Monthly Archives: March 2011

Partial Projects and Expanded Projects

Many projects suffer from scope changes. I suspect that projects with no changes in scope are a vanishingly small minority. Certainly in the IT (Information Technology) world, the scope tends to grow throughout the project, as the clients realize how much they forgot to include in their original requirements.

How does a small consulting business protect itself from scope creep? There are four main routes:

  • Iron-clad minimum payments
  • Partial payments for partial projects
  • Work orders with new costs for new deliverables
  • Open-ended retainer fees so clients pay for dithering

Here is a little more information on each route:

Iron-Clad Minimum Payments

These minimum payments reimburse the consultant for the upfront time and effort of bidding. These are usually invoked if the client “cools off” after signing a contract but before any deliverables are completed or approved.

Another name is the up-front “retainer fee”.

 

Partial Payments for Partial Projects

Itemize the deliverables in the contract, project plan or scope of work. Ensure, of course, that these are included in the signed-off contract even if they are found in separate documents.

This is something like your automotive repair shop’s itemized invoice: list everything and price everything.

Then charge for what you actually delivered, in case the project is terminated before completion.

 

Work Orders with New Costs for New Deliverables

This item truly addresses “scope creep”. When the client asks for more…even if it simply extends an existing item…get the request in writing and haggle out the price.

This does not apply if the consultant forgot to include something in the original quote. But if the client makes the request, ensure it is priced out fairly.

If you decide to provide the extra service at no extra charge, that’s your call. Just be sure your client notices that it is an extra item.

Updated March 25th: Here is an example. One client’s ghost-writing assignment suffered from scope creep…adding a chapter to a small book, then spinning off an article, and then re-working the article. I called him on it; he replied with an apology and an offer to up the payment. So even though the original contract did not include these clauses, this particular client recognized what was happening and made good. It would have been wiser to put all the conditions into the original contract, but it is still possible to make a poor situation better.

 

Open-Ended Retainer Fees so Clients Pay for Dithering

This item solves the problem of a client who cannot make a decision. “What colour would you like? Do you accept the new design? What should go there”?

Include a penalty, whether daily or monthly, so the client knows that their time is costing them money. You have to keep some slack in your schedule to respond when they ultimately do contact you. Your cash flow is being harmed by their delay.

Calling it an “on-call retainer” might make it more palatable in the contract. Do explain it during your initial negotiations. It can keep you afloat while your client treads water.

 


How to Make a Slightly More Clever WordPress Change

My previous WordPress post talked about making a minor change by “brute force”: work your way through the \style.css file, tweaking one colour at a time, until you find the right place to make the change.

This time, let’s do a little more thinking.

Suppose you want to change the colour of hyperlinks, but only in the header. The \style.css might give you some hints, but to really get into it:

  • Open the \header.php file
  • Look for a style id, perhaps header.text.link
  • Copy that name (header.text.link)
  • Make no changes! But now re-open \style.css
  • Use the browser to search for that id (header.text.link)
  • If you find it, add your “colour: #AA2288;” change at the end of that description
  • Save the change, and check the result

This is no guarantee of success, but it may give results sooner than simply trying each spot.

Bonus TIP: I used this approach yesterday, and realized that the original developer had not set a colour code where I wanted to make my change. There was the reason why I had not found a code to change: without a previous code, there was nothing I could find and change.

Warning: The term “style id” and the example “header.text.link” are probably not the right technical terms.


How to Make a Minor WordPress Change through Brute Force

TIP on how to make a minor WordPress design change, such as changing the colour of visited link, in one place or many:

  • Open the style.css from Appearance / Editor
  • Ensure you know the HTML tag, such as “color: #0000AA;”
  • Make sure this is a bright colour that will jump out at you when you try it out
  • Add this line of code once, “update”, and switch to a different window to see the change
  • If it changed the correct elements, document it with “/* change #01 to colour of visited link */
  • If it was the wrong change, comment it out with the “/* oops, this did ABC instead of XYZ */; then go to the next likely spot and try again
  • Remember to change the colour to the one you really want…that bright colour may not be perfect
  • Also document the change up in the comments at the top
  • Copy and paste all the text into a notepad .txt file so you can read it without logging in as a designer
  • “Update” the style.css to save your documentation, then log out

This is a “brute force” approach because you just take one step after another, keeping track of the mistakes and eventually you will make the right change.

