Have you ever been asked a question that you weren’t quite prepared for? Once, during a meeting with a prospective client, I received one that caught me by surprise: “What was your most successful project?”
On the surface, it sounded simple enough. But I had much more trouble providing an answer than anticipated. Success can have different definitions. Frankly, I didn’t have a clear picture of it in my head. In my state of confusion, I flubbed the answer.
That got me thinking. Subjective as it may be, what constitutes a successful project? And how do you effectively explain it?
Personal Success 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, or the existence of a specific technical or design element you created.
For instance, I’m proud of some WordPress websites I’d built that included some sort of customization. Especially when they include features that I didn’t think I was capable of. Thus, I can chalk them up into the categories of personal success and technological achievement.
But do clients even care about those aspects? Sure, they want their website to perform certain functions. But it seems like most wouldn’t think about what goes into the technical side of things. They simply hire us to take care of that for them.
I have a hard time believing that any client is going to focus on a designer’s 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.
Tangible Results Are What Matter Most
Conversely, what a prospective client would more likely want to know about are the results of a project. In other words: How did you help one of your clients to achieve their goals?
This can be tricky – especially if you don’t have detailed case studies to share. And you certainly don’t want to explicitly show an outsider any sensitive data, such as a Google Analytics report.
To start, 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. In addition, you also customized 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 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 narrative. That’s likely more effective than listing personal accolades.
After all, when a company hires you, they’re doing so in part because they believe you can help them solve problems. This is one way to illustrate how capable you are of doing just that.
Highlight Successful Projects in a Way That Impacts Clients
It’s worth remembering that, as designers and developers, our idea of a successful project may not be the same as a prospective client’s. Thus, what makes for a great conference talk isn’t necessarily relevant to the people we’re trying to sell our services to.
In my 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. Repeating all the technical jargon that went into building your latest site may work in some instances, but will usually fall flat.
Hopefully, the next time I’m asked about my most successful projects, I’ll be prepared to explain my client’s goals. From there, I can describe 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 say it).
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