How to Run Your WordPress Freelance Business Like an Agency
Having managed a startup marketing agency for a few years, I can tell you that it’s not easy work. Although I had managed projects for nearly a decade, this was my first time handling the management of a company on such a large scale. Needless to say, there was an adjustment period.
Once I became acclimated to my new role, I discovered something interesting. Aside from the number of people that reported to me, there really wasn’t much of a difference between managing a project workload and a company. Why? Because it always boiled down to the same thing: how well I could manage the smallest of units. Thankfully, that meant I could offload a lot of my responsibilities to automated processes and tools.
As a WordPress freelancer, you should be thinking the same way. How can you cut out the waste, streamline your processes and communications, and produce better websites?
I hesitate to use the word “scale” here since that sometimes elicits thoughts of having to ditch the freedoms and flexibility of freelance life in order to start your own agency, which I don’t believe has to be everyone’s end goal. However, I do think that scaling—in the sense of taking your freelance business to the next level (whatever that means to you)—should be. The thing is, you can’t do that as a one-man show. Your business will eventually outgrow you and then where will you be?
So here is what I suggest: I think there are some great lessons that can be extracted from how agencies run their ships, and I think automation plays a big part in that. If you can take those automation tips and put them to use in your own business, you’ll be surprised to see how much more time you have to dedicate to the work you love rather than entrenched in the most repetitive of tasks.
Let’s take some time then to figure out how you can run your WordPress freelance business like an agency, and start reaping the benefits today.
12 Steps to Running Your WordPress Freelance Business Like an Agency
In any job comprised of smaller tasks or responsibilities that get repeated over and over again, automation is a lifesaver. When it came to managing an agency centered around building websites in WordPress, I was thrilled to discover how much of it I could automate.
You know what I found? The more we could streamline, the easier it was for us to scale our business.
Here is how I suggest you get started on your own path to running your business like an agency.
Step #1. Ditch the Paper and Spreadsheets
If you want to run your WordPress freelance business better, you need to ditch any inefficient tracking and recordkeeping methods you use. Everything you do for your business—project management, time tracking, wireframing, team communication, etc.—should ideally all be stored in and managed from one or two online tools.
The one I use for my own business is Asana. It allows me to schedule projects out on a super granular basis and I can keep all my client communications, files, tasks, and timelines in one place. My business doesn’t have a heavy wireframing or prototyping component, though, so I’d recommend something like InVision for that.
Step #2. Appear Larger Than You Are
One of the problems I ran into often while working for a small startup (and later as a freelancer) was having to get past the perception that, because we were small, we couldn’t handle our clients’ needs. As you are well aware, that doesn’t matter. If you’re a consummate professional, then you know your stuff. So long as you don’t overcommit or you’re not bad at time management, you shouldn’t have issues meeting their needs.
To get around this, you’ll want to make your freelance business look bigger than it is. One of the things I found tipped clients off to our business’s small footprint was the fact that almost all communications came from the same person. There’s actually an easy way around this.
First, create a number of generic-named email addresses (like “[email protected]” or “[email protected]”). Then use software to automate non-WordPress-related messaging. For example, you could use contract and invoicing software like Bonsai or email marketing software like Constant Contact.
As a bonus, you won’t need to hire someone else to manage these processes while still giving the outward appearance that your business is managed by a larger team of professionals.
Step #3. Take the Guesswork out of Pricing
Ever had a prospective client ask you on the spot about pricing for a service, but you couldn’t remember it or didn’t know if you’d even set one off the top of your head? If you don’t have one already, I’d suggest you create a pricing sheet for your business.
Once you have one, store it on a landing page on your WordPress site (hidden or public). This way it’s one-and-done. Pricing is set, there’s no haggling from your clients’ end, and there’s no potential revenue loss from your side if you give them too low an estimate.
Step #4. Streamline the Billing Piece
You’re probably looking forward to the day you can afford to hire a finance manager for your business (aren’t we all?). Until that day comes, someone needs to stay on top of client contracts, invoicing, and collections. These are the three things to keep in mind when streamlining your freelance business’s billing:
- Create a contract template. You can then customize it per client.
- Use a tool that automates invoicing, so when a project kicks off, the first invoice immediately goes out. Upon completion of the next phase, the next one goes out. And so on.
- You’ll also need a system to remind you to follow up on overdue payments. It’s going to be the part you dread the most, but it’s necessary. No payments = a sad you.
Zoho Books can do this.
