About 6 months ago, I embarked upon my first project management of an SEO web build. As a Freelance SEO Copywriter, the building of websites is not usually my domain and that was a state of affairs that I was perfectly happy with, but the boss said project manage and so project manage I did. Well, I tried.
Over the course of this project, I learned several things about building websites both on my own behalf and on behalf of the client. This blog post is Part 1, which will give you my 3 most valuable lessons learned; Part 2 will detail the 3 things that I think all clients should be aware of before they embark upon such a project. Before I give you either, however, I must give you a bit of background information to explain the context.
GrowTraffic has built many websites for our clients in the past, all along the lines of ‘it’s not the best looking website in the world but it gets to the top of the SERPs (or, as normal people call them, ‘SEO web builds’). This project was a little bit different from those usual builds and I think that was one of the main reasons that I was asked to project manage. Well, it certainly wasn’t my impeccable track record at delivering excellent websites, put it that way!
So, on this occasion, our client wanted a website that was not just SEO ready, but also an e-commerce store via which they could sell their products. Previously, the business had sold to customers via a small premises and their website was purely of the ‘business card’ type; whilst it was a very stylish website, which sat naturally at the top of the SERPs (search engine results pages) due to its position in a very niche market, it actually generated very few new customers for the business.
The request, therefore, was for a new website that both generated new customers for the business and provided a platform for the business to sell their products online. This was not only a new venture for the business but also marked the point where the business passed from sitting within the previously mentioned niche market to competing with an incredibly competitive and almost saturated market.
The client in question is a small, family run business comprising a husband and wife team who, having run a fairly modest enterprise for several years making bespoke handmade jewellery, now wished to branch out and start selling bought in ranges of jewellery via both their new premises and the new, required, e-commerce website.
The fact that this project was to be a new venture for (almost) all concerned is an important aspect here; on our side, although GrowTraffic’s SEO experts, designers and programmers have built countless such websites, I had never project managed a build before; on the client’s side, they had not been so involved in the process previously nor had ever sold bought-in jewellery online or otherwise. This meant that a whole wealth of considerations had never even occurred to us and we all had to learn on the job. It made for an interesting few months but, if I’m being completely honest, wasn’t necessarily a bad thing.
The Top 3 Lessons
As you can imagine, I have learned much more than just 3 things over the past few months; there are so many aspects to project managing a web build and most of them had only been hazily on the horizon of my world before, not part of my daily landscape. However, this is a blog, not a job description, so I’m not going to go through them all laboriously.
Instead, here are the ones that I will be taking with me into the next web build, if I’m ever trusted to manage one again!
Make A Plan and Stick To It!
Unfortunately, the first part of that statement is easy, it’s the second part that takes some doing, especially if you’ve got several parties involved all at once. However, it’s purely because of this that you need to make a plan.
Web builds, especially e-commerce ones, involve many people/departments who all have their own specialist knowledge and expertise. The role of the Project Manager is to bring all of those skills into play at the right time; it’s a matter of balance and timing and will quite often involve a degree of managing personalities as much as anything else.
Plan Everything Out
The key to success here is to sit down at the beginning of the process with everyone who will be involved and find out
- What their role will be
- At what stage their expertise will be needed
- What needs to have happened before they can play their part
- What information/resources they will need and, possibly most crucially,
- What type of person they are what is likely to motivate them. (NB. It should go without saying really, but ideally you should only ever embark upon projects with people you’ve worked with before and whom you know you can rely on!)
Once you know all of this, you must then formulate a plan that includes a timeline and a detailed list of everything that must be either done or acquired by the commencement of each stage.
Build In Safeguards
The second, and most crucial point, is that you must stick to your plan as rigorously as you possibly can so – bearing in mind the fact that an unnecessary number of projects either run over time or budget (or both) – don’t just err your estimates on the side of caution, give yourself a massive margin for error. Remember, no client likes a project that overruns, but every client loves a project that comes in early and under budget!
One of the things that I found most frustrating about this build was the fact that there were fairly large stretches of time when nothing could happen because we were waiting on certain parties – often the client – to deliver something essential (images or product descriptions, for e.g.); at the time, I felt fairly impotent to do anything about this, other than to make sure the client was aware that work had stopped.
Having considered this since, however, and having seen the impact that such delays can have on a project overall, I think that a more robust approach may be more appropriate to help avoid this situation. Obviously, the mitigating action must be in proportion to the situation, but I don’t think it is unreasonable to impose penalties for unnecessary or avoidable delays.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
It’s the cornerstone of every successful working (or otherwise) relationship and the point upon which your project will succeed or fail; good communication is absolutely crucial and doesn’t just apply to you and your client, but to the whole of your team.
Over the course of this web build, I was fortunate enough to have an incredibly strong working relationship with my client, which obviously helped the process enormously. Nevertheless, there are a couple of key things that I learned that will follow me through to the next job I work on;
- Communicate Regularly – if clients don’t hear from you, they think you’re wasting their time and money and not doing anything. So, even if all you have to tell them is that nothing’s changed, make sure you do it often.
- Communicate Effectively – good communication does not just mean plentiful, but rather effective. You need to ensure your communications contain all the information necessary to that client and that means working out what they do and what they don’t need to know; too much information and they’ll switch off, too little and they’ll think you’re scamming them.
- Do It Your Client’s Way – everyone prefers to communicate in different ways, whether that be by email, phone, face to face etc., so find out which way your client prefers and try to stick to that method as much as you can.
- Back It Up – it’s a fact of life that people won’t absorb everything the first time around so, if you have something particularly important that you need to make your client aware of, make sure you communicate it several times and preferably in several different ways.
The main thing to aim for, however, in terms of your communication, is to find a balance and try to establish as good a working relationship as you possibly can. This won’t happen overnight and will take a little time whilst you get to know your client – and not every working relationship will be all rainbows and lollipops – but the better your working relationship the easier your project will be.
Never Assume Anything
As the old saying goes, “assumption is the mother of all f*@%-ups”, and it’s a motto for life, not just for web builds! It applies to every stage of the project and to every conversation you have with both your own team and your clients; don’t assume that something has been done because you asked someone to do it and don’t assume that someone has understood something because you told them in an email.
Unfortunately, although it would save a lot of time and effort if it did, the world doesn’t work like that, so the best course of action is to double check everything. Otherwise, you’ll just end up with egg on your face!
Get In Touch
If you’d like to know anything else about my experiences with this web build and the lessons I learned from it then please do get in touch with me and I’ll be happy to expand. Alternatively, if you’re similarly in need of a website building for your business, then let us know and we’ll make it happen.