Grow Your Website Building Business With Elementor

Our first live Facebook webinar sparked a lot of interest among our community members, who submitted dozens of questions to our guest and online marketing expert, Troy Dean. For those who missed it, we have recorded and summarized the webinar for you. Enjoy!

Troy Dean is an online marketing speaker, coach, consultant, and podcaster. He specializes in helping businesses and entrepreneurs use the internet to attract new customers and build their communities.

Troy is also the co-founder of video and user manuals, it’s a great plugin, and of course WPElevation, which is probably the most professional educational course for WordPress consultants out there.

At Elementor, we usually talk a lot about tutorials, technical tutorials, how to create landing pages, how to create different websites, but there's actually a larger aspect to this whole thing, and managing a website, building business, is a lot more than the design and creation process. Do you agree with that, Troy?​​

Yeah, a hundred percent. There’s a lot that goes into a website building business, and a lot of us end up in business by accident. A lot of us end up in business because people discover that we know how to build websites and then they offer to start paying us to build those websites. And so then we have to think about things like cash flow and invoicing, project management, client relationships, managing client expectations, marketing, legal stuff, accounting, cash flow, profitability, there’s a whole bunch of stuff that goes along with just … that’s not just design and development. Now the caveat here is if you are designing or developing websites for an agency, so if the agency is the client, and your a developer, for example, and you’re just doing all their dev work, then you may not have as many of those problems to solve because they will be the ones going and getting the client, doing the design work, and the strategy, management, that kind of stuff, and you’re just doing the dev work. So that might be a simpler model.

I think there are some risks in that business model, too, because you end up getting a lot of revenue from one client, which is risky, but if you are in the business of building your own business as a web consultant, than you are responsible for finding clients, managing their expectations, and delivering on your promise, so you can very quickly start to have a lot of headaches, it very quickly goes from being something that’s super-fun, just mucking around on the internet and building websites quickly, to then going, “Alright, this is a serious business,” and there are a whole other series of headaches that come along with it. And ideally ,you’ll be able to do that but still have fun in the process.

Yeah, and having one client, it's a bit like being an employee, even though you're set as a freelancer, it's kind of the same. So I think the majority do have to manage the clients and their expectations and how not to give too much focus on one client and all the rest of the challenges that go with it.

Yeah, a hundred percent. And in fact, in Australia, if you generate more than 80% of your income from one client, so if your a freelancer and you’re getting 80% of your income from one client, then that client actually has to treat you as a PAYG employee, or, in the States, I think they might be called an FTE, a full-time employee. So they have to pay pension, your holidays, all that kind of stuff. They have to treat you as an employee, so there are definitely risks in getting too much work from a small number of clients.

Which programming languages are absolutely necessary to build websites with a plugin like Elementor or is none also good?

Well, I think it’s good if you understand a little bit of HTML and CSS, but I am a firm believer that you can absolutely build websites for clients, and build a very good business building websites for clients without touching any code. It is handy if you understand a little bit of HTML and CSS. Of course, a lot of people are going to disagree with me, and a lot of people are going to say you have to be a JavaScript ninja, and you’ve got to understand … know JS, and React, and all the JavaScript platforms. I’m a hardcore developer, I do know HTML and CSS and PHP, and a little bit of jQuery, but I haven’t coded for a long time. Maybe tweaking CSS is the most that I think that you’ll need to be able to do.

Definitely, and I think there's also a difference between being able to create with a language like PHP and being able to debug.

Yeah, a hundred percent. Being able to debug things is probably a good skill to have, but it’s a slippery slope. And a lot of people end up doing that rabbit hole because they think that there’s value in being a really good developer, or a really good coder. Now I think if you’re building software, for example, I imagine that you guys have a team of very good developers who understand code, PHP primarily, because you are building software. If you are in the business of building websites, don’t mistake yourself for a software developer, you are not building software, you are building websites. And you don’t need to be a fantastic developer or a strong coder to build valuable websites for your clients, and therefore build a valuable business.

What are the skills that you would recommend? I am starting out building websites, what are the skills that I should put time and effort into gaining?

I think you need to understand, if you look at this from the journey of the client, so I first start interacting with a client and I’m going to build a website or them, the first thing I need to be able to do is I need to be able to do a brief from that client and understand exactly what it is that they’re trying to achieve. Second of all, I think you need to understand user experience. I think that’s an important skill. So, for example, if you’re building an eCommerce website for a client, you need to understand what a great user experience is on a checkout page, and what a poor user experience is on a checkout page. You need to understand the difference between good user experience and bad user experience.

