Improving Your WordPress Agency Process

Feb 7, 2019 | Business Growth, Webinars

Kori is joined by Jason Merrell from WebTegrity who shares best practices when it comes to improving your WordPress agency process. This is going to be a much more in-depth look at tools and function. Find Jason at WebTegrity who handles all process and procedures for the team. He’s also a designer and developer. Be ready to get inspired in this one hour workshop. If you’re a WordPress Freelancer, Agency Owner, or Entrepreneur Come Join the PressTribe Conversation.

Welcome, everyone. Thanks for taking time to join us this afternoon. I’m so excited to have y’all here and welcome you to the first ever episode of Kori Ashton live and I’ve got Jason Merrell as my guest today, which I’m super excited about because I’ve worked with him for several years and we have learned so much together and as we were brainstorming this session, this is really his expertise is improving your process. It’s actually what he does here for us WebTegrity. So I’ll introduce y’all to Jason Merrell and I appreciate you, Jason, for joining us today.

[Jason] Yeah, no problem. I think what’s really exciting about doing this webinar with you is when you came to me and said to do this webinar, you said here is an opportunity for you to talk to yourself four years ago. You know, what advice would I give myself? How would I, you know, in 45 minutes let myself sprint and hit the ground running in ways that we couldn’t when we were learning as we went back in the day.

[Kori] Yep.

[Jason] You know, so, my experience with WebTegrity has been from the ground up. I started as an intern with WebTegrity, then I moved on to being a developer, and then a designer. I’ve been the lead developer, the creative director for WebTegrity, and as we moved on to bigger and better things, I’ve taken on larger positions moving up, but I’ve held pretty much every position there is to have inside of web development. Which is what ultimately led to my interest and my passion in creating a process and creating something that can scale.

So one of the biggest pieces of advice I would give myself four years ago, which some of you guys may be in that situation right now, whether it’s just yourself running an agency or if it’s you and a couple people running your agency, is start documenting your process right now. Because when it’s only yourself and when it’s only a few people, you’re like a jet ski and by the time you get up to a point where you’re making seven figures and beyond that, it’s much harder to steer the ship.

You have more people involved and even though you may be in charge, when you go to make a change at that point, it gets a lot more difficult to steer the ship. So if you start now, it makes it a lot easier as every time you come across a problem, you can ask yourself, how can I change my process so that this problem doesn’t happen again? And if you have that documented, by the time you’re done you’re gonna have what I’m gonna show you guys, has been our process for the past year or so.

It’s a never-ending process creating your process.

There’s been some improvements and it’s a never-ending process creating your process, you know, so by no means are we finished. Every day we’re dealing with new issues that we add to this and we ask ourselves, what could we have done to avoid this particular problem? And we go back and we add it into our process and most of the time, it solves that problem from ever happening again.

Another piece of advice I would give is to not create your process within a project management program like Basecamp or even as we move into bigger and better things with Wrike and some other project management tools.

The challenge with creating your process inside of there is you’re gonna be limited in some way. A lot of those programs are versatile, but they’re not meant for you to create your process inside of those programs. You’re gonna limit it at some point. So I really highly recommend good ol’ paper and pencil.

Create your process, your most ideal process, where you’re not limited by anything within a program or within an application and from start to finish, detail everything that was supposed to happen in that process. Then, after you’ve created that process, look at the tools that are out there that’ll help you implement it.

So Basecamp may not be where you create your process, but it can be where you implement your process. And you’re gonna find like, aw man, this part of the process is difficult for me to sign them to do task to get this done so you may have to find a workaround, but at least you’re not limited. The program hasn’t harmed your process and you’re finding ways around it. That’s always going to happen, there is no perfect program out there.

So I can start with our process here. Again, paper and pencil is great. The next best thing that I have found has been Lucidchart, because while pencil and paper is great, it’s hard to share and it’s harder to edit. Paper gets torn after erasing it five million times and putting more stuff in there. So I’m gonna share my screen here. I’m gonna show you a little bit about Lucidchart and a little bit about how I decided to show our web building process that has made the most sense for the most people coming on board that don’t know much about web development and kind of educating them on the process.

So this is Lucidchart here, and Lucidchart if you haven’t messed with it before, it’s just a great way to create different diagrams, different charts. There’s no real limitation in it. It’s kind of like working with Photoshop, just faster. And it’s much easier to share because it’s all cloud-based. So the way I have detailed out our process of building a website has been to split it up into different phases over time and that’s really just to help it make more sense to somebody to see it, to tell a client your website goes through five phases.

In this top portion, I’m doing just a straight, linear process all the way through, from beginning to end, everything that it goes through. You don’t need to walk your clients through this whole thing cause you’re probably gonna lose them at some point. This is really for your team. You can tell them the five phases, so typically when we’re explaining our process to a client, I’ll say, oh, your website goes through five phases.

The first phase is going to be the discovery meeting and the homepage design.

Second phase is for us to design your inside pages and inside templates.

Phase three is for development and content.

Phase four is for the what we call the website beta and training.

And then phase five is your go live.

