How to Define Effective Milestones in Design Projects

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When it comes to creating and launching a website, it’s important to deliver realistic time expectations to the client, and establish the different stages you can bill them for.

After all, creating a site is about so much more than putting some code together. From the initial brief to the launch of the site there are numerous stages in between. It can be natural to quote a lump price and charge it all at the end, or 50% upfront and 50% on completion. However, if there are snags along the way, unexpected delays, or if the client cancels last minute after you’ve nearly finished creating the site, you may be left out of pocket.

By charging stage by stage, you are getting the main chunks of what you are owed at the time you do it. While the exact web development phases differ slightly between clients and projects — and you should schedule, and bill for your specific situation — the basic steps pretty much stay the same.

Brief and Planning – Pay me ~20%

Whether your client has an existing site they are looking to re-do, or are starting from scratch, the initial brief and planning stage shouldn’t be underestimated.

This stage includes researching, finding out their requirements, and putting together a plan. You need to identify the scope of the project, the areas of main importance and the site’s purpose.

It’s at this stage you clarify what web pages and features are needed to fulfil this. You also need to define the software and any resource requirements as well as the estimated deadlines for the project. When deciding the budget, you need to remember to keep in mind any other aspects like heading to meetings.

Creating the Visuals – Pay me ~15%

The visual stage involves three main elements: wireframes, mock-ups, and prototypes.

Wireframes are simple sketches of the future website before any development or design elements (such as fonts and branding) are applied. It’s a basic backbone to base the future of the project on which allows you to see where key elements will be located.

The next stage is mock-ups which are high-fidelity statics of the future website and portray how things will look. Within this stage aspects such as colors, fonts, logos and images should be applied. This stage needs to be much more detailed and a well-thought out static version of the future site. It provides an opportunity to hone in on details and represent the suppositional final look of the site. Remember the end result will still be likely to change, but this should include all the elements needed that you could base the project on.

The third visual stage of the design is prototyping which is a highly detailed, dynamic version of the website which is due to be created. This is likely to be as similar as possible to the final system and will offer a comprehensive overview of the functionality of the site. It’s a great final chance to check out the website before it is built and make any last big tweaks.

Initial Build – Pay me ~15%

The next stage is to actually get creating the website. By utilising the previous visuals, you can get building according to the clients specifications.

It involves creating the initial home page and a “shell” for interior pages where content can be added later on. This process includes designing interactive forms, implementing payment getaways and confirming the CMS you will use. Here you will add in any custom coding too. Expect this to take up a significant amount of time depending on the level of complexity involved with the site.

Content Creation and SEO – Pay me ~15%

Once you have the main structure in place, it’s time to sort the content. By now you should have established if you are creating the content or if the client is sending elements such as text and images over themselves.

Keep in mind (and ensure the client is aware) that copy is designed to both drive engagement, and for search engine optimisation (SEO.) The style of writing is important and is something to certainly bill the client for. Content needs to be short, snappy and to the point, encouraging readers to both interact with it, and progress to other pages.

If pages require large chunks of information, it’s best to split it into manageable sections and supplement it with interesting visuals to keep them engaged. Identify search terms the client wants to rank for and check the text adheres to this. There are many SEO plugins and tools (such as Yoast) which you can use to easily check it’s optimised.

Beta Testing – Pay me ~15%

Once the design and functionality are complete, it needs to go through a beta testing stage. This is the initial test before it’s set live and promoted to the world.

The beta phase is important to iron out any errors and get feedback from the intended audience. It’s also the stage where you need to ensure proper functioning across multiple devices.

There are a number of sites and tools you can use to check how the site looks in the different mobile, tablet and desktop resolutions. The site needs to look and function as per the client’s specifications and ensure it matches their brief. Here you can see if there are any final amendments which need to be made following from feedback both from the audience and client.

Launch – Pay me ~20%

Once the site has passed the beta testing and the client is happy, it’s time to launch the site. This is the final billing stage for the client and should be a quick and simple step.

Discuss with the client when they want to launch it and get set up for then. You will need to connect any domains, check the DNS records and CNAME’s and get the site up and running. If it’s a large and complex site it can take a little longer than a smaller site, so ensure you plan for this.

Always be prepared that there could be teething problems on launch and that the client might want feedback and amendments based on how the site is used and interacted with. There are always ways to analyse user testing, monitor analytics and refine the site, so it could be worth going on some sort of retainer contract for future updates for the client.

These are the basic stages you can bill a client for. Try and decide how long each step with take and come up with pricing based on this. You can charge a deposit upfront and then always let the client know if certain steps are going to end up costing more than initially quoted.


Featured image via Unsplash.


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