Secondly, I think you need to have excellent communication skills, and I think assertiveness. Now assertiveness is a soft skill that a lot of people overlook, and I think it’s a bit of an art developing assertiveness. But assertiveness basically means that if you make a mistake, that you can talk to the client, and without being emotional and without it souring the relationship, you can just admit the mistake that you’ve made, apologize, tell them how you’re going to correct things, and move on. And conversely, if a client is dragging their feet with content, you can pick up the phone and say, “Listen, we’re on a production schedule here, in order for us to get your website live by next Wednesday, I need that content by the close of business today. You’ve had two weeks, come on, I need you to get a move on.” A lot of people find that kind of confrontation difficult with clients. So I think some basic assertiveness is really important.

You also need to understand how to use WordPress, and preferably Elementor, and the plugins, and the most technical thing you probably need to understand is staging and version control, so you need to really understand how you can build something on a staging environment and then push it a live site so that you’re not cowboy coding on a live environment, particularly if it’s a website that’s generating a lot of revenue for the client, like in the case of an eCommerce website, for example.

And what is the importance of excelling at design skills?

Again, the journey that I’ve been through and that I’ve seen, three and a half thousand people that have been through WP Elevation now over the last five and a half years, the journey that you go through is you end up at some point doing less design and development and more client management and business development. So, if you’re a strong designer, then you might position yourself as the design go-to person for agencies or development houses who are good at development but need a designer. I was on a call with someone this morning from New Zealand who has a good development team, but they partner with a designer who works in the co-working space with them because they’re not strong in design.

Again, if you’re a strong designer, and that’s your only skill set, yes you’re going to be able to offer those design skills to agencies who don’t have design skills, but if you become a specialist too much, you’re going to put yourself in a pigeonhole, if you like, or in a box, and at some point I think you need to be able to get off the tools and look at growing your business and getting other people to become the design specialist and the development specialist, and the SEO specialist. You can’t be everything to everyone, and most of us start out with a skill that we enjoy. I started out doing SEO and a little bit of programming. I’m a terrible designer. But I very quickly realize that the most valuable thing I could do is go to clients and grow the business and get other people to come in and specialize in SEO, and coding, and development, and hosting, and all that kind of stuff.

Is it better to pitch as an agency if you're alone, or a personal brand works?

I don’t think it matters as long as you’re authentic. If it’s just you, then there’s no need to go into a client a say, “Hey, here’s my company called ACME Websites, and it’s just me. But that’s okay, I’ve got a bunch of freelancers that I can use if need be.” I don’t think you need to be that kind of transparent about it, but if somebody asks who’s on the team, you can just say I’m the prime business owner here and I have a network of contractors and freelancers that I pull in on projects to help me out.

I think the problem is when people first start out, they’re a little bit insecure, which is perfectly normal and perfectly understandable because it’s new and everyone’s a little bit kind of scared and a bit nervous, and so the temptation is to go in and say “We this,” and “We that,” and “We this,” when it’s just you and maybe one developer somewhere who can help you out. So I think you just need to be authentic and just be honest with a client if it comes up.

But in terms of the branding, I started out as Troy Dean, I then had an agency called Tanto Digital, I then went back to Troy Dean because I wanted to go back out and do my own thing. I’m a big fan of personal branding. I think it’s a faster way to build trust with people if they just know who you are, they know what your name is, and they know what you stand for.

How can we build our brand so we don't have to depend on any freelancing marketplace to find web development jobs?

Yeah, this is a great question. So now I’m going to do a complete backflip on something I said earlier. When you’re first starting out, you do need to specialize. Now I don’t mean that you need to become a fantastic developer, or a fantastic designer, or a world-class SEO, but I do mean that you need to specialize in solving a particular problem for a particular type of customer. So the way I’ve always approached this is I look at the projects that I worked on in the early days and the most rewarding projects for me, there are three rules that I have for the project: One, did we have fun? Two, did we do good work? Three, was it profitable? If I’m ticking all those boxes, then I want more of that type of client, and for me, it ended up being companies in the film and television post-production industry in Melbourne, and non-profits. They were the two niches that I ended up specializing in because I understood them, I had friends in those industries, I understood their pain points. So I think what you need to do is specialize in solving a particular problem.