Much easier to understand but it’s also important for your team to break it down even further than that. My top portion here is the linear process and then if I zoom out a little bit more, I went a step further. This may not be necessary for you, but I feel like it is. To put things in the swim lights. So this is the exact same process as what’s above, but we have different departments and positions so that everybody knows whose responsibility that part of the process is.

Don’t create your processes around people.

Another pitfall that I see people fall into when they’re creating their process is, this is really important, don’t create your processes around people. I know you may have somebody on your team, that’s something we call a unicorn, and they can do three different things, maybe they’re a designer, they’re a developer, and they’re great at SEO. But the problem with that is that person may not be around forever. So if your process revolves around that person, it’s gonna fail when the next person tries to step in. So it’s better to revolve your process around positions and departments, so while that person could be a designer and a developer, as it’s walking through the process, they need to know okay, this is in design now, this is in development now, because that’s what we’ll scale. People don’t scale. So this really helps break that up, and I’ve broken it into the departments that we have split up our process into and that’s mainly a development department, a design department, and an account management department.

We have the client lane here and we also show digital marketing and support, that’s getting a little bit more advanced into products that you’re selling after the website is built, and we don’t need to get into that. So I can walk through this one at a time if you’d like, and I can explain why we put certain stop points in our process, some of the issues that we’ve experienced and why some of these things are here to solve them.

First and foremost, phase one is always going to be the homepage design. It’s not the homepage design and all the internal pages. We don’t do all the designs at once. That would be a humongous waste of time. What we have experienced is whenever we try and do more than one design at a time in the initial part of the project, we could miss the mark. So if we miss the mark on one design, that’s fine, it just causes us to go back and we’ll redesign one design. If we went out of the gate with three designs, now we’re going back and we have to redesign all three because we completely missed the mark.

So phase one is all about getting to know the client as best as we can, creating a homepage or our first design off of all that information, making sure it’s everything that we said it would be as far as the branding and the conversion design and everything that they’re looking for as far as their website and then we present it to the client. This whole first phase is designed so that we nail it on the first try. Because nothing sucks worse than losing confidence that first design that you go to show the client. It’s so important to just blow them away with that first design. Because if you nail it on the first try, you have built confidence with the client, which is gonna build confidence with anything else that you say, anything else that you come up with, they’re like, I trust this person, okay let’s do that. If you, excuse my language, but kind of half-ass that first design, you lose confidence and then anything you come up with after that, the client is going to feel like they need to be more involved and that is a problem throughout the rest of the process if they’re second-guessing your expertise and the designs that you’re coming up with.

So we kick it off with a discovery meeting. The discovery meeting we get everybody on the team involved in and the whole thing is getting to know the client and this may already have happened a little bit in the sales process, Kori with WebTegrity is a large part of our sales, as am I. But we also need to get them introduced to the team because we’re not gonna be involved throughout the entire process, so this is also a good handoff to who they’re gonna be dealing with throughout the project.

[Kori] I do think that, just to interject here for a second Jason, I think that is such an important key role or key part of this when you’re saying have the whole team be a part of it. I think that was one of our biggest speed bumps is that you and I realized that well, we’d rather our team members be focusing on other things or maybe they couldn’t make it cause they weren’t available for that time slot and we would try to do it on our own and it always had our team members trying to play catch up the rest of the project. Oh, I wasn’t there for that, oh I didn’t take notes on that, oh, I didn’t realize that feature needed to be in there. And it’s really, really difficult for designers, content creators, any of our developers even to just always try to play catch up. So I love that you’re mentioning to be sure that everybody who’s gonna be hands-on in the project attends this very first meeting.

[Jason] Even the developer if we can, if we can afford for the developer to be there, we want the developer to be there. It does a lot of different things. So first it’s a proper handoff, so they no longer associate this project with the salesperson, they’ll now associate it with who has taken over the project. So the account manager definitely needs to be in that meeting. By the way, we’re big believers in account management.

It took us a long time to realize that that was a position that needed to be in the process, even if that position is held by somebody that’s also designing or also developing. Account management, they need that one person that they can go to. It can’t be multiple people. It can’t be, now that you’re in the design process, you’re gonna talk to this person. Now that you’re in the development department, you’re gonna talk to this person. Super frustrating for the clients.

And the discovery meeting properly kicks off the face of the project to the account manager, and it’s also a good way to motivate your designer. It’s hard to get a designer motivated to do a great design that they don’t even know who the person is. As much as me and Kori in the past have tried to brief a designer off of a discovery meeting, it never works out the same. We never get the same quality of work as if that designer is sitting there, right there in that room, or even if it’s a Zoom meeting, or an online meeting, having the designer there to ask questions, get inspired, and go off hitting the ground running is absolutely essential. So then we move on to a site map or a wire frame. This again is to make sure we hit the mark on that first try. We want to make sure we get the navigation right, we want to make sure we get a lot of the big parts of the website included in that homepage so they don’t get hung up on it when they’re looking at the design. That goes to a client review and then we’re off and running on our homepage design.

