I’ve been using ActiveCollab for years, but today I discovered something that might change that. Trello is free, and is super-easy to set up and customize for any kind of use. I signed up and created a board for a sample WordPress project in about 10 minutes.

Trello sample project

There is no built-in chat tool, but there is a ‘subscribe’ option for every task, or ‘cards’ in Trello speak. Subscribe notifies a member of the board whenever the chosen card gets updated.

Tasks or cards can be anything, and contain lots of info:

  • a color-coded label
  • a set of members assigned to the card
  • checklists
  • uploaded files and images
  • due dates

I like the simple interface – a board consists of a set of lists, each list has one or more cards (tasks) assigned to it. Cards and lists can be rearranged by dragging and dropping, and cards can be archived when the task is complete.

Here’s a sample board with a general web design process theme, and another that shows Trello’s own development flow

I’m going to try Trello for my next project; I think my clients will have an easier time with it than with ActiveCollab.

Oh – almost forgot. There are mobile apps for iPhone and Android too; the Android one looks pretty good. I don’t think you can upload files/images into a board on a mobile device, but that’s the only difference I see so far.

Smashing Magazine published a very interesting article on Thursday about the current state of the WordPress economy. I hadn’t heard this term before but it makes perfect sense – it’s the thousands of people worldwide that are benefiting from WordPress’ free, open-source software, making a living doing things like designing themes, creating plugins, developing sites or consulting. Well worth a look if you’re a WordPress professional at any level.

Here’s a link to Part 2 of that post.

For me, I’d classify myself as a designer/site developer/consultant/trainer, in that order. Where do YOU fit in? Are you a freelancer? Designer? Developer or programmer? Consultant? Trainer? How much of your income is based on your WordPress-related work?

I’ve read opposing views, as a designer, about focusing on one specific industry vs. marketing to and working with companies in a variety of industries, and I’m a strong believer of the latter. The variety is what makes it so interesting!

And while it is true that if you specialize in one or a very small number of industries you’ll become a true expert in them, I find it just as valuable to bring ideas to the table for a client that may have come from a totally different type of company. While every business website is different, there’s a lot of crossover and features like blogs can serve lots of different purposes – not just ‘the company blog.’

That said, I was really happy this week to be picked for a WordPress conversion project by a print design company that specializes in an industry that’s totally new to me. It’s a good way to get exposure to a different type of thinking and I’m looking forward to getting started next week – and hopefully establish an ongoing relationship providing CMS development for their design clients.

About a month ago I was contacted by a company who had a big job (from my perspective as a freelancer), a WordPress conversion project, and a very short deadline. I chatted with the project director, the developer and a few others and was hired to do a small proof-of-concept task to both determine if WordPress was really going to be a good platform for what they needed, and to try out my company to see if we would be a good fit.

The POC went very well. It served as a good intro for me to their site’s structure and content styles, and the client was quite happy with the results. They asked me to write a full proposal that would include:

  • Creating a custom WordPress theme based on their current site’s design. It needed to be a pixel-perfect copy.
  • Migrating about 60 pages of content to the new platform.
  • Creating a set of 6 custom templates that would be used as the basis for another 30 or so pages.
  • A good deal of custom Javascript and PHP programming to integrate with their CRM and cart.
  • Helping with the WordPress migration and installation on their Amazon host.
  • Training for the client’s Marketing and Development teams.

Taking the Proposal to the Next Level

I’ve gotten quite good at writing estimates in the last few years, but this one needed more care.

I have a spreadsheet that I use for estimating hours that I used to feed all the info I had about this project into and came up with a preliminary number, but I knew that was just the beginning; I was very afraid of putting in something that was too low and terrified of comitting to something so big and fast without some input from someone else who had been there before. I needed to find out what team members I needed to pull in and get some estimating help from a friend who runs a web development studio and has more experience with quotes for this size project.