Let me just deal with the marketplace question here for a second. We’ve got one of our members in WP Elevation who has been so successful on Upwork; they put his picture on a billboard in Times Square in New York City. Victor is his name, he’s a WP Elevation member, he’s now, actually, I think he’s taken an enterprise job with Dow Jones, but he was so successful on Upwork that they approached him and said, “Can we use your photo as a case study on a billboard in Times Square in New York City?” Because he worked out how to use Upwork to generate leads, but then he had a process that he took those leads through where he continually added value and re-managed their expectations so that we’re no longer charging 25, $30 an hour, we’re just using Upwork to get in front of a bunch of people. But he specialized in a particular thing, he became very good at it, he taught at local schools.

Was he only on Upwork, or did he try both?

He was getting leads from elsewhere, but he was getting a lot of leads from Upwork and he was at the premium end of Upwork and he was charging well above what you would expect, like multiples of what you would expect you could get from Upwork. So the point is, that even if you’re on Upwork, or any marketplace, if you got to that marketplace just hoping to find work, you end up trying to please everyone and you then you end up becoming a generalist, and the only thing you’ve got to compete with is the price. So it’s a race to the bottom. You have to be cheapest or the fastest, and so the way to avoid that is to become known as the person that solves that particular problem for that type of client, and then specialize in that.

If someone is great at eCommerce conversions, so he publishes a blog post on why a narrow checkout page will convert better than a wide checkout page. I mean he’s uber-nerdy about eCommerce, but he loves it, and they’re all of his clients. I’ve got another buddy who just does dental practices. He basically just does online marketing for dental practices, and he’s absolutely killing it. If you were any other type of business and you knock on his door, he’s like, “I’m sorry, I can’t help you, I specialize in online marketing for dental practices.”

So at some point, you have to pick the corner of the room that you want to own, and you have to specialize and become known as that person. That’s the way to elevate yourself up the ranks on the marketplaces and ultimately get off the marketplaces and build your own client base.

Have you found that showcasing a page builder like Elementor is a selling point, or have you found that most customers do not understand the benefits of Elementor?

This is a good question, I have a … there’s kind of two parts to this. I have a particular take on this and I’ve been for a long time that if you are … I don’t mention technology in my sales process or my proposal process unless somebody knocks on my door and says, “Can you build me a WordPress website.” And my answer to that will be, “Well, I can build you a website, it might be on WordPress, but let’s have a conversation about what it is you need, and then we will recommend the best solution for you, which may be WordPress, it probably will be, but who knows? It could be a Facebook Page, depending on what it is you need. So let’s have a conversation about what it is you need.” So I think the problem is, because WordPress is so well-known now, and the plugins available and the themes and the page builders available is that if you start having a conversation with a client about the technology that you’re going to use, you run the risk of that client coming back and saying, “Well, I found this plugin on Code Canyon, and I think it’s going to be great for this, and it’s only $15.” And all of a sudden, we’re talking about a commodity.

Now, I never let the client dictate the technology that we use. And if they start to talk about the technology, I say to them, “Well, if you know what you’re doing here, then why are you hiring me? Why don’t you just go and do it yourself? If you’re hiring me, then let me choose the technology stack because I’m more experienced at this than you, that’s why you’re hiring me to do it.” Having said that, so as a rule I wouldn’t mention plugins or themes or anything when I’m talking to the client. In the proposal, I might line item some of the technology that we use, I probably will mention WordPress as a content management system. Having said that, in the sales process, I will definitely show the client how easy their website is going to be to update in the future, and that will definitely include screenshots of things like Elementor, and maybe things like Gravity Forms, and the Events Calendar plugin, or whatever it is we’re using for their particular solution, WooCommerce, whatever it is, Yoast SEO. So I will definitely use the technology, and in this case Elementor, to show them how easy their website is going to be to manage moving forward, but I won’t get stuck in having a conversation about the technology because that’s not the kind of conversation you want to have with the client. So that make sense?

How will you educate the client about Elementor or other plugins?

