Nigerian Web Design Clients & The Shifting Goalpost

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You’re a striker in a football match.

After a lengthy, heated contest for the ball your team finally wins it and begins to pass the ball around. They break through the midfield and place a stunning through pass to your assisting striker who beats his marker and sets you up nicely to finish with a single touch. In a split second you glance at the ball and at the defenders closing in on you in an effort to prevent the inevitable. You have just one shot at this. You take aim. You shoot.

But the ball flies wide of the post. At first you lament missing a golden opportunity but then notice that something was off. You take a closer look at the goalpost and notice it has either been moved way out of place or your eyes are playing tricks on you. It looks… awfully close to the left corner flag… Not in the centre. You look all the way back at your own goalpost, visually trace it down through the centre half, and then back at your opponents’ goalpost. Your eyes widen in protest as you slowly realize you’ve just been robbed. It wasn’t your shot that was off the mark but the target goalpost that’d somehow ‘migrated’ right in the middle of the match.

Yes, I know my miserable attempt at narration is probably closer to the left corner flag than the miraculously ‘migrated’ goalpost in my fictitious story above. One of the many reasons I’m only a web designer.

The scenario painted above, however, is one that most, if not all website designers working in Nigeria, my humble self inclusive, will be all too familiar with – clients springing up unpleasant surprises in the middle of a project.

At the onset, you discuss with the client, going back and forth to make sure you get and understand all their requirements before billing. A typical client, from my experience, would as much as possible, try to cut down on their requirements or the level of difficulty in implementing them so as to avoid high fees (never mind it always seems high to them). In all fairness, the web designer himself, my humble self not necessarily always inclusive, would also try as much as possible to raise the difficulty level for every new requirement or task to justify charging higher fees. They then find a mutually acceptable middle ground and agree to commence the project.

More often than not, somewhere in the middle of building the website, the client suddenly remembers one or two more features he really needs and tries to squeeze it in.

The conversation often goes like so:

Client – Shebi its “just” having a small ecommerce page with all (over 50) our products displayed there and the site visitor can “just” click on the products he wants and “just” add them to cart and “just” checkout with his preferred Interswitch payment method and the payment “just” enters our account and we “just” fulfill the order?

Web Designer – Ah… I thought we agreed on building a small, “simple” company website for you which provides essential company information to site visitors?

Client – Yes, I know. But you can “just” add this functionality now, can’t you? Its not something so complicated now, is it?

Any web designer in Nigeria with even 6 months’ experience should be quite familiar with this scenario.

You see, merely increasing the scope of the project isn’t really where the problem is. Its when the client refuses to take responsibility for the additional cost and probably time needed to incorporate their new requirement, which is often the case. By the way, I personally wouldn’t mind having to tear down and restart a web project a thousand times if the client’s willing to properly “compensate”… I’m sure you get my drift.

But seriously, imagine a civil engineer who upon concluding on the specifics of a two-storey building with a client, goes ahead to lay the foundation and is in the process of putting the ground floor together when his client suddenly informs him he’d like a three-storey building instead. I know we’re generally more familiar with construction and normally don’t need to be told that in such a case, progress made on the ground floor would have to be reversed, the foundation deepened to accommodate the new height of the building and then the construction can be restarted. I strongly doubt anyone would need a soothsayer to know his bill and project delivery date will be upgraded accordingly in a situation like this.

I also know that IT, web design in particular, isn’t precisely like construction as it allows for more flexibility than that. My point is, although quite flexible compared to construction, website development involves very serious time-consuming work which often has to be literally pulled down and redone, depending on the modification required.

My advice to companies and business people seeking website development or some other IT project undertaken on their behalf is to be as forthright as possible regarding their requirements. Take your time. Do your homework. Or discuss extensively with your web designer or service provider and jointly explore all options available till you arrive at what best suits your needs, while leaving price out as a factor at this stage. Having established what would best suit your needs, you can then begin negotiations. This saves everyone the time and headache often associated with additional requirements to an ongoing project.

To my fellow Nigerians website designers I say be sure to list out all discussed deliverables and have your client acknowledge this, preferably by email, in keeping with the times, or ideally in signed agreements (paper or virtual/softcopy), before commencing work on the project. Be as flexible as possible and do everything within your power to accommodate clients’ requests for add-ons, especially if they’re only minor or negligible. But be sure to respectfully let them know when additional funding or time will be required for the new deliverables.

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A CIW Certified Website Design Professional & Project Management Professional (PMP) with over 10 years' experience. Creative Director at Level Seven Ltd. Nigeria's leading, award-winning website design company based in Lagos.
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