Developing a WooCommerce store, a professional one, requires a sound level of technical expertise. The bigger and more complex your client's project needs are, the more elements and aspects you'll need to address. In order to deliver what's best for your client, which can sometimes differ from what they say they need, you should really hone in and invest quality time in the scoping phase of the project.

WordPress developer and Codeable expert Mitchell Callahan shares a few hints on how to properly scope a WooCommerce development project by assisting your client throughout the whole process and suggests what questions you should be asking, what things you'd need to provide, and what are the most important aspects you should take into account.

Are you ready? Let's start!

1. The bare bones of a WooCommerce project brief

The cornerstone of any project involving development work is a solid project brief. WooCommerce stores aren't exceptions to this golden rule. Therefore, you should be able to merge and integrate the one your client has with anything they hadn't thought about, which is going to be crucial to your work.

A project brief has all the information related to a specific development project and it usually should feature:

  • Goals of the project
  • Budget
  • Timeline
  • Users and target audience
  • Design consideration and preferred aesthetic
  • Tasks
  • Deliverables

When it comes to WooCommerce projects, though, you need to enrich your project brief with other more specific and WooCommerce-related elements. Specifically, you'd want to ask your client to provide more info on the following ones:

Top things your WooCommerce project brief needs to have

  • Design, theme
  • Product: product types, variations, categories, SKU's, product images, product descriptions
  • Taxes
  • Shipping
  • Integrations
  • Hosting

The main role of a solid project brief is allowing you and the client to have a shared and official document laying out the entire process, deliverables, timing, and budget requirements for the whole development project to be completed.

2. The beauty is in thoroughness

It might be called a project brief but that doesn’t mean the document has to be brief, of course. Actually, it's the complete opposite of that because the more rigorous and in-depth it is, the more useful it will be to both parties. As Mitchell suggests:

I like the project brief to be as detailed as possible. So we always have the major deliverables up in bold, and then we're really thorough on the sub-points we list. We break down not only what a single task is, but how we're going to do it. This really helps with scope creep because you can always reference back and say 'Hey, this is exactly what we said we're going to do' whereas if you had like a single point, it's more vague and it's left open to speculation of what that actually means.

When it comes to development work, there's never enough information, nor too much specificness. Be sure your documentation reflects all that you and your client talk and agree on to prevent unfortunate back and forth misunderstanding once the project kicks in.

Mitchell and the guys at SAUCAL put together a list of questions you should be asking to your clients in this really interesting ebook. I highly suggest you to give it a read.

3. Allow varying degrees of effort for every project

Every client is a different learning and business experience. There may be clients who have amazing ideas for their products but weak project briefs, little budget to turn them into reality or they just aren't clear enough on what they'd need to achieve through that project. Therefore, it is imperative to sit down and invest more time with this type of clients to being able to assess whether they'd be a good fit (or not).

Communication is the game changer that allows you to get on top of the situation. As Mitchell explains:

There are some challenging scenarios and so you're going to spend more upfront time with them. Unfortunately, there might be some cases where the project brief is just so bad that you almost need to become a business coach. When that happens, I have to contract someone else to really hone in with them what it is they're trying to accomplish. It's just they're not even at the point to build a site yet because they have other structural business issues that need to be tackled. It happens once in a while, but then - you know - I learn and I iterate, and I just keep adapting as we go forward.

Part of the job of selling your (agency) work to clients is also understanding whether the persons asking for development work are in the right "state" or business condition for that request. It's part of your role, then, to lead them towards what you think it's the best solution: sometimes, it'll be the need to help them clear ideas on their goals, provide tips on how to allocate their budget, educate them on having an MVP before moving on with bigger projects. Others, it might be even the case to tell them they're not ready yet to request what they want because of different reasons that directly affect the outcome.

4. Go beyond costs overview

When talking with a client, costs and price are of utmost importance. Especially with WooCommerce projects, where there are numerous costs involved, like plugins, renewal fees, maintenance, updates, hosting. To properly scope a project and provide clients with a great value it is important to compile a complete breakdown of every cost as well, one that enables clients to foresee their future costs.

According to Mitchell, an ideal cost breakdown doesn't just give you an overview:

Instead of just saying 'Here's the costs up front.', we give them quite a thorough spreadsheet: we show them all of their plugins with their annual, license renewal fees. We also include hosting and maintenance costs because we want to make sure they're thinking about how to properly update their stores and their WordPress cores, especially if their store starts to grow. This gives them a really good high-level view because you don't want them to allocate so much for their project and then realize they'll come up short. When I give them a lifetime value or at least a three-year value, they really appreciate that because they know exactly how much that thing is going to cost them.

It might sound counter-intuitive to give a client a detail list of all cost they're going to need to take into account for years (rather than just for the current project) because some of them might think it's too much at first sight. But it's not, it's something good clients really find useful. Having a detailed and documented costs breakdown is of great value to a business because they not only see how much money they'll need to start but also how much they'll need to allocate each quarter or year.

5. Leave no room for distraction

It so happens sometimes that while interviewing clients on their project, you miss out on essential questions to collect valuable info. To avoid this, Mitchell advises to have pre-compiled tools such as checklists and scripts to follow through during the discovery phase of a new project:

I highly recommend people having some sort of scripts or a list of questions you just go through with those clients who fail to provide the info that you need. Actually, I don't need it anymore - you're going to memorize it eventually - but that's what I did for a long time and it's been incredibly helpful for us!

Wrapping up

A properly scoped project starts by outlining your client's needs and goes on to address each and every detail that might be involved in the process. A comprehensive list of questions built into a script or checklist can help you achieve that in more predictable, steady, and efficient manner. Your questions should range, yet not stop, from the client's overall goals to the different types of products being sold and go all the way to shipping, payment details, tax regime, and so on. All these elements help create a clear picture of the project at hand for both you and your client.

Given all of this, it's always communication the key ingredient to a productive and beneficial client-developer relationship. And the developer is the one who should do the heavy lifting here.

I'm saying this because clients often reach out to WooCommerce developers with little to none of what they think is valuable information to the developer, while in many cases it's just too generic or incomplete. At the end of the day, what clients are most concerned with is ending up with what's best for them, even though sometimes they fail to clearly describe and picture everything they'd want when approaching a developer in the first place.

This might sound like an undesired annoyance for the developer or agency talking with them, I know. But it isn't. It's a business opportunity.

Clients aren't required to have all answers already because they're the ones looking for professionals to help them with their development needs. It's mainly on these folks' shoulders - the developers or the agency managers talking with clients - who should understand the role of educating their clients and ask the right questions, provide them with the right answers, and ultimately deliver the work.

Or, as Mitchell highlights:

The name of the game is being as thorough as possible on all fronts.

This blog post features Mitchell Callahan who is the commander at SAUCAL, a team of Certified WooCommerce experts dedicated to helping tech-savvy, web-based store owners like you thrive in an increasingly digital universe. SAU/CAL was named as the Best WordPress Agency for 2016 by WP Mayor.