Seven Tools I Couldn’t Get the Project Done Without

We’re in an era of tool overload. Not only does there seem to be a tool to accomplish every imaginable task, but there are also tools to make these tools easier to use. Some of these tools are great – well-built and feature rich – while others just get in the way, and we as web designers don’t have the time to keep up with them all. So what I’ve done is compile my top seven tools that my business and work thrives from.

Really. I would be lost without these tools.

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You’ll Never Succeed as a Web Designer

Getting into the web design field is easy. It’s actually probably the easiest industry to throw yourself into. The barriers to entry are minimal at best, and the cost to bootstrap your own venture low. All you need is a domain, website, and business cards. Stamp a logo on those cards and it’s official.

Ha! You’re going to fail. Or maybe you already are failing. That’s because there’s a hidden barrier to entry; one that only few see and even fewer are able to actually overcome.

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Strangers in Your Project: Managing Third Party Relationships

Have you ever felt like a third wheel on a project? I’m talking about those projects where a client brings in an outside vendor – typically a marketing company – to help with the process. It’s not common, but it does happen, and when it does, you have to be prepared handle a completely new layer of relationship management – or else you may blow a gasket.

I don’t mean to rag on marketing companies, but I’ve encountered far too many that needle their way into web projects and then overcomplicate decisions by attempting to add their “unique” perspective to everything. And then I’ve encountered marketing companies that really know what they’re talking about – and they especially know when to stand back and let the designers and developers do their job.

In both types of encounters, I had to employ new relationship tactics separate from normal client communications.

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3 Ways to Better Plan Your Web Projects

Some time ago, I wrote a post about implementing simple planning to achieve better results in web projects. Now I want to expand on that idea and provide more specific, actionable steps you can take to actually put simple planning into motion, and the best way to do that is by splitting the simple plan into three distinct actions.

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3 Common Web Project Failures and 3 Ways to Fight Them

Project failure is not a matter of “if” but “when.” It will always occur, and it’s almost never pleasant. This is an unfortunate fact of projects, especially web projects. But knowing beforehand what types of issues might creep up in a project, and devising ways to prevent or alleviate them, can help soften the blow.

What are some of the common project failures? Let’s take a look.

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The Good vs. Best Project Managers: What Differentiates the Two

In managing different projects, with different people and different outcomes, I’ve noticed that with practice, it’s not too terribly difficult to become a good project manager.

As long as you’re responsive to client needs, effective at managing your team members (if you’re of a larger organization), great at active listening, and an overall decent communicator, you’ll get the project done. Good project managers work hard to maintain client satisfaction, and they make sure there are no loose ends untied.

So why aren’t the good project managers the best? There’s one characteristic I’ve noticed that distinctively separates the two: breaking outside the boundary.

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How Project Estimating Can Lead to More Money and Happier Clients

The most highly sought after goals in a freelancer’s work life likely include more money and increased client satisfaction. But oftentimes, these two goals seem at odds — we equate higher client satisfaction to better project quality that doesn’t burden the customer with increased or hidden costs. Unfortunately, this leads to less money for us, and frankly, that sucks.

So how do we make more money and deliver a better project experience and keep our clients happy?

Simple. It all starts with the very first phase of your project — before any serious work actually begins. I’m talking about the preliminary project estimations you do (well, hopefully you do) before starting client work.

I consider this one of the most essential stages of a project, if not the most important. Why? Because it’s at this stage where not only do you discover the client’s needs, but you also have the opportunity to provide an honest assessment of the project, including its costs, resources, time commitments, and whether or not you actually want to take it on. After this stage, you’re pretty much locked into the project, and changing even the most minor aspects could prove dangerous to your relationship with the client.

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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.

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8 Provisions Your Web Design Contracts Must Have

Anyone serious about web design understands the essential role contracts play in the process. A contract is a legal document binding two parties to a trade, and it can carry heavy weight should a dispute arise. Unfortunately, not every project goes well — despite your best efforts — and there may come a time when the enforcement of a contract is necessary. It’s at that point you’ll thank yourself for having gone through the trouble of creating a sound legal document, and in the end, it’ll probably end up saving you time and money.

I’ve come across all sorts of contracts in my experience. Some are the size of books and others are mere one-pagers. I’ve seen ambiguous contracts and I’ve seen rock solid contracts.

Having a poor contract is almost as bad as having no contract, so I’ve compiled a short list of the most essential provisions you must consider adding to your contract template.

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Project Management Should Not Be Written in Stone

Finding something that works — whether it is a process, methodology, or system — can be a defining moment. It means we have succeeded in our hard work to develop an approach that is in alignment with our core beliefs. If the quality of outputs increases because of a tried-and-true process, who wouldn’t be happy?

But project management doesn’t stop there. Never settle for what seems to work. Instead, pat yourself on the back, and then get back to work at refining.

Good project management processes, methodologies, and systems maintain an expected level of quality, but the excellent ones — the ones no one can match — continually strive for new levels of quality.

Achieving excellence is obviously no easy feat, but the path is there, and the only way to begin traveling down that path is by adapting what I call the three pillars of learning.

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