Scope Creep and the In House Designer

At one time or another each freelancer must deal with a client regarding the question of scope creep. As freelancer’s it can be easier to put your foot down, assuming you have a contract, and say no to added features at the same price. But what does an in house designer do? They don’t have the option of just saying no. They don’t get to charge more for their time. In my experience, they still have to meet the same deadlines. So how does can an in house designer stop scope creep in their projects?

Talk to the Boss

To start with I would suggest that any in house designer talk to their project manager, if you’re lucky enough to have one, about the problem. That is what I did the first time it happened in one of my projects. Sitting down with your project manager, or boss, and talking about the problems that come up with adding ‘just one more thing’ to each project can get you a long way.

Statement of Work

Just as any freelancer would do, an in house designer needs to create a document that maps out the scope of each project. At my job we fill out a proper creative brief for every project and then list out the requirements and get it approved by the involved parties. It includes due dates and a statement reminding them that any added features moves the due date.

This upfront work in organizing a project gets everyone on the same page. If this type of process is not in place where you work it can be an uncomfortable thing to implement but in the long run everyone will be much happier.

Get Help & Put your Nose to the Stone

At the end of the day despite your best planning sometimes features will be added and dates will stay firm. At that point you really don’t have a choice but to put your nose to the grind stone and maybe hire some outside help.

This feature creep with no due date creep is a perfect opportunity to hire freelancers. Since it is not possible for you to get the extra work done in the same amount of time extra money will need to be spent to hit the due date. Hiring outside help also helps people realize the effect that ‘one more thing’ can have on a project.

I have actually had the boss no longer require a feature once the cost of a freelancer was factored in. It will get done but in the second stage of site launch not the first.

So in house designers/developers how do you avoid scope creep?

Is it too Early to Launch your Website?

Who here has launched a project prematurely? (my hand was the first up). When you start putting work into a project you get excited about it. You set a deadline for finishing the project and work very hard to stick to it. Sometimes despite our best efforts we have 90% of the project done. Sure we could launch it on delivery day but it wouldn’t be the best work that has been done. In fact it probably would speak better of your ethics and professionalism to get a short extension.

The reality is that before launching any project you should perform a quick evaluation to make sure that it will reflect well on your professionalism and well on you clients business.

Is the site feature complete

When ever I start a large project I make a list of all features required for launch, kind of like the development road map. If the project warrants it I will make a list of all items required for launch and a list for the second stage of development that lists all of the little things that can be added once the site is live and are not required for release of the site.

Road Map  you site
Road Map you site

The first step to evaluating whether you are ready to launch a site is to look back at all of your required items and ask yourself if in fact they are done. If all of the required items are not done then you need to think seriously about moving the deadline back so that you can get all of the items that are required put on the done list.

Sometimes you may look back at the list and after some deliberation with the client decided that they are in fact not required for the site to launch (mobile stylsheets come to mind). If both of you can agree that the site can launch without some items that are not done currently then move forward and launch it. Ultimately the final decision is up to the client it is your job to advise them to the best of your ability.

Validate

Next up is to make sure that all of the code validates. Now I know that some things (moz-border) don’t validate but to a reasonable level you should make sure that your code validates or has a good reason not to. As I alluded to above a bit of a flourish for Firefox and Webkit, in my opinion, are acceptable reasons for you code not to validate. You should ensure that these little flourishes are not required for proper functioning of the site.

Testing 1,2,3…

There are always some bugs in code. It’s written by humans it can’t be helped. There are also things you will have designed to work a certain way that seemed obvious to both you and the client at the time that will not make any sense to the end user. That is why any site should be thoroughly tested before it goes live. You don’t want your users finding all but the most obscure bugs.

Testing should not only be done by you since your not a typical user and you already know how things work. Your site should be tested by the typical user of the site. It should be tested by the client, I know that they are often not the typical user either but they should have the opportunity to ask questions about why things work the way they do.

Happy Client

As I said in the first evaluation item, ultimately launch is up to the client and the web designer/developer should be advising them. If the client is happy with the site and wants to launch it despite problems that you see then you have to launch it. I would suggest that in this instance you get in writting that they wanted to launch the site despite your recommendation. That way if it blows up you have documentation that it was their decision.

