It’s one of the biggest challenges that any Shopify partner faces (or any service provider, for that matter): How can we make sure we’re delivering projects on time and in line with everyone’s expectations?
This gets tough in a web development scenario, where you have to ensure you and your clients are always on the same page through each step. And don’t even get us started on collecting all the assets you need to get the project done right.
We asked David Hoang, CEO of ZAGO, a Shopify partner, how his team collaborates with clients to make sure they not only build on schedule, but also meet client expectations and create successful outcomes. He shared some great insights that any partner can implement into their own process.
Let’s look at some of David’s best tips around collaboration and communication.
1. Establish common ground through trust and transparency
First things first—your clients need to know they can trust you. Part of this formula is honest and transparent conversations. For David’s team, these conversations revolve around two main project elements: the process and the technology.
Be clear about what the process entails and how the two teams will work together. This can include which forms of communication you’ll use and in what instances, what the timeline is, and the major and minor milestones that make up the target project schedule.
Explain how the website works in the background, specifically the if-then logic that triggers the site’s features and functionality. This can be as granular as explaining that every cart with a value of $100 or more will receive free shipping, for example.
Once the client has a strong understanding of how everything should go, you’ll all be more equipped to move through your milestones with ease.
2. Position yourself as a growth partner, not just a service providerDavid explains that it’s not just about racking up as many hours as possible on your invoice. It’s about taking actions that directly contribute to the client’s success.
One example of this in action is how to help clients problem-solve in a way that balances their finances and their business strategy. What would you do if they ask you to build a costly and comprehensive new app but you’re unsure if they really need it?
In David’s case, his team will work to find a solution that tests the client’s idea without potentially wasting valuable budget that might be better spent on other initiatives.
Our main mission here is to make their store successful, so every suggestion we have is based on how to do that. It’s a lot more than being here to build new functionality or add new buttons to the site.
3. Use a clear outline to manage expectationsAt the start of every project, David sends his clients a “setup package” to aid the onboarding process. This package includes an eight-step outline of how the project will progress, and he uses it as a reference point consistently throughout the project.
Here’s the outline:
- Set up the site with an official Shopify development store
- Set up the theme of your choice
- Set up the demo content to meet your goals
- Replace the demo site content with your content
- Adjust the content and layout to make it more unique and match with your content
- Configure settings like shipping price, payment gateways, taxes, etc.
- Update products and other settings (manual content edits on up to 10 products are free)
- Optimize the site and content to meet SEO standards
David says that this eight-step outline is a proven concept to align expectations with reality while ensuring the final deliverable will function well and maintain the beautiful aesthetic clients are looking for.
4. Proactively emphasize and repeat important informationIn an ideal world, we can go over everything once and never have to revisit it. In the real world, this is absolutely not how it works.
David says that it’s common to encounter a scenario where a merchant doesn’t understand or doesn’t remember specific points that they’ve already discussed. This is why emphasis and repetition are padded into his collaboration process.
Sometimes, we find ourselves having the same exact conversation weeks after the client signs the contract. But forgetting is human, and we get that. So we try to avoid it by consistently reminding them of what’s in their package and which step they’re in right now.
One of the biggest uses of this is resending the eight-step outline above each time a project has moved through to the next step. When he resends the outline, he bolds the current step they’re in.
He also makes sure to emphasize the importance of making certain decisions that can’t be changed later, like changing the domain URL or the Shopify username. These may seem like simple steps, but they are critical to helping to ensure that there are fewer “surprises” and less potential tension and conflict later.
5. Nail down your content collection processCollecting needed content from merchants can be one of the most time-consuming processes of the build. This is especially true when merchants don’t have a comprehensive understanding of how individual content assets will translate into the final product. For example, they may not realize the nuances of their theme’s design, like how an image will crop (or potentially distort) when it’s displayed on a product page or slider.
Here are some tips to make content collection faster and easier:
- Collect all assets in one place instead of through multiple platforms and channels.
- Don’t. Use. Email. Email is practically guaranteed to cause confusion, information silos, and missed assets.
- Have a single point of contact on your team who manages the whole content collection process.
- Explore content collection apps, like SimpleStage, GatherContent, Slickplan, or Content Snare.
- Provide a training call or step-by-step “playbook” that explains exactly how clients should be using your content collection tool.
- Consider developing your own content collection tool that includes forms, upload pages, and automated reminders.
6. Educate clients on the importance of an MVP buildOne common issue is “scope creep” or “feature creep,” where clients ask to add new additions after the original agreement is made.
As a partner, you may be tempted to appease the client by making the edits, especially if they seem small or simple. But before you know it, you might spend hours making additions—and delay the project by days, weeks, or even months.
Instead of continuing to add features and functionality before the release, try releasing a minimum viable product (MVP) to get the online store live as soon as possible. Then, you can continuously add functionality as you go.
When you follow this incremental approach, there’s a big benefit that might not be obvious to the merchant: They’ll have the ability to test their ideas, earn revenue, and gather customer feedback along the way.
Then, they can use this valuable data to keep building and implementing newer iterations of the store.
7. Try not to overthink or over-stressSome partners won’t struggle with people-pleasing, but many will. (And if you need to hear it, this one’s for you.)
We asked David what advice his current self would give to his past self when he was first starting out. His response was to stress less and put more trust into the quality of his services and processes.
You’ll find that when you’re not clinging so tightly to your outcomes, your client relationships—and the whole project delivery process—will have a smoother flow.
I was really stressed in the beginning. About reputations, reviews, people who disagree with the way we work. But of course, no service can please everyone. It’s totally fine if they have a different point of view. Just move on and bring all your good stuff to the ones who believe in you and want to grow together.
8. Be mindful of “fit” when choosing new clients
This is more of a proactive tip, but you might save yourself lots of time and lots of headaches when you can ensure that you and your clients are the right fit.
What do we mean by fit?
For starters, communication should feel smooth right off the bat. If you experience long delays during your pre-sales conversations or find that you’re often miscommunicating or experiencing tension, it might be a sign of speed bumps down the road.
Communication Is Key to SuccessWhile you can’t control exactly how your clients will collaborate, there are several ways that you can help to manage, streamline, and consolidate the project’s delivery.
It all comes down to how you and your clients communicate.
Be sure that you’re 100 percent explicit about what you’ll provide and what you expect from them. Stay on top of reminders and don’t be afraid to repeat yourself on important details. And prove to them that you have the integrity, trustworthiness, and transparency they’re looking for in a service provider.
When you take the time to create processes and implement technology tools to help you manage communication and collaboration more effectively, you'll reap a range of benefits that include:
- Having better, more productive conversations with clients
- Improving client satisfaction and leaving no room for surprises through accurate scope of work statements
- Enabling agency partners to build and transfer stores in a timely and efficient manner for their businesses
You can start building online stores for your clients through Shopify's development store environment, or if you haven't already, you can sign up for the Shopify Partner Program.