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Why your new website needs an awesome project plan.

Many of us try to manage all aspects of a project ourselves or in-house, but if you have a solid project plan you can work out much more effective ways to get it done. Some elements can be done by your team, and others can be outsourced to freelancers who can gap fill the expertise you don't have in-house currently. Identifying all elements of the project in a plan enables you to clearly see what needs to be done, so you can allocate those tasks accordingly in-house and externally to your favourite freelancer.

I have met so many new clients, who have fallen into the trap of being poorly prepared, before engaging services from an online freelancer. We have 2, 5, 8 hours of meetings and discussions before any work even begins. Giving yourself an hour or two to think things through not only prepares you for your briefing with the freelancer you've contracted, it also makes more effective use of the budgeted time you have with them. An experienced freelancer appreciates the preparation and will be better able to jump in and get started quickly, if there's a plan already in place for them to work with. You may think we just want to take your money, but having a two hour meeting that gets no further than working out what you want and how to get started is frustrating and in nobody's interest.

Spend some time on your project plan. It will guide the project, maximize the time invested by everyone involved and ensure it all comes in under budget.

So before you even start to look for a freelancer, or contact the one you use regularly, put together a simple project plan. It will help you clarify what you want, list the actions required to get there and guide the project overall. Your goal is not only to steer the project to completion but also to maximise the time invested by everyone involved and ensure it all comes in under budget.

What is the Project?

In this example we're exploring how to plan a new website for your business. This is a big project, which takes a lot of time and requires expertise. First you need to think through exactly why you want a website and what you want it to do, because this will be the first question a designer will ask you. Knowing the answer in advance and being able to clearly outline your vision to them will make a huge difference to their engagement with the project plan and ensure you’re satisfied with the final result. Are you just getting a website because everyone says you should? Websites have a variety of functions, so you should be clear about what you want yours to do because this will determine everything, from how it's built to what the content says.

Refining its purpose What is your website for? Is it to build an online audience? Increase your customer base? Make more sales? Enable people to book online? Or to just provide key information that gets them in the door? If it’s a focused marketing tool then you'll need to consider the social media requirements, blog options, and the ongoing maintenance of those. That kind of website is a machine that must be fed constantly so be sure this is actually what you want! This is where a meaningful content strategy comes in.

Or maybe you’ve decided to start selling products or services online? E-commerce enabled sites must be customised to the user and help them find all the details they need about your products and services - from sizing and materials, to postage options and refund policies. They must function well so that all the necessary information needed is captured and the site remains responsive to its customer's needs, but also for basics such as orders being processed accurately and efficiently.

Mapping it out and making lists

In the case of a website, you can look at other sites for inspiration of how yours might look, take screenshots of components you like and make a master list of all the things you want on your site. You can then map it out yourself, page by page, simply with a pen and a piece of paper. Once you engage your freelancer, they can then help you refine the parts of this map you should keep or get rid of - but they need to know your basic concept first. Once you've mapped out all the basic bits of your site, you need to think about what goes in them.

If you know you want a website where people can download things (such as planners, menus or class timetables), follow you on social media, look at great photos, share your content, subscribe to a newsletter, or interact as a community for example; then you need to make some lists, answer a few questions and start delegating. You'll need brand design including a logo; content - ranging from microcopy and page copy, to downloadable documents and blog posts; high quality images in various sizes; social media accounts; an updated clean subscriber list connected to your site for mail outs and so on. Start by listing all of the things your site might need.

Once you have that list, go back over it and ask yourself what you can realistically do yourself, what you can affordably outsource and who on your freelancer database might be suitable to get on board.

Delegate to the experts

Just like we might get a builder to build a house then a designer to furnish and decorate the interiors, a website gets built by one person and filled with content and bright shiny things by others. Sometimes people without plans get a surprise when their new website is built: all the pages are there but the words are in Latin, there are stock images in place, the social media icons don’t link to anything and the subscriber form returns an error message.

This is because they hired a web developer. Not a designer, or a content writer, or a professional photographer, or a social media expert. There is a difference between building a site and populating it. You can write your own content of course, but how long will it take you? Will it be optimised to drive traffic? Are you confident your spelling and grammar skills are good enough, or that you can write things people actually want to read? A professional content writer will do the job thoroughly for you in half the time it would take to do it yourself.

Are your photography skills good enough? A 2 hour shoot with a professional photographer might give you a year’s supply of great quality fresh images that will make all the difference to your site. Or you could spend hours taking, editing and sorting pics with your smartphone, only to realise you need more a few weeks later.

You need to be honest with yourself about your capacity and skill for these tasks as well as your budget and then decide which of them to outsource. Maybe your freelancer can do all of these things, but can they do all of them well and does your budget allow for them to do it all?

Let me be clear though - one of the experts you will always need to delegate to is you. No freelancer can build or create something for you unless you advise what it is you want. No content writer can write without information, no photographer can shoot without a subject. It will always be on you to provide the raw materials and on them to transform those into something great.

The important thing is that you know all the resources you need to build the site you want, who you have available to do these things and what they charge, so you can then delegate accordingly and keep things within the budget of your project plan.

Timing is everything

This very site you are looking at took over a year to build and launch because I had no plan in place, no budget to outsource and knew I just had to do what I could, when I had some spare time. A key element of a good project plan will be timelines and deliverables. You have to make the initial step, of getting everyone started on their individual tasks, but once they are briefed and set up with what they need, each person can go off, do their thing and ideally all the pieces will come together nicely when required. Some things will be needed for others to be able to happen - such as brand design and a logo, so the developer knows what colours and themes to use in the build - so locking in a time frame like 6 weeks is crucial. Once the graphic designer gets their work back to you, it can activate the web developer's work, and the content writer can be working in the background throughout. Giving everyone deadlines for their components means each stage will meet its deliverables and no part will be stalled by undefined delays. Too many websites have sat built and empty of content for months on end because the client decided they'd just write the copy themselves, failing to recognise their limitations and not realising they may probably never get around to it.

Transition to the next project plan

Much like building and decorating a house until everything is perfect happens before the housewarming party, the launch of your site really comes after the site is built and finished. The launch phase deserves its own project plan and this can be added in as stage two of the existing plan. It's also another phase of the old project that you can start while everyone is working on the first phase. Knowing what your marketing goals are, how to actually use those tools you chose for your site and how to engage with the community you have built is the key to fulfilling your purpose and making sure the investment you made in your new website was money well spent.

The 'site launch' new project plan will incorporate launch emails and social media campaigns themselves, along with the strategy for the weeks after launch. Your plan will have outputs to be created and activated to keep your new subscribers interested, encourage them to share your content and secure the building of your audience for your new site as quickly as possible. You may need to invest your own time from week to week, engaging with the community and reading things online that help you learn how to do things better. Or you can hire a freelancer to do that for you!

Ideally, the freelancers you chose to help you build the site and your strategy will become your team and continue to provide you with the services you need on a regular basis. Finding good freelancers who recognise their key skill sets and are happy to collaborate with others on your behalf is enormously underrated.

The project plan may seem like a lot of work, but actually it’s an investment of time to save you money in the future. Freelancers generally charge an hourly rate and the good ones are busy! So the more focused you are in your dealings with you, the more they will love you as client. This means not only will they do a better job for you because you are making things easier for them, but the whole process will be more efficient, simply because you took the time to create a project plan.



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