2 steps to bett er projects
Bjarne Christensen talks through a billing plan that works for your clients and your budget
Bjarne Christensen talks through Stupid Studio’s novel billing plan
We love our clients, and we love designing a creative online presence for them. But a few years back, we didn’t know if we could continue doing web projects at all. Up to two-thirds of our projects lost money, usually due to production cost overruns. What’s more, making templates felt like putting on a colourful Band-Aid without diagnosing the problem.
We didn’t want to be template vendors: we wanted to understand our clients’ businesses in a way that would really move the needle for them and for their customers. So we stopped making templates. We reduced our Photoshop use drastically. And we developed a system that makes us and our clients much happier.
The creative phase
We divide projects into two parts: an initial creative phase, which works on a fixed budget, and a second production phase with an agile budget.
The creative phase begins with an inquiry from the client and a meeting over coffee. On this free ‘coffee date’ , the client and I see if we have chemistry and if the project is something we’re excited about. I explain that if Stupid Studio is going to really provide something of value, we need time to get to know the client’s business, strategy and market position. A company’s online presence is often its face to the world, and creating it requires a partnership between them and us.
When I frame it this way, the company usually says, ‘Of course you can’t design for us before you get to know us’. And the fixed price gives them a sense of security that the process won’t drag on forever.
Once the customer has signed on, I return for a meeting with the team and ask my ‘100 questions’ – basic information about who they are and where they’re going. I take the answers back to my team, so we’re prepared for our first workshop.
This is where it gets fun. We plan two half-day workshops with the client, in which a developer, a creative, a designer and myself (as creative director) visit the customer with a roster of games and mindbending exercises designed to get them to think about how their online presence can serve their strategy and their brand.
For example, we ask clients to draw their own company’s logo. A lot of grown-ups don’t draw any more, so asking them to use this part of their brain gives them and us valuable information about how they see their brand. We also ask the customer to bring in songs that express where the brand is now (maybe a forgettable 2003 Britney Spears hit) and where they think they’d like the brand to go (maybe slow jazz or edgy electronica).
The production phase
After the workshops, we create a debrief document with everything we’ve learned. The customer has paid for this and it belongs to them, which means that technically they could choose another agency for production. Usually they choose us, and we begin to build the site.
About 80 per cent of our projects are built directly with code, in the browser and on the relevant platforms. This means we get very few of the surprises that used to result in production cost overruns.
For the production stage, we use an agile budget. We list what we think will be the number of hours required for each task, plus an ‘uncertainly factor’ of 1 to 5, which gives us some elbow room if tasks prove to be more complex than expected.
Listing production tasks by priority allows for flexibility if an idea for a great new functionality appears halfway through the build. It also helps the client see the financial repercussions of new requests from their side.
Our two-part billing structure allows us to build better websites while making sure we get paid for everything we do. Our numbers have improved, and our clients are happy too.