Spotting Problem Projects: Read Between the Lines

I recently ran across a Craigslist post requesting web design and development work. Requests posted on Craigslist are often not even worth eyeing, but this caught my attention for the obvious reasons: it was so badly reeking of everything you should avoid in a new project.

In fact, I found the request so horrendous that I wanted to run through and analyze each phrase and word that stuck out as a red flag.

The request started with this statement: “We are a small new company…”

There’s nothing majorly wrong with this statement, but it should raise an eyebrow. Coupling “small” and “new” likely means the company intends on spending very little for a new website.

The second sentence of the request continued with this, “I created [our current website] by just using some basic template.”

Again, nothing majorly wrong with this, but it should serve as a sign that this person might think web design is as simple as popping in a new template. Oftentimes, people who are addicted to templates will constantly fall back on them, which could create some issues in this particular project.

The very next line went on to request, “a design person to create us a custom, interactive brochure website.”

That’s a major red flag. Previous indications point toward the requester having little money, but they desire a website that is “custom” and “interactive,” which could lead to a myriad of issues including scope creep, excessive demands, and a generally tense relationship. Also, “interactive” is such a broad, undefined word that it could mean anything, but the real clincher is the use of “brochure website.” Typically, when you see the word “brochure” associated with web design, it’s an attempt to devalue it.

The request continued on to list out specific requirements for the project, which is a change for the better, but then I stopped in my tracks when I read this, “[send] what you think you would charge to do this (like $250 – $500 depending on scope).”

Obviously, this closes the case on the project being cheap, thus raising a major red flag.

And finally, the posting finishes with the requester stating, “I know web design well.”

Translation: “I can do this website on my own if I needed to, which is exemplified by my ability to purchase and implement a template, so my offer of a couple of hundred bucks is more than generous.”

Perhaps this is a bit of a cynical viewpoint on this request, but in my opinion, you must be defensive of your time. When the web design industry and web projects in general are treated as cheap commodities, it helps to know some of the basic red flags so that you can avoid wasting time, energy, and effort that projects like this will drain from you.

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