Trish Lessard, CEO of Mediajunction, joins us to talk client websites and how to manage complex CMS builds, migrations, and implementations—while keeping these projects under budget, within scope, and delivered on time.
Hi, everybody. Welcome to Agency Unfiltered, I'm your host Kevin Dunn. And Agency Unfiltered is a bi-weekly web series and podcast that interviews agency owners from around the world about agency operations, growth and scale. Episodes can be found on Spotify, Apple podcasts, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. And you can find our videos and full transcripts on agencyunfiltered.com. In this episode, we're in St. Paul, Minnesota to talk to Trish Lessard, CEO of Media Junction. We talk about website projects, both building net new and migrating between CMS providers. Trish shares her process and her approach for effectively project managing client websites. And maybe most importantly, how to keep those projects delivered on time, under budget and kept within scope. Agency Unfiltered coming at you.
KD: Well, hello Trish. Welcome to Agency Unfiltered. Well, I guess we're Agency Unfiltered but thank you for having me in the Media Junction offices today.
TL: Yeah, well, thank you for coming out to Minneapolis.
KD: Today, let's talk about something that Media Junction has plenty of experience with, as you'll be able to attest to, but CMS migrations, website builds, website implementation, hot topic right now, rightfully so and it sounds like you guys have a real strong approach in which you keep those projects on time within scope on budget. And so let's see if we can dig into that and find some helpful takeaways for the audience at home. How's that sound?
TL: That sounds perfect.
KD: So maybe before we get into that line of questioning, why don't you just give us a quick background as to "Media Junction's" history with websites, site builds, what that practice looks like today for you guys.
TL: Sure, so we started out in 1997. And we started as a web design company. So as we evolved, we started with kind of smaller, local businesses, that was kind of the passion behind it, you know, the vision was, everybody someday is going to have a website. So, I mean, a lot of people probably watching this, were probably born around this time. But this was a time where you had to convince people that they needed a website. And so as the years have evolved, we've really honed in on the user experience and building websites for the end user versus brochure websites. And so, we became a HubSpot partner in 2011 and started working with old templates. I can't remember the name. But there were orange boxes everywhere. But yeah, so we started with HubSpot, and the rest is history, I got to say.
KD: How many websites would you guess your team builds on a year to year basis? Like what sort of volume are we thinking?
TL: Yeah, so it's usually 50 to 60 builds, yeah.
KD: And so maybe the best place to start, if we're talking about the process, I'll start at the very beginning. So do you find that most of the folks that need a website come to you, are you trying to scope out a lot of outreach in the sales process? What is the scoping look like for you guys in the sales process?
TL: So, usually people come to us, and they have maybe vetted two or three other partners. And so a lot of times they'll come to us with a list of the things that they think they need. And so, we really try to peel that back and say, let's start for a schedule, okay. What do you really need your website to do and we have that conversation. A lot of them are like, “why do we need a redesign?” So the customers come to us with I think I know, but they don't really know.
KD: How do you do the soft nudge on the things on the list that you don't think they need?
TL: So, I mean, for us, it's just, we're open, and we're honest with them about things. We try to have candid conversations, we try to just be, you know, treat people exactly the way that we'd want to be treated. So, obviously, a little bit of education. So talking through it, letting them know that really, nowadays, it's not even really about templates, because everyone just kind of stuck in that template mentality, and, well, can I get 50 templates of this or whatever. I'm like, no, we kind of do like, flexible modules and kind of, you know, so there's a lot of education that goes into it, and we do demos. So the best way is to show and tell. And so we open up, we have our own framework that we've developed for ourselves, that just helps with our efficiency. And so we open that up and give them a demo on the back end, and we show them the different things.
KD: This is exactly what it will look like in motion. What other information, so you have the list of their requests, you kind of comparatively look at it based on what you think they'll need. You peel back and so you kind of build that wishlist so to speak. What other information or what else do you need to pull from the client and able to build the right proposal kind of scope, what other information do you tend to collect at this stage?
TL: So typically its goals. You always want to start with goals. Like why are you going through a redesign? What does the current landscape look like? A lot of people that are coming to us, they're just not hitting their goals. They're stuck in the leads. People aren't finding things, things aren't organized properly.
KD: Are the goals typically lead-based or it's and all the way down to number of sales and generated revenue?
TL: Sometimes the quality of the leads are I mean, you know, the type leads are very different. So sometimes we'll have construction companies that come to us and they'll say, you know, we're having a hard time finding laborers and so our sole purpose is just recruitment.
KD: Yeah, that's great. Once we have the information we need, I now imagine that there's probably more steps so I don't want to like simplify the process, but you give them the scope of work, like this is what we think it's going to look like, this is how long it will take. So how do you, is it art or science for threading the needle? And how long a web project will be? Or how does that forecasting look like for timelines?