[Kori] I think another key part of that site map wireframe, Jason, that you guys just kept drilling into me that it had to be an initial stopping point was that’s almost a first pit stop to be certain that we’re not gonna have scope creep, because that site map should list out every single page that exists on this website and you might have missed some in the initial budgeting or proposal contract phase, and then you get here and all of a sudden the client goes, oh yeah! well, remember I have a whole portal section of my website and I’m expecting you to rebuild that as well and everybody has a very early on aha moment of, my goodness, you know, this really is beyond scope. So that’s a really great stopping point to be certain that everybody is on the same page knowing, moving forward, that now the client can have a content homework assignment sent to them and they know what pages to write for and now our team knows exactly what to start designing.

[Jason] And we can certainly get into setting better expectations in the sales process, kinda how we’d gone about setting expectations and the terminology that we’ve used over the years that has certainly helped clients understand because clients do not understand web development, so if you start digging in too deep with some of your terminology, you’re gonna lose ’em, and we could have some wild expectations that we definitely need to get under control as soon as possible.

So after the homepage is approved, we also go through an internal approval. This has to be in the process because as good as our designers are, sometimes when we trusted the design to go out without it getting any kind of internal review, we’ve definitely had some designs that have missed the mark and I’ve already spoke to the dangers of that. So having that internal review, even if it’s quick, even if it’s just 15 minutes of me popping over to the designer’s desk going, yep, that’s great, send it, is really important. And also, this has taken me and Kori probably three years to finally get on board for this part of the process, and I know it’s a pain in the butt, guys, I know it’s a pain in the butt to pull the client back into the office for that first design, but it’s absolutely necessarily.

Do not just send it (homepage design) to the client with silence.

Do not send your homepage design, your first design that you’re showing them, that super important trust-building design, do not just send it to the client with silence. You may have enough rapport with the client that they’re like, okay, I trust that this is the one. Well, a lot of times what they end up doing is they take that design and then they go sit with their team. And then they start asking questions, and then you have you know, those people that think they’re great at this and they start coming up with all these suggestions and you’re not there to defend why you made certain decisions. So it’s not a great idea.

Pull them into the office, at the very least do an online presentation and explain every piece of that design. Let them know nothing on this design is on accident. This is why we did this, and be very objective. You know, say I did this particular portion of the design to accomplish this objective, if you have a problem with it, we can look at another way to accomplish that objective, but I don’t want to put a statement from the CEO in this particular area because it won’t accomplish this objective. You know, you have to be very objective in your explanation. With those things combined, we usually have about a 90% success rate with our first designs with the homepage. So this has been crucial in our process.

Moving on is the inside pages. Now, something that Kori and I do in helping to set expectations is we do not design every page. And if you build custom WordPress sites, you know that a lot of the pages are built off templates. So early on, because Kori and I have an understanding of how the templates are developed and how they will operate, we don’t sell necessarily by design, we sell by template. You’ll get a homepage template. Every website has a homepage template.

Number two, you’re gonna have a default template. What are all the default pages gonna look like? And then we ask, what are all the other specialized templates that we’re gonna create for you? That accomplish different things or maybe, revolve around super important pages on the website, we’ll create a specialized template for. And that’s where this process goes. So, of course, we do the homepage template, that’s the first part of the process. The default template we’ll typically save for last but we definitely designed it because we’re establishing things like typography, how certain headers are handled, what the sidebar looks like on those default pages.

We want the client to know and understand that concept to avoid problems later on when they’re like, why doesn’t this page look as awesome as this other page? Well, because it’s a default template, not your specialized template. So depending on the contract, how many of those specialized templates that they have purchased is how many inside pages we will design.

Typically we do anywhere between three to four templates and then the default template so we’ll typically have one design from the home page, four designs of inner pages, and then we also go through client presentations with those, and those can be less formal.

I mean, if you have a troubled client and you know you’re gonna have a hard time getting approval, it’s always best to bring ’em in, but at some point, you’re gonna get in a rhythm of approvals.

So we’ll use Basecamp to correspond with the client, pass that design back and forth, and typically that’s fine. Again it’s client to client. Sometimes I just don’t trust a client not to go off on a tangent and start asking around how the page can be improved and drag the design on forever, so, there are some clients with each page, we’re doing a client presentation. Again, it’s to save you time.

Cut and spec is also something that took us awhile with design to get everything in order for the developer. Again, if you’re a small firm and you have a designer that’s also a developer, as so many have, they still need to go through this process. They still need to cut and spec their designs, that means any image that’s in they get it ready for development, name it properly, get it in for development, you know they need to make sure the logo is ready, make sure the web colors are correct. That’s what this cut and spec process is and we have it last a week.

I give the designer a full week to get all of those designs ready for the developer. At the same time, because some of these internal pages have a lot of dummy data on them, as far as what copy is actually going there, we’ll use lorem ipsum for a lot of these inner pages. We try not to do it for the homepage because again, we don’t leave anything up to the imagination. We want the client to approve them. But for the inner pages, dummy data is fine, so at this point, we’ll also start copywriting which goes into the development phase. Do I have any questions at this point? I don’t think, here let me pull up chat.

[Kori] I think we’re good right now. If anybody does have questions, you’re more than welcome to hover over the screen right now and go down to the chat area, click on that little icon, and it’ll open up a little chat and you can certainly type any questions that you might have. We’ll hold them toward the end though and get you in the queue so that we can be sure to answer those questions. There’s a lot to this.

