We have been in the web design business and related services business since 2006. I as the founder of Digital Vision EA has had the privilege to be part of the whole shebang- Good times, happy times, low times, horrible times. But overall, Its been a learning experience for me and my team.
- Don’t commoditize yourself: Early on, Digital Vision EA wanted to be everything and anything for my clients, So I used to just agree to work on any budget, so as to build portfolio. This meant that I lost some amazing opportunities by being so busy doing some small sites- in the same timeframe I would have done a better paying website. So, Niche thyself and don’t just accept any job that comes along
- Design is a kind a of a big deal: I guess that is why its called WEB DESIGN. Some clients will provision a very low budget eg USD 250, but will then visit your portfolio and demand for a very custom design, which will keep changing, once they consult with their wives, girlfriends and neighbors! This design scope creep is real madness which can waste your time, deplete your energy and otherwise make you and your team work beyond the scope. Thus if you are offering custom design, its good to be pricey as this will save you money going forward. Also, remember to price yourself above your competitors. Main lesson, Dont just take any job and make sure you are very strict with SCOPING.
- No need to reinvent the wheel developing a custom CMS: There are many CMSes out there which would make a good technology fit for your customer requirements. There is no need to reinvent the wheel doing this. We wasted 2 years working on a vanity CMS project, which required alot of customizations. We currently use wordpress, pyrocms . We may consider Bitrix sitemanager and drupal in some new projects.
- Project management skills are king: In my experience, managing a project budget, the requirements, scope and client expectations, the schedule etc is one of the core skills required. We are still struggling in this area and hopefully we can put the matter to bed soon!
- Understand client politics:In a client company, there will be many stakeholders-marketing, IT etc. You will need to understand the political environment in a client company for you to deliver what they want, otherwise you will end up doing so much for so little, only for the big man to ask for something else in the end. Always get to know who are the key decision makers, influencers and gatekeepers. Maybe the admin you ignore has the ear of the big man so she could be both a gatekeeper and influencer.
- Educated customers are the best: Forget about the undecided customer who has to consult everyone before they say the project is completed. The best are educated customers, especially the ones who already have an existing site and want a redesign. You even have the benefit of consulting their statistics to know what would work and what would not. Its always better to walk away if you see
- Retainer contracts are better than one off payments:Retainer contracts are way better than one off payments. Cashflow becomes predictable and you are able to add more value to the customer-since it also deepens your relationship and interaction. You also get to walk with the customer in their requirements discovery process and get paid, since they pay for your time not only the service. One time contract means you are at big risk, especially if there is scope creep in the project
- Outsource as a last option: There are many benefits to outsourcing, but one thing which is not normally mentioned is the time you spend managing the outsourcers! Early on, I experimented with outsourcing the design part of the project, but we had to keep on awaiting feedback, missing deadlines and making it almost impossible for ourselves and the client to know EXACTLY WHEN the design would be completed. I would be glad to hear about successful outsourcing from some folks, maybe over skype or over a cup of tea or under a bottle of beer! 🙂
- Addons are good: Web Hosting is quite a good thing, especially if you are to maintain the client project after launch. You will be able to patch the sites more quickly and more frequently, while getting an additional revenue stream from the client and maintaining relationship over a long time.
- Validate hosting environment: Always provide the client with the specifications of the website or web application you are developing before you commence on the project. This is especially so if you are not in control of the project yourself
- Customer service is only as good as the work done: You may have a “roughneck” developer or designer who detests customer interactions but if he can deliver, then most of the time it does not matter. There is no need to have account managers who speak very well and promise heaven on earth, if you dont have developers/designers who will deliver customer expectations.
- Put developers in front of clients: Projects move alot more quicker when developers interact with clients, than if you put a brickwall
- Communications skills are essential: No matter how good a developer/designer is, If he or she cant construct a readable email,DONT HIRE HIM! He will be a pain to work with and he will not deliver what your customers need. More often, work will need to be redone
- Train your team : I used to expect miracles from our team. As soon as we had someone new on board, it was time to put them to the deep end and then let them find their way out. Rumble in the jungle crap! It works sometimes, but it puts developers through alot of stress and strain. Its better to have a standardized way of doing things and also take them through several stages of training. We are still trying to achieve that at Digital Vision EA.
- Have fun : Is it that serious? Dont take yourself too seriously when slip ups happen, as they will. Just dont make this a routine, otherwise you will be on the receiving end of justifiably irate and irritable clients. I learnt the bit about fun from our friend Marc Woesthuis of Trimm. (This is a long blog post for another day)