WordPress Freelancers Need To Work ON Our Business—Not Just IN Them
As a WordPress freelancer, you can often find processes and tutorials for developing a theme or setting up a development server. However, our community rarely discusses how a WordPress Consultant can identify those areas of our Freelance business that need process improvement.
In fact, many in our community, if they have heard the phase process improvement at all, are pretty sure it’s not something a WordPress Freelancer needs to be concerned with. Unless of course, they have sat through one of my Austin WordPress Meetup presentations, where I pull out my trusty Plan-Do-Check-Act graph to explain why process management matters, especially in a Freelance business.
What Are Business Processes
A business process is a collection of connected tasks which conclude with the delivery of a product or service to a client. A business process involves clearly defined inputs and a single output. These inputs are actions or factors that contribute either indirectly or directly to the output — the perceived value of a service or product received by the client. These actions or components can be categorized into management processes, operational processes and supporting business processes.
How Intentional Are You About Your Freelance Business?
That is not a “Love-Peace-and-Granola’ question. I mean ‘intentional’ in the bare knuckles, business-brawler sense of the word — deliberate, purposeful, calculated, premeditated and preplanned. Having a clear intention is critical to a freelancer’s success. The moment you decided to start your freelance business, you just pledged your life, your honor, and your fortune. If the business goes sideways you loose real cash money, you will have probably broken a commitment to someone, and that part of your life is in the rearview mirror…there is no ‘do-over’.
Nick and I have owned our own business since 1992. We have made some mistakes, experienced some spectacular and personally painful failures, and by God’s Grace enjoyed some sensational successes. Remembering the definition of insanity…”Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result” — I kept notes on them all. Honestly, you can learn more from the candid post-mortem of the horrific failures than from the OMG successes. The big takeaway after twenty-five years – Be Intentional about any business commitment you are considering, be deliberate, write out a plan for your new initiative, ask tough questions, be honest about the downside — if this fails, will it sink my ship? Is the upside of this initiative worth the risks as we currently understand them.
I want to share some of the tools and processes we have found helpful in our web development business — building an intentional client management process is the best path to reliable, repeatable, work, dependable income, and the freelancer’s Holy Grail, referral clients.
We didn’t get all our business processes in place as a start-up, in retrospect, it took us longer than it should have to figure most of our business processes. Improving management practices is a daily commitment, it is not a one and done. Please don’t expect you’ll be able to get all your business processes planned, implemented and under control in just a few weeks…there’s is a reason it’s called ‘continuous’ process improvement.
Start by documenting your current business processes, identify and describe significant variations in performance. Analyze the results of what you are doing now and compare them to the results you would like to see over time. Documenting actual performance with potential or desired performance is referred to as gap analysis.
An example might be improving your customer onboarding process. Your current onboarding is informal and inconsistent, meaning your email inbox is stuffed with customer questions. Which takes time away from project production activities. With so much email it is possible to miss project critical information in a collapsed string.Hey…it happens.
After reviewing, where the onboarding system is failing, you add some of the following processes to improve your client onboarding experience.
Client On-Boarding Process Improvement # 1 — Create a client intake form on your website
Think about all the information you’ve had to chase down to complete a bid, or should have known before you even agreed to submit a bid. This is the type of information we request, obviously, the information you would need for your business will be slightly different.
- The purpose of the planned project
- The name of the Client Company
- First and Last Name of individual requesting the work
- eMail of individual requesting the work
- The URL of their current site
- What budget have they allocated for this project? (This is a critical data point – we may choose to no-bid, or refer to another developer)
- What do they want us to do?
- What are their Goals for the proposed project?( On the form we suggest they use SMART goals – Specific, Measurable, Achievable Realistic Time-Based — it’s easier to measure success)
- If they have a current CRM or Database — what is working for them and what isn’t meeting their needs? (we focus is converting large complex legacy database into WordPress and developing custom CRMs)
- Who will use the completed project? (end-user profile should drive the deign and functionality)
- How do you see the end-user interacting with the project?
- Who are the client’s major competitors?
- What is the projected desired delivery date? (This is critical, as most Developers are booked anywhere from several weeks to several months out. There are times you will take a pass on a project based on availability, and there are times the clients want you specifically and are will wait in the queue.)
