Wes Chyrchel Interview
Wes Chyrchel has been building websites since the mid-90s. His business, Crowded Sites, has a simple approach to web development: quality is the number one priority. With a strong passion for the web and project management, Wes’ processes include diligent research to identify specific features that will have the largest influence. His motto is “only simple solutions will win.” Four years ago, Wes began building sites exclusively in WordPress.
When did you realize the importance of good project management?
Good project management is about managing cash flow and getting paid. You have to keep the project going, so you reach a point in the project where you can get your next check. For years I searched for the “perfect” project management application thinking that if I had the right software, my project would go more smoothly and I would make more money. Good project management is not about the software, it’s about communication and setting or resetting expectations.
Can you share some tips for communicating with clients effectively and for managing and setting their expectations?
1. Set up a regular status update schedule
With most clients I do a weekly call or email. If the schedule is tight or the site is feature rich and I need feedback more often, I will do the call twice a week. Calls are always better when you need answers to decisions. Even if you don’t have any sort of an update, i.e., “there hasn’t been anything new to show you. We are still working on the code.” It gives the client the opportunity to ask questions and makes them feel at ease, knowing that things are moving forward.
2. Warn of blackout period during production
In the beginning of a project, there is a lot of quick back and forth, because the tasks are easier. There’s a lot of discovery, conversation, questions, etc. Even wireframing and design takes less time than production. This sets an expectation with the client that all things get done quickly. What happens during production is that things are slow and there isn’t a fast turnaround. Let clients know ahead of time, so they don’t get upset thinking that the process is moving slowly, when really, it’s taking the time required.
3. Projects get weird at three months, meet up
Long projects, i.e., six months or more, get weary. Everyone in the project starts to get used to looking at the same thing day after day. It’s easy to fall into a comfortable position where you’re just updating the client by email or phone. If you are on a long project, take some time to meet face-to-face with the client, even if you don’t have anything to show. It’s a great way to catch up, discuss anything new or get answers to lingering questions.
4. Go live on a Tuesday
Monday is a terrible day to launch. Most people are shocked that they have to be at work in the first place, so go live on a Tuesday. Friday is a terrible day to launch, because if there are any problems with any of the hosting, developers or any other tech, most people are gone or respond slowly. You want everyone’s full attention when you launch. It’s a big deal and you should make it a big deal for everyone involved. You may launch websites often, but for your client, this is the culmination of a lot of time and money and even possibly their dreams.
5. Follow up with your client in a week, really
Once the site is launched, meet face-to-face with the client to discuss how things are going. If the client is really busy, make it in two weeks or even a month. The client is going to be overwhelmed once the site is launched. Follow up with them to see if the assumptions you had were correct. Also, this is a great time for your client to ask questions that they forgot.
6. If you messed up, fix it
Many times you may find that you forgot something that needed to be done or you may have told the client that it would work a certain way and now it doesn’t, because it would have taken much more work. Well, you have to do what you said you were going to do. The bottom line is, if you messed up, you have to fix it—no questions. If you don’t, every person that client comes into contact with will hear how horrible you were and that you didn’t do the right thing. It’s harder to change people’s perceptions once they have an idea of who you are. Now, this doesn’t mean that you should do something out of scope, but if you told your client you were going to do something and you didn’t, you should do it.
7. If they want more, charge for it
At the end of a project the client might ask for more work. They have had a lot of time to think about the project and some of their original ideas may have changed. The problem is they may not have said anything to you until the end. That’s not your fault. If the client wants any more work at the end or during the project, you have to charge for it. You have to create a new estimate and charge for that item. It’s above and beyond the current scope of work.
When it comes to methods, what works best for you?
I spoke about this at the Orange County WordPress Meetup. Whether you use Waterfall, Agile or Scrum, it has to make sense for your project and your team. I use the Waterfall method, because clients get it and there is precedent for it. The client commissions something, you build it, and then they pay you. It’s a very simple transaction process that clients can relate to and one less thing they have to learn.
Can you describe the Waterfall method?
