When a web design project falls behind, it causes a domino effect. First, you feel more stressed about each and every project you have going on. Then, you either find yourself working nights and weekends to catch up or letting other projects fall behind as a result.
It’s never fun to feel rushed on a project, especially when you’re trying to come up with a creative and unique design.
A project that falls behind also causes unnecessary tension between you and the client. You find yourself having to put more pressure on them and feeling more negatively in general, which isn’t a place you want to be.
Sometimes having a project fall behind is just impossible to avoid. You or the client could get sick or have a family emergency of some kind. Or maybe the client ends up being unwilling to stick to deadlines, no matter how perfectly set up your process is to support them in reaching those dates.
While that’s occasionally the case, repeat instances of projects running behind usually point to a problem that can be fixed. Today we’ll go over the top 10 reasons your web design projects fall behind (that you have control over) and how to fix them.
1. Your clients need guidance to provide content correctly
Getting content from clients can get stressful fast. You feel like you’re asking for so little, but to most clients, it’s a stressful part of the project.
They don’t know
- What you need
- What some items are, even if you do provide a list
- What formats you need
- How to send it to you in a way that makes sense
All those questions lead clients to miss materials you requested, send formats that don’t work, and miss the due date you set.
While collecting content is one of the trickier parts of projects, it doesn’t have to be a headache every time. I wrote a full post on making the process easier, but the key is to make it as simple and clear for your clients as possible.
First of all, you need to know exactly what you need and when.
If you tell your client that you need their “copy and images for each page of the website”, that’s just asking for trouble. Instead, list out each page you’ll need content for and give them guidance on what to provide. For example, on the About page, you could tell them to include 3-5 paragraphs about who they help and how they help them, a little background on who they are, and a call-to-action along with a welcoming headshot.
Next, it needs to be easy for your client to deliver that content in the format you request.
My favorite tool for this is Content Snare because it makes it very difficult for clients to miss things or run behind. But no matter what you do, it should be more than just telling them to send what you’ve requested.
If you don’t use a tool like Content Snare, consider a shared Google Drive or Dropbox folder. Within that folder, create subfolders for each page and content type. You can even include examples within those folders so your clients can see what you’re asking for.
Better yet? Record a quick video that you can reuse for each client talking about the formats you need and how to upload them to your folder-sharing service of choice.
It takes extra work up front, but when you give your clients the education and resources they need to be successful, it removes a lot of room for error. And when you do the work once, you can reuse it for all future projects!
2. Your steps are unclear
It’s important to remember that most clients you work with are unfamiliar with the terms you use. They might have an idea of what an inspiration board is or have a basic understanding of typography, but when it comes time for them to take action or make decisions around those things, their understanding doesn’t run deep enough to meet your expectations.
For example, if you ask a client to create their Pinterest inspiration board by next Monday, you’ll find that one of three things happen. Either:
- They’ve been around enough designers (or are good enough at Googling) to know exactly what to do and give you what you’d hoped for
- They sort of understand the idea and make an inspiration board that has room for improvement
- They have no idea what you’re talking about and either run behind or send you something on the last day that isn’t close to what you needed, causing you to have to clarify and give them a couple extra days to make it better
This same type of issue can show itself repeatedly throughout your projects in things like the revisions requests you receive, the type of feedback you get, and more.
To fix this issue, pretend you’re talking to your grandmother…or even great-grandmother…when it comes time to ask your clients to do something.
Lay out your steps so clearly that there’s no way they could miss something if they put effort into it.
For example, rather than sending a message in your project management system asking them to create a Pinterest inspiration board, have a video that you send each client that covers:
- How to create a Pinterest account if they don’t have one and get started (or send them a link to a tutorial)
- Why an inspiration board is important to your process
- What types of things to pin and avoid pinning
- What to put in the description of their pins
- How many pins they need
- Examples of great inspiration boards
- How to share the board with you once they’re done
Repeating that for each step of the process will allow them to be a much easier client to work with.
3. Clients need notice
Don’t you hate it when you send a client their logo concepts, ask for their final choice or revisions within 2 business days, and then hear back from them a week later?
