The answer to ‘how long do they normally take’ can be as varied as the different types of projects and unique elements required – especially website design and development. Start by identifying key delivery dates, then build backwards to identify key milestones. Your full service design and marketing firm should know from experience how long projects typically take, and lead the way. The key is to discuss it all at the outset of a project, and make sure both sides agree to comfortable schedules.
We usually tell clients it will take 5-10 business days to see things like logo, ad or web design concepts once the creative brief is decided upon. We say 10–15 days for bigger projects (like large brochures that also require a lot of copywriting. Then, depending again on the size of the project and nature of revisions (we generally include three rounds) we say 2–5 business days.
Identify Major Deadlines
Some of the projects we take on have hard deadlines like a commitment, an upcoming event, or a due date at a publication. If this is true for you, the first question should be ‘can the firm meet it at all?’ If they can’t you should discuss why with them. There’s a difference between they can’t because of other work and commitments (in which case you could go elsewhere) and it’s just not feasible due to the laws of science (plan b?).
If you have no hard deadline to meet, I strongly recommend creating one. If you keep telling your firm ‘no rush’, they will naturally back-burner it for the hard deadlines that come through and so will you. Meanwhile, the project loses momentum, everyone forgets the creative brief and neither side gets what they need (for you the tools to market and build your business, for us a sense of accomplishment and something we can bill).
Creating a Critical Path
Once you determine the hard or soft due date for the project, it’s really helpful to work backwards and set all main milestones. How long does the printer need to work comfortably? How many people need to test the website client-side and what’s a reasonable amount of time to give them to do that, provide feedback and have it implemented? I always try to give a little buffer. From there you can work backwards in terms of rounds of revisions and feedback, meeting on the other end how long the firm needs to generate creative concepts.
You Will Have Deadlines Too
Then there’s your side. The timeline also needs to include when the firm needs to hear back from you or receive needed materials in order to meet their deadlines. If you know when your attention will be needed, and how much of it, you can schedule it in. If you’ve never been through a website project for example, you may not realize how much time it takes to get information together early on, or test it thoroughly just before launch. Where picking an ad layout may seem simpler, if you need to get the input from hard-to-pin-down higher-ups or a committee, that needs to be worked in.
Ideally, the firm you work with has a process for keeping track of your timelines and holding you accountable, as opposed to just lobbing it into your court and forgetting about it. If not, things can fall through the cracks.
There’s Always a Workaround
Going back to the laws of time and space; occasionally timing just won’t allow for the ideal, but there’s always something that can be done. For example, instead of rushing through a branding process, we may print a very small run of temporary business cards for clients to take to an event. Can the website be up in a reduced form and called a ‘soft-launch’?
We work really hard to meet clients’ tighter deadlines and will not let them down by telling them we can do something we can’t and have pulled off some great creative under pressure. However, we do a much better job when not rushed, and build much better Rapport for them and for us.
Best Planning Practices
Sometimes unexpected opportunities pop up and your firm should do their best to help clients take advantage of them. But, if you involve your firm in everything related to your marketing efforts and discuss upcoming commitments, events, etc. in advance, they can help you not only plan better, but maybe recognize additional opportunities too. A one-year action plan can be a great tool for both sides.