- How did you hear about us? ( Send a hand-written thank you note by snail mail to existing/former clients who refer new customers)
Adding a client intake form to your site not only helps prequalify clients but helps you better able to bid the job with the client- provided project discovery information.
Client On-Boarding Process Improvement # 2 — Create a Welcome Aboard Package
The type of Client Welcome Package you develop will probably depend on your WordPress specialty. A designer, UX/UI specialist or content developer might produce a stylized PDF, whereas a Backend Developer might use a simple but detailed email template. Although there is a significant time investment to develop and test the client onboarding documents, once you have developed the perfect Welcome Aboard New Client package, you can use them for every new client.
Here are some ideas to get your creative processes started.
An In-depth questionnaire
For complex front-end design projects, creating an in-depth questionnaire to drill down on your client expectation for how their visitors will access site features. You can create a fillable PDF or a Google form and attach it to your welcome email.
An explanation of your standard work process
This was probably the most useful addition to our Client Welcome package. Clients that know what to expect, ask fewer questions and have more realistic expectations. This document describes our development process step by step, so they know what to expect. It is just a checklist, but it makes it clear what happens — and when.
Things you might want to include:
- Your typical working hours – Monday Through Friday 9 am to 6 pm
- When to expect a response to an email, usually within 24 hours and not on weekends.
- The order you will accomplish the various project tasks
- Normal project milestones and benchmarks
- How change orders will be handled
- How many revisions you offer as part of the contract.
- How project hand-off is handled
- When and how you expect payment(s).
A Client Project Management Instruction Sheet
If you use project-management software or other tools your new client may need to learn how to use or interact with, include instructions for common functions. To cut down on client eMail we open a Slack Channel for each new project. We send the client their Slack invitation as part of the On-Boarding package. With some enterprise clients, we include an invitation to the Trello project board. Sometimes clients may need some coaching on how to exchanging documents in GoogleDrive or a shared DropBox. By developing a comprehensive set of instructions like ‘How to use your project management and communication tools’ as part of the client onboarding package, it saves hours of client phone calls and emails.
Client Off-Boarding Process Improvement # 3 — Create a thank you for trusting us with your project package package
There are two reasons why an Off-Boarding and Thank You Package is a great idea. The first is very few people in our industry say thank you. I’m always amazed at a client’s reaction to a simple hand-written Thank You note, which means that you’ll stand out from the competition if you implement it. The second is that It leaves a great impression of your beginning-to-the end service, and lets your clients know the contact is complete…some clients may need a wee reminder.
The type of information you include in your Off-Boarding package will vary with your WordPress specialty. As you are developing the content for the Off-Boarding Package think about the type of questions clients typically ask at the end of a project. In our case, we found that creating a set database management tutorials are helpful. You might develop FAQ and Additional Resources sections on your site and include links in the Off-Boarding package. Giving clients a ‘next steps option’ is not only appreciated by the client but an opportunity to sell additional services, like maintenance contracts. Offering a customer loyalty discount for signing up at project completion is an appreciated spiff. Take some time to really think about what your clients need to know about their project and would appreciate having as part of the off-boarding package. This something you may have to experiment with until you get it right, but it is worth the effort.
Why should a busy freelance professional like you invest the time to review and improve your current business processes? These simple workflow improvements will help your productivity, increase client satisfaction and your profitability. I finally “Got On-Boarding Process Religion” after an inspiring Jennifer Bourn Podcast.
I’m not saying changing decades of sloppy practices was easy, it wasn’t. But it was worth the effort.With some process change and the addition of a few tools:
With some process change and the addition of a few tools:
- Our Clients’ first impress of our business was organized and professional we were
- The client form on our site helped us not only pre-qualify the client by budget and type of work, but the form gave me the project information we need -no more chasing info via email.
- The Client Welcome eMail (thank you, Jennifer, for that bit of wisdom) laid out the Rules of Project engagement,
- Managing our client projects took less time meaning we could take on additional projects and earn more money.
- Clearly Communicated Processes made working on the project easier and less stressful for both our team and our clients
- Both referral and our site maintenance business increased
It is crucial that you approach continuous process improvement by working on just one set of processes at a time, testing your observations over time. When you determine how a set of processes connect, to support your business goals and provide outcomes your client’s value, that’s the time to start researching the right set of tools to automate your workflow. so you can spend more time on client work and less time managing your inbox.