Some recent business mistakes and the lessons learnt

This week, saw me make some business mistakes and pay the price for it. I hereby choose to share my shortcomings here in the hope that others may learn from my feeble business brain.

There’s no doubt, that I am my own biggest critic; when I make an error of judgement I am furious with myself but at the same time I realise it is invaluable to make mistakes providing you ensure you know you’ve made them and you learn not to make them again.

My usual business model

For the most part, I work for web agencies. If they have too much work on one week/month or if a staff member is away on holiday and a big project has come in I go in there and help them out. I charge them a day rate and dazzle them with my professionalism and GTD attitude. I tend to shy away from client work because the extra work involved in dealing with clients often leads to less profitable projects (for me anyway).

Despite my business model going so well, I decided to dip my toe back into client work this week and have ended up doing more work whilst earning less money and potentially damaged my reputation in the process.

Along the way, I made the following errors of judgement:

  • I didn’t fully scope out the state of the website code I was to be working with
  • I didn’t fully research the cost of goods (stock photography) I’d have to purchase for the work
  • I certainly didn’t factor the cost of said media into the quote
  • I purchased images prior to getting client approval and was left with some expensive (and useless to me now) images

The work involved simple updates of site, a bit of cleaning up of the appearance of the text on the site (to make it more visually appealing) and to update the imagery across the site. However, soon after I’d started the project I realised two things:

  1. The cost of the stock imagery was about £3 each (for the right size) from* – way out of budget for changing 10-15 plus images.
  2. The quality of the code was in such a state (thanks DreamWeaver CS2) that I would have to spend the majority of my time cleaning up the code to be able to make simple changes.

In short, a one day job ending up taking 2 and a bit days and still wasn’t finished at the end of it. This lead to other jobs being delayed (albeit only slightly) and this new client being unhappy with my level of service. I’ve had to swallow the cost of images that I should never have purchased and offer the client a discount because not all the quoted for work was able to be completed.

This means, I’ve ended up working for nearly 3 days (factoring in the meetings and communications) and at the end I’ll have made about one days’ pay. This is not good business. Perhaps I should get a job as Woolworths’ or RBS’ CEO – I am now perfectly qualified.

To make matters worse, the client originally suggested the work was about two day’s worth – a suggestion which I laughed off assuming there was barely a day’s worth of work in the whole kaboodle.

What should I have done differently?

I should have sat down and worked out how much images would have cost and factored that into my quote so £30-£50 worth of media wouldn’t come out of my pocket. I should also have fully scoped out the code and worked out precisely how long it would take to get the job done.

If I’d have done those two things I could have provided a much more realistic quote and then, had the client decided that was my price was too high, I could have moved on to the next job.

* istockphoto is not the only stock photography site, I am aware of others – but they do provide high quality, licensed imagery that is affordable. Other sites were either more expensive or not to a high enough standard.

4 responses to “Some recent business mistakes and the lessons learnt”

  1. Hi Phil,

    Sorry to hear about your mistake – but to me, you just made a simple, common error of judgement which could have easily been rectified.

    For instance; you could have told the client that the code was in an unforeseen state – therefore it will take longer than originally quoted? Likewise; you could have told the client that stock photography was supplied at an additional third-party cost – or apologised for omitting this minor detail from the quote?

    Sometimes the best way out of issues like this is to talk to the client, rather than blame yourself – because apart from being trigger happy on istockphoto, you didn’t do anything wrong.

  2. @James: I wholeheartedly agree: talking to the client is the best way of situations like this but in this case, I left it too late in the day before realising my error. Had I realised sooner I could have had that conversation and politely asked to renegotiate the quote, as it was it dragged on a bit too long.

  3. It happens sometimes – even with the most careful planning, there’ll be things out of your control that will probably cost you money.

    I think we’re getting better at spotting that sort of project, and we usually cost in room for things not going our way, though with smaller projects it’s near impossible to do that and be in budget!

    How much do you charge a day (if you don’t mind revealing it?) – at £3 for 15 – 20 photos (total of around £50, let’s say), it’d be an annoying dent in the work’s pay (especially for the sake of a day’s work), but can’t be too bad, surely?

  4. @Richard: I won’t be revealing my day-rate here… for many reasons:) but I’m not charging so much as to make a £50 dent everything other than a very large dent!