TL: You know, for us, generally, we know that, there's about 200 and 250 hours that are going to go into a website, just bare bones. When you're going to do it right, between strategy design, development and implementation. So for us, we start with a kind of flat rate and then we evolve it from there. And so it's usually on a per page basis or, if there's individual projects in there. So if there's like a calculator or things like that. We use a tool. I think it's like sitemap XML or something where we go in and we just crawl the site, look at the pages. If they'll allow us into Google Analytics to kind of look at how many pages, over the course of a year. And so anything that hasn't been visited, 100 times or more, we usually just jump off the list. And it's like, okay, we could probably combine, these six pages into one page. And so I think the biggest mistake is like, Oh, you have 50 pages, you need 50 pages. And then we've taken a 4000 page website and condensed it down to 1000 pages.
KD: So pages, I mean, you need to know it, but it's not going to always be a one to one mapping of how big this new site will be.
TL: Correct, yeah.
KD: 200, 250 hours I think you've just mentioned. So a substantial amount of time, and I would imagine within that time, there's a handful of touch points. And I'm sure, the client doesn't wait, you know, they're not patiently waiting over here, there's probably plenty of touch points in moments where you have to give them updates. What does that look like? What's kind of the rule of thumb for the cadence or the frequency of touch points with a client?
TL: We've gotten to the point where it's pretty simplified when you think of like, strategy is 25%, design is 25%, development 25% and then implementation, launch, NPM is the other 25%. So that's how we break it down for people. But yeah, I think, for us, it's, you know, discovery is usually started by somebody on the team that specializes in that. We do a lot of surveys with the customers, we do a kickoff stakeholder meeting. And typically we ask that, for this for this strategy session that we have the leadership team from the company on there to ask them-
KD: Is that ever hard to get that team? They're usually pretty open to that, yeah.
TL: Yeah, because I think a lot of even CEOs or VPS of sales, this is their tool. They're invested in it—
KD: The website should be the number one sales rep, right?
TL: Exactly, so, they treat it as this is an important meeting. And so, we ask a lot of questions and we listen. And so what we're looking for is, what does this website need to look like today? And what does it need to look like in a year to two years. So if they have new products coming, things like that, we're anticipating that we're building that in so then they're not-
KD: And that close to two years, there's not a whole new redesign for that, right?
TL: Exactly, because it's fluid, it should be constantly evolving and growing.
KD: Have you ever had a client come in maybe like the second half, like so you've planned the strategy or you're in the process of building this website, and like a request comes in, that totally is a curveball or a change of what they wanted, whether it's good or bad. And so I would imagine that if you're going to quote this time at this price, you want to keep it again within that budget, within that scope. But how do you handle requests that come in at the 11th hour? Whether or not they might be beneficial for the website?
TL So usually, I mean, it starts with the conversation, how important is it for launch? Is it worth, you know, is it going to impact anything else that we've done? So once we can kind of get past that we understand, like, is it the same team? What does our bandwidth look like? Can we take it on? Typically, we like to accommodate requests. You can kind of anticipate that, there's always going to be changes at the last minute, but for us It's really important that the client has somebody that is accountable to all of the approvals to the process. So I would just say that in each scenario, we try to be empathetic. Like, how important is this? Would this be something that should stop what we're doing right now? And so we kind of just handle it that way. And a lot of times the clients are pretty open to, they know that this is the last minute request.
KD: So if it's a polite nudge, or “hey, let's put that in the parking lot”, they're usually pretty open to that feedback at that point?
TL: We do, yeah. Especially if we're doing like a growth driven design model. It's like, Oh, that's a great idea, let's put that on the back plan.
KD: So that framework just allows for that—
TL :Exactly, because they're already in that mind frame. But if it's something that was missed in the scoping or missed by somebody along the way, then it's priorities.
KD: I mean, there's two differences between, Oh, we missed something that is truly vital in the scoping phase versus what's the shiny object syndrome or whatever, two completely different things. How does the process change if somebody is doing a redesign on the same CMS or the CMS that they're already on versus a migration from one platform to another? I would assume one's inherently more complicated. So how do you guys handle that?
TL: It can be, you know, typically, I mean, obviously, it's DNS, that you're really at the end of the day, I mean, if you're flipping the switch with HubSpot, game over, you can launch in under an hour. But we've had launches that involve huge IT teams, because they have different channels to go through to be able to get approvals and their timed lives are set, ridiculous they can just, you know, I mean, it could be days for some of these big companies. And so, a lot of times we all try to do is we'll anticipate that, and have that conversation a couple weeks before launch. I mean, we really like to talk about it earlier than that. But a couple weeks before launch, we'll have a pre-launch meeting, grab all the people in the room, figure out what time is ideal time.
KD: This is the day that's set up for it, yeah.
TL: So a lot of our launches happen super early in the morning. It's the first thing in the morning and we used to be really late at night when we were just starting out because we thought like, okay, that's not going to impact things. But you know what, we went home. You know what I mean?