[Jason] Yes.

[Kori] I mean, Jason and I both, you know, we’ve been doing this for 10 plus years, and it’s certainly been a lot of back and forth, crafting, evolution of the process, and to his point early on, we’re still learning exactly how to do this. It’s something that thankfully our team only being a team of 12, we still have the ability to pivot pretty quickly and easily to make some changes, but for the most part, this is something that has really been crafted by dealing with different types of clients, kind of running into speed bumps with different types of personalities and understanding how everybody communicates differently.

Understanding also that our clients, their own knowledge base is going to vary as to their personal experience and business. So you want to think about that as well. Some people are coming at an enterprise level who have a Marketing degree, and they’re very knowledgeable in what search engine optimization is, they’re completely understanding the concepts of conversion design, minimalist design, responsive design, and then there are other clients who have already completely gone cross-eyed staring at me going, I have no idea what you’re talking about, Kori. So you really have to think about this process that Jason is mapping out for us is what we do internally to be certain that the process goes smoothly and it hands off to the client that they really shouldn’t see a lot of this.

[Jason] No.

[Kori] If we’re doing this smoothly and efficiently.

[Jason] Yeah, absolutely, and I’d also point out that this isn’t something you should be intimidated by. This is a process that’s been developed that you’re seeing right now, over four and a half years. Your process can start very simple, as ours did. When me and Kori first started, we literally had magnet boards on the wall.

[Kori] Yeah.

[Jason] And each client was an index card and to move them through the process was to lift the magnet and move it onto the next board.

[Kori] That’s true.

[Jason] It was that simple. And that process certainly worked for us for a long time. You know, so you can get far with a simple process, just know if you really wanna scale, I would start addressing these problems that you experience on a regular basis, putting them into your process to solve those problems as early as possible, because like I said, once you start pulling on more team members, especially if some of those team members are remote, you’re gonna experience a lot of issues cause they’re not in your office, they’re not in your culture to have that process in their head.

Make sure there is a very hard stop before development.

You gotta have a document. Moving into phase three. We move into development. Now development is a lot internal. There’s a lot of silence going on with development because we have all the blueprints, right, we don’t need any feedback, we’ve gotten all the feedback from the blueprints, now we’re off building. And while we’re off building, you can’t go changing things. So make sure that there is a very hard stop.

When things go into development say, you cannot change this now, and the analogy that I always use is building a house. If you want to move one room to the other side of the house, when you’re doing the blueprint that’s as easy as just taking and erasing it, drawing it on the other side of the house. Once we start building the house and you want to move one room to the other side of the house, now it’s costing a lot of time. So we have to let ’em know, you cannot make design changes after we’ve moved past this stop point. If you do, it’s gonna be a change order, it’s gonna be at an additional cost, because we have wasted time, and we cannot finance your website.

So as things go into development, it can typically take two, sometimes three weeks. Just depends on how many template designs and what kind of advanced functionality we’re talking about. But this is where they are building the bones of the site, the base template, and it really doesn’t matter if you’re using a different content management system, it’s still the same concept.

You have to build the bones, right, and before you add in all the content to that website, we go through some quality assurance. So we have one person on the team, she’s the mean person, she’s like the internal affairs for our team and she goes through that bare bones build and starts comparing it to all the requested functionality and she starts coming up with a list of post-ed edits to ensure that it’s, or a list of what we’ll call, sorry, alpha edits, cause this is when the site is still in a state of alpha.

After the bones are gonna go, then you start adding in all the content, right. As you’re adding in content, we’ve experienced you will always have more edits. You know, maybe a section was only meant to have 300 words and the client gave 500, you know, there’s gonna be these little edits, these little notes, what we tell our content integration team to do is to just create a list, right?

Don’t go to the developer with individual requests. Unless something is preventing you from adding content, just come up with a list and then as things go into our design review, we move the project back to our design department to ensure that it was everything that they envisioned. They’ll probably have a few edits. We try to combine all of those edits together for post-ed edits. The purpose of this is during this time, the developer is likely already on another project. So what we don’t wanna do is every morning have a list of two to three changes on this site that they just developed and they have to take the time away from what they’re currently working on to go work on those two or three edits and that is not ideal at all. It’s not efficient at all for them to redirect their attention so I try and tell people come up with as large of a list as possible without bothering that developer and submit it all at once, and we call that post-ed edits.

Goes for one more review, and then we go into what we call the website beta. That’s where it’s in the client’s hands now and they may be adding content of their own if they didn’t purchase enough time for us to add all the content, and they may be coming up with their own beta edits. As long as those edits are within the scope, and with everything that was in the design, we’re happy to do ’em. They’re probably little bugs here and there.

And at the same time we also train the clients how to use the website. So a lot times, clients won’t purchase enough time for us to integrate every piece of content into that site and it will fall on their responsibility, unless they purchase more content integration time. But client training is free, we won’t charge them to train them how to use their site. So we’ll bring ’em in, show ’em how to use everything, they’ll be off and running, they’ll come up with a list of beta edits that we ask the same thing, unless it’s stopping you from adding content, please just create one list.

