in Business

Should we take on a project we don’t believe in?

For some reason building web sites often means building businesses. The web plays a huge role in most businesses and more often than not is the key to the puzzle of profit. We tend to get involved in projects early and as such our customers run their business plan past us — to get our feedback.

Sometimes we like the idea and sometimes we think it needs work. Every once in a while there is an idea that just blows the candles out (a new euphemism for ‘it’s a business idea that’s going to bomb’).

The team at Tornado had a long discussion about this topic and I’d like to pose it for discussion. If a prospect or existing customer walks in the door and has a project they’d like your help with and you don’t believe in the future success of their idea, do you have a moral obligation to tell them you don’t think it will succeed? Should you take the project?

The reverse side of this equation is that the customer strongly believes in their idea and might just be a little less web savvy. Maybe you can say they don’t get Web 2.0 (oh my). If we take on this project we can help guide the customer in the right direction — possibly saving this project from ultimate failure at the hands of a less experienced team.

Or maybe we’re just very bad at predicting the future and they have the next Google.

Have you ever taken a project on that you didn’t think had a chance? What happened?

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  1. I am halfway in the middle of one. In this case is a friend with profit sharing options. He seems to think he can make millions but i have my doubts.

    Originally i wouldn’t do it because I didn’t want to charge him thousands of dollars the he wouldn’t make back. So he hired some other guy for the project which he is finding is more expensive then he originally anticipated. So I am back to helping him but as a friend who can get paid when he gets paid. (hopefully)

    But if it were just a client then i have no problem helping someone start a new venture if I am going to get paid for it. You never know it could be the next google or God forbid the next mySpace.

    Think about the guy who bailed out of Apple after the first computer was built because he didn’t believe they had a product that would take off.

  2. Yes we’ve come across this too. In my experience, ive seen many wierd and wonderful things work really well. My main issue with some projects (tho its more to do with clients) is that they expect to be the new friends reunited first hit, and want to invest big time in a project with an overkill spec instead of learning the business by starting off with the core service – On a number of occasions ive suggested the client hiring a developer (yes no designer!) to get the project up and running with our providing consultancy etc on a monthly basis to help guide a project along.

    It may help us to answer your post if you could clarify what you mean by “believe in”

  3. I dont think you always have the luxury of knowing that forehand though — even in cases where you do get to know the company and they are up front with their plans.

    I did some work for some folks a while back who had a great idea. They had a great team who had connections with others who would lend their support. They had a businessplan and vision planned out for the next 3 years. They had a substantial budget (and actual money in the bank) for marketing and other needs.

    They had motivation and a sincere belief in what they were doing…

    at least in the beginning.

    What they didn’t have (and which is usually always a critical element) was timing, and none of us could see that until the hindsight kicked in.

  4. I’m glad you brought this up. I think it really depends on your definition of the role of a designer, and the client themself. If you were to ask my mother, she would say the role of the designer is simply to illustrate someone else’s ideas, literally translate information into something visual, to the letter.

    If we all fell into this role there would be no place for creative license, because our clients would be making all design decisions for us. We’d just be working as extensions of Dreamweaver and GoLive. However, the designer as the educated and experienced decision-maker is certainly well informed enough to advise his clients their idea sucks just as their accoutant may tell them their business plan sucks.

    In my experiences at my current agency we’ve taken on a few projects we new were doomed, but the client was really passionate. I’m certainly not one to burst someone else’s bubble. Of course the projects never turned out as great as the things we stood behind, because the project itself was the limitation. But in the end our clients were happy, and I guess that’s all that really matters.

    It certainly didn’t feel wrong to work with someone who felt so strongly about their idea, but in my experience doing freelance (as opposed to work with my agency) I’ve found it best to avoid such scenarios.

  5. One way to politely handle potential projects that absoultely “blow” is by asking them a few questions:

    What’s your marketing budget and schedule?
    Have you patented that great idea yet?
    Have you applied for a federally registered tradename?

    That gets most first time entrepreneurs past the honeymoon and focusing on reality and/or the market. If they follow thru with any of that, they’ll be forced to put their idea in front of more discerning people.

    If they shrug off needing to do any of it, explain its required to in order to enter a contract.

  6. The best thing to do, is do the project. A failed business is a risk they have to take not you. It isn’t your place to burst their bubble. I always try to lend some constructive criticism and ideas that can help their idea blossom. By trial and error they will get something that was invaluable and that is experience. Make sure you explain that the “if you build it they will come” philosophy doesn’t really work in the practical world(especially in the web realm).

  7. I took this former pr0n star’s project where she wanted to sell her dirty pictures online. She was well past her shelf life for that type of business and I warned her that she would have to penetrate the niche market of men who like that sort of stuff and the return prolly wouldn’t be worth the investment.

    After the launch, not one person subscribed to her site in 6 months. She then tried to sue me because I didn’t make her a success, something I never promised. Her attorney called me and asked if I could at least refund some of my fee. I told him that they could waste their time taking me to court, but I wasn’t paying a dime. It’s been almost a year and I’ve heard nothing from her or her attorney.

    My learned lesson was to a) don’t take on stuff you can’t really get excited about in the first place and b) keep on presenting all scenarios – good and bad – to your clients.