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Common Mistakes Web Designers Make When Building Sites for Clients

This article was originally posted on WPMUDEV.org, however, I found it incredibly helpful in regards to understanding common issues web designers experience and how to make sure they don’t reoccur down the line.

It was New Year’s Eve in the port of Saint-François in the Caribbean. It was hot, and the town was buzzing with preparations for the evening festivities. And I was working on finishing a WordPress site for a client.

Not a good way to be spending your time hours before the clocks chimed in the New Year.

Let’s take a step back.

How did I end up in this situation, and why wasn’t I chilling in a beach bar sipping on a Ti’ Punch while waiting for the Champagne to cool?

The truth is, I hadn’t put in the project management systems in place that would have prevented this situation.

I work at Planio, a project management tool, and I’ve talked to lots of WordPress developers on how they manage client projects using it.

Based on what I’ve learned from them, I made some critical mistakes that put me right in this unenviable position.

Let’s count down through them.

Mistake #1: Casually Agreeing to Increases in Scope

Originally, this project was a simple blog.

No big deal. I was a WordPress newbie, but I was sure that this project wouldn’t be a problem.

Then, a few weeks later the client casually suggested that the blog should be in two different languages.

I did a little research. I found a few plugins that seemed to do the job handily. So, I emailed him back enthusiastically, saying that it would be no problem.

During the first design review, he suggested that we consider a mind map for the homepage as a form of navigation on the site.

Mind maps for navigating a site was a terrible idea then. It’s still a terrible idea now.

But, always eager to get my teeth into something new, I added the job of figuring out how to build the mind map with CSS and javascript to my growing to-do list.

Scope creep had hit me with a vengeance.

And because I’d agreed to these changes in emails and conversations, I didn’t have a documented list of the changes to the project. I couldn’t show the amount of time these changes added to the project. And I wasn’t able to demonstrate the increases in cost they represented.

All I had was more work to do with the same deadline.

Mistake #2: Allowing Delays on the Client’s Side

Remember how I agreed to add another language to the site?

Well, it turned out that the client wasn’t great at translation, himself.

And it wasn’t something I was able to do, either.

But he did have a friend who was really great at French, so she was enlisted as the translator for the website copy.

And now I had to make sure that the client finished the website copy ahead of time, so I could get it to the translator to allow enough time for translation along with the usual back-and-forth.

I’d just graduated to a linguistically-challenged project manager. And I wasn’t very good at it.

The client felt that he just needed a few more days to get the copy perfect as we were pushing up towards Christmas.

I’ve since learned that it’s great to be able to show clients a Gantt chart with dependencies.

Either they deliver their part of the deal by a certain date, or you’re entitled to move your deadline forward by whatever amount of time it takes them to figure out the copy.

Unfortunately, I didn’t even know what a Gantt chart looked like at the time.

Mistake #3: Making Sure Everything is Perfect, Personally

You know the meta descriptions for each page that show up in the SERPs?

I’m the kinda guy who wants to make sure every single one of them is perfectly optimized for click-through rates.

The problem was that I was spending all my time on low leverage tasks such as optimizing on-page SEO.

I’d work full-time on my current project. When it came time to hand back my project, my pipeline of future projects was dry as a rainwater collector in the Sahara desert!

At some point, you need to start focusing on the small number of tasks that will push your business to the next level.

Finding clients willing to pay multiples of $500, for example, or introducing a retainer system to secure recurring revenue.

It’s not easy to build the skills and relationships that lead to these opportunities, but you’ll be less likely to do so if you don’t outsource or delegate the less important work.

Mistake #4: Charging a Fixed Price Without Hard Data

The worst part of my New Year’s Eve marathon coding was that I wasn’t even making a profit on the project.

My pricing was all over the place because I didn’t have a system for tracking the project and hours I spent on it.

Admittedly, charging based on your hours is not the best approach to pricing for services, because pricing should be based on the value to the customer, not the amount of time it took you.

However, tracking your time on the various work items in a project gives you insights into which elements are taking the longest. You can identify the parts that you could outsource, automate or streamline.

Build a System for Your WordPress Consultancy

The fundamental problem I was facing was that I acting like a freelancer instead of a business owner.

I didn’t have refined processes for client management, outsourcing work, and managing projects.

It certainly takes time to think about your business and build out processes for it.

At the same time, you’ll benefit from moving from a freelancer to a business that has the potential to scale beyond the 24 hours in your day.

And while I did finally finish the WordPress project before New Year struck in Guadeloupe, I could have avoided the stress with these systems.

What are you biggest mistakes building sites for clients, friends and family? Share your tales of woe in the comments below.