Yeah, well, it’s funny you mention that Ben, because that’s a nice segue and you’ve tied me up beautifully. We have a plugin called Video User Manuals, and that’s basically … the reason the plugin exists is because when I discovered WordPress, I had built my own content management system in Notepad Plus on an old Sony Vaio laptop, and I discovered WordPress and then I realized very quickly, “Oh, wow, WordPress does a whole bunch of stuff that I don’t have to do again like building user permissions and user logins and usernames and passwords, WordPress does that out of the box, so there’s something I never have to do again.”

And that opened my mind to how can I leverage technology so that I can replicate repeatable things without having to do them over and over again. And one of the first things was, I’m going to have to teach my clients how to use WordPress. So I locked myself in a room and wrote a 100-page document teaching them how to use WordPress. This was back in 2008. How to use WordPress as an editor.
And I sent it up to a friend of mine, and we partnered up and we built a plugin and turned it into videos.

Now the point of the story is, usually what happens is, when we hand over a website and one of the things that we teach our WP Elevation members is, when you hand over a website, there’s a checklist and a strategy that you go through, and part of that strategy is getting them to log in to the WordPress dashboard and have a look at the Video User Manuals plugin and show them all of the videos in there that teach them how to use WP and a whole bunch of plugins that go with it, like Gravity Forms, Yoast SEO, Woo Commerce, and we are in the process at the moment of talking with a few people, as you know, about adding Elementor videos to the Video User Manuals plugin.

Even if at this point we didn’t have Elementor videos, you can add your own videos to that plugin, so if you’ve built a custom post type for testimonials, or something, you can add your own custom videos to it. So that’s the process goes through.

The designer can choose which plugins to have it appear on their client's site?

Right. In fact I think there’s some smarts in there so that if WooCommerce and Yoast SEO are installed, it will just show them by default. But you can turn them off. If you’ve only given your client editor access and you don’t want them messing around with things, then you can just turn certain videos off. I can turn entire sections off. There’s also a bunch of videos in there about Google Analytics, courtesy of our friends over at Google Analytics. And the reason we do that is that we don’t want to be answering the same question over and over again, “How do I add an image to my website, and left align it with the text?” Well, here we go, here’s a video we make once and we just show that to all of our clients rather than repeating ourselves in answering the same questions.

How to address offshore client's concerns with regards to payments and warranties? Is it enough to use PayPal as mode of invoicing?

That’s a very good question. I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t really answer the warranty side of things, however I will say this, that some government organizations or non-profits will have some regulations around where their data is hosted, which will make it tricky if you are, and we’ve come across this before, we have staff in the Philippines, we’ve had staff in India before, we’ve had staff in America, so it does make it tricky sometimes, you need to make sure you understand if the client has any regulations about where their data is hosted, and if it can or can’t be hosted across the border, so you need to check that. But again a lot of lawyers say you probably need to get some advice around that. In terms of the invoicing, we’ve used PayPal for years. I would maybe get Waves accounting program, which is a fantastic free accounting program that allows you to send invoices to clients and get them paid. I definitely use PayPal as an option.

Waves?

Waves accounting program is a fantastic free program and is designed for freelancers to get started. So there’s a whole bunch of stuff that it does for free. In fact, you can run a pretty good freelance business on Waves and not even have to upgrade to their paid platform. So that’s what I would use, I would send them an invoice and then have your PayPal details there as a payment. Definitely acceptable to do that, you just want to check yourself around the hosting of data in other countries, just make sure you cover yourself there.

What is better – sending cold emails, or cold calling clients?

Neither. I don’t like … if you’re going to do cold outreach, cold email is better than cold calling. However, I prefer warm emailing and warm calling. So I think the best, in our approach the best strategy has always been to email people with content, not to email people with a pitch. Here were our content strategy and our lead gen strategy for two years with the agency, we did this again for a two year period with WP Elevation, first thing’s first, understand who your customer is, so know your customer, or the type of customer that you want to work with. Understand what their problem is. And then come up with one flagship piece of content that massively helps them solve their problem.

When we had the digital agency, we came up with a series of videos called the 60-second lesson, and we had 16 videos that we shot in one afternoon on an iPhone, nothing fancy, and those 16 videos were 60 seconds long each, and they solved one very specific problem about digital marketing. So in the first one, I talked about what a landing page was. In the second one, I talked about what a lead capture form was. In the next one, I talked about what a headline was. Then I talked about how to split test a headline. Very specific, very short, punchy videos. I drip-fed out one per week over a 16 week period, that’s four months, we did no other lead gen for the next two years. We had enough leads coming through, people discovering us on YouTube and Vimeo, this is back in 2009, YouTube and Vimeo people were finding our videos. And we were sharing it with our audience, we were just sharing those videos around with everyone we knew, and they were passing it on and sharing it with their friends because they were kind of entertaining, they were interesting, and they were useful and that’s how we generated our leads.

