Working with multiple client projects means you need to be able to adapt and communicate at all times. How do workflows help you keep an overview? And how can your project management become more flexible? Our best tips for agencies and freelancers.
In today's global market, customer service that actually lives up to the attributes "flexible" and "communicative" is a top priority. Because getting new clients and then keeping them is a challenge. Especially when you consider how many agencies out there create websites every day with WordPress and WooCommerce.
Series of articles and e-book on project management with WordPress
It's even more difficult to ensure that these customers are satisfied with successfully completed projects. Yet such satisfaction directly increases your turnover, as numerous studies have already shown. The connection may not be as clear as with a retail business or an online shop. And yet agencies and freelancers who place particular value on a clean project completion report time and again how this increases their revenues in the medium and long term. For example, from referrals, affiliate marketing, but also from up- and cross-selling.
For some people working in the creative field, it can be a change to focus primarily on the needs of the client – rather than directly on development or design. Does this seem familiar to you? Maybe you regularly ask close clients for detailed and honest feedback to gradually become more client-centered. This can also be asked in a structured way, e.g. in the form of small surveys.
The importance of workflows
One thing WordPress agencies and developers have in common with other industries is that, ultimately, it's your clients who pay your salary. Improving your work processes to be more inclusive of your clients' needs is particularly efficient. Constructive communication plays a key role in this. There's nothing worse than signing a contract with an eager and exuberant contractor only to experience silence afterwards.
Sure, you contact your customers. But hand on heart, do you do this with the same care and the same intensity as you do with the acquisition itself? If so, then you're doing a lot right. Because then you'll also listen more carefully to the project planning and make realistic promises. Realistic in terms of what's technically possible with the available budget, but also in terms of how long the project will take.
So the first step to making your clients happy is simple. You should listen to them carefully – it is their project, after all. Arrange regular meetings online or in person as part of your overall plan. Make sure all questions are answered. Stay in touch and your counterpart will be happy. This is especially true when difficulties and delays arise. Your customers can usually handle such bad news better than you think. But only if you explain them in detail and coherently. And if, at the same time, you show how the problem can be solved.
Another important point is your adaptability to the different needs and tastes of different clients. When choosing projects, you should, of course, make sure they match your values. And you don't have to accept a job where the communication is difficult from the start. But you must have a certain degree of flexibility if you want to survive on the market in the long run. After all, this flexibility is also required in any project planning. Especially if you're not working as a lone fighter, but as part of a team.
Customer acquisition for WordPress projects
Asking uncomfortable questions
So far, we have only talked about the communication that comes easily. But whenever it comes to project work, you'll sometimes be asking your clients questions that are uncomfortable for both of you.
In order to manage or advance a project, you need to know as much as possible about the processes, the organization, the company policies, the budgets, the values, the power relations and the actors on the client side. It makes sense to ask some of these sensitive questions right at the beginning. Then the fronts are cleared and your start ist less encumbered. Here are some sample questions for your briefing:
- What exactly is the scope of the project? Minor adjustments and changes are, of course, inevitable in a project as extensive as building a brand-new WordPress website – or improving an existing one. However, if the clients add new components during the course of the project that significantly increase your workload, you must be able to refer back to the original agreement. In case of doubt, this means saying a nice but clear "no". Or at least renegotiating on the price for the extra work.
- What are the project deadlines? This point may seem self-evident, but it's absolutely important that you have all deadlines and time limits confirmed in writing. Especially those that are dependent on the client's performance. If individual members of your client's team do not deliver, this should not lead to disadvantages for you.
- What are the dependencies? Another question you should get answered: Are there external factors that influence individual milestones or the duration of project development? For example, important upcoming conferences, decisions at board level, the launch of a central advertising campaign, etc.?
- Who takes over the final approval? Who is the "owner" of the project? How is liability regulated in the event of damage? It's also important to know exactly who is responsible for which content area on the client side. Working in a team is great. But working with a team where everyone thinks they are the central key figure is a nightmare.