The waterfall method is very step-based, i.e., first this, then this, then this, etc. Each step depends on the one before it. That’s why a lot of people can relate to it, i.e., “If you do this, I’ll do this.” For most web projects this process works fine. You can read more about the waterfall process.
Would you mind sharing a bit about your process?
I’ve refined my process over the years, mostly because project sizes and budgets have changed. Also, clients are smarter. They know what a website is now and probably already had a couple built for them, so by the time I’m on the project, it’s deciphering what they need now.
This is my process:
- Meet / Estimate / Contract
- Kickoff / Mindmap / Schedule
- Wireframes / Site Architecture
- Design Mockups / Key Pages
- Development / Content
- Reviews / Fixes / Launch
Are there any standard documents you use?
I do a lot of my business over the phone and through email. I have many clients I have never met, so it’s important to establish credibility and likability quickly. I have a the following documents that I normally use:
- Welcome Document: the Welcome Document explains who Crowded Sites is and what we stand for.
- FreshBooks Estimate: I use the FreshBooks Estimate to pre-qualify clients before writing a full blown proposal and scope. The “Accept” button is a great way to get a client mentally committed to the project.
- Contract: I always use a contract. Always.
- FreshBooks Invoice: the FreshBooks Invoice is like having my own receivables team at my fingertips. It automatically sends out multiple invoices and tracks activity.
- Kickoff: the Kickoff Sheet summarizes the project and provides all contact information in one place.
- Mindmap: I don’t do website questionnaires and I recommend if anyone else is still doing that, stop it. Do a mind map with your client. It’s a great way to learn about the project and establish a relationship with your client.
- Schedule: the Schedule is one of the most important documents. It shows the website building process and outlines what we expect from the client at certain stages of the project.
Other documents I use are standard, but different for every client, including wireframes, site architecture, and design.
How do you deal with time frame and expectations?
I never commit to milestone deadlines, unless there is an event that is coming up that is very important for the client. I’ve found deadlines are never met and create a false anxiety over the whole project. The reality is that projects get delayed, for whatever reason, all the time. Then we’re stuck with these dates and don’t know what to do with them. If there are ever issues with delivery dates I always call and speak to the client and reset expectations. Many business owners make the mistake of not talking to their clients when things get delayed. This just builds up hostility. Managing client expectations is probably the most important task of project management.
After you’ve delivered the finished product, what are your guidelines for revisions and ongoing maintenance?
Here’s how I manage revisions during the building process:
- Five hours of revisions only
- Two rounds of revisions
- Create list one, do list one
- Create list two, do list two
- Additional revisions require a new estimate and are charged at $150 per hour
- Test like crazy – Browserstack.com
Ongoing maintenance is charged at a fixed bid per project. I have offered many different maintenance packages over the years. Currently don’t offer maintenance packages.
Throughout the process, how do you keep yourself on track and organized?
I use OmniFocus for tasks and have weekly calls with clients for updates. For larger projects and teams I will use a Google Spreadsheet.
How do you measure the success of a project?
A project is successful if the client likes it, it’s achieved its business goals and it converts users.
Is there a project that you’re particularly proud of? Can you share a bit about the goals and results?
For the last several years I’ve worked almost exclusively with small businesses. Many small businesses today are created by refugees from the corporate world who know the value of a website and know that it takes some work to make it great. They’re willing to put in the time and the budget to make it great.
One of the sites I am most proud of is a site we soft launched toward the end of last year, EatMarketplace.com. They’re a catering company that also has their own storefront. The storefront serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner four days a week. The storefront didn’t even open until a couple of months ago, so the website was scaled back at the time just to create awareness, but also to attract orders for the catering side of the business. The owner is very creative so the building and maintenance of the site is a challenge, but we’re getting closer! Our user and business goals were to get people to understand that the EatMarketplace.com is an organic food business and then invite site visitors to contact them for catering or come in for food. With little more than site updates, Facebook, and Twitter, the site is receiving about 2k to 3k visitors per month. We have reached a point where we have to clean up the site a little, get on a better schedule, and coordinate conversions better, but I am exceptionally proud at how the client has handled the success. The other day she was complaining that customers were complaining that there was no place to sit. She told them to stand, the food was worth it. So they did.