Now with WP Elevation, we wrote out a list of 101 ideas that you could implement in your business to position yourself as a premium consultant rather than just a freelancer, and we put together a presentation called 101 Was to Elevate Yourself and Demand Higher Fees. We went and presented that Word Camp Melbourne, at Word Camp Chicago, and Word Camp Phoenix, in Arizona, and that was our lead gen strategy for two years. That one piece of content, we cut it up into 101 different episodes of a little podcast, and 101 videos on YouTube, it was one piece of content that we just sliced and diced into a 101 blog posts, that became our organic lead generator for two years for WP Elevation.

So the point is, develop one stupidly valuable piece of content, and then slice and dice it up into as many formats as you possibly can and get it in front of people. And I think I’ve forgotten the question. Cold email. But that’s a reason to email people, that’s a warm email, and if you’re clever, all you want is people to hit your website, to engage in that content, then you got a remarketing list that you can start to re-market them to, to get them back to a strategy call, or a discovery call, or a free webinar that you’re running that promotes your services.

What is your take on setting up funnels, and managing them, and using them?

I’m going to tip the whole funnel idea on its head. Because the biggest problem I see with funnels is people think funnels are really sexy, and they are. When funnels work, they’re very sexy because they generate cash while you sleep. It’s a true story. I’m living proof of it, and so are you, probably. So funnels are very sexy, and they’re a big shiny object. But the problem is, at the end of the funnel, if you’re selling services, you’ve got to have what’s called a conversion event. You’ve got to have a way for the person that’s been through that funnel to engage your services. And so most people go and build a funnel, they build a landing page, they put together a lead magnet, they put together a bunch of email autoresponders, they get it out there, they start getting traffic, a few people sign up, and then they don’t know what to do with the people that signed up.

So before you build a funnel, and here’s my controversial approach to funnels, a funnel should only be used to scale an existing business model that is already working. And what I mean by that is this, if you can generate a lead either using networking, or picking up the phone, or Facebook groups, or LinkedIn groups, or posting on your blog, or whatever, if you can generate a lead, get that person engaged with your content enough through Facebook chat or email, get them on the phone, have a conversation, understand their needs, put together a proposal, get them to sign off on the proposal, and pay you money for a website, if you’ve worked out how to do that once, then the conversion event is the phone call that gets them to hire you.

Now what we’ve got to do is put a funnel in front of that conversion event. The funnel is the last thing that should happen, and should only be there to scale an existing sales process that’s already working. Most people build the funnel, but they don’t have a sales…

And half a year building the funnel, they don't it made, how they convert people to clients, and then they have to remake the funnel because probably they're going to discover a few things they're doing wrong.

Correct. And I did this many, many, many, many, many, many times. I had lots of funnels out there and people signing up, and it went nowhere because I had no conversion event, because I didn’t have a sales system in place. So the most important thing is being able to take someone who maybe knows you a little bit and convert them into a paying customer. Once you’ve got that figured out, then go build your funnel, and the funnel really is, the clients that you’ve worked with, just ask yourself what are the problems that I’ve solved for them building a website. It wasn’t building a website. A website’s just a vehicle that helps them solve the problem. So what is the problem that I solved by building them a website, then just publish a whole bunch of great content around those particular problems, use your content upgrade, whether it’s a checklist, or a cheat sheet, or something as a lead magnet, and once they sign up for the content upgrade, nurture them with email and then get them onto that conversion event. That’s the way a sales funnel is supposed to work in my mind.

How do you transition from being one person managing some clients to growing a team to do it for you and have time to work on sales funnel and content?

It’s a great question and there are two parts to this. First of all, hire really good people. So have a hiring process in place, don’t just hire people, because a great friend of mine, who’s also one of my mentors, he said to me once, you don’t hire people because their available, you hire people because their really good at what they do. Now you don’t have to hire people full time. You can start working with contractors and freelancers. But use people who are really good at what they do not just because they’re available. So rule number one is having a hiring process in place. Typically speaking I like to work with people on a couple of projects before we decide to hire them, so we’ll work with them as a contractor doing some social meetings…

Oh, freelance, or?

