’s Note

This blog post originally appeared on the Profit Awareness Blog – as that app is up for sale, it has been consolidated into the main Digital Tool Factory blog.

Oct 11

Written By Steve French


Profitable Non-Web Projects

Profitable Hobbies © by Liz Henry

So, you’re in the web development business, can you have profitable non-web projects?.  I have.   While my bread and butter has always been web application development on the .net platform  over the years around  30% of my income has come from non-web projects.  There are a substantial number of profitable non-web projects out there, if done in the right amount.  Here are my top three profitable non-web projects:


The web hosting industry has created a wide variety of tools that help you resell your services to your clients.  You just set up a reseller account with the end host, create the account yourself and then bill the client whatever you like.


  1. You get to customize your clients web hosting to play to your strengths
  2. You get to charge a premium for the minor chore of setting up the account.
  3. Clients appreciate an expert setting up their hosting instead of doing it themselves.
  4. Recurring revenue is nice, especially since you don’t have to do anything after you set up the hosting
  5. You always have a reason to contact clients.


  1. You become their tech support for anything computer related
  2. You also become their internet security officer
  3. You have to bill them, and do collections, people dislike paying their hosting bills for some reason
  4. Server problems become your problem, and you have to drop everything until you fix it


If you can build a website, you can figure out other software, and train the less adept at how to use it.  People love being trained in how to use their content management system (for one example)


  1. Lots of close contact with your clients
  2. You are saving them them confusion and frustration, so they will happily pay you a high rate (You do need to charge a high rate, training never lasts for that long)
  3. Your presentation skills will improve a hundredfold


  1. Lots of close contact with your clients
  2. Intellectually draining
  3. You cannot scale your training time

Text Manipulation and One-off Data Processing

Established companies accumulate a mountain of text files and files of obscure types.  Long time employees will always have ideas on what they could do if only some of their old data were in their current system.  Most of them will have spent a couple hours trying to migrate the data manually only to do the math and conclude that if they did it would take them 100 years.

Enter your programming skills.  I have written inefficient, ugly command line programs that loop through text files from 1989, fixed casing problems, found a match in a dbase file from 1993, and inserted the combined record in a modern database.  It took three days to run, but the client was thrilled.


  1. Ecstatic clients
  2. As they have nothing to compare the new program to, people are happy with whatever you give them
  3. The coding is interesting


  1. You will never have the opportunity to reuse what you learn
  2. The projects are difficult to estimate
There you have it – those are some of the profitable non-web projects I’ve done as  a web developer.

Editor’s Note

This blog post originally appeared on the Profit Awareness Blog – as that app is up for sale, it has been consolidated into the main Digital Tool Factory blog.

Oct 11

Written By Steve French


Cognitive bias and personality types

Knowledge of cognitive bias and personality types should determine who you ask for advice.  For instance, a friend of mine differs from me in personality.  While I prefer solitude, silence, skepticism and endurance sports (as a participant, not an observer), he prefers noise, people, faith (in people) and team sports (as a fan).  For those familiar with the concept, we lie on different ends of the Autistic spectrum (me near Aspberger’s Syndrome, him neurotypical).  I recently spoke to him about a new investment strategy he was considering.  I was not surprised to realize that we suffer from different cognitive biases due to our different personality types.

 © by Casey Serin

We talked about the new strategy for quite a while, and I did not understand how it could work in real life.  To judge from the marketing material the seller sent over, it seemed like a prime example of survivorship bias.   I told my friend this, and he said he was not concerned as he trusted the person selling it to him.

Having to trust the person selling the investment product to you irritated me.   Why should that matter? I’ve found investment decisions to be an easy process in concept.

  • Step 1 – Find something you understand, that has an acceptable level of risk and maintenance.
  • Step 2 – Buy it from someone who will deliver as promised, i.e. 100 shares of VTIVX for example.
  • Step 3 – Profit!
To me, the hard part has always been understanding the investment.   Buying from someone has always been easy.
My friend sees the investing process in the following way:
  • Step 1 – Find someone you trust and seems knowledgeable about investment
  • Step 2 – Buy from that person
  • Step 3 – Profit!
To be fair, my friend gets along with people far better than I do.  I defer to his judgement on matters involving people.  For fans of Jonathan Haidt and the Heath Brothers, we would make a good team of the elephant and the rider).   His talents lie in reading people, my talents lie in reading systems.
I think I am in the right on this particular investing decision, we will know in 20 years which one of us made the right call.  The conversation made me wonder what other subjects we might differ on, and who would have the better judgement.  Here is a preliminary list:
Advantage Me:
  1. Investing
  2. Design
  3. Programming
  4. Mechanical objects
  5. Physical Organization
Advantage My Friend:
  1. Interviewing
  2. Public speaking
  3. Performances
  4. Management of people
  5. Conflict Resolution
I guess the moral of this little diatribe has been to consider where you get your advice.  For non-people related matters, talk to someone like me, for the human element, talk to someone like my friend.

Editor’s Note

This blog post originally appeared on the Profit Awareness Blog – as that app is up for sale, it has been consolidated into the main Digital Tool Factory blog.