Beta edits go back to the developer, has one more round of quality assurance by our team before it goes live, and then we have our go-live process. Again, sounds really long and complicated but again, this is over four and a half years and this is the process that we follow every day so the challenge from here is what tool can we use to implement this process?

We use Basecamp at first, we even use the concept of having all the clients in a single folder, and then we have like a checklist inside of that folder that we go from department to department again. It works but it’s not exactly scalable, is it? Especially as some people work remote, or maybe you shipped a team member onto a different project, it gets really hard for them to backtrack and see everything that has been done and all the correspondence in between. So we struggled for a while to find the correct tool to implement a process this complex and what we settled on was Wrike.

And I can show you Wrike real quick, without showing any client information, this is our template, and what Wrike allows you to do is create that same exact template that you saw me create on Lucidchart, basically on paper, and waterfall the entire process. And you can create different workflow items with each task.

So with a sitemap design, for example, they can put in a workflow item of working, you know, is it in the count’s review? Is the client reviewing it? So what’s cool about that is I can come through here and see the color code and see where each task is in its process and it should waterfall into the next part.

Wrike has been what will scale our business far into the future. I have no doubts in its capabilities. I am concerned, though, that for a small team, it is very expensive. I can’t remember the price point but I can remember that we couldn’t justify it as a four or five man team. As a 10 to 12 man team, it can be justified, especially when some of those members again are working remote. This has been a godsend.

So yeah! every part of the process, the only part that needs to be adjusted with this template is I create every project, which again I don’t wanna show client information, but I could show you how we could see a list of every website and where they are in the process.

I could never really have that before with something like Basecamp, where I could just have a chart that’s in a Gantt chart, so it’s timeline based, color-coded with each task so I could say, okay, this one is sitting in phase three, it’s waiting on this, this one is sitting in phase four, so from a management perspective, it was really easy for me to get a bird’s-eye view of every active project we have in the business and where it was at in our perfected process, not really perfected but in our process that we have implemented. From there, it’s just perfecting your process and making sure that any fire that you deal with couldn’t be solved by something you can put in that process.

[Kori] Hey, Jason, I’m gonna interject for just one second there. This was Basecamp that we have used just repeatedly for years, this is what we had used and it’s a much less expensive solution than Wrike. You’re right, Wrike is like painfully expensive.

[Jason] It is, I feel bad recommending it, cause it is, yes.

[Kori] It is painful, but because, and just to be clear, Wrike is charged by the user number versus Basecamp is charged per project, so just to let y’all know, there are other options too, and we’re getting some questions coming in which is super exciting, but please, Jason, I won’t interrupt you again, keep going.

Do not let your project management tool dictate what your process is going to be.

[Jason] Oh now, that’s right, I was reading some of the chat, someone is speaking toward Asana and I have heard good things about that, too. Again, I would not let your project management tool dictate what your process is because it’s gonna be unique from agency to agency. There’s some similarities I’ve noticed no matter what agency I talk to, there’s a discovery meeting of some kind, some people call it site kick-off, so you know, you’ll see similarities but it certainly changes, right, and I don’t think you should restrict yourself to any particular project management tool. It’s what’s gonna work best for you.

In our case, I wish I knew about Wrike sooner, but you don’t need it. WebTegrity was able to get to a seven-figure company with those magnet boards, and if you’re able to do that with magnet boards, imagine what you’re able to do with a tool that allows you to be more remote and more scalable. So that is how we run our process through WebTegrity. I can also talk about sales and how we set up expectations moving into that process and probably one of my favorite tools that I wish I learned more about it when comes to charging the client, so do we want to move into that, Kori? Or do we have questions that we want to address with process first?

[Kori] We had another question that was from Paula, I believe, asking, does WebTegrity do any copywriting and at what point?

[Jason] So I think that all depends from agency to agency, depending on what type of talent that we have for copywriting and how much they charge has been our biggest issue with having a team member specifically for copywriting on the team, we do have team members that are in our digital marketing team that are English majors, can certainly do copywriting, and if it makes financial sense, and they can get it done, then we will. But with tools like WriterAccess, it’s made copywriting, it’s made the position of copywriting harder to have full time on the team.

[Kori] And so what would you do though, a suggestion could potentially be that we would have the client maybe try a version one and we as the agency would then do an optimization of it, maybe a little bit of an SEO scrub on it just to be certain that the keywords are sprinkled in there, but typically, our process would kinda lean more on the client to come up with that content, for the most part, right?

[Jason] Yes.

[Kori] And then Brandi said something about images, which kinda plays to that same issue of coming up with content. So Brandi was asking, what do you recommend for images if the client doesn’t have any images to use on their website?

[Jason] We always recommend, we have photographers, on call, you know, we have subcontractor photographers that we always recommend our clients work with. We don’t even make any money a lot of times. We’ll cut it down so they just go pay for that photography, cause we know because of it, the website is gonna be that much better. And if the website is successful, then they’re happy, they’re gonna be recommending us, they’re gonna be bringing us more work. We don’t need to make money or you know, try and put 30% on top of it, which may prevent them from wanting to do it to begin with and go with the stock photography option. We want them to use custom photography. It makes all the difference, all the difference. I mean, we have websites that we took, we had to use stock photography because they didn’t have the budget at the time, and then they finally invested in it, and it’s like night and day, no development needed, just plugging in photos that are customized to the business, it changes everything.