Yeah, yeah, freelancing, exactly. And then if it works out, and we like them, and we get along, and they’re a good fit, they’re good communicators, they’re going to be a good addition to our culture, then we’ll offer them a job as an employee. 

Don’t freelancers prefer to stay freelancers?

No. Generally we find our staff through recommendations through others staff who work for us, and we know the people who come to us are looking for employment, and so before we offer them a job, we’ll work with them as a contractor, as a freelancer, and then after a four or six week period, if things are working out, then we’ll offer them employment. We have a few consultants who work with us at the moment who are never going to be employees because they’re effectively running their own businesses, but ultimately I want to be able to do everything in-house with employees. So one, have a good recruitment process. 

Two, the biggest problem that I find with freelancers who become business owners, is they become the bottleneck, so what happens is you end up with a bunch of people in the business and you end up then just answering a million questions a day. Or you end up trying to write documentation and procedures so that they can go do their job. Here’s my approach to hiring people, and again this comes from my friend Nick, who’s taught me about this, you use robots, in other words automation software, to scale and leverage things that can be scaled. So you use things like Zapier, or you use API’s, or you use integrations to remove data entry, and then you use human beings to think creatively about solving problems in the business.

We have more processes written in our business in the last six months than we’ve ever had, and I have not written one of those processes, because we have empowered the team … no only have we made it a requirement, but we’ve empowered the team with the tools and the training and the systems they need to document their own position, so that if they want to take a holiday, someone else can come in and sit in for four weeks and do their job while they’re away. That is part of their job requirement now. And we’ve trained them how to do that very simply, it’s not a big time-consuming thing.

Which kind of tasks can you share, like posting to Facebook, or which kind of tasks is?

A hundred percent. So when we run our webinar for example, or webinar needs to get uploaded to our members website, and so there’s a process that needs to happen there, that we need to download the video from Vimeo, we need to share it the members website, we need to make sure the privacy settings are right on Vimeo, we then need to put an email out to our members, letting them know the recording’s been updated, so there are a few moving parts. It’s probably, a half-hour, 45-minute job. I apologize if one of our team is watching this and it takes a lot longer than that, but I’m making an assumption it’s about a half hour or 45-minute job. And that process has to be written up because there are a few moving parts in that process. The best person to write the process is the person who does it most of the time, which in our case would be Michelle or Charmine who work in our office in Manila in the Philippines. So they are writing the processes.

Now, here’s the thing that we’ve learned, and a lot of this comes from a guy by the name of Sam Carpenter, wrote a fantastic book called Work the System, and I strongly recommend it, and we actually hired his business partner Josh to come into our company to coach us through this process. It was an expensive exercise, but it was definitely worth the investment. Basically, the process gets written from the bottom-up so whoever’s doing the process writes … whoever’s doing the job on a weekly, daily, monthly basis, they’re the ones that write the documentation. They submit it up to their supervisor who looks at it, reviews is, and goes, “Yep, okay, this is cool.” Once it’s approved, then it goes into the official document library of the company. And the idea of those processes is that someone who knows how to use the computer and knows their way around the internet, but doesn’t really know your business, can probably come in off the street, follow that process, and with a couple of practice runs, then they can follow the processes. If it’s so technical that you need a degree to follow the process, then the process is not simple enough. You need to make it so that Johnny off the street can come in and basically follow it after a couple of training sessions.

The other thing I want to say about hiring is, you need to empower people to make decisions. And this is probably the biggest insight that I can give in terms of building a team. You need to empower people to make decisions and know that if they make the wrong decision, that you’ve got their back, and that you will support them, and that you will coach them through it, and you will help them get up and dust off their wings and get back out there. And the best way I know how to do that, and it’s a process that we’ve gone through over the last two years, is really defining the vision of our company, and the values by which we operate.