- Are there unknown stakeholders? Who are the people not present at the briefing but whom you should know? We are talking here about the dreaded absent management who bursts in at the last minute with a series of "proposals" to which no one on their side is able to say "no". If you've already experienced such situations, you'll prepare yourself even better and with even more questions in the future.
Here are a few more tips to make your briefing as detailed as possible. Because how good your final project plan will be depends on it one-to-one:
- Design draft: The first stage of presenting a design proposal is as much about asking as many questions and gathering as much information as possible. Once you have a solid idea of what kind of business and what kind of website is required, you put together a draft or design proposal. Make sure the following points are also included.
- Propose a sitemap: Creating a draft sitemap based on the needs of your clients is important before you start. Make sure you understand all the page hierarchies you want and place them where they would logically belong. For existing sites, Yoast and Google both have tools that allow you to create an XML sitemap. This can be used as a starting point for the future structure.
- Check the SEO strategy on the client's side: Work together with your client on a keyword strategy. Research the respective volume of keywords as well as their degree of difficulty. For guidance, see our guides keyword SEO and SEO audits. Create a corresponding table listing these terms. Next, review your client's existing content for SEO and note where you need to catch up. You don't know anything about SEO? Then be honest and call in other experts or freelancers.
- Test existing content and develop new content: Review all existing web content and create a plan for developing new content that fits the website's target audiences and goals. See our content marketing tutorial for agencies.
- Don't forget to test: Using the roadmap developed above, you can add the pages you need to an initial copy of WordPress installed on a local host or test server. See also the particularly convenient staging of Raidboxes.
If everything goes as you've imagined, it's time to arrange a meeting with the client. There you can discuss the drafts in advance before the actual implementation begins.
Easy WordPress management
Project teams are increasingly working in a distributed manner. This makes it essential for you to use online collaboration tools. In this day and age, you can easily share information with people on all continents of the world without having to leave your home. That's worth a lot. The increasing speed with which we communicate with each other about projects also creates expectations and new pressures, however.
Because here you have to be able to keep up with other agencies. For example, when they buy development capacities cheaply overseas. We're not saying that you should do the same – your clients appreciate it when your team is based locally and knows the local business. But even within your own country or continent, you'll increasingly work with external teams and freelancers. Not to mention the opportunities you open up when you take on your first international projects.
The old-fashioned email and even the (video) call are, of course, still useful tools for communication. But imagine that your teams are getting bigger and more distributed. Then you'll need extra help to keep everyone on the same page. And not to lose the overview yourself.
Communication, collaboration and productivity
It will hardly come as a surprise to you that most of the time we spend at work consists of inefficient activities. According to a McKinsey study on workplace efficiency, we spend over 60 per cent of the working day on the following three tasks:
- Answering emails
- Searching and collecting information
- Internal communication and cooperation
According to the study, employee productivity could be increased by 20 to 25 per cent simply by optimizing communication and collaboration. And with the help of easily accessible online tools. More on this in a moment.
It's also not the case that companies and agencies don't have the right tools or the right technology in the first place. The question is whether the possibilities of these tools are also being exploited in a targeted manner? In most companies and agencies, this is not the case. At least according to the results of the study mentioned above.
What do online collaboration tools do?
Online collaboration tools are applications that help coordinate workflows between individual employees and teams. And they do so across different time zones, media and distances. These apps enable you to create a more coordinated workflow by providing a unified platform for collaboration and communication. On this platform, all information and tasks related to a specific project are bundled together in a single place. Depending on the tool, this includes among others:
- All communication – be it messaging, group discussions or even meeting videos and logs
- File sharing
- Exchanging and archiving of documents
- Access to background data and WIKIs
- Assignments and documentation of work steps
- Real-time monitoring of tasks and project statuses
- Project collaboration in real time
Basically, online collaboration tools are a way to bring all the data of a particular project together under one roof. So all your emails, chats, meetings, research, data and work results. Practical, right?