[Kori] Absolutely. We have another question that says, do you provide in-person video training, written training, different pricing depending upon what the client may want?

[Jason] So we provide in-person training up to two hours and it is part of the contract, as in, we don’t charge for ’em, because I want them to be able to use the website. And we take pride in how we develop our custom WordPress websites so that they are easy to manage without being a developer, a lot of custom fields involved. Because if that client has the confidence to use their own website, they’re that much happier with us and they’re that much more likely to come back to us for more functionality that they can accomplish on their own. I will say there is a fine line, though, right. There are some of those clients that you just don’t wanna give them that capability so you judge it from client to client. I mean, typically if I’m working with a marketing director at another company, I know that they probably know their stuff, they probably have a history with design, I can trust them with a lot of more advanced functionality and they’ll do better with that training and they’re more likely to come back to us because we gave them the tools to do it on their own. We’re not handcuffing them to us, that’s just not good business practice.

[Kori] Then if a client’s remote though, we might do a Zoom session even though for that training, right?

[Jason] Cause we’ve done that a few times, I suppose.

[Kori] And what’s nice about doing Zoom, even though I love in person better cause I can see if somebody understands something a little bit better though, you know, the head nods and I’ll get the feeling, okay, they understand. On Zoom sometimes they’re just deer in headlights and they’re like yeah, okay, I got it, yeah, uh huh. But still, what’s better with Zoom is you get to record it. So you can record it and go, here’s your training. It speaks to such honesty within the company, I mean, it’s great. I want them to be able to use their website and I want them to use it in as many ways as possible without coming back to us.

[Kori] I love it. That pretty much wraps up some of the questions that we have currently. Would you be able to walk us through, then? I think you were pivoting into even how internally, then, we track a project.

[Jason] Absolutely.

[Kori] Okay, let’s do it.

[Jason] Yes, so Kori and I’s biggest mistake, but I can’t even call it a mistake cause so many people do it, when you first start your business, you are likely to charge 50% down and then 50% upon completion. The problem with that is at that point, you’re selling a total and complete product, you’re not selling your time, so they don’t value your time quite as much because they’re not paying for your time, they’re paying only for the final product, and until they get the final product, and everything that they have envisioned that final product being, they will not pay you.

That has been our challenge and it wasn’t until we changed our mindsets and we said, you are not necessarily paying for the house, you’re paying for the time it takes us to build the house, and any crazy idea that you get in between that takes us more time we have to charge for. We’re happy to do it, and that really changed things cause it allowed us to do more charges within a project because they associated the time with the charge and not the final product, you know, so if they say, can you do this, this, and this? You say, man, that’s such a great idea, I’d love to put that secret compartment in your house. But that’s gonna take more time. And they’re like, okay, no problem.

People are not paying you for a website, they’re paying you for your time to build the website.

The problem with charging with time and materials is it’s really hard to track unless you have the right tool. So a lot of people don’t even know how to invoice for that. Start thinking in terms of time. People are not paying you for a website, they’re paying you for your time to build the website. And that means you need to break down your entire process into the time it takes to do everything. And then it takes a while to craft your contract in a way that clients can understand, cause you don’t want to take every bit of your process and put it as an item line, you’re gonna lose the client, they’re gonna think you’re tricking them because they don’t understand what it is that they’re paying for, so you need to make sure that you account for every hour, for every minute it’s gonna take you to build a website in a way that a client can understand. And we’ve typically broken that up in a number of different ways.

We charge for account management now. We never did that before. So we charge time for corresponding back and forth. You know, we tell them and if they say, why are you charging me for phone calls? We say, well, we want to have this personal staff that’s available to you 24/7 concierge service. We want that person to always be available to you whenever you get a question, you can call them, that’s what that charge is for. Otherwise, you’re gonna be trying to get a hold of a person that is currently working on your website, and it’ll slow things down. So we charge for account management, we charge for design of course, development.

Break everything down by the hour and then we use a tool called Harvest and I’d love to show this to you guys. It has been the be all end all in selling websites and it builds so much trust and confidence with clients and I’d like to show you how we did it so. Let me take a second to sharing my screen.

So Harvest at it’s core is just a way to track time. But they’ve expanded on it over the years with a number of capabilities that have taken it next level. So you have clients and then you have the projects for that client. Every client that we have I started to put a project inside of it called compensatory time and expenses. What compensatory time and expenses is any time we’re giving to you for free, right. And that sounds like something you don’t want to have, and you’re right. You don’t want to give free time to your clients. But you do need to track it, so any time something is going beyond what we have scoped and it’s our fault, I tell my team track it in compensatory time and expenses. And as we look back, I need to know which clients took the most compensatory time and expenses. And it also sets up a great conversation when you finally break down and you’re like, I gotta do a change order with this client. I gotta let ’em know that we’re gonna need more time. It’s a real confidence builder for you to show them, hey man, you know, I’ve been tracking a lot of compensatory, I’ve been giving you a lot of time, I’ve given you, you know, and you can track it, I’ve given you $3,000 worth of free work in the past month, like I’m trying to work with you. That’s what I’ve done, and I need to do a change order. Having that information is absolutely necessary.

