Notes on “Managing a Freelance WordPress Development Business” by Bill Erickson

These are my reference notes on Bill Erickson’s excellent presentation at WordCamp Austin 2012, entitled Managing a Freelance WordPress Development Business.

Many thanks to Bill for sharing his knowledge and experience. These notes are posted here with his approval.

Links

 

Introduction

  • Bill starts 2-4 projects a week
  • He has about 20 projects active at any one time

 

Qualify your prospects

  • Use multiple layers of filters to minimize the number of people that contact you that you won’t actually end up working with. Especially people with little or no budget.
  • Post estimated price next to every portfolio item. “A similar project would cost X”. When you increase rates, increase these figures. Bill doesn’t appear to do this on his website anymore.
  • Post a project minimum on your website. This gets people used to how much your pricing is so they have an understanding of this when they contact you. Bill’s minimum was $2000 a the time of this talk. It’s now $3000.
  • Use Google canned responses to assist with educating clients. Find the service that is most similar to what the inquiry is looking for and use the appropriate tweaked, canned response. For example, if they are looking for a new theme you say, “You focus strictly on development. We will need to bring on a designer. Here are estimates of what that will cost. Here is an estimate of WordPress development costs.” Then give an estimate of when you can start based on your current schedule. Then say, “If you still think we’re a good fit lets schedule a phone call”.
  • Then when you’re on the phone do work qualification. Listen to their needs. Figure out if you’re a actually a good fit for them. This is the part that takes up the most of your time.
  • Once phone call is done send them the contract.
  • Your time is not scale-able, so each of these steps is there to increase your time efficiency.
  • Drive traffic via the design of your site to the services that you most enjoy and are most profitable for you. Currently the main services Bill offers are: Design to website in 2 weeks, Mobile responsive design and Full Service (Discovery, Design and Development).
  • A Services page allows the user to self select the service they want. They are then taken to a another page with detailed information about that particular service and a contact form at the bottom. Testimonials and portfolio items are also used to good effect on Bill’s site.

 

Clear communication

  • You need to improve your communication because you can’t scale this time like you can with development.
  • Standardize as much of your communication as possible so that it is reusable.
  • During initial discussions use detailed canned responses for common questions eg. theme conversion, theme development or responsive web design.
  • Use a standardized quote.
  • Use clear milestones and deliveries.
  • Make sure payment is tied to milestones.
  • Bill’s standard 5 day project: Starts on Monday. Initial version is delivered on the Friday. Payment is based on these milestones too. 25% is due before project is started, to get on the schedule ie. once a client pays the 25% they are added to the schedule. Bill has now changed this timeline to 10 business days instead of 5. 
  • Once you start, charge 75% payable in 15 business days. Deliver the site in 5 days and then the client has 10 more business days before the invoice is due.
  • Allow clients to leave the site on your server as long as they like and make as many changes to the content as they want.
  • Payment is tied to project beginning and not project end.
  • The client’s time creating content is outside of your control so your payment shouldn’t be tied to that.

 

Quote

  • He doesn’t use a legal contract that requires signatures.
  • He’s had hundreds of clients over the past 8 years and only 2 have not paid him. It wasn’t worth trying to sue them so he just didn’t give them the website.
  • The purpose of a quote is to define what each party is responsible for so that you have a good relationship.
  • List everything you’re going to do and when you’re going to do it.
  • List what is expected from client.
  • This is an evolving document. Every time you have a problem, look at it and see what can be improved.
  • Uses Gmail canned responses for each section.

 

Quote Sections

Scope

  • List everything in the site that you’re going to build – “I will build a website that matches the provided design for home page and inner page.”
  • List all custom functionality eg sliders, events.

Timeline

  • Schedule projects to start on a Monday and deliver on a Friday then clients have as long as they want to make changes.

Payment Schedule

  • For larger projects, create smaller milestones and attach payment to them.

Availability

  • Important section as it protects you against lots of projects starting at the same time – “As of (today’s date) I’m available to start on (date of next available Monday). Once the initial 25% is paid, the start date will determined by my current availability.”
  • So if the client waits 3 weeks they won’t get the date in the email.
  • Also encourages clients to pay quicker.
  • Explain to client that this allows you to concentrate on their project.

