Many times in dealing with my clients, I fear I repeat myself too often. When a client submits their order to us, they get treated to our terms of service statement not once… not twice… not three, but four different times during the order process. Plus, I refer them to the terms of service several times throughout their browsing experience on my site. In addition, their order will not be submitted to us unless they have checked the box that says “Yes, I have read your terms of service”. They are also presented with our terms within the project quote.. as well as within the body of the invoice.
Overkill? I don’t think so. 80% of the time, during the course of a project, I find myself reminding a client about the terms of service that they agreed to, initially…because some, inevitably, didn’t read it.
And yet, as cuckoo as I am about it — there are some cases where it just doesn’t matter. Either the person did not actually read the terms of service.. or they did not understand the terms of service.
My terms of service specifically states the items that are included within the initial project payment. It’s a simple concept: You pay me X amount of dollars – - I give you X services and product. Anything beyond that will incur additional fees.
If you hired a painter to come in and paint your kitchen blue… would you expect him to charge you more if, after he was finished with the blue, you decide you really want it to be green? Or would you expect him to do the green for free?
Within our terms, we agree to provide you with up to TWO iterations of your design request. That means.. you provide us with your specs and details and within a certain time frame, we provide you with a mockup of our concept for your design work. Additional work beyond the two iterations will incur additional fees — it says that in our terms, we say it in our quote to you, your invoice also says the same thing — we repeat that at LEAST 6-10 times throughout the initial communications.
If you love it – that’s great! We’ll then proceed to apply the necessary coding and CSS to turn it into a template/theme for use on your site.
If you don’t love it – that’s ok, too. We will listen to your feedback and go back to the drawing board. We will either modify our first attempt if all you need is some modifications on color/layout – - or, we will start completely from scratch and provide you with a completely different look, based on your preliminary feedback.
Once you approve the design work – - then the graphic design phase of the project is over and we move on to the coding.
So, Lisa – then why, if you’re so upfront, were you investigated by the FBI??
Well, it’s an interesting story, to be sure.
Backing up here….recently we completed a design project for a client. Her original request was very specific about color schemes, layout, functionalities, etc. Our client worked and communicated closely with the designer in picking out the kind of artwork she’d like to use in her site design – and made specific choice in that regard. Here’s how it went after that:
- Designer took all the clients ideas and artwork and developed the first design mockup and presented it to the client
- Client liked it.. but felt it lacked a few things and she gave some feedback on what she’d like to see added/modified
- Designer took her new ideas and applied them to a new mockup and presented the second mockup to the client
- Client stated she really liked it and had only a few adjustments she wanted done
- Designer went through and applied the clients requested adjustments and presented her with a THIRD mockup
- Client indicated that she liked it – the Designer informed the client that the design phase was complete and she was going to go ahead and move forward with the coding and theme creation phase
- Clients exact response was “I like it, everything is fine as is”
- Designer spend several hours creating the templates and CSS – - put it all together to create the theme and presented a ‘live’ version of the theme to the client, loaded onto our own development domain.
- Client responded that she liked it, but needed a little time to decide what she thought was ‘missing’
- Client came back the next day with new ideas on a completely new approach – - nothing in her new requests were included in her original order, therefore, these new ideas were not included in the quote she was provided. These new ideas would require us to go back to step one and start over again from scratch – - it required a completely different color scheme, different layout, different artwork and completely different functionalities – and the client even apologized for “not knowing what I really wanted in the first place”.
- We responded and let her know that we can surely provide her with this new request, however, it is subject to additional fees and notified her that we would review her new request and would get back to her with a new project quote and time line
This is where it all went downhill.
The client didn’t think she should have to pay for this new request….that it should be included in the price that she already paid. I, very nicely, explained that the work on her original order was complete, to her own specifications.. even having gone as far as providing her with that third mockup to make sure she was 100% happy with the end product. I explained that we would not have proceeded with the final coding of the templates/theme if she hadn’t given us the ‘go ahead’ to do so on a design that she said she liked. We followed her initial order to the letter and she gave us feedback that she liked what we did – - and then changed her mind completely, wanting to go in a vastly different direction in the last hour of the project. It’s not a problem – but the new work is not going to be done for free, at this point.
