How to keep your clients on track with your project timeline

One of the biggest challenges for any web designer is keeping a client on track with their project timeline. Many clients are unfamiliar with what goes into designing a website and don’t know how long it will take. They may have unrealistic expectations of how quickly their site can be designed or how much work they need to do to get their content together. This blog post will provide tips for keeping your clients on track during the design process so that you both have a good experience working together.

1. Make sure to communicate with your client about the project timeline and work together to set realistic expectations.

Making sure that you have a clear project timeline is one of the most important aspects of web design. Your client needs to know when they can expect certain features, or how long it will take for their site to go live, even if those dates are approximate. It’s also important to add wiggle room to your timeline for delays that will almost always come up in the process. When the client falls behind in tasks, it’s best to let them know with a gentle reminder, “I need X to move on to our next task”. To avoid this problem, make sure that any time estimations are realistic for you and discuss them with your clients before starting work on the project.

2. Communicate with your client on how they can help you stay organized and on track for their end of the project.

I think it’s also important that you are giving your clients the tools they need to give you content along the way. I know some designers have a rule that a project doesn’t start until you have all the content ready, but this has never worked in my business. Ever.  Clients think they have all their content together, but I can count on one hand the clients that actually had it all together before a project started. I have found that creating a spreadsheet to track content procurement can really help keep a client on track.  In addition, cutting and pasting their current site text into Word/Google doc can give them a head start on writing and editing. Finally, it’s a must to set up a Dropbox or Google Drive folder for them to share photos and content with you.  Organize it for them with folders for each page.  Be helpful every step of the way.

3. Keep in touch with the client throughout the project, even if it is just a quick email, video or phone call.

Staying in touch with the client, even if you feel like they are ghosting you, is a must.  Years ago, I used to think it wasn’t such a bad thing when a client disappeared.  This gave me more time to work on other projects and I would reach out when I had time.  But, when the client did reappear, they often expected to just get right back into my work schedule, and this is always a big problem.  A weekly email takes little time and gives you the upper hand in communication. It lets the client know you’ve not forgotten them and are committed to completing the project.  It also gives you a chance to share that you have many projects that have moved ahead of theirs and it’s a good time for them to send something to get back in the mix. You can also enhance that email with a quick video using Loom (my clients love this) and finally, an old-fashioned phone call can go a long way.

4. Never be demanding, scolding, or judgemental in your correspondence.  Offer support instead.

I often read horror stories in other Facebook groups about the wayward client. The one that dropped the ball that emails on a Sunday night pissed off and demanding answers.  I always have the same thought.  That is on the designer.  First of all, don’t respond, or even check your email on Sunday night.  You need a break.  Second, don’t allow text for anything but emergencies.  For me, that means a website is down.  Now, this definition of an emergency should not apply to a new project at all. If the client is feeling that it’s an emergency, simply reply with, “I’m currently away from my office and I will be in touch via email tomorrow”.  When you are in the office, you can remind the client of your process (which you have shared in previous emails) and if needed, schedule a quick call to diffuse the situation.  Always be kind.  And if the client is still an issue, keep this in mind for future service offers.  But for now, your job is to be as supportive (without letting them take the reigns) as you possibly can.

5.  Give the client an option to pause the project.

Finally, I have Jennifer Bourn’s Profitable Project Plan to thank for this tip.  I added a clause in my contract about project dormancy.  It reads that if a project goes more than 45 days without forward progress or significant activity from the client, and the client has made no prior arrangements with me, the project is archived and there is a $250 fee to restart it.  I make sure I review this clause in my proposal review before we even get started.  What makes this a less painful prospect is my payment plan.  By the time the project is this off course, I have received most of the payments we’ve set up as installments.  It’s routine for me to pause a final payment if the client is still working on content, but by that time, I have almost all the fees paid for.  When you communicate to them that they’ve hit the limit of this clause and ask them point-blank, “Do you want to pause the project?”, the answer is almost always no.  Just asking the question can really work to light a fire under them, if you know what I mean.

It’s easy to understand why so many designers find keeping their clients on track with a project timeline difficult. After all, you are not the only person who is working on the project and there are always setbacks that get in your way. However, if you can make your client feel like they are “part of the team” it will be easier to get things back on track when they go off the rails.

How do you keep your clients on track? Share any tips on our Facebook group page. I’m sure the group would love to hear how you handle it.

RESOURCES:  Don’t Panic Management – How to Keep Your Head-in-the-Clouds Clients On Task

About WebCami

Cami MacNamara has been designing websites since 2002 from her home office in Seattle, Washington. Her career started as a way to be a stay-at-home mom. Certification soon followed and persistence paid off. Cami has designed 500+ websites and wants to share what she learned along the way. Look for her at WordCamp Seattle. Follow: WebCami.com / Twitter / Instagram