So our number one value here at WP Elevation is to help people and have fun. When we need to make a decision because someone sends in a support ticket, or someone’s got a problem with the Video User Manuals plugin, if we know that potentially a bunch of their client websites has been impacted by one of our plugins, we don’t even have a rule, we just know you drop everything and get in there and fix that website for that customer because rule number one is helping people and have fun, and there’s nothing fun and nothing helpful about my website being down because your plugin’s broken, so I can’t wait three days for an answer. So you use the values to empower your team to make decisions and make your valuables very visible and very clear across the company, and then let your team know you’ll never get penalized for making the wrong decision, but you will get penalized for not making a decision and coming to me with a million questions every day, because there’s only one of me, I can’t answer that many questions a day. You’ve got to actually step up, make your own decisions, and know that if it’s the wrong decision, it’s okay, I’ve got you, I’ll get you through it. I’ll take the blame and we’ll sort it out.

I think that's great, because having this golden rule, like a golden rule to steer the ship, even if it's not the most optimized or most ... you're not pointing to the best direction, at least you're heading to the same direction and eventually you'll get out of the forest.

That’s right, exactly, and we call it the North Star, it really is the guiding light. And what you realize as a business owner is that people do things differently, and the flip side of this is I’ve been pleasantly surprised … more often than not, I am pleasantly surprised by the talent and the skills that our team bring, and things happen in the business now and I’m like, “Wow, I would never have thought to do that.” And that’s awesome. In fact, I had a joke before we got on this call, Simon was in here making a how-to video for our YouTube channel, and I said, “Did you guys need anything from me?” And Max, our producer, and Simon both said, “No, just get out of the way.” And I said, “Awesome, I’m going to go take the dog for a walk.” So you know that you’re on to something when your staff are telling you just to get out of the way and let them do their job, that’s a happy day.

There's a line there that the good leader is the leader that doesn't participate, something along that line.

That’s right. It’s the difference between leadership and management. Management, looking behind your shoulder, telling you how to do your job, that’s a horrible experience for everyone. Leadership is, I’m walking forward, I’m blazing the trail, I’m leading the company down this path, if you fall over, I will come back and help you, and I want to make sure you’ve got everything you need to do your job, but I can’t do your job for you, and I can’t watch you do your job every day. You’re going to have to make some decisions. And that’s a great personal development opportunity for the whole team, to go on that learning journey. And people want that, people want to develop personally, they want to grow, they want personal growth. In fact, it’s actually I think the number one reason people leave jobs and leave employment is that they don’t feel like they’re growing individually, they feel like they’re just on the hamster wheel. So if you can empower your team with training and tools and whatever they need to continue to grow … We’re very lucky here, we’ve never had anyone leave the organization, we’re a team of 12 now plus a whole bunch of contractors, and we try and build a very open, educational, supportive culture.

How is best to formally agree upfront what will be done? Think of scope of works, but smaller clients may not like this idea of sign-up before any work is done.

Sure. It’s a good question, and one approach is to chunk it down into smaller, bite-size engagements. So instead of saying to a client, “I think I understand what you want, and I want to build a website for you, and it’s going to cost $6,000,” what you could say, “I think I know what you want, but what I would love to do is I would love to build a prototype for you first, and that might be $1,200, and if we get that right, then at least I know what it is you want, you know how it’s going to function in the browser, and if we sign off on that, then we can move forward to the next stage which will be some user experience design, so we’ll basically make it look on-brand, and we’ll give it a really nice skin to make it looks like it belongs to your brand, and then if we’re happy with that, then we can actually go forth and develop it into an actual website with all the right moving parts, hosting, security, SEO, all that kind of stuff and a content management system, and then we can launch it.”

So you might end up building three little products for them, and at any point during that engagement, they can bow out and say, “You know what, I love the prototype, here’s the $1,500, or the $1,200 we agreed to, but I don’t want to move forward on this project now because I’ve actually rethought everything and we need to go back to the drawing board.” And at that point, you’re like, “Yeah, no problem.” I’ve been paid for the work I’ve done so far. It’s a smaller engagement so that you don’t need as much trust, and it’s a shorter sales cycle. 

How do you handle the most difficult part, collecting the content and pictures from clients?

We just published an epic blog post recently about how to collect content from clients, and it’s fantastic, it’s a great blog post, go and check it out. However, I will say this, there are a couple of shortcuts. One, and I learned this from Andy Clark from Stuff and Nonsense in the UK, he’s one of my web design heroes. I was very fortunate a little while ago, he came out to Australia and he came and visited us here in the studio, and I recorded a live podcast with him in the office and I was beside myself with excitement. Anyway, he taught me this concept ten years ago in one of his books, design from the inside out. I am at a loss as to how anyone can design a website unless they already have the content from the client because you don’t know what it is you’re designing. You’re basically designing a website with stock images and Lorem Ipsum. And that’s always going to look beautiful. Just get all of the content first before you even accept a deposit or a proposal accepted from the client.