The alternative is to carefully study the theme’s style.css until you know exactly what to do, and do it right the first time. If you succeed, you have my praise. I took this “brute force” approach to my current client’s project because it was quicker than analyzing the code and guessing wrong…over and over. (Well, about three overs).

In my spare time, I really need to study “how to WordPress”.


Beginning a Client’s Web Re-Design Project

Although I had won the contract to improve the colours of a client’s WordPress web site about a week ago, the client sent me the password only yesterday.

When discussing the project the week before, I had carefully asked whether my client had full access to the site and its tools. “Yes, we’ve paid, we have ownership. We will dig up the user ID and password for you tomorrow. No worries”.

Unfortunately, they only had a user ID at the “editor” level. This is not sufficient to change the colour scheme. It is fine for adding content, but not for the work for which they had engaged me.

This leads to three tips for projects that need powerful access:

TIP for Estimating the Schedule: Build in the lead time for getting authorization. I am sure glad I did!
TIP for the Discussions with Clients: Explicitly ask for the necessities, such as authorization; and explain why.
TIP for the Statement of Work: Build in a penalty if the client delays the work; this includes:

  • A slow start with authorization or in making decisions on requirements
  • Delays in answering queries or in reviewing or approving work

Personally, I did fine with the first and last tips. I thought I had carefully asked about authorizations, but I had not probed to the level where the client understood that I needed the “admin” rather than an “editor” ID.

As the saying goes, “Well begun is half done”. The Murphy’s Law corollary is “Start poorly and everything else will fail”.


Check Freelancer’s “Milestone Payments” Manually

We service providers at Freelancer appreciate receiving payment. We also know that, when someone posts a message onto the private message board of an active project, Freelancer sends a notification e-mail to our own external mailbox. (For example, my notifications go to mike.dehaan at dehaanservices.ca).

In the past, any escrow payments made into the Freelancer account also triggered a similar notification e-mail.

A few weeks ago, however, one buyer made his payment to my account. In a previous communication, he said he was getting over an illness but would let me know about his final approval for the project.

Well, I did not receive any notifications. When I posted a message to him, he said “I paid you already? Did you not receive it?”. I checked the “milestone payments”: there it was. I clicked “release” as the “action”.

Since it has not been released yet, I suspect that my action did not send him a notification e-mail either.

QUICK Freelancer TIP: From the second row of your main menu:

  • Hover over “Payments”
  • Click on “Manage Milestone Payments”
  • Scroll down to see whether any payments are waiting for you
  • If so, and it is time to cash in, click the down-arrow on “action” and select “Request to Release”
  • Follow-up by posting a message to your service buyer on the project’s private message board

A Weebly Post Leaps into the Top Dozen in the Search Results

On Feb. 27 2011, I had published a quick blog entry on Weebly, titled Firestick Cactus is a Danger with Many Names. The reason is that I have a couple of articles on this subject on other sites; those articles are in the top dozen in Google search results pages. I wanted to learn whether my Weebly blog had a fair chance of being listed by Google.

It did take eight days for this article to be listed. If memory serves, my first Weebly post took about two weeks.

Much to my satisfaction, the new article was 11th in Canada and 12th in the USA’s Google results for the key phrase “firestick cactus” (without quotes). This was especially exciting as Google had adjusted its algorithm for USA searches back on Feb. 24, to promote quality articles over “content farms”.


Welcome to the DeHaan Directory

This will be the high-level directory to projects undertaken by DeHaan Services.

At this moment, the blog is under construction. Please be patient. Happily, DeHaan Services is busy with client projects; too busy to write a lot of material at this moment!

My current client projects include:

  • A freelance writing assignment for a business booklet
  • A freelance writing assignment for an online site offering advice and productivity tools for factory management
  • Changing the colour scheme for a WordPress site for an inter-generational townhouse, seniors’ apartment and nursing home complex

As well, I have a pair of potential projects in the I.T. (Information Technology), which depend partly on how persuasively the marketing manager can present my resume.