Defining a Successful Web Project

Have you ever been asked a question that you weren’t quite prepared for? During a recent meeting with a prospective client, I had one that really caught me off-guard. The question was: What was your most successful project?

On the surface, it sounded simple enough. But I had much more trouble providing an answer than I imagined. Success is one of those areas that can have different definitions and, frankly, I didn’t have a clear picture of it in my head. In my state of confusion, I flubbed the answer.

Subjective as it may be, what constitutes a successful project, and, how do you explain it?

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Personal Success Alone Does Not Equal Project Success

A project could theoretically be successful for any number of reasons. You might consider the amount of money you made, the prestige of the client, the existence of a specific technical or design element you created and so on.

For instance, I’ve been especially proud of some WordPress websites I’d built that included some sort of customization that I didn’t think I was capable of. So, I can chalk that up into the categories of personal success and technological achievement.

But, do clients really care about that particular aspect of things? Sure, they want their website to perform certain functions. But it seems like most wouldn’t really think about what goes into the technical side of things – they hire us to take care of that for them.

When I look back at my debacle from a distance, I have a hard time believing that any client is going to focus on a designer’s personal achievements as a measure of a project’s success. That’s not to say that the things we high-five ourselves for don’t have meaning – they do. But my little PHP breakthrough doesn’t necessarily have the same gravitas for a client as it would for me.

Erasers with smiley faces and a badge that says "Great Work"

Tangible Results Matter

Conversely, what a prospective client would more likely want to know about are the final results of a project. In other words: How did you help one of your clients to achieve their goals?

This can be a little tricky – especially for freelancers who don’t necessarily have time for in-depth analysis. Plus, you certainly don’t want to explicitly show an outsider any sensitive data, such as a Google Analytics report.

To start out, you may have to be a bit more general in terms of what you share. In that way, you’re talking more about processes than specific numeric benchmarks. An example of this would be a client who was stuck on an ineffective eCommerce platform. Their goals might have included things like easier product management and building a customer loyalty program.

You could then explain that you used WooCommerce and some nifty extensions to create that loyalty program, while also customizing the WordPress back-end to allow for some client-specific layout options. Finally, you provided training and support to ensure that every process can be done as efficiently as possible.

All of the sudden, this project is sounding like a success. And, the technical achievements you made do get to play a role. You did x, y and z to help a client with their stated goals. Perhaps you can even list this client as a reference (just ask them first).

The idea is that you’re providing a more complete story than if you just ticked through a listing of your own accolades. After all, when a company hires you, they’re doing so in part because they believe you can help them to solve problems. This is one way to illustrate how capable you are of doing just that.

Man explaining a process.

Highlight Successful Projects in a Way That Impacts Clients

One thing worth remembering is that, as designers and developers, our idea of a successful project may not be the same as what a prospective client may think. So, what makes for a great WordCamp talk designed for other professionals isn’t necessarily relevant to the people we’re trying to sell our services to.

In my own case, I had forgotten this very important point. I tend to get so wrapped up in the actual “doing” part of a project and often remember that more than any other aspect.

But part of being a good web designer is in how we communicate with clients. It’s about understanding what’s important to them and, just as crucial, showing them that we understand. Running through all of the technical jargon that went into building your latest site may work in some instances, but will fall flat more often than not.

Hopefully, the next time I’m asked about my most successful projects, I’ll be prepared to explain my client’s goals and how I helped to make them a reality. Or, it may end up like my eighth-grade geography test in that, while I studied hard, I froze when it came to the moment of truth.

Either way, at least I’ll have a better idea of what I should be saying (even if I can’t actually say it).

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