So my first question is to the client: “do you have a budget for this project, and if so what is it? Let’s have a talk about that so we can see if we’re on the same page,” second of all, “Do you have your content organized?” “Oh, yeah, yeah, we’ve got content.” “Great, I want to see it before I agree to take the project on because I need to factor that into the scope of work.” Now if they can’t show me the content well organized, and all ready to go, and well labeled, there are two things that are going to happen: First off all, I go away until you’ve got your content ready, and then I’ll come back, or I’ll do the content for you or with you, and we will charge you accordingly. 

How do you define service boundaries clearly?

Well, there’s a couple of ways you can do it. We have a proposal template and we use … Andy Clark, who I spoke about before from Stuff and Nonsense, he’s got a fabulous open-source contract called the contract killer that you can get at Stuff and Nonsense, and it basically is a web design contract. And it clearly outlines what it is we do and what it is we don’t do. So he’s very clear that he does not do content at all. He does design, and he’ll develop the website, but he will not do content. So once the website’s done, he’ll hand it over, he’ll either, if you’re not doing content, he’ll either hand it over with stock images and say, “There you go,” or he just won’t start the project unless you’ve got your content ready, which is his standard modus operandi, is to say, “If you haven’t got your content ready, I’m not even starting the project.”

And then he works in weekly sprints, so if someone hires him and he says, “Great, you’ve got me for a week, I’m just working on your project for a week and we’ll get it done.” And just be very clear with what you do and what you don’t do. Now if you’re working on a project with a client and they start asking questions like, “Well, we really need someone to do the copywriting for us,” if you’re not a copywriter, just say, “I can try and find a good copywriter, I’ve got a good network of people I can tap into.” I mean, if you’re a part of the Elementor community Facebook group, you’ve got 25,000 people there you can tap into. I’m sure there’s a good copywriter there who can help you out. It’s a great internal economy. Just say, “Look, I’ll put my feelers out and we’ll find a copywriter for the project, but that is going to incur some charges because obviously, we have to pay the copywriter.” Don’t be afraid to just say these additional services are going to cost more money; it’s as simple as that.

And if the client is too demanding on your own service that you've promised, calling every day and asking for more tweaks constantly, how do you set the limit?

One of the things that really worked for us is getting payments along the way. This is where prototyping really changed our business workflow. Here’s a prototype which … a prototype is just a black-and-white version of the website with no real typography or colors involved, no branding elements, it’s just a black-and-white version of it, and you get them playing with the functionality in the browser. This is great for WooCommerce websites or anything with a membership login, or any LMS, online course platforms, anything that’s a little bit more complicated than a standard brochure site, get them playing with the prototype in the browser, and get them to approve the functionality in the browser. Keep that on a separate subdomain, copy it over to another subdomain, so you might have prototype.blah.com, then you might have design.blah.com, and then once they have approved the design, if they look at the design and they’re like, “Well, where’s the bit where the clients can log in and reorder the order that they ordered last month?” And you say, “Well, hang on, let’s go back to the prototype. It wasn’t on the prototype. And you signed off on the prototype, and you made a payment.”

So two things we do, we use hellosign.com, there are a bunch of WP plugins you can use to do this as well, we basically get electronic signatures on prototype, design, and finished product. Deposit up front, 50% deposit up front, 10% on a prototype, 10% on design, 10% on development, and 10% on launch, that’s a good example. And use Hello Sign to get them to sign off at each stage, and we get them to make installment payments throughout the process, and if they don’t pay the installment, we stop work. You’ve got to make that payment so that we can move on because we’re incurring hard costs developing your website. There are software licenses, there’s hosting, there’s security, there are backups, there are all sorts of stuff that we’re paying for to develop your website, so we need some more money to keep the machine going. It’s very difficult for someone to back and say that you’re off track once they’ve approved a prototype and already paid for it.

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About the Author

Matan Naveh
Matan Naveh
Matan is a Content Manager at Elementor. He worked as an Editor-in-Chief for various websites, as well as a Radio Broadcaster and Editor.

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