One Thing Leads to Another: How I Give My Freelance Clients More Bang for Their Buck

When I come in on a freelance contract, I usually find at least one other project that needs doing (in addition to what I was hired for).

NOTE: If you understand how the image above relates to this post, I <3 you. 🙂

As a consultant for small-to-mid-sized companies, updating website content is usually the gateway drug to me doing other projects for them, ones that they might not know need doing. Once I’m inside a company, I usually notice opportunities for standardizing content, making UX improvements, and even making suggestions to improve their business in ways that only an outsider with fresh eyes could do. 

Here are a few examples of this at several past clients. 

Company #1: The E-commerce Company

Original Project: Product Copy Cleanup

I was originally referred to a pool table retailer because they wanted someone to “clean up” the product copy on their suite of websites. It wasn’t badly written, or riddled with errors, but you could tell that a lot of the copy had been copied and pasted between products, and in general it just needed to be tightened up and polished.

For items within the same product line or style, the content should be identical when describing features. However, Google likes it better when you have unique content on each page. 

My solution was to draft an accurate list of the various product features and benefits (approved by SMEs), polish and tighten the writing, then rewrite them slightly so they retained accuracy, but were slightly different—enough so that Google would be pleased. 

Found Project #1: Clean Up and Improve Other Site Information

After I finished the product copy, I noticed that the other informational pages needed some love too. Again, the information wasn’t terrible, it just needed some better organization and editing, to make information clearer to customers. For example, there was some information about how big of a room each size of table needed, but the information wasn’t very easy to parse. I put all the information into an easier-to-understand table. And the installation and shipping information was missing some important details.

Looking at all these pages led to…

Found Project #2: UX Improvements

As I was editing the site copy, I noticed that there were some opportunities to improve the UX. For example, when a customer orders a pool table, the company wanted them to choose the “white glove” installation option, vs. the no installation option. However, the installation option information was buried in a footer link. People were trying to save money by choosing “no installation,” but having a professional install the table is crucial; it’s not something you can figure out how to do by watching YouTube videos.

It was very important to put the information about installation/no installation right in front of them in the shopping cart, after they’d chosen a table. So i worked with the engineering and design team to make an installation popup with both options (but the white glove first). The company was in between designers so this isn’t as elegant as we would have liked, but it got the job done. More people were choosing white glove installation after the change.

The owner put me in charge of driving the effort to make this and other UX improvements. 

Found Project #3: Product Lifestyle Photos

Whenever a new table or product was designed and made, it went into the photo studio for lots of product photos. What they didn’t have were pool table “lifestyle” photos. Their previous method of getting lifestyle photos was to try to get photographers over to customers’ homes, but this was prohibitively expensive.

The company had also tried asking customers to take photos of their tables in their homes. But you can guess the results of this: customers are not professional photographers, and more often than not the pool table was put into a family room that was not conducive to pretty product shots. 

This is the sort of photo people would submit.

At the time I was working on this project, I’d been looking at condos to buy, and I had noticed that many photos had been virtually staged with furniture and decor. I thought, Why not hire someone to virtually stage “lifestyle” photos of the pool tables?

Solution: Virtually Stage Product Lifestyle Photos

Doing this wasn’t as easy as I had initially hoped.

I thought that virtual staging companies could use existing product photos and insert pool tables into virtual rooms (like 3D photoshopping). But it turned out that in order to do this insertion, I would have to get the pool tables digitally rendered. Since I don’t believe in reinventing the wheel, my next thought was that we could get the 3D schematics from the manufacturer to use as a foundation (since this company designed their own pool tables). But alas, that wasn’t possible.

Next problem: most virtual staging places I contacted didn’t do 3D rendering. It took some more researching, but I finally found a few companies who would do the 3D rendering, and then insert the tables (and other products) into a virtually rendered space, and add decor. 

I worked out all the possible permutations the tables would have (stain, dining tops, accessories, etc) so I knew how many different lifestyle images we’d need. I worked up a spreadsheet and sent it around for price quotes. Prices varied, as you might imagine. The owner had hoped to use a company in the US, but prices for US local labor were too expensive compared to prices for outsourced labor (mostly in Ukraine).

We didn’t go with a rock-bottom price company (I knew from experience that wasn’t the best idea) but I found a company that would do both the 3D rendering work and the virtual staging, for a middle-of-the-pack pricing. I had seen their final images and had liked the quality, and they had been reviewed positively by the people of the internet.

During this project I learned a lot of lessons about working with outsourced labor for 3D renderings from companies overseas, but that’s another post. 🙂

After a lot of work, I think they turned out pretty great!

Found Project #4: Software Administration Manual

The series of sites for this company were built on top of a proprietary CMS. More correctly, they’re customized instances of a proprietary CMS for ecommerce. The trouble with customized proprietary systems is, knowledge on how to use them is usually in the form of “tribal knowledge,” and is stored in just a few people’s heads. I had heard early at my time at the company that the owner was looking to sell the company in the next few years. If knowledge was stored in people’s heads, how would the new owners know all the ins and outs of the platform?

I’m a big proponent of documenting operations and processes in any company I work for, and, having worked for more than a few startups, I knew that if a company is looking to sell proprietary software, having everything documented will make it more appealing to buyers. So I proposed a project documenting the admin backend, and the owners agreed to it. 

It was a good thing I did it too. While certain parts of the software were straightforward (like editing product copy), once I started delving into the software, and interviewing the engineers and other users, I discovered there were many parts of the platform whose functions couldn’t be figured out by just “poking around.” And there were integrations with external software that hadn’t even been mentioned in my initial scoping discussions. 

Company #2: The Small Web Development Agency

Original Project: Write Employee Bios

Found Project #1: Website Documentation

I saw that some of the clients needed documentation on the new website functionality that the agency had designed, so I offered to write that for them.

Found Project #2: Website Content

After I’d worked there a while, the CEO started asking me to write content for the website. Over time I became the author of most of their blog posts and case studies (as the voice of the CEO).

Found Project #3: Writing Social Media Posts

After I’d been writing their blog post content for a while, I started looking at their social media content. The voice didn’t really match what I knew to be their brand voice. The company was at a point where they were considering stopping social media posting. Since they were in that spot, I asked if I could take a stab at writing social media content for a while. If they didn’t like it, they could still kill the social media, no harm done. I did some posts for a few weeks, and they liked it, so I kept doing it.

Found Project #4: Standardizing Social Media Posts and Developing a Social Media Calendar

The company had just been posting social media content randomly, so I made a social media calendar with regularly scheduled posts for different categories (blog posts, case studies, podcast promos, event content, partner content, etc.) Different post categories also had special link shortener codes.

Found Project #5: Updating and Standardizing Podcast Content

I also started working on their podcast content, from editing transcripts, to writing show titles, descriptions and show notes. Their existing podcast materials were inconsistent, so I worked to author some standardization. I also suggested that they start using audio snippets in podcast promos.

Found Project #6: Writing Process Documentation

Because I had been working on all the above processes, I saw the need to document all the things that need to be done for each. For example, there are oodles of tasks to produce and promote a podcast, including editing the podcast, creating social media images, editing and producing audio snippets, publishing them to various outlets, then writing and publishing the social media posts one time.

I also wrote, in nauseating detail, all the social media guidelines we’d been following, from how often to publish certain social media types, to the shortlink structure. When I left the company, the person who took over said they were “very thankful” that I’d left such precise documentation, that it made their job so much easier!

So, what can I do for YOUR company?