We started the company with only a few short years of freelancing experience under our belt. It wasn’t enough time to learn how to maintain good client relations when you’re juggling multiple clients at once.
In the beginning, our focus was completely directed towards our production. Keeping up to date with the current technologies and design trends took plenty of time and required a good amount of attention to detail. When you have a start up that consisted of three people and a growing list of clients, production and deadlines can quickly over shadow client relations.
The challenge is maintaining a delicate balance between production and client relations. We found ourselves armed with an extremely efficient workflow but an incredibly flawed system in how we dealt with clients. Although we were able to get by and keep everyone happy – it wasn’t long until our output and deliverables started to suffer. We found ourselves frustrated with the clients which in turn made our work sloppy just to get the job done fast and get them of our back. We knew that this was going to be a hard lesson learned and something that we will never forget.
The solution was simple but required a good amount of effort to execute.
Cause of the problem.
When a new project began there were a couple automatic actions our company made. Who ever was communicating with the client during the quote/proposal phase became the main contact for that client. Our development team would then quickly start planning and preparing the required technology that the project demanded.
We would fly through our pre-production phase and dive right into design. All is well up to this point. Once we go into revision rounds updating deliverables became difficult. More often than not, we would go the extra mile to satisfy the client even when the revision goes against the contract and proposal. It is at this point that the main contact changed based on who was working on the specific revision. If the revision required heavy development, our developer would be communicating with the client directly on Basecamp or via email. If the change was regarding design, the designer would become the main contact for that duration. It’s important to note that while both designer and developer were aware of the proposal submitted and approved, the contract was a bit more vague to them. This made it almost impossible to know whether the requests for revision have expired.
It’s easy to lose sight of the scope of the project during the stress of rounds. Multiply this with a couple more clients on top of that at different phases, things become complicated real fast. The stress quickly turns into frustration which drastically brings down the morale in the office as well as the actual product itself. The habit does not end there. We then go into a process of evaluation and apologies. It’s only once we begin to evaluate the project we realize that we are way out of the scope of the proposal and contract. We are rapidly losing money and the work no longer has the quality to make it into our portfolio.
Breaking The Habit
Everything needs attention.
To break the habit you need to know one very important thing: everything needs attention. We had to view client relation with the same attention to detail as we did when developing our workflow. More importantly, we actually had to create a client relation workflow. What a good workflow does is create habits and protocols. It destroys old patterns of behavior. Scrutiny and attention to what aspects of our client relations worked and did not work. By listing them out you can easily create a procedure that works.
For us, the main problem was the lack of a permanent client relations role during the project. The changes with the main contact was the source of out of scope requests and unbilled hours. It also created a fragmented relationship with the client.
The lack of an annual update procedure kept our clients in the dark when certain deliverables would be done or even what was currently happening with the project. This resulted with the client feeling left out and unaware of what we were doing.
The New Workflow
A healthier habit.
The new workflow consists of just a couple of steps and allows for a project to run smoothly. Once we get a lead, a project manager will be assigned. This is where the project manager’s responsibility begins. The PM will be responsible for preparing the materials for the pitch as well as calculating an appropriate quote for the project. From this point, we follow the workflow of production. Once a week, the PM is responsible for scheduling a meeting with the production team regarding the status of the project. The PM will then input notes from the meeting into a project up-date email template; to be sent to the client. The project manager will also be monitoring time sheets to ensure that the revision rounds don’t exceed the contract. In the event that it does, the PM is responsible for negotiating for a new proposal/contract before continuing the project. After the rounds have been completed, the PM reviews all materials/deliverables/assets before deploying work.
One Last Thing…
When starting a company it’s easy to get excited about the production and output. We want to create incredible products that we could be proud of. Failing to place an equal amount of attention with our client relations affected the final product. Learning this the hard way was necessary to truly appreciate the importance of the subject. We’re learning as we go along but we are quick learners. We’ll continue to make mistakes but never the same twice. At the time of this writing our company is entering its second year and we are stronger than ever with no signs of slowing down.
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