Phone Calls

  • “Phone calls are limited to one hour. Phone calls exceeding that are billable at my hourly rate”
  • Most clients only want to talk on the phone for less than 1 hour. This stops you from having to pad out all quotes to cover the clients that need to talk a lot.
  • It also encourages clients respect your time.

Licensing

  • “WordPress is an open source project built by thousands of developers. Whatever I build for you, if it can help the WordPress project, I would like to contribute it either as plugins, themes, core patches or code snippets.” I would like the ability to share that. “But I will never distribute what I build for you, in whole, to anyone else.”
  • “WordPress is open source and because we are building on top of it, I expect to be able to contribute my improvements back to the community.”
  • Then you don’t have to worry about asking for permission after the fact.

Migration

  • “I will only provide free migration to the following hosts, if you prefer a host other than this you have 30 minutes of migration/troubleshooting time after which I start billing for time.”
  • This encourages clients to use fast hosts too.

 

Collect Data and Iterate

  • If you collect data you see what you can improve.

 

Genesis CRM

Fields used

  • Name
  • Email
  • Budget
  • Type of project
  • Source (how they found you)
  • Quote
  • Expenses (contractors)
  • Profit
  • Time spent on project
  • Effective hourly rate
  • Points of contact (email, phone etc)
  • Status (active project, scheduled project)
  • Include or exclude from portfolio

About the CRM

  • Allows you to see where the work you are closing is coming from so that you can focus on that source.
  • Allows you to distinguish effective inquiry sources from effective actual project sources.
  • He found that the larger the project, the less profitable it was. This is because you are less accurate with the quote.
  • Caused him to focus on smaller sites that are quicker to build and easier to quote accurately. This enable you to make more money form less projects. Bill has since changed his tactics to include larger sites again.
  • Dashboard shows all active projects with radio button that says “Needs work”. Checking it makes it a yellow box. See screenshot in slides.
  • Projects are broken down by stage and each has a text field explaining what needs to be done.
  • CRM is linked to contact form on main site using gravity forms and an iframe.

 

Q & A section

  • Prefers emails of phone calls. Clients will send lots of email during content population.
  • Makes scheduled phone calls between 10 and 12am. Limit number of phone calls and concentrate them into one part of the day.
  • Uses Google voice so convert phone messages to emails.
  • Designs must be provided before quote. Send preliminary quote based on discussions. Then send a finalized quote once the final designs are received.
  • If the client adds features. Send updated scope and price.
  • Larger projects require about 150-200 lines of bulleted functional specification.
  • Require layered PSDs.
  • Don’t accept designs in Illustrator or Indesign because of issues of 300dpi and CMYK confusing client expectations.
  • Uses WP101 for training.
  • On the Monday that the projects starts, send the client a “project starting” email explaining that you’re are starting the project and thank the client for providing all necessary resources. Also include information about billing and schedules in the email.
  • Link to a vanilla WordPress install with WP101 installed so they can get started learning how to use WordPress.
  • Provide detailed bulleted walk through of all the custom functionality provided eg. “Manage menu via Appearance->Menus”. Put this information in a Help tab in the WordPress admin. Also email a copy of these instructions to the client.
  • Designer works with client directly after discussing functional specificaitons with developer. The designer assists the client with the discovery and education phase. As a result need to know great designers.
  • Designer costs are roughly $1500 for a small site. So minimum budget for the whole site is $3500.
  • Regarding provided designs that aren’t WordPress friendly – Just go with it rather than try fight it. The client has usually been through a bunch of iterations by this stage and is now committed to the design.
  • Release open source code via Github rather than WordPress repository to avoid demands for support.
  • Populate content included in PSDs.
  • He is usually booked 4-8 weeks in advance.
  • Requires that designs are ready the Thursday before you start so that you can ask questions on the Friday.
  • If the designs are delayed, the project is rescheduled for the next available time.
  • Final invoice needs to be paid in 15 business days and before launch of the site.
  • Once site is launched client has 10 days to raise any issues related to the original scope of work. After that it’s an hourly rate for changes.
  • It’s up to the client to confirm everything is working before the site is launched.
  • Only use reliable plugins so you can tell the client to go ahead and update WordPress core and all plugins as needed.
  • He prefers clients pay for Typekit if needed.
  • He pays for Gravity Forms and WP101 plugins via a developer license.

 

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