Web design business mistakes: Establishing internal policies

John Reeve | June 2nd, 2009 | , ,

Part 2 in a 5 part series

Establish internal policies and procedures.

After you and your client sign the contract, be sure to keep it handy. Refer to the contract to manage your internal team, even if it’s a team of one. This will help maintain a professional relationship with your client. In our experience, it’s mostly been the buddy-to-buddy or “bro deal” projects that take a turn for the worse due to a lack of professionalism.

Determine who is responsible for each deliverable, what are the deadlines and milestones your team needs to hit. When you set up the various tasks for your team members, make sure they’re tracking their time against each task, and accurately recording their activities every day. If they spend an hour on design and an hour in a conference call with a client, those should be two separate time-item entries. Falling behind just one day, letting small bits of time slip between the cracks, or incorrectly categorizing time entries can produce fissures in a project.

Make sure everyone understands what their part of the project entails, including the client’s feedback. Then hold each one accountable for their work and deadlines. In the case of subcontractors we have found them most productive when we encourage them to track their time in our web-based task management system because it results in more collaboration and them getting paid sooner.

This will help you down the road when the client asks you where you are in terms of budget, or if she wants to know why a particular aspect of the project took so much time. You’ll have the information you need at your fingertips—often it is the client’s own requests that ring up a lot of time, and unless you track and document that time, you’ll have a hard time justifying your invoices. I can’t say this enough. Accountability is one of the key components to keeping clients happy and getting paid.

Freelancers should follow these guidelines as well. You wouldn’t allow another designer to spend twice the allotted time on a project assuming that someone else will “make up their time” in development, but it’s much easier to convince ourselves that we will somehow manage to “make it up later.” This often results in missed deadlines and twice the work for the same price—never a winning deal.

At Pelago, we keep track of our people. Since we’re a small business, we have weekly meetings at the local diner; where we go over each project, touching base with each member of the team to see how things are going and if there are any issues the rest of the team needs to be aware of. A followup meeting on Wednesday usually gets us over the hump and keeps the ball rolling until the end of the week.

How Pelago learned this the hard way:

Several years ago, one of our developers informed a client their web site was going to be the “Ferrari” of web sites, with all of the latest and greatest features. Once informed of this conversation we pulled the e-brake and reviewed the contract with the client to explain why that wasn’t the case, explaining to him that he’d been misinformed. The damage had already been done, however, and the client could not understand why he wasn’t getting everything promised to him by our developer. Despite a well articulated and agreed upon contract, the client demanded that we stay true to “our” word. Needless to say, the relationship did not end well.

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A collection of useful tips, tales and opinions based on decades of collective experience designing and developing web sites and web-based applications.

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Intervals is online time, task and project management software built by and for web designers, developers and creatives.
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John Reeve
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John Reeve

John is a co-founder, web designer and developer at Pelago. His blog posts are inspired by everyday encounters with designers, developers, creatives and small businesses in general. John is an avid reader and road cyclist.
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Jennifer Payne
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Jennifer Payne

Jennifer is the Director of Quality and Efficiency at Pelago. Her blog posts are based largely on her experience working with teams to improve harmony and productivity. Jennifer is a cat person.
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Michael Payne
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Michael Payne

Michael is a co-founder and product architect at Pelago. His contributions stem from experiences managing the development process behind web sites and web-based applications such as Intervals. Michael drives a 1990 Volkswagen Carat with a rebuilt 2.4 liter engine from GoWesty.
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