Have you ever been asked a question that you weren’t quite prepared for? Once, during a meeting with a potential client, I received one that surprised me: “What was your most successful project?“
On the surface, it sounded simple enough. But I had much more trouble providing an answer than expected. Success can have different definitions. To be honest, I didn’t have a clear picture of it in my head. In my confused state, I flubbed the answer.
That got me thinking. Being subjective, what is a successful project? And how do you explain it effectively?
Personal Success is not the same as Project Success
A project may theoretically succeed for a number of reasons. You might think about how much money you made, a client award, or a specific technical or design feature you created.
For example, I’m proud of several WordPress websites I’ve built that included some form of customization. Especially when they include features I didn’t think I was capable of. So, I can put them in categories of personal success and technological achievement.
But do clients even care about those features? Sure, they want their website to perform certain functions. But it seems that most would not think about what goes into the technical side of things. They just hire us to take care of them.
I find it hard to believe that any client is going to focus on a designer’s achievements as a measure of project success. That’s not to say that the things we call our top five don’t have meaning – they do. But my little PHP ones don’t necessarily have the same gravitas for a client.
Tangible Results What Matters
Conversely, a potential client is more likely to know about the results of a project. In other words: How did you help one of your clients achieve their goals?
This can be difficult – especially if you don’t have detailed case studies to share. And you definitely don’t want to show any sensitive data to an outsider, like a Google Analytics report.
To begin with, you may need to be a little more general about what you share. That way, you’re talking more about processes than specific numerical benchmarks. An example of this is a client who was stuck on an ineffective e-commerce platform. Their goals might include 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 several client-specific layout options. Finally, you provided training and support to ensure that each process can be carried out as efficiently as possible.
Suddenly, this project seems to be a success. And your technical achievements play a role. You did x, y and z to help a client with their stated goals. Maybe you can even list this client as a reference (but ask them first).
The idea is that you are providing a more complete story. That will probably be more effective than listing personal awards.
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 demonstrate how capable you are of doing so.
Highlighting Successful Initiatives in a Way That Impacts Clients
It’s worth remembering, as designers and developers, that our idea of a successful project may not be the same as that of a potential client. Therefore, what makes a big conference speech is not necessarily about the people we are 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 “done” part of a project that I often remember that more than any other aspect.
But part of being a good web designer is how we communicate with clients. It’s about understanding what’s important to them and, just as importantly, showing we understand them. All the technical jargon that went into building your latest site might work in some cases, but usually it won’t work.
Hopefully, the next time I’m asked about my most successful projects, I’ll be ready to explain my client’s goals. From there, I can describe how I helped them make them happen. Or, maybe it was like my geography test in eighth grade in that I froze when I got to the moment of truth, while studying hard.
Either way, at least I’ll be better think on what I should say (even if I can’t say it).