31 May 2005
Running an agency

10 Bad Project Warning Signs

One of the great things about being an agency owner is the ability to turn down projects. I've come across a few projects recently that sounded interesting but made me feel nervous. It wasn't any one specific thing; rather a series of small little things that set my internal alarm bells ringing.

As such I've written up a list of bad project warning signs. Individually none of these signs should be deal breakers. However put a few of them together and it may be worth thinking twice about taking on that project.

  • The project needs to be done in an incredibly short space of time, due to a fixed deadline. In these situations the potential client has often known about the deadline for a while. However it's taken them longer to plan the project than initially anticipated so they expect the developer to make up the time.
  • The potential client says that they have no idea about budget. This could indicate they haven't done their home work and aren't very serious about the project.
  • The potential client says they have a budget but won't tell you what it is. This is often an indication that the client doesn't trust you and feels that if they let you know their budget, you'll simply charge them more for the same solution.
  • The client says they want the site to be as cheap as possible, or they have an extremely low budget. This usually means the client doesn't value their web presence much, preferring cheaper over better. In this situation potential clients are often spending their own money, can be extremely demanding and expect more for less.
  • The client expects much more from the project than their budget will allow. In these situations it can be difficult to manage the client's expectations.
  • You are expected to come up with design ideas for the pitch. This is often problematic as you won't know enough about the project at such an early stage. These type of pitches can turn into a beauty contest where participants are solely judged on the visuals they create rather than their ability and track record. There is a strong risk that elements of your design will be used even if you don't win the pitch.
  • The potential client won't tell you how many agencies they have contacted about this project. This could indicate that they have emailed a large number of agencies and are shopping for the lowest quote.
  • You will be pitching against a large number of other agencies. This often means the client hasn't done their homework researching potential suppliers. If the pitch involves lots of preparation this puts a financial burden on the agency, while limiting the chance of success. - There is no central point of contact. Projects for large companies often involve many stakeholders. If there is nobody managing the project at the client's end you'll having to do it for them. This vastly complicates the project and increases your overheads. Being a supplier you'll have no power in the organisation, making your task extremely difficult. You also run the risk of getting sucked into company politics.
  • The potential client hasn't provided you with a request for proposal and doesn't have the time to fill in your design questionnaire fully. If the client isn't willing to put the required time into the project it could indicate they aren't going to take the project seriously. It could also indicate that they have contacted lots of agencies and just don't have the time or are simply window shopping.

What are your bad project warning signs? Are there any projects you've taken on and wished you hadn't? Conversely, were there any projects you were nervous about taking on only to find those concerns were unfounded?