Evaluating Prospective Xojo Clients

A couple of weeks ago I did a blog post about evaluating Xojo consultants.  I think if you’re hiring a Xojo developer the consultant should clearly be an expert in Xojo and should be able to publicly show why they deserve your hard earned money.  But, there are two sides to the equation and I didn’t talk about evaluating the prospective client.  Here are some of the things that are red flags to us and maybe why we should steer clear of them.

Does the prospective client have a clear idea of what they want?  We’ve had clients that had a mere paragraph of content but could clearly articulate what they wanted.  Other clients have written an 80 page document full of meaningless gibberish that required a three hour face-to-face meeting to understand it.  

This is hard to evaluate but I’ve learned that if I can’t understand what the client wants and needs within a reasonable amount of time we’re not a good fit.  Either they can’t articulate what they want or it means that we’re just having communications issues.  It’s also possible they don’t know what they want and they want us to figure it out for them (which is a completely different project).

Has the prospective client worked with other Xojo developers before and been unhappy with the work?  Don’t get me wrong, we’ve picked up a lot of happy long-term clients and projects this way.  The client worked with another Xojo developer that couldn’t finish the project for a variety of reasons (like going back to a corporate job, or they bid too low and couldn’t live on the resulting income).

This is hard to evaluate too and you have to take it on a case by case basis.  Listen for the reasons why they were unhappy with the consultant.  Do their reasons seem petty or legitimate?  Do they accept at least some of the responsibility or do they put it all on the consultant?  Reasonable clients will accept partial responsibility.  The unreasonable clients, and the ones to stay away from, blame everything on the consultant.

The prospective client thinks they can do some of the work.  They have experience in <x> language and want to implement some of the work in Xojo on their own.  Or they feel their proof of concept project written in <x> language should give you a huge leg up on the overall project.

As with the previous points this is hard to evaluate.  Xojo is an easy to learn language but it’s been my experience that making Xojo work like <x> language is a recipe for disaster.  Xojo is Xojo and not like java or FileMaker or anything other language or environment.  Maybe their work helps but mostly it probably won’t.  It’s just easier to assume it’s going to be a complete rewrite.

The flip side to this is there are some clients that really are competent developers – just not in Xojo.  We’ve done a number of projects where we start the project for them.  We complete the basic infrastructure and give them some example List and Edit forms whatever else they want help with and then turn it over to them to complete the rest of the project.  They usually come back with some questions but for the most part they finish it themselves.  I consider this as part consulting and part training and we put more comments into code so they can understand the code better (since they’re learning).

The prospective client is always fighting with you about money.  We’ve had clients that want estimates on features so they can get their project done as cheap as possible.  I don’t begrudge any client that wants estimates on features to save money, but there are those clients that always complain about every penny and fight you on estimates and change orders and demand proof for every little thing.  They also tend to hold you to the dollar on any estimate you give them.

We had one prospective client that came with a project written by another developer.  It was referred to us by a Xojo consultant leaving the industry and couldn’t help them.  The project had a silly design where the SQL query was a staggering 200 pages when copied into a text editor.  It literally took minutes just to create the query and many minutes for the database to return results.  The only way to really clean it up and make it work properly was to break it up into smaller queries.  It would have given them more flexibility and it would actually speed up their entire process rather than locking the app up for minutes at a time.

Regardless, we came up with the estimate to fix it.  They said it was too much money and we parted ways.  They came back again in six months when the Xojo developer they found to ‘fix’ the query couldn’t do it (because it really needed to be broken up into smaller queries) and we gave them the same estimate.  It was still too high for them.  Six months later they came back yet again and asked if the price was the same.  It was not because we had raised our base rates.  We’ve never heard back from them and I wonder if they’re still in business.

Many clients are a delight to work with.  Not all of them will be long term clients but some will.  If you don’t get a warm fuzzy feeling after communicating with the client a few times you should really figure out why.  You’re going to know their project better than they do so you’d better figure it out before starting a big project.

Ironically some of our longest term clients were hard to work with at first.  See, they had bad experiences with other developers and were wary of being burned again.  Keep that in mind too. They’re being hard on you because they weren’t with their last developer.

These are just a few of the red flags that should concern you when talking with prospective clients.  What red flags do you look for?

ARGen 3.0.3

BKeeney Software Inc. is proud to announce an update to ARGen, our ActiveRecord Generator utility for Xojo developers. This minor update includes dark mode support, speed improvements, and important updates for generated projects. Updating to 3.0.3 is recommended for all ARGen users.

