Web development is a creative process. So, when it comes to your relationships with your clients, it can be tempting to leave yourself a little wiggle room.

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At first glance, this sort of approach makes sense. After all, if you don’t promise a firm deadline or a strict cost, you have some flexibility to make adjustments when surprises crop up—which, of course, they will.

While this more free flowing way of doing things might seem appealing, is this really the best way to work with your clients as a web developer? Not exactly.

As tough as it can seem to set some things in stone right from the outset, it’s important to do so.

Making sure that you and your client are on the same page and have the same expectations—before you even so much as click your mouse or write a single line of code—will help to stave off any disagreements or misunderstandings that could pop up later down the line.

Yes, changes will still happen and adjustments can still be made. However, agreeing on some basics right away will save you (and your client!) plenty of headaches.

So, what things should you both absolutely have a shared understanding of before you roll up your sleeves and get to work?

1. Project Goals

Your client wants a new website—that much you know. But, in order to do a quality job with it, you also want to be in tune with what their goals are with this new site.

The best place to start with this is by asking if they have an existing website. If they do, press them to explain exactly what it is that they dislike about their current site.

Perhaps they feel it’s too cluttered and difficult to navigate—which means their bounce rate is really high.

They want you to develop something that’s more streamlined and simple.

Or, maybe they realized that a high percentage of their visitors are coming from mobile devices—yet their site isn’t at all optimized for mobile.

Once you have a clear vision of what they don’t like about their current site, it’s time to switch your focus to what they would like in their new site. What are they hoping that a brand new website will accomplish for them?

Do they want to increase donations? Convert more leads to sales? Improve their bounce rate? Build their email list?

Basically, where does this new site fit into their overall business and marketing strategy?

If you can get a good handle on that, you’re armed with the information you need to create something that will truly help move the needle for them. Without that understanding and direction, you’re really just making educated guesses.

2. Scope of Work

Oh, the dreaded scope creep. You feel you have a good grasp on what your client is looking for, so you get to work.

But, before you know it, your client wants to add this. Can they change this? What if you moved this other thing? Actually, can you make this function more like this other great website they just found?

The project is spiraling out of control, and—if you actually did succumb to their consistent requests—the time and work you invest into this website will be way beyond what you had initially planned for.

This is why it’s so important that you have a scope of work document (or project charter) in place and signed by both you and your client. This document should include the project objectives and deliverables, as well as an estimated timeline and budget (more on both of those later!).

You should also include an “authorization” portion at the bottom, where both you and your web development client can sign off on the information that’s included.

Remember, the web development process is an exciting one—especially for your clients.

So, their attempts to continue making changes and additions is pretty much inevitable.

Get your scope of work in writing before you ever begin, and you’ll be able to proactively deal with scope creep by either referring back to your original agreement or charging an added fee for the additional work.

Bonus Tip: Download this project charter template to create your own scope of work document!

3. Budget

“So, how much is this going to cost us?”

It’s that inevitable question you know you’re going to hear from your client after you’ve had the conversation about what they’re aiming for in their new site. And—let’s face it—quoting a price for a web development project can be tough.

But, you and your client still need to be in the same ballpark, so that you don’t surprise them with a bill that’s thousands of dollars over what they were anticipating.

Having that common understanding of the project goals and the scope of work will be helpful in getting a better grasp of how much time and work you’ll need to invest in this project. You’ll also want to ensure that you’ve talked about any special technical requirements that would add cost.

When you have all of that, it’s time to crunch the numbers.

Since most web developers charge by the hour, a task-based approach is usually the go-to for estimating cost. Using this method, you:

  • Break the entire project out into smaller tasks.
  • Provide an estimation for how long it will take your team to do these tasks.
  • Multiply your hourly rate by the hours assigned to each of those sub-tasks.
  • Add up the cost of each of those sub-tasks to get a total.
  • Add a buffer—you’d rather quote too high, than too low!
  • Include that estimate in your scope of work document.

There’s no foolproof way to get an exact dollar amount for your client. But, going through a process like this will help you at least get close to the end cost—which your client deserves to know before moving forward.

4. Timeline

There’s nothing worse than a client breathing down your neck and then unexpectedly pushing up their deadline by weeks—and then having the guts to complain about your agency’s rush charge policy.

For this reason, it’s important that you agree on a timeframe for the project right from the get-go. Fortunately, after you’ve used the task-based approach to work out your budget above, this step is fairly easy.

You’ve already broken the project into sub-tasks and assigned a time estimate to each of those.

Now, just add a bit of a buffer (you don’t want to over-promise and under-deliver!) so that you have some breathing room with the schedule, and include that timeline in your scope of work estimate.

Much like your budget, it’s nearly impossible to predict a schedule down to the day. However, having a rough timeline in place will help to reassure your client—and, hopefully, save you from a stressful time crunch.

5. Communication

Understandably, your clients want to be in the loop on how their project is progressing.

But, you and your team members?

Having to deal with constant emails and interruptions will ultimately only slow things down.

Before getting started, chat with your client about how and how often they’d prefer to communicate. Would a weekly phone call help to reassure them? Can you send an email every Friday letting them know what was done that week, and what will be completed the next?

Yes, your goal is to develop a great website. But, it’s also your objective to keep the client happy. So, don’t neglect to figure out what sort of communication needs they have.

It might seem like that will only require more time and work from you. However, in the end, having this approach ironed out beforehand is bound to actually save you time and hassles.

Over to You

When you and your client are both raring and ready to go on a web development project, it’s easy to let these nuts and bolts thing slide. However, taking the time to agree on them from the beginning will only help things run smoother for both of you.