Something that’s always come naturally to me is organization and planning…
I’m that person who generally takes the lead on organizing the details of a big friends-gathering or social event. I’m the weirdo who would happily reorganize your Google Drive (or file cabinet, if people still have those?) into a perfectly sorted system where everything has a place. (You should see my Google Drive #proudnerd 🤓)
Combine my mad organizational and planning skills with my hatred of wasting time, and you have the perfect recipe for getting shit done efficiently AF. I’ve pretty much been Marie Kondo-ing my way through life long before the dawn of Netflix. I was the kid with color-coded everything who rarely needed to be told to clean their room, and as an adult – not much has changed. (I sound like the life of the party, huh?)
But when I first started building websites, I wasn’t quite sure what the process would look like between my clients and me. I mean, every project was so different from one another, making the idea of creating a concrete process that worked across alllll different types of projects feel pretty far-fetched.
But project after project, client after client, I began noticing a pattern. It became clear that while the people, businesses, and visions varied drastically – my process did not.
My clients were getting totally customized, one-of-a-kind websites – but the overall experience and process was almost identical. And when you do the same thing over and over, you get really good at it – which leads to a process that’s efficient and clients that are happy.
So creating an efficient and effective process for your service-based projects is exactly what we’re going to talk about in this post!
While I’ll be explaining my custom website design process in the context of website design, this process truly can be tweaked and adjusted to fit nearly any type of service-based business. So if you’re tired of wasting time and worrying about forgetting something, read on!
Step 1. Schedule a Complimentary Consultation
Just like a “normal” job where your employer wants to interview you before hiring, your client is likely going to want to get to know you a bit before taking the plunge.
A Complimentary Consultation Call is a great way to meet one-on-one with your prospective client, learn more about their needs, and make sure that not only you are right for them but also that they are right for you.
When someone contacts me about making their website, I will almost always propose we hop on a quick call within the first 1-2 email exchanges. That’s not a hard and fast rule – I’ve had plenty of people that I’ve emailed back and forth a bit with first, but eventually it will always lead to a Complimentary Consultation Call.
Every call is different and I never really go into the call with a “plan”, but typically the way the calls will go is something like this:
- Introductions & small talk
- Ask them to tell me a little bit more about their business and what they’re looking for
- Listening while they explain, then chatting about if their ideas are within my area of expertise. (There’s NO shame in telling a client you can’t take a project. I’ve done it plenty of times)
- Explain my 3 week website design process
- Ask them what other questions they have
- Agree to either send A. an official proposal or B. additional info via email, depending on the direction of the call.
Pro tip: Have a Google Doc open for note taking. Don’t be shy about telling them that you’re taking notes either. It’ll show you’re paying attention, while also taking the pressure off to type at lightning speed. I save all call notes as “Call Notes – MMDDYY” where MMDDYY is the MonthDateYear that the call took place, and then save it into a client-specific folder in Google Drive.
Once your call is over, be sure to follow up on your next steps ASAP. Time is of the essence in this case! Read through your notes, paying attention to anything they wanted more info on or specific requests they had, and move forward accordingly.
Consultation Calls are something you’re going to have A LOT of. You won’t book every client you talk to, and that’s okay! A client not booking with you doesn’t make the call a waste of time. I’ve had clients decline working with me due to budget reasons, but then turn around and refer a friend to me who did end up booking!
But when you do finally get that ultra-exciting first client booked, it’s time to move onto the next step in the process – onboarding!
Step 2. Onboard and Assign & Pre-work
The second step in my website design process is Onboarding and Pre-work. This happens after my client has officially agreed to work together by signing our contract and proposal, and also paid their project deposit.
Before we talk about onboarding, I want to point out 2 important pieces of my design process:
- I have a minimum 10-day “pre-booking” requirement. Meaning that clients have to book at least 10 days before the first official date of their project.
- I pre-designate design slots on my Design Calendar. I tell my clients when my next available spots are, and they choose which works best for them.
What my minimum 10-day pre-booking period means is that clients can book further than 10 days in advance, but they cannot book any less than 10 days in advance. The reason for this requirement is because these 10 days serve as a pre-project buffer period when the Onboarding and Pre-work happens.
