Finishing a Project: Support Agreements (pt. 2)

support-agreements

This is the second in a 2-part series. The first is Finishing a Project: Testing & Support (pt. 1) and it focused on the Testing aspect. Part 2 will focus on support agreements.

Finishing a project can be frustrating when it feels like it will never end. Having a testing and support plan in place will reduce the struggle of closing out a client’s project. Whatever your quality assurance needs, it comes down to how well you plan for and execute the testing and support aspects of the project.

The Proposal

I’m going to focus – yet again – on how important the proposal itself is during all phases of the project. The support area is no different. You can read more about writing a great proposal here: Project Proposal Structure Leads to Project Success, but the bottom line is that your communication and expectation setting with your client begins with the proposal.

Make sure your clients know you will offer support agreements upon completion of projects. It is most important that they understand that when you “finish” the project that you aren’t abandoning them. So, offer options to them that continue the relationship and ensure that you maintain, support and enhance their investment.

Support, Maintenance, and Warranties

No matter how you price (hourly, fixed, or value), clients deserve a way to access ongoing support. I would encourage you to bill your client in advance for a bank of hours, the fixed, or value price. Part of what they are buying from you is your attention. So, if you invoice them after the fact, you won’t have the bandwidth to support them as they deserve.

These agreements are called support, maintenance, or a warranties. But, they all cover the same types of things:

  • Ongoing bug fixes and/or modifications
  • Answering questions as to how something works
  • Maintaining software on a server
  • Access to personnel
  • Response time
  • Optionally, if you are selling a product, upgrades to that product as they are rolled out

What they don’t cover is new work. So be sure to manage your clients’ expectations in that regard. If they ask for something new, you should create a separate agreement (with timing, deliverables, budget all laid out clearly). And, then that newly created work can roll into the support agreement.

For Software/Website Development

With any custom software solution, there will be bugs. (No matter how good you are, you know it is true!) Support agreements are a way to address bugs that aren’t found during the testing period. You can also manage the server’s software, for example, OS upgrades or FileMaker Server upgrades. By doing this on a regular basis, you help prevent your solution from being “broken” by an untested upgrade.

Many times clients may have questions as to how something works. If they don’t use the feature often enough, they can forget how to do it when it comes time. By granting them the option to ask for a quick bit of training or to answer a question, you extend their satisfaction with what you built for them. If they can’t use it, they won’t like it! Alternatively, you can provide access to a self-help module that you provide, but this should be noted as included in the support agreement.

If you sold a base product and built upon it, you can also include upgrades to new versions of the product as it is rolled out. Just remember to be clear about how custom upgrades can affect it. For example, if you have built custom reports on top of a custom product, those might need to be rebuilt. If so, be clear for each individual client how it would affect the price.

For Marketing/Advertising

With marketing and advertising, you most likely are offering something like ongoing seasonal modifications to the client’s medium of choice. You also might offer to monitor banner ad placements or verify that print ads or radio spots actually ran. If you create websites, bugs and hosting needs should be addressed in addition to seasonal changes. Or, perhaps you run offers throughout the year and continually update the coupons, or even the products sold via e-commerce. Make your client feel secure by offering coverage in these areas.

For Accounting

One of the most appreciated parts of support from an accounting standpoint is availability of help in regard to certain needs. For example, as it comes near the end of the year, a client might want to know whether or not he should purchase computers to help offset taxes, or make donations, or give bonuses. If something dramatic changes the initial tax plan, it is great to be able to call and get a revised tax payment schedule. I find that when I screw up Quickbooks Online, it is great to have a bookkeeper or accountant on hand to fix it, or to direct me how.

All of those things are truly valuable and should either be included in the annual agreement or in separate support agreements.

Support Agreements Summary

There are no real rules on what must or must not be included into support agreements. Do whatever works best for how your team works and how you want to serve your client. The items included are definitely of value, as is your client’s access to you. Essentially, the client is buying your attention. So, be creative!

As with other proposals, I would recommend providing three options on your support proposal. And, some of those options could include things like response time or who they get to speak to. Perhaps if they choose your most premium option, they get to speak with you, the owner. Otherwise, they might have to be escalated through tiers to get to you.

Regardless of your market, it is important to remember that when you offer support agreements, you are also showing clients what they aren’t getting if they don’t purchase. And that means, if they call you at the last minute with an emergency, you can prioritize that emergency beneath those clients who had the forethought to engage you to provide support.

How have you created your support agreements? Please add a comment below to share with the other readers.

About Susan Fennema

Susan helps you gain control of your business through process development, organization, and structure of your business operations and projects. From developing processes to coaching project managers, she can help you get beyond the chaos.
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