Grace Simpkins Personal Tutors began with just a handful of local tutors in Brisbane, and over the years has grown to hundreds of tutors right across the country, as well as two dedicated learning centres in Brisbane – first in Morningside, and more recently in Paddington.
Their original website included features for tutors to log into the website and submit timesheets, and website visitors could then search for tutors and make enquiries online. But as the number of tutors grew, the second learning centre opened, and company procedures changed, the site became slower and unsuitable in many ways.
The key objectives in redeveloping the site were:
- Make the site easier to use on mobile devices.
- Make the site faster.
- Make it easier and faster for tutors to register, update their profiles, and submit timesheets.
- Automate some tedious administration tasks, such as automatically adding new tutors to Personal Tutors’ contact management app (Zoho CRM) for billing and communication purposes.
- Improve the user experience in general, such as finding the right information more quickly and easily.
- Improve the tutor search functionality by including more options to refine the search, displaying larger maps with more relevant search results, and including more information on each tutor’s profile.
As with any project, we met up with Personal Tutors to go through the scope in detail. It’s very important for both ourselves and our clients to ensure that we’re on the same page. As I always say, the devil is in the detail.
After our meeting, we provided a detailed scope of works, and after some back and forth, our quote was accepted and we moved forward.
But we hit some snags…
Sometimes even the best-laid plans don’t work out. Our quote was based on using some existing software to save time and money. We’d carefully researched and selected a membership management plugin which would handle a lot of the tutor-related components such as tutor registration, updating profile details, login pages, and so on.
But after spending nearly 10 hours setting all of that up, we found that there was a clash with another key plugin which was causing major speed issues. We had to remove the membership plugin and redo all of that work with an alternative… only, that didn’t work as we’d expected it to either.
15 hours down, and we were basically still at the starting blocks.
In the end, we decided we’d have to custom build all of that functionality so that it worked exactly how we needed it to. We hoped this would actually save some time in other areas, but that didn’t work out either. Sometimes that’s just how it goes.
On top of those fairly significant hits to our budget, we still had to then create the tutor listings on the website, and integrate them with a map plugin. But yet again, the map plugin didn’t really work as described by the developer.
These are the things that make web development so difficult at times. It doesn’t matter how much experience or skill you have, sometimes the only way to know if something works is to do it. But of course, it’s not practical for us to spend 20 or 30 hours testing out software for each quote, so we have to estimate it. While things can go wrong with any quote in any industry, the more technical or precise the industry, the more margin for error there is.
And this led to our next problem: Our quote wasn’t detailed enough. Even though three of our team looked through the specs and came up with the estimate, we left out some details that we didn’t think were important – but it turned out they were. So when Personal Tutors asked for various adjustments to the work we’d done to date, we had three choices:
- Make the changes and take another hit to the budget.
- Make the changes at our normal rate.
- Make the changes at half of our normal rate.
The third option is always our preference for “grey areas”, because it’s an equitable solution, and we can move forward quickly without any haggling. So in some cases on this project, we met halfway on extra costs. In other cases (most, in fact), we simply took a hit to our budget, in the interests of good customer service.
So, things weren’t looking good. In fact, we had already consumed 90% of our allocated budget but were only about 40% of the way through developing the site. This of course made it increasingly difficult to cover the cost of any further adjustments unless we’d explicitly included them in our quote, and this caused friction with the client – very understandably. But we managed to sort those things out over the phone.
In the end, there were a few other minor hiccups but we finished the project to a very high standard. In fact, the quality of the work was far better than we’d planned, because our own custom development/coding was faster and more secure than the plugins we’d planned to use originally.
The new website is a vast improvement. It has everything you’d expect in a modern website – use of whitespace, larger fonts, simple navigation – but also a highly customised tutor search/booking system, tutor maps, and lots of back-end management tools for Personal Tutors to run their business. The website is also significantly faster and more secure than its predecessor.
The new site launched in January 2018, and traffic immediately increased by around 80%. That’s not a bad effort!
Despite the issues we faced with this project, we’re very happy with the outcome. And while we’d love to see every project run smoothly, perfection is unattainable. But we learn from our mistakes, learn new skills, and improve our business every day to ensure our clients are 100% satisfied.
What we learnt
Whenever anything goes wrong in any area of our business, no matter how trivial it may be, we immediately find ways to prevent it happening again. So here’s what we did:
- Changed and clarified some of the wording in our terms and conditions.
- Created a more formal quoting process so that certain information is provided up front – such as our assumptions, and when additional charges apply.
- Created an internal process for estimating on larger or bespoke projects. This means that we now don’t provide an up front quote for these; we provide only an estimate (sometimes a price range), and if that’s within the budget of the client, we’ll THEN get together to prepare a final quote.
- We added some base costs to all quotes, to allow for testing, backups, revisions, communication, and contingencies.
- We allowed greater padding around projects in our schedule, to allow for unexpected issues.
These changes in combination mean that we’re much more likely to give an accurate figure to prospective clients. And that doesn’t mean each quote is necessarily higher – sometimes our new quoting process means the cost is actually lower because we’ve already factored in more variables.