As a professional, get-things-done type, I pictured my rebranding and website relaunch project like this: plan the project, hire and supervise providers, deal with occasional setbacks, and be generally pleased with the result four to six months later.
That’s not how it worked out.
It took three copywriters, four photographers, and three different design groups — and over three years. I needed to get it wrong — repeatedly — to learn how to get it right.
Yearnings and Learnings
I learned something from each provider and iteration, even when things didn’t pan out the way I expected. Here are the 10 lessons:
- Get exactly the right people for your business on board, or you’re cooked. If you have any questions or concerns about the competence, breadth, depth, or flexibility of your prospective providers, don’t hire them. Wait until you find the right ones. You may not finish the project on your original timeline, but at least you won’t end up wasting your money as well as your time.
- It’s not enough to know what you want. No one can read your mind to see your vision. Even if you’ve hired the right folks, it’s crucial to have at least some knowledge of how to generate your desired results. If you don’t know enough to be able to explain what you want and recognize if your experts on track, you’ll be constrained by their frame of reference.
- You may not know what you want until you see it. No matter how proficient your providers are, there are too many variables in website design and development to get everything perfect right out of the gate — inevitably, some things get dropped or confused. So when you’re looking for the right people, check for open-mindedness, curiosity, and tolerance for experimentation (see point #1).
- It’s better to work in teams. A good provider team offers diversity of insight and experience, ensuring that you’re not limited by a single person’s taste and knowledge when you’re making complex decisions and myriad choices.
- Don’t assume your provider understands you — not even if you feel comfortable. Some providers fawn over or placate their clients. You may feel cozy, but the implementation of your vision could still be inadequate. So gauge whether your providers are as thrilled about doing the work as they are about having you as a client. If they stress you out early in the relationship, back away (see point #1 again).
- Every provider has quirks and blind spots. Does your provider understand you better on the phone or in writing? Can they handle several topics in an email, or only respond to one topic per? If you’re working with a team, are their roles well delineated? Do they communicate well among themselves, sharing information and recognizing how one person’s work affects another’s? Can you contact each team member directly, or are communications mediated by a gatekeeper? If they answer your feedback with excessive explanations instead of addressing your comments — run away! (Remember point #1!)
- Ask about tradeoffs. Don’t just say what you want — ask what will happen if you get it. This is a much bigger deal than you might think. For instance, will complying with your directive about X change the appearance of Y in the design on different devices? Will custom programming for the blog create unsatisfactory modifications in the rest of the site, the critical path, or the budget?
- Be clear about both appreciation and corrections. A good design and development team is happy to tweak the details (within reason) and is always looking to improve their own work. They’ll be as excited about your inspirations and solutions as they are about their own. But if they can’t tell that you’re happy with the major strokes of a project, then even your legitimate critiques and questions will just seem picky. (And if you’re feeling so negative that all you can do is pick, make sure you haven’t misunderstood point #1.)
- Forget a standard back-of-the-envelope cost multiplier of 1.3 to 1.5. Plan reserves of time, money, and emotional energy that start at 75 percent — and that’s if you’re doing well! Sometimes you need extra iterations to learn what you want after seeing what you don’t want. Also, if your development partners are good, they’ll suggest things you never considered, which means you may have to invest and explore those alternatives.
- Patience isn’t merely a virtue, it’s an absolute requirement. Nothing happens as quickly or as smoothly as you’d like. But don’t let that fog your vision or ability to make decisions, trade-offs, or know what to leave for the next round.
Celebrate Good Partnerships
It doesn’t matter how smart or experienced you are — you also have to be lucky with your choice of provider and all your decisions.
I’m exceedingly grateful to the team at OnRamp for being skilled practitioners and terrifically good partners — for understanding what I wanted and making it real. On our end, Katie Wallace was a tremendous asset in research, decision-making, and knowing when to compromise. She’s as particular as I am, albeit in different ways, and has technical knowledge and experience that’s vastly superior to mine. Teamed up together, we’re a formidable client, far more activist and involved than is typical.
You can see the result of all our work at lizkislik.com.
Onward and upward,