You can imagine where it went from there. She wanted the work done at no additional cost or she wanted a full refund. We went back and forth a couple times until I finally ended communications with her and let her know that no refund would be issued on work that was already complete and, further, we are not willing to complete the second phase of her request – mostly because I felt that this relationship was no longer viable, considering our most recent exchanges.
After a 5 or 6 days, I didn’t hear back from her – - so I attached a zip file containing the theme we completed for her and sent it, along with a pleasant note that said “In case you wanted the original theme we created, I’ve attached it for you. Best of luck to you in the future…”
2 days later – I was contacted, by phone, by the FBI’s Internet Crime Unit
Seriously. Me – a cyber criminal. I guess anything is possible, hmm?
Our (ex)Client, apparently, filed a complaint of fraud and they requested that I come down to their local offices and share the story with them.
I printed out everything. Every correspondence between the client and I, every file, every mockup – - everything that had anything to do with her project. I printed out my terms of service and a copy of the order form that our clients fill out.
I sat, for an hour, with the detective while he read through everything – - I provided a bit of clarification to the areas he needed. After he was done, he told me that there is no case here at all. He said my terms were very clear and he is even the one who provided me with the ‘painter’ analogy that I mentioned above. He said, “Fraud is when you do something like.. put your motorcycle up for sale on the internet…someone sends you 5K for the bike, but you don’t deliver the bike….. Or if someone hired you to build and paint a deck for their house… you leave the project as ‘complete’ – but didn’t do the painting part…. there is no fraud here – - you did everything you said you would, even a little more, in the name of client satisfaction.”
He thinks all of my dealings on this project were above board and feels its a case of a client who wanted a whole lotta work for a little bit of nothing. I couldn’t agree more.
Seriously, I’m the first one to admit when I’m wrong, or when I haven’t been clear. I’m always one to step up and apologize when I’ve screwed up and I do not pretend to be perfect. I’ve made my mistakes a long the way, and have learned some very valuable lessons because of them. Not that I’ve never provided refunds in the past – because I have… on a case-by-case basis. It all depends on the individual circumstances of the individual project. This project, in particular, was done to spec …without question.
I have to say, though… as a consumer, it is actually very pleasing to know that the FBI actually follows up on complaints sent in by consumers of internet related goods and services. I always had a feeling that if you sent in something like that – - it ends up in a black hole somewhere..never to be seen again. Apparently, it absolutely ends up somewhere!
The detective even took my card, just in case he has any design work he, or his friends/family/colleagues, may need sometime in the future. Heh. He was a very nice man.
If this experience has taught me anything, it taught me to definitely keep my terms up to date, and completely airtight on what you plan to provide for the price that you charge. There should be no question… at all. Not in your mind… and not in the clients mind.
It also taught me how vitally important it is to keep copies of absolutely everything that relates to projects and services. You never know when …. or why…. you may need them someday! Those copies come in very handy as evidence to support your side of the story…. ‘Don’t take it from me….here, read this…” If I hadn’t kept copies of everything to provide to the detective… it would have been my word against hers… and who knows where that would have gone??
I struggled with sharing this post, quite honestly…. I mean, who really wants to admit that they’ve been investigated by the FBI? I was officially one of those “Persons of Interest” you hear so much about… at least for a brief moment in time. I share this post with you, regardless – and my reason for doing so is to make the point that just because you conduct your business on the internet does not make you immune to the very real possibility of legal fallout. Yes, you can be investigated. Yes, there is a department that takes consumer complaints and YES – those complaints really DO land on someone’s desk and that complaint DOES make it to your local FBI office and YES they will call you on the carpet.
It can happen to you and I’m just here to tell you that you need to be prepared for it by keeping those terms airtight. Communicate EVERYTHING and keep copies of those communications….forever. You never know when that phone is going to ring.
Even if you did everything absolutely, 100% right and above-board – - you better be prepared to prove it.
It was a good experience, actually – to go through it and get a first hand look at the process. Though, my husband said I should bill her for my time spent with the detective. Heh.