I met with my friend and things really started to flow from that meeting. Ron had two employees that had some time available in the following two weeks, which coincided with the short deadline, and between them they could provide the custom programming and some plugin support for about 25 hours of time. This was great! He helped me tweak my estimate and get in an appropriate amount of time for project management and unforeseen contingencies, and in the end I felt comfortable with the range of fees we provided to the client in the final version of the estimate.

Filling Out the Team

Writing the proposal helped me get a better handle on who I needed for the team. I had my programing covered, but I called on another colleague familiar with WordPress to do some tasks for me like managing widget placement and SEO tags on all pages, and then put out a call on the Women Designers’ Group mailing list, where I’m a member, for a few others who were experienced with custom theming for WordPress.

I was very lucky to find two women who had the time available to commit. One had a lot of custom theming experience similar to mine, and the other wound up contributing as quality control.

Jumping In With Both Feet

The client was happy with our quote and so they hired us and we were off and running. We had roughly 10 days to get the project to a point it was ready for extensive review and testing by the client’s Development and Marketing teams, and then three more days until it went live. The quick timing was due to some advertising that was coming out right after the launch date.

I’d never managed a project so big nor had I ever had so many subcontractors working on a single project. In order to help me keep everything together and moving forward steadily I used two tools:

  • activeCollab, my project management site, where I set up milestones and tasks for everything in the project development sequence, and where we posted files and held discussions between team members and the client’s contact people.
  • A Google Apps spreadsheet that served as the master guide for everything. This spreadsheet took about half a day to put together. It showed every page on the site, it’s statuses for content migration, custom templating and programming if needed, notes, review/QA status and other elements. One of my subcontractors serving as QA/QC checked off pages in review as they were completed, and the other subs had access to mark their progress on various tasks for each page.

The client was pleased with our implied level of understanding of the minutiae of the project based on the spreadsheet and basically let us go, checking in every day and asking/answering questions as needed. They kept a very close eye on our work, and during the entire course of the project we ran into very few snags. Things went pleasantly smoothly.

The Team!

Could not have done this without the subs, in particular the custom themer that made it possible for us to offer additional features in the templates that we originally told the client would not be possible given the short timeframe, and the programmer that took the initiative to move things forward based on ongoing conversations with the client’s lead developer.  The choice of subs turned out to be very nearly perfect and it was fortuitous that everyone on the team had the time to throw at this project during the work period.

Launch and Beyond

We had a few hours of hiccups when the site was migrated from my production server to the client’s Amazon Web Services hosting, but the project launched on time  and the client was very pleased. I provided training sessions and extensive documentation for them, and we’ve established a strong working relationship that is moving into Phase 2 at this time.

The Most Important Things I Learned

  • Allow plenty of time for project management and be sure to put in an equal amount of time for contingencies because you just never know what’s going to happen.
  • Get the right people to help.
  • Stay organized, used tools accessible by all team members to stay on top of every task taking place across the board.
  • Find some time away whenever you can. I wound up with a nasty bacterial infection during the launch phase that began as a simple cold, I’m pretty sure it was due to the 12-14 hour days I put in near the end.

And, having a good client is also a huge contributing factor for the success of this project. The Marketing and Development staff and the project manager for the client were all passionate about their company, knowledgeable (or enthusiastic and willing to learn) about how our contributions would be affecting their daily work after launch, and easy to work with, and that was refreshing; it helped us keep moving forward at a rapid pace with few interruptions. The project was complex but the experience was great for me. I’m looking forward to working with this client in the future.

I know I should have been doing this before, but as part of my January ‘business decluttering’ I finally got a CRM.

Finding something that’s inexpensive, good-looking, is hosted somewhere besides my server and is reasonably feature-rich was harder than I thought. I settled on Capsule, which is really a perfect fit for me. It’s got a nice interface, it imported all my clients from a .csv file with no problems and is free for up to 2 users, and only $12/month for unlimited users. So far, so good…