September is special to us, a time of looking both forward and backward. It’s our anniversary month. In 2019, we celebrate our eighth year of trading. Happy Birthday to us.
A business associate asked me which eight things I’d want to share as important lessons. There are many! Here are my top eight from our eight years of fun and challenge.
To make it absolutely clear, I have actually “lived” these, rather than stolen them from a business guru’s podcast…
1. Things You Can Do, Things You Can’t
Don’t try and do everything yourself.
Web design looks easy, and lures the unwary to DIY. I’m thinking of Wix, Squarespace, SupaDupa, Shopify, etc...
I encourage my customers to “have a go” so they can familiarise themselves with what they can get for their money, (and also what they don’t get…)
However, these services are cheap for a reason.
Your site might work ok for a while.
Web standards are evolving rapidly, whilst your website grows older by the hour.
Then everything looks messy.
Links stop working, page layouts are broken.
Some functionality need addressing, but a global company doesn't change that easily unless the masses are up against them.
Your online reputation is suddenly at risk.
Worse, Google stops being your friend.
Suddenly, you need support, but you’ve bought a low-cost DIY product, and the support is equally “low-cost”.
You are being pulled away from your core daily tasks by something you can’t fix, yet is vital to your business.
What have I watched and learnt from seeing this happen, time after time?
Look for a trusted supplier and delegate the work to them.
They’ll save your life (most of the time) and give you back what‘s most valuable: your time and reputation.
2. Cheap Means Cheap.
Did I Say This Already?
I don’t mind repeating myself, because this is a big issue. Cheap website building tools equal cheap support. In reality, you are abandoned and merely a buyer, not a valued customer.
An example:- I work with a charity with tight budgets, and not much to spend on a website.
They built a site using a low-cost web design package.
After much heartache, they came to us because the suppliers were difficult to reach (only via intermittent “on-line chat”), could not offer any helpdesk support, and major problems remained unsolved.
This comes as no surprise.
These “instant solution” site builder companies are focussed on mass selling for success.
They “sell product” rather than provide a solution.
There is no useful interface between the customer and the tool they’re being sold.
My client shared their frustrations with me.
They couldn’t update their site.
There was no support for them to do even this most basic and vital task.
Surely, this was part of the package? Finally, I spent some time unravelling the story, understanding their needs, answering their questions.
I fixed their website.
They were delighted with the fact they can trust me to do things the right way.
That’s what I do.
3. Beware of TimeTheft
Value Yourself. Price Up Your Services Wisely.
Don’t just price for “the job” alone - that’s only part of the process.
The biggest challenge in business is to cover the total time spent.
However, the only time which can be charged for is doing the actual job.
But, this comes after having spent a considerable amount of time finding new customers, presenting ideas to them, defining their needs, presenting a price and negotiating it.
There are many “time thieves” lurking around even a simple task.
Be ready to beat them by pricing accordingly.
Price wisely, for the whole process.
4. Don’t Be Mugged For Your Knowledge.
Choose Partners With Care.
Customers can shamelessly take your knowledge and ride off into the sunset.
Often, I should have been wiser.
Partnership should be a “give and take” process.
I shouldn’t have invested so much time with certain customers.
Of course It's difficult to say ‘no’ at times to requests when it’s just a matter of a few clicks.
However, when the client is not showing any appreciation of the work put in, this should be treated as a major warning alert.
Two options are available at this point:- showing them the time spent and complexity (and cost) of the job, or walking away.
Many times, I should have “walked”...
5. Be Wary of Customers Who Don’t Know What They Want
(but know what they don’t want)
Getting a project specification to the point where designer and client agree can be a challenge.
In some cases, I’ve found myself going round in this time-sapping loop:-
- Listening to customers needs
- Presenting several options
- Getting a point blank “no” without any pointers as to what direction to take. Next? (Revert to “1)” and start again)
Why the loop?
The customers didn’t actually know what they wanted to present to their market.
I had to make major business decisions for them to allow me to build the website they really needed...
Sometimes, two departments in the business were at war, and I was caught in the expensive cross-fire of corporate disunity.
Which leads me to...
6. Ask Basic Questions
"What do you want this website to do?"
"How do you want to do it?"
"What’s the main action you want visitors to take on your site?"
Start from the simple and work to the less-simple.
Builders start with brutal and simplistic holes in the ground filled with concrete.
They leave the choice of wallpaper in the guest bedroom toilet until last.
If only all clients saw it this way.
Don’t be afraid to ask what appear to be dumb questions that are actually quite smart.
They will save everyone time.
7. Salami-Slicing and The Peril of “Can You Just?”
Yes, we are back again to use of time.
Customers ask “can you just do this? Can you quickly add that on?”
Maybe I should give them the straight answer (guess what that is…?).
However, out of generosity, I become trapped:- “just” one thing may appear straightforward to do until you come to do it.
It then highlights other issues that need sorting out first.
Think “Rubik’s Cube”.
So the 5 minute job turns into 60 minutes and gets done for free.
Tiny slices of work eventually consume a two-foot salami of time.
I need to look in the mirror at myself more often and practice saying “No”.
8. Don’t Trade With People Who Want a Premium Work for Budget Prices
It doesn't work like that, sorry.
Yes, you can get it cheaper elsewhere.
But typically some corners have been cut.
I don’t do corners, as they cost money in the long-term.
Once again, we are back to the “no” response.
The joy I get at work comes from doing a good job which lasts.
The pain I get often comes from doing a good job for poor return.
I cannot do cheap work.
(and a Bonus Tip) If You Have Doubts About A Customer Paying Up, You’re Probably Right
Trust your instinct.
I have learnt early on that words mean little when trading with new customers.
Promises don’t pay the bills.
Until you see the money coming in, there’s no point starting any work.
I’ve had a few cases where I was so keen on starting the job that I ignored the payment element, and just trusted people too much.
I did not think it was possible for someone to decide not to pay for something they get.
I call this “theft”.
Have they had their conscience surgically removed?
Wiser now, whenever I deal with a new customer I ask for payment upfront.
And no one argues with this.
If they do, we probably should not be working together.
It won’t end well.
Help! What Have I Become?
In reviewing this piece, I’m slightly alarmed that I sound like the hard-faced businessman I never wanted to become.
However, there is no “emoticon” for fairness, justice, and ethical trading.
If so, there would be plenty scattered around every paragraph.
I love delivering excellent work at a fair price.
The majority of my customers understand this.
But the last eight years have taught me some hard lessons, hitting me not only in the bank balance, but also in the heart.
I share these on our eighth anniversary in the hope that we all “play nicely together”, seeking to do better business, but in an atmosphere of mutual respect, cooperation and understanding.
I hope you will agree.