Small projects can lead to big money

21st December 2011
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We web designers sometimes think we’re missing out on big work and big money if we take lots of small jobs. But if we systemise our work, we can take these small projects on, add a little bit of bespoke design in, and end up ontime, on budget, and with some work we can be proud of.

Smashing Magazine has a great article on this very thing, and it inspired me to think about processes a little further.

I use WordPress because it simplifies many development tasks: Form creation, social sharing, blog posts and content management, these are things I don’t have to create or manage, which is the key to this systemisation of websites that makes small jobs profitable.

How can I accomplish that feature without having to develop it – this is what saves the day on small projects. Every month I have at least 1-2 $1000 jobs on my plate and I can’t imagine turning away that $24000 a year, so I make sure I stockpile great plugins and great ideas I can use later when needed. I make it work.

I employ a usability study on every site I do, but it has the added effect on small websites of maximising the existing template design and saving html/css dev time. If a website has a Store, that store better be prominent and easy to use and have green Add to Cart and Buy Now buttons. What’s in the cart? I believe in showing the cart at all times, somewhere. Why hide it?

For SEO I help tailor onpage text content and capture that in the back end meta information so Google can find and index the website quickly and accurately. Consistent information = consistent results. Do you use alt and title tags on all your store images? You should! It’s amazing how many websites don’t, and this can be of particular benefit to small players in a market. Go underdogs!

It’s doing the little things up front that don’t cost a lot in time but bring huge beneits down the road.

Managing client expectations is key to any project, but especially small budget ones. Most of my clients are in this small to medium range and so I’m very meticulous to let each of them know what they are getting for money and if scope creep occurs, I’m on it right away with either a Phase 2 delay (keep a Phase 2 list for more business later), or we add the feature in if it’s important enough and remove something less important.

In these small projects I never say the word “Easy”, only “Simple” if it applies:

“There’s no such thing as an easy website; simple, maybe.”

As long as there’s a clear list of expectations, reviewed regularly, small websites can be simple and fast. When budgets are tight, I get very particular about what I’m getting for my spend, so I try to extend this empathy to my clients. We all want as much as we can get for what we spend.

Web development on a small project can benefit from some great starter templates. A project I just completed, Fairfax Media Blog, needed to be viewable on a mobile device without any extra coding, so I found Yoko, a responsive design template (free) and then set about updating it with Fairfax branding. The website is mobile ready, and even uses an RSS shortcode I found on the web that allows RSS feeds to be shown on page.

Use an existing CMS framework, be ruthless about features and communicate vigorously and honestly and you can do lots of small projects quickly.

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Nathaniel Flick

I'm a Front End Web Developer passionate about usability. My primary specialties are HTML5, CSS3, SCSS, LESS, and jQuery and I am very familiar with Foundation and Bootstrap frameworks. I've worked on top of and with Rails, Python, and ASP.net/Umbraco back end frameworks.