Sometimes it seems like a web design project can drag on forever. How often are these delays caused by clients? It could be content, authorization, input or a slew of other things that you’re waiting on from the client. The unfortunate fact is that delays are inevitable.
That’s why you need to prepare.
Preparing before even taking on a project can shave off loads of time. Remember, most web design clients don’t know the ins and outs of the web design process as well as we do. They need guidance and they need to be pushed along.
I’ve compiled my own set of guidelines that I’d like to share for sending web projects down the right path.
A milestone is a concrete deadline in which some kind of deliverable should be expected. Without them you have no idea what is supposed to happen when. Milestones aren’t needed for every single task, but rather for each significant hurdle. For example, mock-up acceptance and prototype completion are both feasible milestones.
Milestones aren’t just for the web designer either. They should be assigned to the client because it’s essential that they also participate in the project. Content delivery, domain authorization and project acceptance are just a few that come to mind.
To reinforce milestones, you need to identify to-do items leading up to that milestone. Think of a milestone in terms of weight loss. A good milestone might be to lose 50 pounds. Now think of a to-do item as one of the baby steps needed to reach that milestone. This could include little actions such as exercising daily, preparing healthy breakfasts, visiting the doctor and so on. Once you put it all together, you have a solid plan for progressing throughout the project at a predefined pace.
It’s also a good idea to “pad” your milestones a little as well. By padding, I don’t mean grossly overstating how long the project will take. You need to add in a buffer zone to help cushion some of those inevitable delays. The buffer zone will help to absorb some of those delays to hopefully keep the milestones on track.
Basecamp is probably the most popular tools for creating, tracking and sharing milestones and to-do items.
Use a project to-do list
Each project you take on will undoubtedly have things in common. To streamline these projects you can put together a cheat sheet of to-do items to help move things along. These to-do items act as little hints reminding you of certain actions you need to take during a particular stage of the project.
For a typical project, you can expect several different to-do lists including:
- Needs Assessment
- Proposal / Initiation
- Web Site Design
- Web Site Development
- Pre-Launch Checklist
- Post-Launch Checklist
Here are some cookie-cutter to-do templates you can adapt to your own needs.
Most web design projects involve more than one person on the client’s end. Identify which person you should coordinate with. This person isn’t necessarily going to be the one who signs the proposal, but the one who gets things done and has the best understanding of what needs to happen.
Getting this person to become a champion of your project will give you the in you need to get the client’s gears grinding.
Get as much authorization upfront as possible
During the project you’re going to run into instances where client authorization is needed. This can eat up large chunks of time, especially if the client doesn’t understand the issue. Instead of letting these issues consume the project mid-course, try to get them all taken care of from the beginning.
For example, I try to get domain transfer authorization at the very beginning of a project to ensure it doesn’t become an unneeded and time-consuming headache later on.
Of course, you’ll still need the client’s input and acceptance at various stages of the project, such as for the mock-up, but you can get the little things out of the way quickly.
Tally your resources
What kind of resources are you going to have at your disposal during the project? This is an important question to answer because if your client doesn’t yet have basic resources such as an adequately sized logo or a predefined color scheme, you’ll have extra work to do (unless, of course, it’s part of the project to create these things).
When starting a new project, gather as much as you can including:
- Product and service brochures
- Organization and brand logos in multiple file formats
- Initial content
- Web addresses of any existing web sites
- List of competitors and their web sites
- Photos and images
- Domain information
- Login credentials for the domain and any FTP accounts
- Any internal business documents that will help give you a better understanding of the organization and what it does (you may have to sign a non-disclosure agreement for this one)
Figure out communication
How are you going to communicate with the client? What’s the best, most effective way?
Different clients prefer different methods of communication. Some will respond effectively to email while others will be more responsive to a telephone call. If you don’t figure this out fast you could waste valuable time trading emails with someone who prefers a call.
Clearly outline for yourself and the client what is expected of each party during the project. As mentioned before, most clients are new to the web design process. They don’t know what their responsibilities are and will rely on you to set the guidelines.
Explain upfront what you expect from them and let them know that their swiftness will result in a better, more functional web site completed on time. Further solidify this by always reminding the client of the benefits of a strong web presence (e.g. more sales leads, sell more products, generate inquiries and so forth).
Put everything in writing
Take your milestones, expectations and other project details, and put them into writing. I usually include this information in the proposal along with the terms and conditions of the project. Some people tend to tie project payments with the completion of a milestone. You might want to reconsider doing this by tying payments to a specific time after the project commences. This ensures you expect to collect payment even if a milestone is not complete due to client delay (and nothing gets a client moving faster than an outstanding invoice).
Once you have everything in writing along with your standard proposal language, have the client sign off on it. It’s also important that you sign it as well to show your commitment to the expectations you have laid out.
With these few actions along with constant vigilance, you can start your web design project off without a hitch. It only begins here, though. Keep pushing the client during the project and plan to outperform yourself as well. Remind yourself and the client of the carrot that lies at the end of the project.