KD: We need to be here, we need to triage.
TL: Exactly, so we blocked out a half a day for the entire team. Once on the launch, you're available. If there's anything that happens, we're just triaging it immediately.
KD: That's great. For migration specifically, in fact the one question that always comes up is like, what's the SEO impact? Do you guys have a stance on like, what sort of, like, is there a major impact to traffic? Have you guys found the right way to do the migrations to like, kind of mitigate that concern? What's your guys stance on it?
TL: I don't know. I think if you do the planning and you here, every three or ones in place, and you have all of that it should be fine. I mean, unless you're just batching it in the SEO. If they're killing it in SEO, let's look at what is on the page, let's not change a lot of things. But, I mean, we really haven't seen that.
KD: If anything, it should be, because you do all the right preparation, the three or ones to your point, if anything it should be a boost to that SEO, right? They're doing it the right way.
TL: Yeah, because a lot of times what we're doing is taking like blog from a subdomain and we're bringing it up to the main so people are seeing the impact in traffic and that happening right away. So yeah.
KD: Once the website goes live, everything's obviously been wildly successful, no major issues to triage, SEO jumps in all the right ways. What does the engagement with that client look like once the website's up? Do you guys have a model for ongoing support? Does it tend to lead into recurring services? What does that tend to look like once the site's up?
TL: Yeah, so for us, we build websites for BOFU, usually. It depends on how knowledgeable and how long they've been on HubSpot. If they have the offers that they have everything kind of in place, for us, it'll be an SLA, so Service Level Agreement. And it's whenever they have updates that come to us, some of our clients our strategy only, so we're looking at the data or giving them advice and then others are GDD, where it's like you start to jump right into, that backlog or you haven't kind of a point on.
KD: Some of the optimization opportunities and the experiments you want to run, yeah sure. Is there a heavy training component? Because you're solving, obviously for the users themselves, but the front end of the actual CMS, is there a training component to make sure that your clients teams know how to make small time updates? Or like, you know, any edits, drag and drop, something like that?
TL: Yeah in terms of for our clients, we built our framework to be pretty user friendly to anyone. So we like to say that within an hour, hour and 1/2 of a Zoom meeting, anybody can pretty much make that-
KD: So it's not a time-intensive workshop from you guys to get folks right on top of that?
TL: No. And the other thing is that, when we do that training, we provide them with a recording of the training so they can go back. So it might be like, cognitive overload for them, you know what I mean?
KD: Yeah, drinking from the fire hose.
TL: Exactly, it's like, here's an old tank. They're like, Oh, my gosh, you know, I'm a secretary, I know how to do when old tank is but you know, they can reference it back and that so. I mean for our clients, typically, we can hand off a website that's pretty easy for them to be able to manage. And our internal team, we like to have people start in the company as like a support coordinator and kind of take them through the whole company, and then work them into implementation. So everybody on our team knows our own framework. So it's something that I can jump in and make up updates decides anybody can. So it doesn't matter. So if we need all hands on deck, we've got a whole team-
KD: All hands are ready to be on deck, yeah, that's awesome. Maybe one or two questions I have for you, but as a website builder, migration or anything ever gone wrong, and then, maybe there's one example I don't know, but then what was the lesson learned? The idea is that, is there something that went wrong, that you learned how to do something a different way that maybe other folks can potentially avoid that happening to them.
TL: So I don't know that you're going to love this, but we have a retrospective meeting after every single website. And so, for us, something goes wrong on every single build.
KD: Well, I think that's fair to say.
TL: So I mean, some of them are like little horror stories, where, in the early days of HubSpot, it was the whole, you know, non-WWWs, and we're live and not able to get to their websites. But and obviously, we have learned the workaround on that. But not that I can, like, really, like-
KD: There's no major horror story that's a good problem to have than not be able to think of one.
TL: Yeah, I mean, I would have to be, years and years ago. Because I think that we've gotten to the point where, we try to anticipate that in every build, but there's, what can go wrong will go wrong?
KD: The flex time for triage, you know, you just, you bake it in.
TL: You do and you never know. So yeah, I can't really think of anything that's just like a-
KD: It's a good problem to have. Final question then for you. I tend to ask as to wrap up every episode, what's the weirdest part of agency life?
TL: That's a good question. I would say the weirdest part is people hire you and then they tell you what to do. It's just like, I mean, think about the last time you went to the dentist, would you ever tell your dentist like how to do their job? That's the weirdest thing.
KD: No, do it this way.
TL: Exactly. That's like, all of a sudden, it's like IT guys turn into designers like overnight. It's like you're telling me that this color—
KD: Yeah, right.
TL: I would say that that's like probably one of the weirdest.
KD: It's a good point. I thought of it that way, but I would assume that if there are agencies listening, they probably feel that way too. Well, that is it for me. I appreciate you coming on, thanks so much.
TL: Thank you.
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