Like I mentioned earlier, every so often you’ll run into a client who simply has no respect for dates and will make the process difficult, but it should be a rare occurrence.
The truth is, clients just need a little notice around what to expect.
Rather than emailing your client right when you’re ready for feedback, give them fair warning that a due date is approaching.
The first place to do this is in your Welcome Packet. In it, outline the important dates so they have an idea of what to expect from the beginning, even if they might not pay close attention right away.
Next, use a project management system (like Asana or Trello) to list out the steps of the project and set due dates for your client’s tasks. That way, they’ll have a visual of what’s coming up and will receive reminder emails until the task is complete.
And last, send weekly update messages and let them know what’s coming. Each Friday, let your clients know what has been accomplished and what the next steps are. Along with that, emphasize what due dates they have coming up within the next week.
You could say something like “Your logo concepts will be ready for you on Tuesday and I’ll need your revisions by Friday. Keep an eye out for my message!”
Doing this tells your client what to expect and allows them to put it on their schedule for the week. Remember, they have jobs, families, and hobbies too!
4. Your process could use an overhaul
Part of that last solution we talked about requires that you know your process pretty well. Specifically, the parts where we went over outlining due dates in your Welcome Packet and in your project management software.
When you just get started in your design business, it’s easy to wing it and hope that everything works out. I definitely did it for my first few projects!
But if you let it continue it becomes impossible for you to accurately predict the length of your projects, keep things on track, and let your client know what to expect.
If you don’t know how long each step of your process takes, it’s time to figure it out. For your next several projects, track the days that you work on each step.
You may find that going through your client’s inspiration board takes a day, that you like to have 2 days with a day off in between to create the moodboard, and that your clients need anywhere from 1-3 days to get back to you with the proper feedback.
You can take that information and know that your process needs 6 business days allowed for the moodboard stage, where you may have found yourself previously trying to fit it into 3.
Knowing how long each step takes will allow you to create accurate timelines without feeling like you’re constantly falling behind.
5. Lack of set due dates
Following right along with giving your process an overhaul, not having set due dates for each step of your web design projects will make you fall behind over and over.
It’s easy to think that since you know all the steps and you’re in charge that your client is the only one who needs due dates, but that simply isn’t the case. Failing to set due dates for your own tasks is a sure way to let them all build up until the last minute, causing you to either fall behind or due sub-par work.
(And we won’t get into it, but if you’re not setting due dates for your clients, that’s just asking for trouble.)
While you may not have to be quite as rigid with your own due dates as you’d like your clients to be, it’s important to at least have them set.
You can use them to make sure you always know what’s coming up and to keep yourself on track.
6. Your clients need boundaries
Failing to set boundaries with clients causes all kinds of problems. Anything from having them speak to you in ways they shouldn’t, not valuing your work, or causing projects to fall behind.
If your clients know they can get away with missing due dates or asking for extra items that weren’t figured into their original timeline, they’re going to do those things, causing the project to fall behind more and more.
To fix this, set boundaries from day one. In your contract, outline what will happen if they miss a due date, need extra revisions, would like to add something to the project, or give feedback in ways other than what was requested.
Then, the very first time something strays from those guidelines, enforce your policies. Letting them slide the first time might seem like the “nice” thing to do, but it’s only showing them that they’ll be able to get away with it repeatedly with a little sweet talking.
7. You’re not in your zone of genius
If you find yourself running into this issue, it’s because you’ve put pressure on yourself to be an all-in-one designer.
This can work out well for some people, but it doesn’t for most.
It’s likely that you’re really good at a couple things. Maybe it’s logos and website design. Or website design and development. But the other things are just there because you need them to create the experience you want for your clients.
Let’s take development for example. If you’re a designer, odds are that you learned to code because you had to and you might know just enough to be dangerous…and make your life more difficult.
When it comes time for coding, you find yourself spending hours on something that should only take a few minutes. And when that happens repeatedly, projects become instantly more stressful and fall behind schedule.
The same applies to other pieces of projects like branding and web design. Or maybe even smaller pieces like choosing typography.