Since adopting a plan for project management, how has your business changed?
Clients and projects are not predictable, but your process is. You know exactly what’s going to happen. When and if it doesn’t happen the way you expect, you have a process for that too. The other thing is, you have to stick to that plan. If you normally get deposits and the client doesn’t pay deposits, then don’t work with that client. Having a plan has kept my business viable, sustainable, and profitable.
Anything else that you’d like to share?
I think more emphasis needs to be put on the developers to make their clients as successful as possible. Having a bunch of WordPress websites that are poorly executed and will be taken down in a year, doesn’t help developers or their clients.
For more on Wes, visit crowdedsites.com or follow him on Twitter at @CrowdedSites.
One of the things I never expected, but which has made me truly love WordPress is how generous and cooperative the professional development community around the project is. The open source and GPL ideals of the core project really do permeate the community’s culture, not just it’s code. People like Wes are a huge part of that.
Thank you Wes for sharing this priceless wisdom and CodePoet for spreading it.
Thanks for such an informative interview. We’re going to add some of these ideas to our work flow to improve it even further.
Can you expand on “Ongoing maintenance is charged at a fixed bid per project.” I don’t quite follow what you mean.
Hi @faramazon, ongoing maintenance can get funny (weird). You have to be very specific about what’s included. If you charge a monthly recurring fee to manage people’s websites, i.e hosting, software updates, security updates, etc. People sometimes expect you to just fix stuff if it goes wrong or the client realizes that a change is needed. A lot of people see the money going out every month from their account and automatically assume additional work is included.
This is not the clients fault, over time we all forget what’s included in subscription plans we sign up for. Sometimes plans get updated, so everyone always forgets what they “get.”
There are two ways to handle maintenance, you either offer it monthly or you do an estimate for it, every time a client asks for changes to their site. So when I said, “charged at a fixed bid per project” I mean I would do a new estimate and get approval for that estimate, before any work would be done. I would treat any further maintenance down the road as it’s own separate project, no matter how small.
All in all, it really depends on the business model that you set up and how much extra time you have. Currently I do not offer monthly maintenance, though the recurring revenue would be nice, because I really don’t have the extra time to troubleshoot website errors or issues. I have been seriously thinking about it though, so I may offer it in the future.
I hope that answers your question! Thank you for the compliments on the interview!
Thanks for sharing a peek at your process and documents that you use. For a newbie working in WordPress development world it helps build a solid serving offering with a smaller (less expensive) learning curve
You are very welcome Bradley! Be vigilant in your learning and read everything you can. Definitely check back with Code Poet often, as this will become an indispensable resource!
Thanks for the inside peek, Wes. I’ve also learned that project management will make or break a business.
I’m curious to learn a bit more about how you use mindmaps to replace questionnaires?
Hi Ben! I’m glad you liked the interview and get something out of it. Years ago I started noticing that the questionnaires that I would give clients had massive gaps in the answers. Clients just didn’t like answering them. It was like giving them a test. I then started bringing out the questionnaire and asking the clients questions in person or on the phone. That was better, but still they thought they were taking a test.
I stumbled upon “Mindnode” for the Mac, a mindmapping app and was using that for notes (something I learned in college). When Mindnode came out for the iPad, I started bringing it to meetings to take notes. I found clients were impressed with it and loved the overall picture of the site it gave. Essentially a blueprint.
I now use it exclusively, even over the phone. At the end of the conversation I can email a client a copy of the application right then and there. They love it. As the project progresses and if any changes are made, I will update the mindmap and send the client an updated copy. I think it’s a great visual tool to use for me and my clients.
I talked a little about process in this presentation at Orange County WordPress Meetup. I have an example mindmap that I use in one of the slides. You can check it out here, http://www.slideshare.net/weschyrchel/a-web-design-process