Every client gets compensatory time and expenses, and then we have the actual web build projects. Now what’s nice about this is you can match it completely to your contracts. So every line item is a task, and then just like on your contract, you’re gonna have an hourly rate for each task, right? So if your account management is a $100 an hour, there you put your hours in there, let’s say we have 20 hours for account management.

Content integration typically we do 10 hours, if they want more, we’re happy to do it, but we typically tell them do you really want to pay us $100 an hour to copy and paste content? We’re happy to do it, right, but we try and push that onto the client as much as possible once we have a great foundation for the site. We want them to be able to go in and make all those little changes. Copywriting if we have it or if we’re doing it, we’ll charge it, if not, we’ll take it out.

Design. What’s great about us doing this as long as we have is we’ve really come down to a time that it takes us to design a template and to develop a template. So we’ll tell a client it takes anywhere between four to six hours, nice little range, four to six hours to design a template, six to 10 hours to develop it. So then it comes down to them to request how many templates they want, and that’s all in the contract phase. We’re setting that expectation up correctly. But let’s say, you know, this person wants five templates and it’s six to 10 hours if we go high on it, which we’ll typically go high on it, we’ll say 50 hours.

I’m gonna show you guys how there’s still honesty in this if it only takes us six hours. I’m sorry, that was design. So four to six hours, six times five is 35 hours for design, and 50 hours for development, we won’t be doing an additional marketing discovery. Here’s something interesting: yes, it’s $125 an hour for discovery, but what if you have four team members on there? So I would decide now if you wanna do one large price for your group meetings, so let’s say $400 an hour, but only one person tracks that hour, or are you gonna do $100 an hour, and four people track that hour. I like the four people tracking the hour and the reason is because as I’m looking back on everybody’s time, which I’ll show you how you’ll be able to do, I want to know who was where, right, that person accrued billable time, I wanna know where it was spent. So it’s good to have that.

Onsite SEO, we’ll typically do like five hours, and quality assurance, it depends on how complex the product is. It depends on what type of functionality, but let’s just say 12 hours. They get two hours of free training, it’s not billable. So what this project is gonna look like is this right here. You’ll get a total budget of hours and then each line item on your contract is a task here with a budget and from a management perspective, you can see where you are, and then it drills down to the person. When that person, that person who’s working on that particular line item, goes to start working, they go to their time, let’s say they’re going to do the discovery meeting, they choose the project web build, I’m doing a discovery meeting, I’ll put a note doing discovery meeting with the awesome client, then I’ll start my timer. And as they’re sitting in that meeting, their time is actually billable because every minute that they track in this thing, you can then send an invoice from Harvest and I’m gonna show you how that looks. So if I stop this and let’s say I spent two hours in that discovery meeting, when I go back to that project,

[Kori] We’ve just got about 10 minutes left, Jason.

[Jason] Sorry, I’m trying to go quick.

[Kori] You’re good, you’re good.

[Jason] You’ll see I have an uninvoiced amount of $200. I can send an invoice, let’s say it’s the end of the month, I can send an invoice for that $200. You can also set up retainers. So the way that we charge now, we don’t do 50% down and 50% when we finish, we do a 20% retainer when they start the project, and at the end of each month, we bill against that retainer with any time that we put in.

So if clients have an issue with this, the line that I usually use, and it’s not a line, it’s the truth and it really builds trust is I tell the client I only want this company to get paid for the time that it puts in. I don’t wanna be paid more and I don’t wanna be paid less. I say a design takes six to 10 hours, if it only takes six, you’re only paying for six. If it takes 11, you know, then it takes 11. It probably shouldn’t, if it took eleven hours I’m gonna go to my designer and say, why did it take that long? And they may have a conversation about how, you know, they were challenged or this and that, and I’ll say okay you know what, take that extra hour, put it over in comp time chart to keep it 10 hours. There’s honesty in this.

So let’s say it’s the end of the month and I’m going to bill against all the time put in on that project, I can even choose to draw from a retainer if they currently have one, and when I review the invoice, it’s gonna say exactly what they did for the web build project. I am paying for two hours of discovery and planning, it might say I am paying for five hours of design, I’m paying for 10 hours of development, they know exactly what they’re paying for. There is no question. They should not call up and go, what’s this invoice for? What am I paying for? Well, you paid for this much of this, this much of this, and I even take it a step further. You can print out reports with those notes. I’ll see if it lets me do that, cause again I don’t wanna show sensitive information. But I can take this 2.10 hours and I can print out this page right here and it says, on the 7th of August, Jason Merrell with the executive team did two hours of discovery and planning and here’s his note. I attach that to all of our invoices so that all clients not only know exactly what they’re paying for, but when it was done and who it was done by.

[Kori] I think this was key as well when a client calls maybe in a frustrated moment and you can just say, listen, stay on the phone with me right now as I go ahead and pull the report and email it to you right now, and it just again kinda builds that trust factor that there’s no, you know, fudging the numbers, nobody is making up extra details and padding the price tag here.