The fix for this is easy, but it’s also easy to resist. To ensure you’re not putting extra stress and pressure on yourself and letting projects fall behind, bring in people who are experts in the things you don’t enjoy as much.
If you don’t love branding, find a couple people you can outsource branding to.
If it’s just creating moodboards that take up too much time or that you don’t enjoy, bring in a junior designer who can take care of that for you.
And if coding makes you want to pull your hair out, find a reliable developer who can take it all off your plate.
Then, you’ll be left to focus on the parts of projects you love and can complete within the timeline you allowed yourself.
8. Your clients don’t grasp the idea of revisions
Along with gathering content from clients, revisions can be a huge headache in web design projects.
All kinds of problems come up surrounding revisions including things like:
- Feedback not being given on time
- Clients wanting large changes and additions to the project
- A long laundry list of revisions that you weren’t expecting
- Being sent email after email with small, nitpicky changes
- Clients demanding extra rounds of revisions for no additional cost
No matter what the issue is, it can cause a project to fall behind schedule.
To ensure revisions don’t cause more problems than they need to, set expectations around them from the beginning.
This can start in the Welcome Packet, as well as your contract. Let your client know how many rounds of revisions they get, what revisions do and don’t include, and what it means for the project cost and timeline if they ask for something outside of what’s included in a standard revision.
And here’s another place, like we talked about earlier, where creating a video is really helpful. When it’s time for revisions, send a video walking through the decisions you made in your design and why they’re a good choice. Then, talk through how the revision process works, reminding your client when their feedback is needed, how many rounds they get, examples of what is and isn’t included, and how they should send their feedback.
Check out this post for more information (and a freebie) on making the revision process easy.
9. Your timeline could use some wiggle room
Planning the timeline for a new project is both exciting and stressful. You’re looking forward to the new project, but need to give the client a quote and timeline that they’re happy with so they decide to book.
This pressure may cause you to underestimate the time needed for a project. The faster you can deliver, the happier your client will be, right?
Well, not so much.
When your timeline is rushed it leads to situations where you put too much pressure on both the client and yourself. And when there’s no extra wiggle room built in, one misstep causes the whole project to fall behind schedule.
Luckily, the solution to this problem is easy. All you have to do is add a few extra days to your project timeline.
Remember that detailed process outline we talked about earlier? Take the number of days you decided you need for each phase of the project and add anywhere from 1-5 days to it.
For example, if you said your moodboard phase takes 3 days, up it to 5. That way, you have room in case you’re not feeling overly inspired, are struggling to make it just right, or need a day or two off for personal reasons.
Do the same with your client timelines. If you think your client needs 2 days to give feedback on their website, tell them that they get 2, but in your process, allow for 4. That way, if they fall behind it doesn’t mean the entire project is off track.
10. You take on too many projects at once
And last is the ultimate problem when running a solo business. When it’s all up to you to make money and reach the big goals you’ve set, it’s hard to turn projects away or tell a potential client that you could start their project in 3 months versus next week.
At the time, it’s easier to decide that you’ll just put in some overtime and juggle 5 clients at once.
But when it comes time to actually do all those projects, it gets messy fast and there’s no way you can give each project the attention it needs to stay on schedule while being done well.
To make sure you don’t find yourself overloaded with projects, take time to sit down and determine how many you can really handle at one time.
Do you really want to be in the logo design stage for 3 clients at once?
Or would it be better to be designing a logo for one client, while working through revisions with a second, while your developer is bringing a website to life with the third?
That second option sounds much more doable to me!
Map out how often you can reasonably start new projects and make yourself stick to it. To make it easier, put your next available start date on your website and keep it updated. That way, if you’re booked out a couple months in advance, potential clients know about it before contacting you.
Your web design projects don’t have to fall behind
As you’ve seen in this post, there are a lot of reasons that web design projects can fall behind, but almost all of them have a solution. You simply have to make the decision to take action.
If you found yourself nodding along to any of the problems we talked about, add a task to your to-do list to start working on a solution before your next project begins.
For those of you who find yourself trying to do it all and spending far too much time on code, unlock the ultimate checklist to go from hours of code to development-free design projects. Click the button below to get started!