Improved efficiency and workflows
The main benefits of using such tools are a clearer exchange of information between team members and a reduction in errors. If you've ever sent an outdated version of a project status to your clients or forgotten to tell a team member about an important piece of information you received over the phone, then you understand the value of online collaborative tools. That's because these applications turn the way projects are managed with multiple contacts upside down.
Let's start with a good old acquaintance of online tools that we probably all know and that's still very useful today: Google Docs. The app allows distributed teams to collaboratively access, edit and update documents in real time around the world. Most of us use Google Docs and perhaps also Microsoft OneDrive. Most of us probably have to deal with uncoordinated and overlapping email threads that result from using them.
Other online collaboration tools allow you to combine many of these functions under one roof. And this with a workflow that is as lean as possible, without having to access different applications or even media.
Functions that matter
Nevertheless, as a WordPress agency or freelancer, you should not be put off by the abundance of online tools available. When it comes to choosing the right tool for you and your team, patience and trial and error are required. You can ask yourself the following questions:
Does the tool fit my needs?
All of us who work in the digital sphere are perhaps particularly susceptible to the first fancy impression that new software usually makes. Without asking ourselves if we really need all the bells and whistles. If a program doesn't really help you do what you expect relief from, then it's getting in your way. This formula may sound obvious, but it's rarely taken into account when making a choice. So first ask yourself the following banal question: What problem do you want the tool to solve?
If Slack and Google Docs work well for your small team that only needs to master one or two projects at a time, then stick with them. But when things get more complex, you should look for alternatives. Trello, for example, lets you coordinate a large team working on dozens of different tasks. Others swear by similar tools such as Asana. We'll take a closer look at these and other tools in a moment.
Is it easy to use?
If you're involving people from different teams with different skills and backgrounds in your project, it's important to think about the learning curve when choosing an online collaboration tool. Do you need to create your own long-term project just to teach your people how to use a tool that is supposed to save time? Is it easy enough to use? Is there someone on the team who is familiar with the app and can help the newcomers get up to speed? The answers to these questions will determine, among other things, whether or not your team will accept the new software.
What does the change mean?
If you don't use the tools extensively and end up back with locally stored files, it won't be worth the investment. You should therefore be prepared to actually change your processes in the team. This is unusual at the beginning and may even be more work at first. But in the end, you can't imagine going back to the old way of working. Nevertheless, make sure that the willingness to change is actually there, not only in yourself but also in your team.
How tools improve efficiency and your workflow
There are many areas where online collaboration applications can streamline your processes:
- Uniform status of documents: Probably the most obvious advantage of online collaboration tools is the fact that everyone is working on the same copy of a particular document or task. You no longer have to worry about which version you need to adapt or submit. Or which one is now the most up-to-date. Changes – and who made them – can also be easily tracked.
- Share access to files and distribute them: When you work together on a project, it can be tedious and time-consuming to share data and background documents. With a suitable tool, you have a repository for all relevant data that all participants can access as needed.
- Transparency: With such applications, everyone in the team can easily see how far the others are with their parts of the project. Deadlines and dependencies can be clearly defined. There are fewer questions about what needs to happen before the next step can be taken.
- Monitoring and project status: All tasks necessary for the completion of the project, or a milestone thereof, are listed. It also lists who is responsible for them. This way you can always see exactly how far the project has progressed and where you need to intervene.
Focus on your customers
With all this information, you can more easily prepare for status meetings with your clients. You no longer have to tediously ask all the people in the team how far they have got with their work. Or whether they have everything they need – provided the project management software is properly maintained. In addition, you can have certain notifications sent directly to your clients, for example when tasks or milestones have been completed. But also when there are queries, a release is needed or when documents need to be exchanged.
Some tools also allow you to track which hours were spent on which part of the project. This makes billing and invoicing easier. Or you can use the tools to communicate via chat or online meeting. Because some things can be clarified more quickly in a direct way than pushing comments back and forth in the individual tasks.
Overall, online collaboration tools are about streamlining the administration of your projects. Through clean processes and targeted communication. This not only makes your team more satisfied, but also your customers. In the next part of our series, we'll introduce you to several tools for project management. We'll link to the article here as soon as it's published.