Let’s Be Clear: Why Transparency With Clients And Co-Workers Matters

Everyone knows the feeling. Your car starts making weird noises and you can practically feel your bank account deplete. If you’re anything like me, you have little to no knowledge of how your car actually works, how each of the parts contributes to the whole, how much those parts actually cost, or how much labor actually goes into making the repair. And this is exactly why people get ripped off by repair shops all the time.

Without a certain level of knowledge about the service you’re paying for, you’re at their mercy. That is, unless the technicians offered to let you help them select and order the parts, walked you through the process and costs before they began, and had a nice comfy viewing room for you to come by and check up on their progress any time you’d like. While that may sound unrealistic, here at BenefitMany, we believe that this kind of blatant transparency should be standard in our industry, and we strive to make that a reality.

As developers, we have seen our fair share of burned customers. Typically, they come to us after being lured by a low-hourly-rate junior developer or generic offshore firm, which resulted in the customer overpaying for incomplete, poorly written, software feature releases (often delivered late). Moreover, by the time they find their way to us, it’s often cheaper to just rewrite the entire codebase than pile more features onto an unreliable foundation. We are tired of seeing web and mobile development customers frustrated and angry with the process, price, and result. Here is how we are trying to abolish that type of situation at BenefitMany, from start to finish.

Initial Meetings

Initial meetings or consultations should be cost-free to the client — the ticking money-meter in the client’s brain disrupts their interest in discussing their ideas which, honestly, makes our job more difficult in the long run. We believe in giving our clients whatever time and attention it takes to fully understand their vision. When you give the client the time to parse through their ideas without the worry of wasting money on a meeting, you open creative floodgates that we have found are hard for clients to stray from.

Product Blueprint

Despite the fact that we don’t charge for meetings, and although it typically takes 3 to 5 hours ($375-$625 in services) to prepare, our flat rate for a product blueprint is only $200. Our reasons for this go way beyond competitive rates.

Our blueprints are organized into sections that break down the scope of work expected for the client’s project into phases and tasks, showing how many hours and the anticipated cost for each phase and task. This not only shows how much the app is going to cost, but also the cost per feature and release date. It helps our clients adjust the scope of work to fit their budget (which is especially beneficial for startups). Every section of the blueprint describes each task to be performed. We write them in technical terms (that which another developer would be able to create the product by), and non-technical terms, so that no matter their background, our clients will understand how their money is being spent. Finally, we discuss a release date and confirm our flat rate of $200 for the blueprint.

It should be emphasized that we are charging the client for the blueprint itself, not the time spent to put it together. This means that the potential client has full license to shop the blueprint around. The way we look at it, the blueprint is a product, and once the prospective customer buys it, they are entitled to do whatever they want with it — even if that means hiring another web development agency that ultimately builds the app according to our specifications and charges one dollar less than us. We have confidence in ourselves and our clients that from our initial meetings, our dedication, creativity, and transparency will make us the clear choice to our clients. We truly believe that the relationships we are able to build with our clients result in better, more efficient, pleasing work.

Tracking Progress

“Okay,” you might be thinking, “So, you’re going to tell me your plan to execute my project in minute detail, but how do I know you’re actually going to follow that plan, or that I should believe your hourly estimates? I’ve been blindsided too many times before to fall for that…”

Well, here’s where BenefitMany really differs. Remember that fictitious comfy waiting room at the autoshop we mentioned earlier? Ours is more BYOCC (Bring Your Own Comfy Chair) but we welcome you to check in on what and how we’re doing at any time. To put it simply, we have nothing to hide.

As our customer, you have full access to our task management system, Asana. It’s how we keep tabs on our own and each other’s progress, and it allows you to keep track of the work you’re paying for, down to the minute. You can log into your company’s Asana account at any time to see who is working on which aspect of your app or website and how much progress is being made.

Even better, our task manager is linked to our billing system, Harvest, which automatically keeps track of how many minutes we’re working on a certain task, and produces a detailed invoice with a meticulous breakdown of hours worked. No more inexplicable “additional service hours” charges.

Team Efficiency

Our team has been working together for five years so we have a good feel for each other’s work methods, and know each other’s strengths. This is how we know how to accurately come up with bids for our clients. In addition, being able to check in on each other’s progress allows us to keep our engine oiled and running smoothly. When another team member’s project might be taking longer than expected, we can easily jump in to get the ball rolling. It continues to help us fine-tune how we can work even more efficiently as a team.

Detailed Invoices

When we send our client an invoice, they are able to see how many hours we spent working on a ticket, and how many hours we estimated it would take to complete the ticket. This is the moment of truth: we show our client how our blueprint compared to time billed.

Weekly Emails

Last, and what may be the best example of our transparency, are our weekly emails. Our CTO, Wes Hays, takes pride in personally writing weekly detailed progress updates (subject line: “State of the Dev”) to our clients. In these emails, Wes details the main features the team completed that week, what we are working on next week (tasks drawn from and visible to the customer in Asana), a link to the application for review on staging, and month-to-date stats. At the end, he specifies hours billed for the week and month, as well as back and front-end code coverage. In short, Wes’s desire to be transparent and overly communicate with clients is unique. (Not to mention his 20-plus years of coding experience!)

Parting Thoughts

We have shared our approach with other agencies and partners of ours and it makes their stomachs turn. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

To them, the thought of running their business as transparently as we do would 1) challenge the efficiency of their systems (and people), and 2) wipeout thousands in “project management charges” and other fluff from their non-itemized invoice statements. On the contrary, peer agencies, it is all of these standards that are helping us to improve our business, performance, and client satisfaction every day. The only real way to make accurate estimates is by tracking and using data from past projects to modify our formula for future projects. Sharing detailed per-task time-to-completion data does not just benefit our clients, but also provides value for our team.

Above all, while we do pride ourselves on our progressive transparency and ability to deliver our projects on-time and on-budget, we ultimately hope that transparency simply becomes industry standard. When you don’t have anything to hide, there’s not much that can get in your way.