ARGen is available for macOS and Windows. It can be used for free in limited mode, and is priced at $99.95 to unlock all features. Existing version 2.x users will automatically be provided an upgrade opportunity when launching version 3.

3.0.3 Release Notes:

Changes:

  • Added Dark Mode support
  • Simplified manual relationship management
  • Selecting a different SQLite database now clears the password field
  • kMaxReturn is now a protected constant for cleaner code
  • DBUpdates module code is now cleaner
  • Improved instructions in some locations
  • Base project templates optimized
  • Preferences module no longer writes to SpecialFolder.Preferences
  • iOS Create Data Sources defaults to true
  • Updated links to Xojo documentation
  • Generated localization module constants are now protected

Fixes:

  • DBUpdates.SetDBVersion no longer uses a BKS extension synonym for str()
  • Fixed return statement for iOS apps using 2018r2
  • Projects with empty name now have default save name
  • BKS Created/Modified overrides no longer generate properties that fail to Register
  • Corrected minor UI bug on Windows
  • Project listing loads faster
  • Speed improvements throughout the software
  • Projects created but never saved are no longer retained when closed
  • Checking for updates at launch now works
  • Preferences window will show the last update check time

Pricing, examples, and more details can be found at the project homepage at https://bkeeney.com/argen/ 

Evaluating A Xojo Consultant

We had an interesting conversation with a prospective client last week.  Well, I should back up and say this isn’t the first time we talked to them as we were a finalist for a project of theirs two years ago.  Turns out their Xojo consultant is having a hard time completing the work and not giving them deliverables in a timely manner.  This is for a project we estimated at less than six months worth of work.

The client is looking for someone that could come in and complete the project for them.  They were hoping that a large majority of the work could be reused.  My response was that this was unlikely for several reasons.  The first being that they used their own kit which means a set of classes, subclasses, and libraries that we are unfamiliar with and for me to use them without serious investigation (i.e. time and money) would be less than ideal.  Plus, if I’m the developer for the project I’m now responsible for it working and I’m taking a gamble on code that I don’t know and haven’t vetted.  

My second thought was wondering if their overall design had been the cause for some of the delay.  Perhaps they coded themselves into a corner.  It’s an awkward conversation to have with a client – especially after they’ve spent a boatload of money.

Regardless, I’m sure our conversation was not what the client was looking for.  They wanted a project savior because their consultants had deceived them in their capabilities and in their ability to deliver.  

We politely asked who their consultant was and they told us.  A brief internet search pulled up the company website and their *one* Xojo related post.  Everything else on their website is hardware and .NET related.  If I was evaluating a Xojo consultant that would give me some pause for concern.  You really want a consultant that does a lot of Xojo projects.  Xojo is not like .NET or Java or any other language.  It has its own set of strengths and weaknesses (just like every other language) and I’ve seen it all too often where a developer tries to make Xojo do what <insert language here> does.  It’s almost always a disaster.

We’ve been using Xojo for over 16 years.  If I’m not friends with most of the Xojo consultants out there I at least know of them and their reputation.  I have lost bids to my competitors and if the prospective client will tell us who they chose I can at least give a thumbs up to those that I know and trust since I know the client will be in good hands.  For those that I don’t know I don’t give any opinion.  But it’s also been my experience that those consultants that stick around are good and are active in the community.

If you’re hiring a Xojo consultant you should always ask for references.  If you’re going to spend tens of thousands of dollars (or more) with them you should do a little homework.  Don’t buy their assurances.  If they are really reliable then they will find references for you to check out.  This will let you know if they do good work, are on time, and on budget.  Are they reliable?  Are they hard to work with?

If you’re new to Xojo consulting that’s okay too – we were all new once.  Be honest with the client and do your best to prove to them that you’re up to the challenge.  

The Xojo community is very accepting and the forum is filled with developers that have provided answers to newbies, provided source code examples, and even established public repositories to share their code.  Have they spoke at any Xojo developers conferences?  Written for Xojo Developer magazine?  This public work can, and should be, part of the reference list.  This shows the prospective client that you really know and work with Xojo.

Hiring a Xojo consultant isn’t that difficult.  There are a number of qualified consultants that will create a great project for you.  The first step is to fill out the form at Find a Developer page on the Xojo website at https://www.xojo.com/resources/consultants.php.  This will get your project in front of everyone looking for work.  Then it’s up to you.

Ask about their Xojo work they’ve done in the public.  Ask for their references.  Heck, ask them what they love and hate about Xojo (that might be a long conversation).  If you don’t do your homework you might be wasting an opportunity in not getting your project to market, or waste tends of thousands of dollars for work that doesn’t get delivered.