[Jason] Nope.

[Kori] It’s really done in a real-time, very transparent mode with the client. So Harvest has been an incredible, incredible tool for the WebTegrity team, definitely.

[Jason] And when I go to invoice at the end of each month, I’m reviewing it, and I know design should only take so much time, I know development should only take so much time, and if I see that red line on that project, if it went over budget, before I send that invoice, I’m walking over to the team member and I’m saying, what happened? And from there we determine, is that legitimate? Is that a legitimate issue that the client should pay for, or is it our fault and we need to move it over into the comp time?

[Kori] Or is it something in our process that’s broken that we need to actually adjust in our process?

[Jason] Yep, as a developer said, I had to go back because we didn’t account for this particular part of the functionality. I’ll say, shoot, you’re right. I still need you to move it in comp time, you know, but now that tells me I need to go fix our process so that doesn’t happen again. It’s been brilliant. This also, I’m telling you, it moves you from a management perspective into such a state of ease.

You don’t need to micromanage your team. You can let them operate on their own.

You have your project management tool that lets them know what is assigned to them and then the only requirement I have from here is I need you to log 30 billable hours a week. They’re working 40 hours a week, that gives them 10 hours to either be inside of internal meetings or you know, to discuss, have a conversation with their team members or to just take an hour to relax here and there.

I only need you to log 30 billable hours a week and I know if we’re charging $125 an hour that your position is paid for, that management positions get paid for, that rent gets paid for, that all of our licenses get paid for, and if you don’t reach 30 hours, I need to know why, so that’s the other piece of this tool. It’s more than just for clients, it’s also from a management perspective.

Here’s a timesheet from the 18th of June and I can roll through here and I can see from, you’ll see dark red as billable time, light red as non-billable time, and I can see Ashley put in 35.71 hours of billable time, killed it, right? So that might give me the confidence to go reward her in some way. I see that Brandi put in 30 hours, but only 17 of it was billable. That doesn’t mean I go scorn her or anything like that. It probably means she had to put time into something that we could not bill. Let’s go take a look at it, and I could, I don’t want to give away sensitive information, but I can drill in there and then I can see, you know, where that non-billable time was. And I can make shifts in either our process or, in management to move that time to be more billable. It gives me the foresight to make those changes on a week to week basis.

I’m not sitting at the end of the month going, man, why didn’t we make money this month? You know, it doesn’t work like that. It also gives the team members a huge amount of confidence to know that they’re valuable, that the time that they’re putting in is making the company money. They love it when they reach 30 billable hours. It lets them know that their position is justified and that they’re bringing in, that they’re valuable.

[Kori] Jason, we’ve got a last question coming in with two minutes to spare. I heard Jason say 20% retainer at start, so can I assume then certain percentages as you’ve billed up to that retainer amount? Maybe you can explain just a little a bit more about the 20% and then kind of the pay as you go.

[Jason] So the way it works, we need some money upfront. Call it trust money. We need to know that you’re gonna pay, right? So we ask for a 20% retainer when the project starts. That is, whatever the total of the project is based off of our contract, we take 20% of that and send you an invoice. That invoice goes on the project as a retainer. So let’s say it’s a $10,000 project. We’re gonna send them an invoice for $2,000 and then on Harvest, you can put a $2,000 retainer on the project.

At the end of each month is when we bill, and I will bill against that retainer until it’s gone. They still get an invoice letting them know that it got paid by their retainer, but at the end of each month, I bill and I bill, until they hit a pay as you go model, right. Once they hit the pay as you go model, I allow invoices to go 30 days without being paid, so that’s 30 days worth of work that you have the risk of losing if they don’t pay. After 30 days, I tell them, I gotta put your project on hold man, until you pay that voice. Now that is a risk, but it’s a much more manageable risk than having a four-month project and the last two months wasn’t paid for because you’re waiting on that 50% down.

We’ve had projects that were only supposed to last three months, nine months later we’re still waiting on the final payment. You know, and what are you supposed to do? I mean, you can just not send their website live, you can hold their website hostage, but you’re still outta luck for, you know, a good three months worth of work.

[Kori] Especially if you have subcontractors or team members, right, that you’ve had to pay already.

[Jason] You have to, yeah.

[Kori] Yeah.

[Jason] Yeah. Does that help explain that?

[Kori] Awesome, well I think we are right up against one o’clock right now, anybody else have– Oh, way to go, thank you, Mark. I love that y’all all took time to come hangout with us. Join us and be a part of everything. We’re gonna put this recording on our website so you can check it out if you didn’t get enough time to stick around the whole thing, or if you wanna share it with other team members, if they are other team members that you think this would be valuable information to. Jason, thank you so much for being a part of everything and joining us today. You’re a rockstar, I love that you’re on my team. So thankful for that, and I appreciate every single one being here.

If you have questions about any of this, tweet to us or send me an email, let me know and we’ll try to do some follow-up information for you just to bring some extra clarity. I’ll see y’all next time! Bye everyone.

[Jason] Bye, guys.