The past weekend I attended a conference for web development/creative agencies. The topic was how to make your business better and was taught by some of the best in the industry: LessEverything.
I’m sure everyone got a little something different out of LessMoney, but I’m going to share the highlights of what I’ve learned. Please feel free to comment or ask questions below.
First you’ll notice you’re reading this out of my blog which until now has been a boring bit of news about us. I’ve always been hesitant about writing technical articles on my blog. My clients don’t care about that stuff right? Well, it’s almost impossible to market web design to actual clients. Our clients come from all walks, small local businesses to large corporate businesses and from all different industries. How can you possibly market to that wide a range...especially as a small firm? What LessEverything does is market to their peers and well...their competition basically. Firstly, this establishes themselves as an authority in the industry (they’re well known, respected and liked). And secondly, our industry is blessed enough to have clients abound that we have to refer out speciality work. So a design firm may refer work to a development firm and vice verse. Marketing to your competition still feels backwards to me, but I’m willing to give it a try. So expect at the least, more insightful technical, award winning, can’t miss articles from this blog :-)
Next is my website. I’m going to make it better. I’ve been so busy working on other people’s sites that I’ve neglected my own. But, all that says is “hey I can afford this guy. (Steven Bristol)” There were some amazing designers here, like http://turnandface.com/ , http://gauged2.com/, http://www.16toads.com/, just to name a few (I could actually put everyone’s site here). They explain how much traction they’ve gotten from their sites. I also want to design my site in a way that will qualify leads. By making it great, it will naturally discourage away people looking for a cheap site. But if done in a clever way, a different way, a less boring way, then then ideal clients will get that and others will fly under the radar.
Another way to market myself is to create open source projects or design for open source projects. This is perfect motivation for me to release a project into open source that I use to track my billable time in my company. I wrote the rails app after needing a new solution for myself and it’s a nice simple tool many others could use, add to, and help me improve my code. And maybe along the way, new relationships will be created that will lead to new business.
I’m a quiet, soft spoken, easy going, humble type of guy. I have opinions and preferences, but I keep them to myself. This will need to change. Clients want to pay for opinions. They need guidance, ideas, experience and consulting. Consulting means giving advice, and this is no different in the web industry. From now on, we’ll display a little swagger!
Our number one goal as consultants, designers, and developers is to help a client define success for a website or web app and provide them with the best path to success with the least risk and least headache. I think we generally do a pretty good job of this, but we could probably do a better job of reiterating it to the client.
Business & Contracts
Use LessAccounting. Period. Just kidding. The joke of the weekend was that LessMoney was really a rouse to get us all to use LessAccouting (LessEverything’s flagship product).
Before, I only used contracts for larger projects or on gut feelings. I’ll now be using a contract for every new project, large or small. I’ve never had an unhappy client (that I’m aware of), but that day may come and and I want to make sure I’m protected by a contract for what was or wasn’t supposed to be delivered. They gave us the contract they use and I’ll be using it against my own to modify it for my own needs.
I’d never thought of this, but from now on we’ll carry errors and omission insurance to protect the company against the potential of frivolous lawsuits. I don’t believe we’ll ever have a legitimate lawsuit against us because we’re Godly, honest folks that bend over backwards to please people, but in this country, anyone can sue anyone for anything and it’s expensive to defend yourself, even when there’s absolutely no case against you.
This is bad news for my clients, but I’m charging way too little for my services compared to others. We will likely be raising our fees sometime in the near future. Our quality of work and way too busy schedule is proof that the time has come. We also haven’t raised our rates since we started over 3 years ago.
Fixed Rate or Hourly?
There was no cut and try answer to this, but one thing clear for me was that I need to move to hourly, or adjust my fixed estimates. At times I go double over budgets in hours for a project. Fortunately I can afford to do this because it’s my time instead of having to pay other devs to do it, but it’s not fun, and also adds unnecessary stress takes time away from my family. If you’re having a hard time estimating, don’t feel alone, nearly everyone there struggles with this.
No content no problem
Myself included, many others cited a problem of getting clients to submit copy/content for the site, which leads to delayed launch, which leads to delayed payment (you get final payment when you launch the site right?). This has to change. Some people said they get content up front before starting a project. Some said they get down payment first, then wait on content to start the project. Others suggested putting language in the contract that all copy would need to be submitted x number of days (10-30) after the site was ready to launch or there would be a charge for it and they the client was still liable for final payment regardless. Whether the client is too busy, or is using as a stall tactic, it isn’t fair and should be thought out by the agency ahead of time.
When we first kicked the workshop off, we all (only ~20 total allowed to attend) introduced ourselves, said why we were there and defined success for our business. It really warmed my heart and inspired me to say that probably 90% + of us said something along the lines of this: making more money wasn’t really an an objective, but spending more time with family, better quality of life, working on more interesting projects, having less stress, and just learning how to deal with problems was why they were there, and was their goal. This was really so cool to hear. As an industry, we all love designing, coding, building, and creating things. We want to get paid for our hard work to support our families, many are not just in it for the money only.
These highlights were just the tip of the iceberg. Some of the most value came from the group discussions and relationships established. I met some super cool people and already have loose plans to meet up with some of them and also already have some leads on some new exciting projects. I highly recommend contacting LessEverything and asking when/if LessEverything Season #2 is going to happen.. It’s well worth the time and money to go!