Step #5. Create a Consistent Kickoff Process
If you’ve completed at least one new client kickoff, then you know how all of them will go, for the most part. Rather than wing it each time, establish a kickoff process ahead of time so you don’t have to recreate the wheel. Compose a welcome email template, create a branded intake questionnaire, and maybe even design a kickoff presentation. And, if you’ve got that project management software from step 1, you can store these items in there in your project folders!
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Step #6. Get Your Workflow down in Writing
I’m a big believer in checklists; digital checklists are even better. While I know some people might argue that checklists just require an extra step of logging in and checking off an item you already know you need to tackle, I’d argue that they’re a must.
WordPress professionals work with a lot of moving pieces. Add too many client calls, urgent change requests, and other distractors to the mix and you run the risk of missing a step. This is where a workflow checklist templates come in handy. You can set these up in your project management software or even the WordPress dashboard at the start of every project and ensure that no client’s web design project goes uncompleted.
Try using the Ultimate Branding plugin to add this checklist to your WordPress admin.
Step #7. Templatize Your Communications
Customer service is a critical piece to every business’s success, so there are definitely times when you will need to openly and genuinely communicate with clients. There are other times, however, when you should just pick up a template, plug in personalized details, and send it off. You can do this with explainer briefs (or videos, if you have them) as well as with basic notifications that you end up sending to every client.
Step #8. Take Storage Seriously
You know that backing up your clients’ WordPress sites is non-negotiable. The same should go for all of your work, both inside and outside of WordPress.
If you’re not using a project management tool to house all your project materials, you’ll need something like a Box, Dropbox, or Google Drive account. This way you can store all files you receive from clients as well as all files you produce (like wireframes, site maps plans, mockups, and more) in the same location. The less time you spend hunting down the latest iteration of Client X’s mockup, the more time you’ll have to focus on your work.
Step #9. Establish a WordPress Theme Arsenal
One of my greatest concerns with all this WordPress project automation was whether or not it would result in lookalike websites for every single client. I do think there is a real danger here in going overboard, but not if you keep in mind that the goal is to free yourself of monotonous repetitive tasks so you can focus on your creative work. So long as that stays top-of-mind, there shouldn’t be any problems.
That being said, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with building an arsenal of WordPress themes to work with. In fact, if you get a high-quality set of multi-purpose themes—especially ones that utilize a handy drag-and-drop builder like Upfront that give you endless customizations—I’d strongly recommend you do so.
Your goal is obviously not to use these themes right out of the box either; that’s where you run into trouble. Just look at them as an investment in giving your WordPress sites and your workflow a solid base to start from.
Step #10. Find That Essential Stable of WordPress Plugins
Going along with that last point, I think having a stable of essential plugins can be incredibly helpful. Not only will they save you time in trying to hunt down that contact form plugin you know you used on your last client’s site but can’t remember the name of now. They’ll also ensure that you use the best of the best each time.
Time savings and quality assurance can’t be beat.
Unlike with WordPress themes where you can shop around for different multi-purpose themes from various designers, try to get all your plugins from a single developer. The investment in a plugin membership will save you money in the long run and ensure that you’re always using well-maintained and cleanly coded plugins each time. WPMU DEV’s plugins should be your first stop.
Step #11. Invest in the Long Game
How often do you reach out to former clients once their projects have wrapped? If it’s not often or at all, it may be time to change that. For starters, web design trends change so frequently, post-project contact is a missed opportunity to easily upsell someone who’s already sold on the quality of your work.
I also believe that keeping in touch with clients is a good thing, in general. You never know when they’ll meet another business owner who wants a developer referral or when they might feel inspired to leave you a killer testimonial on LinkedIn. Stay top-of-mind with them, so that you’re the first one they turn to when they’re ready.
Although a lot of this automation work revolves around what happens within your projects, I’d also argue it’s important to automate the stuff around it, too. That’s why I always insist that every business owner invest in their long game by creating a follow-up schedule for each and every client.
Step #12. Treat Your Business Like It Were One of Your Client’s
Your clients’ projects aren’t the only repetitive work you do. Anything you do for managing your own website or marketing should be automated as well. Once you’ve learned to apply the automated tips above to your project work, I’d suggest turning around and doing the same for your own brand’s work.
You know how much time you spent learning how to become a WordPress professional and preparing to launch your business. Now it’s time to take a look at what you’ve accomplished, rein in the waste, and start making some serious moolah like a web design agency.