I lost a web site client today. I didn’t get a “we’re going a different way” email, there was no phone call informing me that my services were no longer required. In fact, I didn’t speak to the client at all. I was forced to deduce I had been kicked to the curb from my prior experience with similar situations.
Just as Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was able to quantify the five stages of grief, I have been cataloging the stages of shoddy treatment of web designers. It always begins the same way: I get an email from some chirpy twenty-something named Tracy, asking me to please provide the information necessary to access the client web site or domain registry. I always respond the same way, refusing to deliver any information until I have spoken to the company owner, my client. (For some reason, all Tracys are unspecified “assistants” with broad authority to do everything.)
Requests to give up secure information should always be treated as potential scams, something that the Tracys of this world can’t fully comprehend. This leads to stage two of the process: Instead of calling me to verify her identity, Tracy sends me an email requesting the same information. That request is also denied.
Stage three: Tracy finally breaks down and calls me. When I ask why the information is required, the response is a variation on “I’m new here and I’m trying to pull all of this information together.” At this point I know that I’m history, so I make a game out of forcing Tracy to tell me that I’m fired, which she refuses to do. She’s part of the new team that will revitalize the company of at least improve their Google search rank (or so they believe), so she doesn’t want to be the target of my dissatisfaction. I tell her that her boss has always had all of that information, and that it would be irresponsible of me to divulge passwords in a phone call. Besides, how do I know Tracy really works for my client?
Stage four is were the game gets interesting. Since I’m usually both the technical and administrative contact for most of the web sites I set up and design (“Could you do that for us? I don’t understand how any of that stuff works?”), I get email notifications any time someone other than me logs into the account and tries to change the permissions. It has occurred to Tracy at this stage that she can cut me out of the process by granting herself access. She’d have more success claiming she was the daughter of a Nigerian prince who had to move a large sum of money out of the country. I let her stew for a day or two until she realizes that nothing will happen without my cooperation.
And leads to stage five: The client herself calls me and breaks the bad news, which she had hoped Tracy would have been able to handle (and hiring Tracy is beginning to look like a questionable decision). When I ask why I’m being let go, the answer will be either “we’re going in a new direction” (as if I’m incapable of change), or a variation of the Google search rank nonsense. Now that I’ve been told straight up that I’ve been fired, I tell the client that I will re-send the email she sent me at the beginning of our work together, in which she provided me with all of the usernames and passwords for her site accounts.
If these clients had been a bit smarter, and remembered that they always had the information they needed, months would have gone by before I realized that something was amiss. All I ask for is honesty and fair dealing. If you treat me like a part of your team, you get my loyalty and commitment to your project. Treat me like the help, and I’ll make your life difficult. The choice is always yours.