Do you do anything to check your sites that wasn’t mentioned? Leave it in the comments to enlighten us all.

The News: IE to use Webkit & Staying creative

Well here is an interesting development. In a recent developers conference in Sydney Steve Ballmer said that “Apple has embraced Webkit and we may look at that.” This is very interesting as the rendering in IE sucks currently and Webkit is awesome. I know that for all web designers it would be a wonderful thing to have the problems from IE just disappear.

Second up today is actually an article that i wrote for Design Fix on Staying Creative. It’s a quick list of how to stay creative long term as a designer.

Next is a post on 10 Key items for a perfect website. A very good check list of things to consider when building any new website. I already have a check list of things to consider when building a website but will add one or two from this list.

I am an advocate of having steady work while freelancing. Whether that is a client that has maintenance tasks or an actual steady job to make up some money. Freelance Switch has a good post on things to remember while working this steady gig. Like don’t stop marketing yourself cause it may not always be steady, and keep taking on some good projects. Just things to keep thinking about even through that amazing gig that pays the bills.

What Services should a Web Designer Provide?

It can be hard for small business owners to know exactly what services they should receive from a web designer. Of course they will design a site for you and publish it to the web but what exactly does that mean?

Prep Work

The first thing  a good web designer should provide you with is a creative brief before they quote on the project. A creative brief will ask you a bunch of questions about what pages you need on your site, what sites you like and should be used as design reference, what sites you consider your competitors, who your target market is, and what content will be going on each page. All of this information will allow the designer to quote on your site accurately so that both of you are on the same page.

What if you don’t get asked these questions? It doesn’t mean that the web designer is a bad one but it may mean that they will not be prepared for all of the things you want on your website. If that happens then the relationship will be strained on both sides. You will both assume that you are on the same page and you won’t be. You as the client may expect a very complex form on your ‘contact’ page while the designer may expect that all you need is a basic three field form. Both of you will be frustrated by the lack of understanding of the other.

With the information gathered in the creative brief the designer should then take the time to survey your competitors to get a better understanding of your market. Without a good survey of your industry the designer will be unprepared to really design a site that is good for your users, and ultimately the site if for the users not for you.

Build for SEO

A good web designer should also be building your site with on page SEO in mind. On page SEO makes sure that you have proper heading tags, alt tags on images, and that you have all of the appropriate meta tag information. I would also expect them to set up a proper 301 redirect so that if people type in your site address without www at the beginning they will be sent to the version with www at the beginning. If they don’t do this both sites will be viewed as different sites and that will hurt your search engine ranking. This initial set up is not a full SEO plan for your business but a firm foundation for you to continue with a good plan to maximize your search engine results.

Web Standards

Your web designer should build your site to proper web standards from the start. Not only does this provide you with a site that is easier for search engines to read it also sets up your site for easier changing in the future. While I’ll admit there are some valid reasons not to have a site that validates to the W3C spec there should be a good reason that this is done. Accidentally capitalizing a break tag is not a valid reason to fail W3C validation.

Accessibility

Finally a web designer should take your target market into account when implementing accessibility on your site. If you are getting them to design a site for video gamers then it you can safely assume that they will have the latest plugins for Flash, and Javascript. While if they are designing a site that is marketed at the elderly it is safe to assume that they may not be the most technically savvy of users and you should build to suit their needs, which in not necessarily with the newest and greatest technology. If you just try to have the newest technology in your site without addressing how this will affect your end user you are doing them a disservice. Your web designer should build the site for your users not for themselves or for you.

The Daily News: Stolen designs, site conversion, and usability

Let’s start today with an article from Freelance Switch (FSW) on Intellectual Property Resources. All of us designers get worried about our design work getting stolen. It seems that when this happens it’s hard to do much about it. The list provided by FSW gives you places to find your legal rights.

Second up is an article on redesigning your blog. Most of us, myself included, think of a ground up redesign when they want to change their site or blog. What about just tweaking the look. Read the article for some good ideas on how to make small changes that will impact your users greatly.

