One very important step that many people overlook when starting a big project with a freelancer is the discovery phase. This discovery phase, when done thoroughly, can save a lot of time, money and headache. It is the best chance that anyone will have to make sure that the project goes smoothly and stays within budget. Big projects can take months to complete, and nailing the discovery phase is vital to getting everything done right, and within the expected time frame as well.
Let’s take for example a business owner who is contemplating a website overhaul. So this guy is looking at his website and looking at his sales and thinking about the connection between the two. The website is what he built when he was just starting out. At that point, all his startup needed was a simple online presence where he could direct prospects and list a few products. As his business grew, he got busy and didn’t really have a lot of time to think about the website. His business has outgrown it, and it can no longer provide the support needed for further growth. He can see how sales are suffering because the website just doesn’t measure up. There’s a disconnect somewhere, and he needs it fixed.
So he heads over to FreeeUp and fills out a worker request form for a web developer. While he waits for it to be fulfilled, he goes back to work with one eye on customer emails and the other on the Bronco’s game. When he gets the email, he finds an available expert with years of development experience eager to interview. They hit it off marvelously, so he clicks “Hire” and off they go…
But wait, what exactly is this freelancer supposed to be building?
They chat a bit the following day about what he thinks of the website and she tries her best to learn what he wants the new website to be. They seem to understand each other, but they have no idea what havoc is yet to be wrought by the many questions that have been left unanswered.
The last thing that you want as a busy business owner is to have to have things redone because the results aren’t quite what you wanted. It is unnecessarily stressful and wasteful.
What is the Discovery Phase?
This is what the star of our example above should have been preparing for as he waited for a freelancer to respond to his worker request. There are a lot of important details involved in creating an online presence for a business, and laying them out clearly can spell the difference between a successful output and a painful development process. Here are the four key topics that you need to explore with the freelancer as soon as you click “Hire”.
Share Your Business Needs
A freelancer is not an experienced eCommerce entrepreneur who has specific expertise in your line of business. They don’t know what you need. You do, and you should make it a point to share the basics with the freelancer right off the bat. As you talk about your company culture and the nature of your business, they can get a feel for specific elements that should be included.
You are not an expert website developer, or whatever project you are hiring this professional for. You therefore don’t always know everything that can be done for that project. You know that you want to level up, but you may not be sure what all your options are. Sharing details helps the freelancer to understand enough to make intelligent suggestions. Together, you can discuss different elements such as design and functionality so that you are improving your initial ideas rather than leaving the freelancer in the dark.
Be Clear about What You Want
There are some things that you may not have thought of before, which is why it’s good to discuss and take suggestions. There are other things, however, that you are quite decided on. Present these ideas to the freelancer and be very clear on what is non-negotiable. Take time now to explain your ideas thoroughly so that you are sure that you are on the same page. This will save you a lot of time later when you will have to explain it anyway, plus have the freelancer do certain tasks over again to get them right.
Allow for Research Time
After you have shared all your ideas and have a solid project scope and outline, give the freelancer time to take a step back and assess. Discussion is detail-oriented, and the freelancer will need to switch gears at this point. You will want to add to your scope a proper assessment of how long the whole project is going to take. The freelancer will also need to think about the specific tools that they will need to get tasks done right.
Even when you’re dealing with a top-level expert, each project is different just as each business is unique. Giving the freelancer this time to make a thorough assessment will save you trouble down the road. Hasty estimates are often inaccurate, leading both you and the freelancer to stress over missed deadlines and rushed work that turns out to be a shabby reflection of what you had envisioned.
Meet for Regular Assessments
You and the freelancer should set regular meetings to check in and review progress. This helps keep you both on the right track and allows you to make tweaks here and there. No plan is perfect, and you will see and want new and different things as the project progresses.
The first meeting should be set right after you have completed the scope and estimate project delivery date. This meeting will be to discuss milestones and the hours that each stage of the project will take to complete. Going through this ensures that you can align your schedules and make any related adjustments to the whole project. Your succeeding meetings will be to review and assess these milestones and discuss any further adjustments before anything can progress in the wrong direction. This will save you loads of headache and keep you on target both time and money-wise.
Be Active and Available
You’re ready to get started on the project proper, but you have to stick to the plan. When you agree with the freelancer on the milestones and meetings, you have to also agree to do your best to stay on schedule. There will be little things here and there – no one can think of every possible angle and avoid every hitch. This is where it is important to make sure that you can stay in touch with each other for the day-to-day stuff.
The plan is not going to run itself, and you can’t go off at this point and leave the freelancer to carry the burden on their own. You need to assure the freelancer that they can reach out to you in case they have questions or need guidance on any specific tasks along the way. This helps to greatly reduce the possibility of errors and avoid costly delays.
Remember the Discovery Phase
The discovery phase for any large project is like a book outline or a business plan. You can’t just go off and write a book or launch a business without proper planning. Well, you can, but you can’t expect it to go very well. There are things that have to suffer through trial and error – and you along with them – but there is no reason to put yourself through that horrific experience if you don’t have to.
Don’t discount the discovery phase when you are embarking on a big project and you won’t regret it. You may not think that you have the time or the energy for all this right now, but come on – are you going to be able to afford even more hours and hassle plus additional money down the drain a couple months down the road?
Julia Valdez is a professional teacher and long-time lover of the art of words on paper and the stage. She spends most of her time doing freelance content writing and management, community volunteer work with the Philippine Advocates for Resilient Communities, adventuring with the Greenhouse Christian Fellowship, and sharing lots of laughs over little crazy things.