Is No News Good News?

This post was inspired by a great post on clients found via the Joel On Software Business of Software Forums.

In the past six months, I've launched a number of sites for a number of different clients. Upon successful launch, I normally send an email of whatever final issues were addressed, if there's anything remaining, login information, and a simple note encouraging the user(s) to get familiar with the site/application. I normally get a “thanks, looks great” and then silence.

I go along my merry way and check back in with the client after 15 days or so. Sometimes I get a response, sometimes I don't. I normally try again after another 15 days and if I don't hear anything, it's done. I close the file, deactivate the project in dotProject, backup the code, archive my Subversion repository, deactivate the Mantis project, and call it done.

Invariably, I get contacted 30+ days later (remember, 60 days since release) with an issue or three that needs to be fixed and/or added. I offer to put together a simple ongoing maintenance contract and I commence work. At least, that's how I do it now. I haven't always been that smart and there are some clients from the very beginnings of CaseySoftware still straggling along.

For example, I had a request for a website on January 7th, 2005. I specified about 10-14 days and was told that they were really hoping for it sooner. Working day an night for a week, I managed to demo the nearly complete site – lacking some content only – on January 14th. I contacted the client and heard nothing. Five days later, nothing. Ten, twenty, thirty days later, nothing. Finally on May 10th (nearly 120 days since the demo launch), they said they were ready to launch the live site.

Next, I had a site demo that I worked on most of March and launched on the 31st. The business partners who were the customers had access to the system, to Mantis to log bugs, and to dotProject to monitor progress. I watched their access in the systems and found something interesting. One of the partners had not used any of the systems since March 15th and the other had used them, but only to see other projects. The first time they logged into the demo system was May 28th (nearly 60 days since the demo launch).

Finally, I had a third site which I starting scoping out the work at the end of February. It took them a month to get me the admin password to their control panel. After launching their site – with 2 oversights, I'll admit – on April 15th, I heard nothing from them until May 26th.

Luckily, all new contracts with CaseySoftware have two clauses built in:

First, if a client does not provide project-critical information (ie. ftp access, database access, etc) with 3 business days of being requested, the entire project timeline is delayed for two business days for every day past the third. If a client takes a month (20 business days) to give us access, that's fine, but the project will be delayed by upwards of 2 months (40 business days). Some may see this as arrogant and draconian, but we must protect our timelines in order to protect future clients' schedules. We simply can't wait forever or put another clients' work aside for someone who considers us “on-call”.

Second, we have an escape clause concerning bug support. If there are no bugs reported within 30 days – regardless if the client even uses the software – the contract is complete. If bugs are reported any reported within the 30 day deadline will be resolved to the best of our ability.

We believe this will protect both ourselves and our clients' interests.