All websites are trying to get more traffic and keep it. This article from conversion rate experts details 14 free tools for tracking your website. I am particularly interested in the heat map stuff from crazy egg. I am currently going to redesign my portfolio and blog, and actually the site at my fulltime job, and this will come in handy in testing designs.

Finally today we look at usability. This is an article that challenges you not to think of site usability as an after thought but as the first thought in a site. I truly think that this should be the case. In any major redesign I do I want to make it easier to use, I call it ‘stupid simple.’ Many of the resources from the last article would help greatly in making an existing site more usable.

Market and they will come: News Round Up

Starting off today is a great article listing lots of helpful hints on writing an XHTML Strict web page. Whether you like XHTML Strict or not it’s here so here are some hints on how to write it if you choose to write your next website in the Strict Doctype.

Are you a student or full time designer looking to get out an freelance or build your portfolio? If so this article is for you. Written more specifically to student’s it covers how to fill out your portfolio and gain some reputable work experience. There are definitely some great suggestions for those of us that are looking to break into the freelance market as well.

On the same theme want to bring in more local business then check out this post on how to get free local advertising on Google. An amazing post that requires very little work and can yield some amazing results. Read through the post and get some free advertising.

Finishing off our marketing theme is a post from Small Fuel on learning marketing from McDonald’s. Have you thought about selling packaged services? I bet you will after reading this brief post.

Get Jobs just by Responding

Many of you know that I work fulltime as well as freelance somewhere near fulltime. Currently at my fulltime job we are looking for a company to partner with us specifically for Information Architecture work.

As the in house guy it is my job to find evaluate and solicit quotes from web companies that provide the services we need. So I have sent out 25 emails and followed up with about 15 calls to various local and not local web companies to help us and do you know how many return emails or call I got? 2. Yes that is it only 2. Some companies I called 2 or 3 times and they all promised that they would return my call or email me but none of them did.

We are also looking for freelance PHP guys for some ongoing work and the results were almost exactly the same. Out of all the emails I sent I only heard back from 3 people and only one really followed up as we discussed my needs.

24 Hour Turn Around

I make it a habit to get back to clients within 24 hours max (even on weekends). Often I get back to clients in under 8 hours (I do have to sleep). This level of service (unfortunately) seems to be rare in the web industry in my area. I wonder if it is also rare in many other parts of the world? If it is simply responding to clients in a timely fashion can bring in tonnes of work.

Personal Contact

How about not just emailing back to ask some further questions of a client but actually making a personal call. Email is not always the most efficeint way to get a question answered so don’t always rely on it. Many times a 5 minute conversation can get all of the questions answered. This personal call also lets your client know that they are important enough to deal with directly.

If you can take the time to provide a great customer service experience you can gain many long term clients who will return even when rates go up just because your service is so great. They want to use you because they feel like to treat them as important no matter what the situation.

The News — XTHML, the economy and your social blog

First up today is a reasonably technical article on XHTML myths and realities. Written by a member of the W3C this article goes over the start of HTML and the morph to XHTML. It comments on browser support and ultimately recommends that you write HTML 4.0 instead of XHTML. A real interesting article that get you thinking about your markup and the future of XHTML.

We all know that the economy is bad. Various countries are having a harder time but ultimately it has the potential to affect us all. The second article today runs through how to overcome the bad economy as a designer. The author recommends being different from your competition and providing a good ROI. This also made me think of a post over at Freelance Switch. Read through it and pay particular attention to the comment by FreelanceMan.

Finally today I recommend a post on increasing the interactivity of your blog. Lots of good ideas, some of which you will see here in the coming months, but I really think community forums are often not a great idea. It takes thousands upon thousands of people on a forum to make it look like there is anyone there. I know one forum that I frequent that has 4000 registered users and it often doesn’t see posts for a few weeks at a time. I suppose I am cautioning you in starting a forum not saying it’s a bad idea.

News Round UP

Here’s the weekly news round up culled from the stack of RSS feeds that I subscribe to.