In regards to my Design Calendar, because I know that my actual design process is always 3 weeks long, I’m able to pre-designate time slots in my calendar as far in advance as I want, in order to optimize my schedule. My clients simply choose which one they want, so long as it’s 10 or more days away.
Below is an example of what my Design Calendar might look like:
So in the example above, if Devyn were to start her website design on the 24th of the month, her pre-book deadline would have been Friday the 14th. This means that while I am working on Casi’s website, I’d simultaneously be onboarding Devyn so she can complete her pre-work before we begin on the 24th.
During onboarding I am essentially setting up my new client and their project in my “system”, and getting them all the necessary information they need to get started on their pre-work. It’s during this time that I set them up in Asana, Google Drive, and LastPass – all which they need for their pre-work.
So I’ve mentioned pre-work a few times now… well, let me tell you why I think it might be THE most important part of the whole process.
Pre-work is essentially homework that my clients have to complete before we begin working on their website. This typically includes things like writing the text for their website, gathering photography, and providing me with necessary login information. I tell clients that the vast majority of the work they need to do for their website will be done before we even start – during the pre-work stage.
Gathering content from clients is often one of the most challenging parts of a website design. Some clients don’t know what to include and others are just… slow.
So during the onboarding, I provide my clients with a pre-work checklist as well as a set of guided Content Documents (aka. questionnaires) so they know exactly what to provide me and have the guidance in doing so.
This helps to avoid any delays or confusion in content delivery, and ensures me that everything client-dependent is done before we even begin. And THAT, my friends, is my secret step that allows me to oh-so-confidently guarantee my websites will always be done in exactly 3 weeks. 🤫
So, about that 3 week process…
Step 3. Begin the Design Process, using a specific time frame
The key here is using a specific, predetermined, non-negotiable time frame. As you saw in my Design Calendar above, I have a very tight schedule with
little no spare time between projects. For that to be possible, it was essential that I have a firm time frame for website design projects.
Unlike many website designers, I only take on one client at a time. I like having the time to focus on one project at a time, and I feel I’m able to better serve my clients when I’m not stretched thin between 3-4 websites at once. So in order to maximize the number of clients I can take on without overlapping them, I have to stick to a very rigid schedule.
My business is entirely built around my 3 week process, so clients are well versed in what this process will look like from the very beginning.
My 3 week website design process looks something like this:
Week 1 – Branding* & Home Page design
Week 2 – Home Page revisions and build out of all other website pages
Week 3 – Revisions and Launch/Offboarding
WEEKS 1 AND 2
*Whether clients purchase a package including branding or not, it’s still a 3 week process. So I just have to hustle a little harder in Week 1 when they purchase a branding package.
Throughout weeks 1 and 2, I am sending page previews and seeking client feedback often. It’s a very collaborative process that requires frequent communication, but allows me to build quickly and encourages the client to be highly involved and interactive throughout the process.
At the beginning of Week 3 I will typically send a friendly reminder that this is our final week, and that they get unlimited revisions up until the end of day Thursday.
The great thing about having this firm timeline is that it forces my clients (and myself) to light a fire under our bootys and not drag feet. My clients know that I will create or change anything they possibly want up until Thursday. Beyond Thursday, any additional edits are their responsibility… and that in and of itself is generally incentive enough for them to be actively providing feedback before that deadline.
The final step of any website design project is launching it to the world! 🚀 Launch Day is always on the 3rd Friday of our project… an exciting way to ring in the weekend, if you ask me! On Launch Day we will schedule a Launch Call, during which I will hand off all the final project deliverables, pass website ownership off to them, and then we press Launch! And just like that, my client’s website is out into the world! 🎉
Why having a process for your business changes everything
By creating a fixed process that can be applied to project after project, you’re not only saving sooo much time and effort on the minute details, but you’re also setting yourself up to totally kick ass at what you do because you get faster and faster every time.
Having a concrete project workflow and timeline, will ensure that your projects stay on schedule unlike when using a less structured process with an open-ended time frame.
This is great from a business owner perspective because you can predict the capacity to take on other projects, and it’s great from a client perspective because you know exactly when your project will be completed – no if, ands, or buts about it. Clients like that 😉, and so do I!