Agency life: Modifications, assumptions, and risks


Working for a digital agency, having a client come to you looking for a brand-new website is the ideal situation. This gives the agency a chance to shape the direction of the business and create a user experience that helps sell the client’s brand.

However, this ideal is becoming increasingly uncommon. Instead, clients with existing websites come seeking modifications – from the simple to the complex – to what they already have.

Most agencies, when they have agreements at all, have one which covers new-build websites. Simply repurposing this agreement for use with a client that wants website modifications opens both parties up to risks that could otherwise be nullified.


The problem with making assumptions

When a new client comes to an agency seeking modifications, the risks are more substantial. There is a knowledge gap on both sides that needs to be bridged through discussion and agreement.

The client is the expert on their business. They know their market, their aims for the website, and what they want the modifications to do.

However, they may have no idea how to achieve that, or what has been done on the site in the past. Depending on who built their site previously, and their relationship, the client may have no idea what the site is built on, what kind of changes have been made, and whether the site has been properly maintained.

Plenty of agencies have made the mistake of quoting a price for modifications based on incomplete information – only to enter the website’s back-end and find a mess of patches, convoluted workarounds, and irrelevant code. From there, the question becomes – does the agency take two or three times as long as was quoted and fix the mess, or do they just do what the client wants – adding to the mess that will eventually have to be fixed?

There are risks either way. If the agency fixes the site and presents a bill for vastly more than was quoted, they risk losing the client (and possibly finding the client refuses to pay for the extra time.) If they don’t fix the mess, and that turns out to make the job worse in future, or in the worst case scenario, turns out to leave the site insecure or at risk of data leaks – the agency could find themselves in particularly hot water.

When it comes to existing customers, there is less risk – the agency at least knows what the existing site looks like behind the curtain. But there are still risks – ones which are heightened by the assumption by both parties that they are on the same page without actually talking about it.

It is important to maintain expectations and understand where each party is coming from. By maintaining a proper agreement, an agency and the client understand both what the modification is meant to achieve, and how it is supposed to achieve it.

Clients with some level of technical knowledge may have ideas about how they want to achieve the results they are looking for. This might not be the best way of going about that, and it’s important that the agency discusses the method that they prefer to use with the client before they go ahead and do it. A client may have reasons for preferring a different way, or they may just want things done their way for no reason at all.

Even so, by providing information about other means to achieve the same result, the agency can properly plan the time it will take to make the change, and warn about possible impacts of making a change in a way that would not be considered best practice.

A good agreement around website modifications – not one that has been poorly repurposed from contracts for new builds – helps to avoid some of these assumptions and thus help ensure that an agency isn’t left footing the bill for changes that they assumed the client wanted.

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