We’re talking with WordPress freelancers in a series about improving your business and client process.
Today we talk with Nathan Ingram. He’s been making websites professionally since 1995, and today he runs Brilliant Web Works. Nathan is a frequent WordCamp speaker and a regular instructor with us for iThemes Training.
“I think the single most important thing a freelancer can do to be more productive is to have a consistent process in place for every project.” -Nathan Ingram
The conversation covers internal processes, interacting with clients and improving your business.
What are the most important systems and processes for a freelancer to have in place?
Having a Systematized Process for Every Project
I think the single most important thing a freelancer can do to be more productive is to have a consistent process in place for every project. For us, there are three phases: content, design and development. Each requires the client to sign off so the project moves forward and not backward. Having a consistent process helps to keep problem clients in check and helps us be more productive since we’re not reinventing the wheel for each project.
A Consistent Theme and Plugin Stack
We have a single theme that we use for all of our custom website projects. This approach has allowed us to create a starter theme stack with all the normal CSS, functions, plugins and settings ready to go. Instead of setting all of these things up for each project, we simply restore the backup of our starter site with everything in place. This saves hours of time. Also, by using the same plugins and theme repeatedly, you can quickly become an expert at the items in your stack.
Maintenance Plans for Recurring Revenue
It’s incredibly difficult to build a profitable freelance web design business if you don’t have a recurring revenue stream. For us, this begins with selling maintenance and security plans. Having a set of services to offer each client, along with the plugins, hosting and other tools to provide them is something every freelancer should have in place.
What are some lessons about working with clients that you’ve had to learn the hard way?
Watch for the Red Flags
When I first meet with a client, I treat it like a first date. I’m not trying to get hired. I’m trying to make sure that this is someone I can work with. Like a first date, you can usually expect people to be on their best behavior in an initial meeting. Any red flags that you sense or weirdness that pops up is likely just the tip of the iceberg.
Ask Questions to Get Clarity
A lack of clarity is one of the biggest places where projects can go off the tracks. We understand one thing and the client understands another. Asking lots of questions, especially in the initial meeting with the client, is critical. It is our job as web developers to fully define the scope of the project so there are no misunderstandings. That means asking questions and follow-up questions and avoiding jargon to make sure we understand and specify exactly what the client is looking for.
Communicate More Than You Think You Should
One of the things we try to do in every project is over-communicate with our clients. Going silent is one of the worst things a freelancer can do. When there is no communication, clients will make assumptions and they tend to assume the worst. A simple update email once a week can go a long way to providing an excellent experience for your client.
What do WordPress freelancers need to be doing differently today?
Regularly Evaluate Your Business
Freelancers as a whole tend to spend more time working in their businesses than they do working on their businesses. My business really started to grow when I started regularly and intentionally taking time to focus on improving my processes and systems.
Connecting With a Community
It’s easy for a freelancer to struggle with feelings of loneliness and isolation. Working from home in front of a screen is a lot different than working at an office with other people. And when you’re alone it’s easy to think that you’re the only one who experiences the struggles and challenges that you face. Connecting with a peer group of freelancers can really help to alleviate these issues.
Hiring a Business Coach
One of the single most important things I’ve done in my business is to start working with a coach. Having an experienced coach who asks the right questions and holds you accountable to make positive changes has been a critical step in the growth of my business. For the last year, I’ve been coaching other freelance web developers myself. It has been a real privilege for me to see the growth in their businesses as well.
Learn more from Nathan about freelancing with his webinar, 10 Things I Wish I’d Known About Freelancing.