Starting off is a great post from Just Creative Design that lists all of the WordPress plugins used by Jacob Cass. They range from spam filters (Akismet) to SEO tools (All in one SEO Pack). Many of these tools I already use in my WordPress installations for clients but there are a few that I will probably start installing for clients. I generally install Google Analytics for clients, though most never use it, but I will also probably start to use the Ultimate Google Analytics plugin for my own tracking and really it’s easy to install so having it for clients to reference is easy.

Second up is a post from NETTUTS on the ultimate ways to fight spam. It goes over many of the common ways that are used to fight spam. One, keyword black lists, are used here on this blog. I have a number of "off limits" words that if you try to leave a comment with it your comment will be rejected. The post ultimately recommends Akismet which was developed by the people that developed WordPress. I do have one small exception to this post’s information. It calls Akismet a new service but as far as I know the service has been around for quite a while. There have even been ways to port the service into phpBB bulletin boards for quite a while so I’m not actually sure what it new about it. Regardless Akismet saves you from a bunch of spam so if you don’t want spam install it.

Next we look at position:absolute, which I have mentioned a few times. This post discusses XHTML strict validation and is sure to get some people in quite a twist. This post can be summed up by saying that not everything needs to validate just make sure it is well written. I agree with the theme of this post. I do my best to code all of my sites to XHTML strict. I do allow for failing the validate if there is a good reason. As stated in the article, target=_blank is not a valid attribute in XTHML strict so you have to use a bit of JavaScript to make it work. I really try to stay away from javascript to make things work so am totally fine with using the target=_blank attribute if it is needed. Ultimately if there is a good reason for the failure then I am fine with it.

Finally a post from Smashing Magazine titled 7 Ingredients of Good Corporate Design. This post covers such topics as logo design, typography in design and colour in design, all with a bent to corporate branding. Good for designers of all experience levels to read through and brush up on corporate brand design.

That’s it for today.

Generating Links to your Site

One of the big things that you need to do to improve you search engine rankings is to generate links back to your blog. That’s easy to say but much harder to do so lets look at some ways to generate links back to your website.

Have Something Worth Linking to

Before you start working to generate links evaluate your content. Do you have appropriate landing pages for customers? Are you hard or soft selling on the site? Is there even any good content there for customers?

I am a web designer. I do web design for small and medium business. I write about web design for small and medium business. I hope that you find good content here for your business but I’ll admit I have a  motive too. I want you to read this and hire me. Is there good free information here for you so you won’t have to hire me? Sure, but I specialize in what I do. While people may be able to take a step forward in their web management there is a ceiling that a business will hit and they will have to decide whether to hire a freelancer or an in house person.

If they picked up a bunch of their hints from me then they are more likely to come back to me for some paid work as well. So do I have content worth linking to? Yes I do. If you don’t have content on your site that others need why would they link to you?

Start with the Easy

Once you have some content on your site that is worth reading, start by knocking off the easy avenues for link generation. If you participate in any forums put a link to your site in your signature it they let you or at least on your profile page. I don’t find that this will drive a lot of traffic to your site but it is a simple starting point. Every time I start a new site that I plan to do some advertising for I add it to the signatures in any forums I participate in. I generally try not to put to many in but two or three are alright so evaluate what needs to be in there for each forum. I have different sites on my signatures depending on the nature of the forum.

What About a Contest

A great way to get other blogs or sites linking to you is to run a contest. Many times companies will contact bloggers or site admins and offer them a give away. They do for the publicity and the blogger is happy to write the content also because of the publicity. This type of link generation is called linkbaiting and is a great way to get people talking about your site and your content.

Let the contest run over a month and really advertise it. Use Twitter, forums, facebook… to get people talking. Lots of blogs will link to you because they want to share your contest with their readers. You may be surprised sometimes how popular a blog is that links to your little contest.

Share the Love

This post is about link love and how to get it. So why would I now suggest that you give it to others? If people are always giving you links and never getting anything back then the love could start tailing off. Now I am not suggesting that you link to your direct competition but what about a business that would offer complimentary services? What about a contest run on another site? Offer up the love to others will make it more likely that they will be sending links your way in the future as well.

Remember a good SEO plan takes time it doesn’t happen over night so you need to be patient and keep up the hard work. The day will come when you have more clients than you know what to do with and that will pay for all of the time spent up front.