Everything changed in my design business when I decided to get serious about creating a web design process for project management.
It is imperative that you have a repeatable web design process in place in order to free yourself from needing to make the same decisions over and over for each project.
When you follow the same general process for each project you’ll find you have more time to actually do the work you enjoy!
It’s hard to know right away what systems and process will work best for you when you are building a freelance web design business from scratch.
I hope that by sharing my web design process with you I can help take some of the guesswork out of your first years.
Initially, I was plagued with problems like:
- deciding how to respond to an inquiry
- spending hours writing email quotes
- clients not paying on time
- three revisions turning into five
- launches not going smoothly
- how to get a good testimonial
For me, it was a game of trial and error until I decided define each step of what I do. From that first client email to launching their site, instead of having to solve the same problem over and over again, I could look to my web design process for guidance.
In this post, I’m going to share with you a general overview of what happens during each of the four stages of my web design process: client on-boarding, design, development, and launch. For an in-depth look at my web design process, check out The Process Hack.
Client on-boarding covers everything from that first email until your new client makes their first payment. For me, that process generally starts with a prospective client filling out an inquiry form on my website or emailing me directly.
In my .Process notebook in Evernote I have an Inquiry Responses note that houses 10+ of the most common responses I’ll send back to the prospective client.
Sometimes I ask for more information.
Sometimes I give more information.
Sometimes I refer to a different designer.
And sometimes (when I’m lucky!) everything sounds great in their initial email and so I’ll send them directly to my Project Assessment form. This form is where I collect all the information I’ll need to write an accurate proposal.
I like to send my proposals via email as a PDF, but there are a lot of different ways you can do it! The beauty of owning your own business is that you can do things your way.
Along with the proposal, I send a link to a form on my website called the Proposal Acceptance Agreement. This is essentially my contract.
Once a client completes the Proposal Acceptance Agreement, I send them an invoice through Wave for 50% of the project cost up front. I like using Wave because clients can pay with their credit card on a very clean looking web page.
PayPal is great for when you are first starting out, but I don’t like how they try to get purchasers to sign up for PayPal credit. It just seems less professional to me to send my clients to a page where it’s not entirely clear if they need to sign-up for credit in order to complete the transaction.
After I receive the payment, I send my new client a receipt (which is easy with Wave!). Then I enroll the client in Basecamp, my project management tool of choice, right away. Since I have a template prepared for each type of project I take on, it only takes me a few minutes to get them set up.
Finally, I send a Welcome Packet that outlines the next steps and declares the client officially on-boarded. Woohoo!
The first thing I ask clients to do is fill out a creative brief. Simply put, a creative brief is a document that gathers all the necessary project information. I have mine set up as a collaborative document in Basecamp, but you could use a Google Doc, form, Evernote note, etc. to collect information.
Then I take a good hard look at what the client has brought to the table and ask clarifying questions about what they are looking for and what they are trying to accomplish with the new site. I’ve found it’s much easier to have these types of conversations early in the project!
I’ll take screenshots of any visual information they’ve shared and create an inspiration collage in Photoshop. This helps me to identify patterns and begin to form ideas of where the project is heading.
The next step is to sit down and actually work through some logo concepts. I like to pick my very favorite and package it up with a style guide to present to the client.
You might send the client more than one logo option, it’s entirely up to you! I feel like if I’ve done my research and have communicated properly, then it’s my job as a designer to select the one concept that will best meet their goals. However, each project and each client has different needs. Go with what works best for your particular situation.
Inevitably, the next step is to go through a series of revisions. This is often the most painful part of the process for both designers and clients. The key to successfully moving forward is to be very clear about the number of included revisions and remember that the most important person in this stage is not you. Nor is it the client. The most important person in any project is your client’s audience.
Once the logo and style guide are finalized, designing the site layout is a breeze. More often than not, my clients will request few (if any) revisions to the page layouts I send them.
I have my clients give final design approval before I send out an invoice for the second half of payment. It’s my policy to never do work without being paid up front. This second payment essentially pre-pays my time to develop their theme.
If you’ve decided to be a designer and developer (like me!) then the next step is to build out a live demo or test site. Alternatively, this might be the portion of the project where you work closely with a contracted developer and have them build your client’s site.
I encourage all of my clients to use a managed host like Flywheel. I particularly love Flywheel because I can manage all of my client’s sites from one master account, set up free demo sites, and transfer them to the client once any revisions are complete. Flywheel takes care of any content or server migrations, and also bills the client directly before the site is ready to go live!
Once again, I ask for the clients to give final development approval before we set a launch date. I also send a final invoice for any extra work that wasn’t included on the original proposal. We don’t launch until the final bill is paid!
Launch + Beyond
The client and I talk about the best way to use a coming soon page on their site to build excitement for the launch or design reveal. Sometimes it will be a simple message with social networking links and an opt-in form. Sometimes clients want to offer a giveaway. Either way, I like to encourage them to build excitement around their launch!
The day of the launch, I will give them plenty of shout-outs on social media. I also like to publish my portfolio piece that same day so that any traffic coming to my site will immediately make the connection between me and the launch.
Finally, I send the client a Farewell Packet with information about how to contact me in the future for site updates and maintenance work as well as other helpful resources. I also include a link to a feedback form where I ask for their honest feedback about the process and also collect a testimonial.
I hope that this information gives you a little glimpse into my web design process and sparks some ideas on how you could improve yours.
To help you Plan Your Process, I’ve created a free online course that will help you create a winning web design workflow!
In the FREE Course + Starter Kit you’ll get access to:
- A Design Process Video Guide + Plan Your Process Worksheet
- My Complete Project Checklist
- Design Project Trello Board Template + Video Guide
- A Script Starter Pack (My 3 Most Frequently Used Email Scripts for Project Management)
Check out what Krista Rae had to say about Plan Your Process:
I honestly can’t believe Plan Your Process was free! I thought I had a good process down before taking this course, but my mind is spinning with different things I can improve. Everything from my onboarding and wrap-up process to installing plugins to organizing my own content just got so much easier. Thanks for the amazing course, Katie!