Web Development Shops: Prepare Yourselves

web development shops - my open letter to you

Trends for 2013

I know you're looking at a new year and thinking about all the technology trends you will soon have to master. Maybe you even read Smashing Hub's latest article listing the ten development and skill trends they predict are needed for 2013. But let me stop you right there, before you get into mobile technology, css3, html5 and agile methodologies. Let me predict 5 things about your business next year (and no, I don't have video cameras installed at your shop):

  1. You will leave money on the table – more than you want or imagine.
  2. You will have trouble with customers who won't want to pay you.
  3. You will work on the same sized projects you always do.
  4. You will make a post or tweet about the bad customer you're dealing with
  5. You will work really hard, but not have enough free time to enjoy the spoils

If you change nothing about your business right now, I believe these predictions will be accurate – regardless of how much mobile technology, css3 or html5 you learn.

My Open Letter To You

Now don't get me wrong, I want you to succeed. In fact, I want to send you business. Big business. But most of the time I don't feel comfortable sending my clients your way.

Don't misunderstand me, it's not that I don't think you have the technical chops – because you do. You're better at writing cleaner and faster code than I am. Way better. And I'm serious about that. I believe it. But I can tell you for certain that my clients don't know how to judge between my level of programming skill and yours. And for the most part, they don't care.

I know, your initial take will be to click away from this post and assume I've got some beef with you. But I don't. I didn't write this for you specifically. Instead, it's an open letter to all of you. Every web development shop I know or don't know. Because those of you that step out in front are the ones I want to send business to.

We're all Professionals Here

I don't feel comfortable sending you my clients but it has nothing to do with your technical chops. It has to do with your business chops. Your ability to speak the language my client cares about. They care about profit maximization, risk mitigation, customer acquisition and other phrases that may feel like buzzwords to you but are very real to them. They don't care what “responsive” means to you – to them it means you know how to answer a phone. And many of you don't. You prefer email. Or text. If you ask them if they want something responsive they don't know any other way, but they'll surely not like to pay extra for it.

Being a professional in a service delivery venture, which is what you're doing, means knowing how to align your efforts with the needs and hopes of your customers. And that means knowing how to speak their lingo. Not just learning the phrases, but more importantly being able to embrace these skills as equally important as writing great PHP code.

Prepare Yourselves

I can't tell you enough how important it is to have an articulated strategy. If you know your customer's goals, put a metric on it (% increased conversions). Then lay out a plan for them that articulates how you want to get there. Also, make sure your design and development choices are in alignment with that goal. Developers who do that are often asked to do even more (taking that money off the table).

I can't tell you enough how important it is to learn to work with others. I could add that you need to learn how to work in distributed teams, but it feels a bit self-serving. When you learn to collaborate, you demonstrate the ability to know where your strengths start and end. You show you're a team player. And you put the customer's goals ahead of your skill limitations. This gets you larger projects.

I can't tell you enough how important it is to become a “systems” person. Those folks who don't want to pay? There are ways to mitigate those risks with better systems. The client from hell? They're a result of a system that doesn't teach them better (or weed them out earlier). You can't automate things, scale, or protect yourself from mistakes if you don't have the right systems in place.

My 40 Mantras

Over the past 19 years I've run small development companies, coached others, and worked in executive roles in both startups and corporate jobs. In that time I've shaped my management approach by forty mantras. They're all short enough to tweet and they're repeatable so that they can infuse the culture you're developing. They focus on the five aspects of getting your business right:

  • Making Profit
  • Managing People
  • Messaging Prospects
  • Maintaining Perspective
  • Maximizing Potential

While I won't list all of them – next year I'll be launching a class to cover them all – here are a few that may help you get 2013 started on the right footing:

  1. Helping others move faster and be better than they've ever dreamed possible is always good for business.
  2. Know what you do well. Keep the list short.
  3. Have a strategy – not just a to do list.
  4. Choose action.
  5. Master the important equations.
  6. Review what's worked.
  7. Be helpful.
  8. Learn empathy – it's a business skill.
  9. Sales (and everything else) is easier if you keep your promises.
  10. Create a done done culture.

By the way, I also wrote an open letter to site owners. We all need to elevate our game.