Oct 11

Written By Steve French


Graphic Designer Websites – what you need to know

So, you’re a graphic designer, and you need a website.   What makes for good graphic designer websites? What should they do?  What should they look like?    Here’s what you need to decide

Morris dancers at Ely cathedral 2 © by Cantabrigensis

There are two types of graphic designers, and thus two types of graphic design firms.  You can either

  1. Solve specific problems for people
  2. Help people look cool.  Most people call this  “Branding”.

A client will want one or the other – if the client knows what they want (i.e. has a definite problem), they will want the problem solving firm.  If they aren’t sure of the problem, or if they have existential problems they will want help in looking cool, however they define it.  If the client comes to you and says something like “People can’t understand how to use our website”, or “we need to find a way to emphasize our new camera batteries with our existing marketing” they are looking for graphic design that solves problems.  If they say something like “Our logo just doesn’t reflect our core values!” then they are looking for a firm that will help them look cool.

So, that being said,  what should your website look like?  Here are some thoughts

Problem Solving Graphic Designer Websites

If you’re solving problems you want your website to

  1. Be direct
  2. Be concise
  3. Make a direct link to your designs and a benefit to somebody
  4. Avoid abstractions
  5. Emphasize cause and effect, and why some designs work better than others
  6. Emphasize something that someone can measure measurable (i.e. “This marketing campaign” generated a 30% increase in sales”)
  7. Include something on the Fibonacci Numbers, or serial position effects, and to emphasize the fact that you are crafting a specific solution to a specific problem, not running an art project
  8. Maximize the use of  verbs in your copy, and minimize the use of adjectives and adverbs

Remember, you’re making the client feel better via something specific, i.e. your designs.  The client will be buying your product, not employing you as their designer.  The client regards the work as their primary objective, they regard you as a secondary objective.  You should consider charging by the project instead of by the hour.

Looking Cool / Branding Graphic Designer Websites

If you’re helping the client look cool, defined as “Branding”, then you want your website to
  1. Emphasize art
  2. Emphasize abstractions
  3. Feel free to use adjectives and adverbs in your copy
  4. Avoid the measurable
  5. Emphasize your likability
  6. Use lots of social proof, i.e. something like “We’ve been using XYZ co for ten years and they’ve all been great”
You’re making the client feel better via something general, i.e. your personality and design talent.  The designs are a necessary by product.  The client will be buying your services and opinions.  The client regards you as their primary objective, they regard your work as a secondary objective.  You should consider charging by the hour.

Examples of good Graphic Designer Websites

Okay, they would refer to themselves as design firms, but take a look at
  1. LuckyFish – Problem Solvers –  a design firm that does fine interactive work
  2. Mock the Agency –  Problem Solvers – a design firm that, while it often uses the term “branding” they deliver specific problems.
  3. Design Industry – Looking Cool – They help with very non-specific problems

What makes them good?  All three sites communicate the strengths of their respective firms quite well.  One thing to note – both Mock and LuckyFish utilize Cargo Collective templates for their sites?  Why?  It doesn’t get in the way and people can see the specifics or their work right away, so it the design accomplished it’s objective well.   Design Industry supplies the general and the abstract to their clients and their site design reflects that.

That’s what I think people need to know about graphic designer websites after 12 years in the business, most of it spent as the technical arm for graphic design firms.


Editor’s Note

This blog post originally appeared on the Profit Awareness Blog – as that app is up for sale, it has been consolidated into the main Digital Tool Factory blog.

Oct 11

Written By Steve French


Track your hourly rate over time to make decisions easier

Our Hourly Rates © by SMcGarnigle

As part of my series on simple business metrics, here is an elaboration on metric #5 – Overall Hourly Rate Over Time., to wit,  are you more productive per hour than you were in the past?  You won’t know this if you don’t track your hourly rate over time.  It sounds simple, and it mostly it is.  I’ve found that tracking your hourly rate over time makes many decisions easier.    Here is a partial list of the insights:

Insights from a Rising Hourly Rate

  • In general you are on the right track
  • You are doing more or less the right mix of tasks
  • Your capital investments (computer hardware, software and training) were a good idea
  • Now is a good time to bring on new people, especially people with similar skillsets to you
  • Your clients are solid – and you need to find more just like them

Insights from a Falling Hourly Rate

  • It might be a good time to invest in new software or hardware
  • The market might have shifted away from your bundle  of offerings, there might be new things to learn and offer your customers
  • Your might want to find new clients, and new types of clients.  Some clients will run you ragged if you let them, and it looks  like your current clients are doing just that.
  • You might want to reduce your outsourcing, or at least modify it – outsourcing should raise your rate (by allowing you to do higher dollar things)

 Why you need to use tools to track your time

I have found that my internal estimates of how much time projects (and clients) is distorted by personal enjoyment of the clients company (or lack thereof) and how much fun the project might be.  For example, a client that was a joy to work with who had an informative project might generate an off the top of my head estimate of 60 hours, when in fact it took 90 hours.  Similarly, a client that was torture to work with a project of pure drudgery has generated an off the top of my head estimate of 110 hours, when it took only 60.  Use an online time tracking service to record the actual data.


Editor’s Note

This blog post originally appeared on the Profit Awareness Blog – as that app is up for sale, it has been consolidated into the main Digital Tool Factory blog.

Oct 11

Written By Steve French


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