Web development and programming are best performed by cool-headed Zen masters. To be productive, it’s often best to pace yourself and sleep on problems. That’s what is said in the world of textbooks. Then comes the reality check: clients want their site built for yesterday, are constrained by budget and the web developer that you are, sitting at the last post on the line of the website production, ends up squeezed against the launch deadline. Let’s deal with this problem as cool-headed Zen masters. Moaning about it on forums is not going to improve the situation. Educating clients en masse is simply unfeasible. So here are a few tips that I use to avoid the pressure and still keep clients and design partners happy.
1. Phone and emails OFF for most of the day
With the exception of days of website launches, or prior arrangements with clients, I check my emails and voice mail twice a day: once in the morning, and once at the end of the day. The rest of my day is made of solid, distraction-free programming time. No-one so far has complained.
2. Assign more time than you need for all tasks
We all know web projects generally take more time than anticipated. On top of that, as freelancers, we never can work full time on anything: there are quotes to write, emails to send, admin to do… So simply assign more time than needed for your web projects and inform clients and partners of that deadline. You will sometimes (yet less often than you’d think!) end up delivering ‘in advance’, thereby making everyone happy. How much extra time to add really depends on the type of project and how confident you are with the task at hand (is it routine or something new for you?) For example, WordPress themes usually take me 2-3 days to code, but I always give a 5 working day deadline to clients.
3. Spell out your requirements to finish the job on time
A common scenario in web project is this. The design is kind of finished but maybe there’s one last thing for which the designer is still waiting for feedback e.g. one or two illustrations, and the client is still working on the copy. But the client is keen to have his/her website and asks if you can get started with what you have. Well… it depends. Usually I don’t mind (mostly because I require a substantial upfront that has the virtue of increasing my patience when things are hanging in the air mid-project). But, I make it clear that I cannot completely finish the website by the agreed deadline if I don’t receive all the material X days prior to that deadline. I remain flexible, yet sensible and clients appreciate that.
4. Cut down on waffling and manipulative channels
Meetings and conference calls are good for two things: seeing how you get on with the client and reaching several people in one go. Full stop! Phone/Skype calls are good for one thing: clarifying instructions and briefs. Full stop! For any other reason, email is the appropriate medium. It keeps a trace of every transaction, you can refer to it as many times as you like and, last but not least, it forces the sender to spell things out in a structured way… which phone doesn’t do. What am I getting at? Beware of that client that systematically tries to get you on the phone. Usually, they are wafflers; at worst, they count on emotional factors to pressure you – because it’s not easy saying ‘no’. Also beware of voice mails telling you to call back asap because ‘it is urgent’. In 90% of the cases, ‘urgent’ can be replaced by ‘I sat on it until last minute and now I am panicking’. Don’t let the panic get to you and set the pace back where it belongs by replying via email. There is no need to get angry or resentful of the client. They usually are not aware of what they are doing or of their emotional state, but don’t let it get to you.
5. If you happen to be delayed
Sometimes you just got your timing wrong or you are delayed by other things. You know the client is going to call to see what’s going on. Fair enough! The trick here is to get in touch with him/her before they do. As soon as you feel the need to push back the deadline – and that is BEFORE the deadline – get in touch with the client, explain the situation, and suggest an alternative schedule. It is the honest and considerate thing to do as it allows clients and partners to re-adjust as well. Hope that helps. Any other tip to share, please leave them in the comments.