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?

Clients Coming From Another Developer

If a potential client came to you complaining of another developer in the community, what would you do?  I’ve had a few referrals happen like this and if I personally know the developer I usually send the developer a quick note asking for any details they’d be willing to share about the client.  I’ve only done this for developers that I consider friends but I’m wondering if I’m breaking some sort of protocol.

I look at this way, if a potential client comes to me and is mad at another developer (and names them) I think I should do my due diligence and find out as much as I can about the client.  Should this be a warning flag?  Not all clients are made equal and some are downright bad and not worth the time and effort to court and some you should run away from as quickly as possible.  Ours is a small enough community where a bad client can go through many developers in a short amount of time causing nothing but heartache and financial ruin along way.  I know I’d appreciate a heads up if I was next on the list.

I’ve turned down potential clients because of various issues (mainly just gut instinct but some over contractual issues) only to have other developers contact me later asking if an why I had turned down the project to begin with.  I can hear the dismay in their voice (you know that old style communication thing called voice?) when I give them the answer.  I almost wish they had contacted me up front because sometimes these projects cost people hundreds of dollars (at a minimum) and tens of thousands for a really big project.  We all deserve better than that.

So what do you do if you’ve been contacted by a client unhappy by another developers work?  Have you contacted that developer asking for information?

Happy Coding!

 

What’s Your Real Studio Story? (Part two)

In part one of this series I talked about the early chapters of my Real Studio story.  Today I’ll talk about some of the things we (because we have multiple employees) with Real Studio.

Let’s go back to the 2008.  That was the last year that Real Software held the REAL World conference in Austin, Texas.  I begged Real Software to let me have a meeting at 8:00 AM to hold an organizational meeting for a REALbasic users group of some sort.  I was surprised at the turnout and the Association of REALbasic Professionals (ARBP) was born.  http://www.arbp.org

Starting ARBP has been a job of persistence and overcoming inertia.  Since we started with nothing: no organization, no leaders, no website, no expectations, we really had no idea what we were going to be when we grew up.  Thankfully I was supported by an awesome group of dedicated individuals that really helped push the organization, and me, along.

In three years, ARBP has hosted two conferences.  The first was in Boulder, Colorado in 2009 and the second was in Atlanta, Georgia this past March.  Both of those conferences were recorded and are available for ARBP paid members.

Besides helping organize both events I’ve spoken at both of them.  So has my #1 employee, über programmer, Seth Verrinder.  Seth has been with us for three and a half years and has been an awesome addition to the team.  Without him, we wouldn’t be as successful as we are.  Between the two of us we’ve also written a fair number of the tutorials, newer projects in the source code repository, and articles.

Sharing code with the community is great way to contribute.  Many of us ‘old timers’ have a library of code just sitting around that would contribute to the community and help people just starting out with Real Studio.  Think about adding your source code to the ARBP Source Code Repository.

Speaking of training, in late 2009 I was contacted to do some video training for Real Studio.  They only wanted about eight hours of video and I felt that I couldn’t do the language or the IDE justice in that short amount of time.  But it did start my creative juices flowing and now I have over 30 hours of Real Studio video training material available at http://www.bkeeney.com.  That 30 hours comprises over 110 separate videos including most of the common Real Studio controls for both desktop and Web Edition.  Most videos come with a project file that you’re free to use in your own projects.  I have two complete series where I start at the beginning of a project and follow it through to the end.  Needless to say, I’ve been very happy with the results and the comments I get from users are very encouraging.

What sort of work do we do with Real Studio?  Well, it varies all the time since we’re a consulting firm.  In the past year we’ve done major updates to professional athletic training system (we did version 1 as well), updates to teleprompting software (we did the version 2 rewrite), major work a Web Edition project for an underwriting company, fixed some right-to-left language support in an existing Real Studio app, updates to a veterinary management app, and updates to credit repair software.

From-scratch projects include a PDF viewer/annotation/organizer app, a military strategy simulator, a family genealogy organizer, a front end user interface to a serial lightning detection device, a neurological test for patients with brain damage, a proof-of-concept app for a Mac OS X computer to talk to a electronic keyboard that uses a proprietary ethernet protocol, and a Web Edition app to share URL’s among registered users.  Most desktop projects are cross-platform.

On top of all that, we’ve created a number of smaller, proof-of-concept/training projects for folks that want to do something specific in RB but don’t have the time or inclination to learn it on their own.  These projects are actually kind of fun since they’re very specific and allow us to explore a control or API that we’ve not spent much time on without having to worry about the nit picky details of a full-blown application.

I’m very picky on how I organize documents (I am an engineer after all) so every now and then I go through the older directories as a refresher.  We’ve done a LOT of projects over the years and not one of them is similar to another one.

So how do I find the clients?  At this point we’ve been doing Real Studio consulting for a long time and a lot of long-term clients keep coming back for rewrites and major new additions.  I’m very happy about that as the relationship is already in place and they trust us.  It’s an awesome feeling.

Believe it or not, the video training has been a nice addition to our consulting business.  The progression is that people sign up for the videos and then after a couple of weeks (or months) they send us an email asking if we are available for work.  Because of the videos we already have a ‘relationship’ even if I’ve never talked to them before because they see how I work with Real Studio.

I’m also a member of the Real Studio Consulting Referral Program https://secure.realsoftware.com/store/consulting.php.  It currently costs $495 for twelve months and $295 for six months.  It’s worth it.  By the time a potential client sends in their information to the Find a Developer Page at https://secure.realsoftware.com/support/consultants.php they’ve already decided that Real Studio is what they’re looking for.

At one Real World I said being part of the Referral Program is “like shooting fish in a barrel”.  I still believe that.  The cost is insignificant.  One very small project and it pays for itself.  If you want to start working with Real Studio on a full-time basis, this is the place to start.

One last note on ARBP.  I’m happy, and a little sad, to say that today is my last official day as leader of the organization.  Tonight is our board meeting where a new board will take over and a new president will lead ARBP into the future.  I’m still on the board as Treasurer (assuming no one else wants it) but the day to day stuff will no longer be in my hands.  I urge you to volunteer as it’s a great organization that is always looking for help.  You don’t have to be a Real Studio expert (or professional) help out.

So those are the current chapters in the BKeeney Software Real Studio story.  What sort of projects are you working on?  How are you finding work?