Over the last 6 months I’ve chatted to some world renowned experts about building a sustainable web development business on my podcast Agency Talk.
Below I’ve pulled out some of the best bits that will help you on the path from freelancer to strong, sustainable web development business owner. Click on each step for 1 minute of audio from each expert (start from the bottom).
1. Define your ideal customer
Probably, one of the biggest things that most business people tend to do is they don’t really have a strategy or a focus or a target market that they are going after. One of the things that I think is valuable to any business is to be very clear about who your customers are. In the web space the majority of people are playing at the lower end of the market, they are dealing with the small businesses, low revenue generation businesses. They can’t afford to spend a lot of money on internet marketing but they are very willing and ready to listen to a lot of information and ideas.
So one of the things I learned very quickly is that there is a certain type of business that I want to do business with, there is a certain investment that I want those businesses to make and my products and services so I have a value on what I do and what I deliver.
My value proposition is based on the value of clients that they are trying to attract. The client in the market for example, let’s say it’s a luxury home builder and there are several of those in the market . The average value to a luxury home builder for clients in terms of profit might be in between 10-15 percent of the value of the property which in turn could be $150,000-$250,000 worth of gross profit. To walk into a client like that and to offer a solution that says “I’ll build you a website and do a little bit of social media for you and the solution’s only $2000-$3000”. The value doesn’t equate to the value that you are delivering to the client because if your strategy is focused on getting $250,000 clients then naturally the investment in those strategies is going to be significantly higher.
2. Learn how to sell
I definitely can’t stand cold calling, I’ve done it. I’ve essentially been given a phone book with names and numbers, so I just called until you can make a sale. It’s a horrible way of doing business. It’s uncomfortable for me, it’s uncomfortable for the people you are calling. I’ve also done auto sales so I’ve worked in dealerships selling cars and the processes that a lot of salespeople tried to use in those environments are just high pressure. It’s all about really the salesperson and the company doing the selling and very little about what that person needs.
The alternative is after you have done education based marketing, you are in a consultative mode. So people come to you because they see you now as the expert. the authority in the marketplace and want to do business with you because they feel that you’re going to be the company that will handle all their needs because you really spoke to those things. In this kind of situation, it is great because now all you have to do now is dive into that person’s specific needs in their company. You can just start a consultative process.
The best place I would say for people to learn about this process is to read the book “Spin Selling” by Neil Rackham. Read that book because it will help you with the process and the framework of going through consultative selling especially for things in the agency environment where it is a high dollar figure that we are talking about. It’s not like, “Here, I’m checking out at the grocery store and buying a pack of gum on impulse”. People have to really make a rational decision along with the emotional side of it. Consultative selling is really important.
3. Productize service
Tweaky is the marketplace for website customization. We help small business owners who need to make small changes to their existing websites get the job done.
How it works is that the customer comes to us and creates a brief like ‘I want to change my logo or I need to add Facebook share buttons to my blog’. We then break it down to a series of tweaks and each tweak is valued at $39. Then it goes into the marketplace of developers who can get the job done. The interesting thing here is that it’s a curated marketplace so people have to apply to join and we’ve got a really strict application processes.
The developers rather than bidding on projects because we have already set a scope to project, set a dollar figure for it and define exactly what needs to be done, the developers just pick up the jobs and get started.
4. Build your USP
This is actually funny, I did some marketing training recently on the topic of USPs. For the last 6 months, I have been positioning myself as just a copywriter who wrote autoresponders and one thing that I got out of this marketing training that I did recently was that I had to be known for something. I have to have something, well ‘John’s this guy’ instead of just ‘John’s a copywriter’ because copywriters are everywhere.
Basically I just relabelled the site in a bunch of different ways . Calling myself the autoresponder guy and talking about myself as though everyone else called me the auto responder guy because even if that’s not really true people will assume that. It gives them a really easy way to explain me, so someone says “Hey, this is John. He’s the autoresponder guy.” and they would go “ Ah, that makes sense.”
5. Get referrals
Your best source of leads are going to be from referrals , just like how I got a lot of customers from referrals. You’re probably going to get your customers especially at the beginning from referrals.
Make sure you have a clean reputation, always do good work, put the customer first even when it doesn’t make sense. When you are first starting out in your business even in the long run reputation is one of the most important things and if you can’t have a squeaky clean reputation, you are not going to get at ton of referrals and you will notice your business won’t keep on growing especially on the short run right? Because a lot of other methods to get customers, take a lot of work and are much longer term play risk vs a short term play.
I just do good work and I hope people refer me . Every once in a while when people would talk about random stuff for other businesses they are involved with I’d softly mention to them ‘Oh if you ever they need help let me know’. Sometimes I would help nudge them towards more people.
6. Build an audience
It boils down to building up an audience of people, not all of them direct clients. A lot of people, just general business owners or people who are interested in the kind of work that you do. Building up an audience of these people and establishing your credibility and authority in whatever space you operate in and then using that to really drive a lot of long tail business.
Establish yourself and then over time continue to prove yourself, then when a project bubbles up to the surface or a member of your audience is in a position where they are speaking with somebody who wants a referral for an agency or an individual who can help them, you are at the front of their mind.
7. Get your processes right
When I joined there was a senior designer, a creative director I guess you would him at that stage. He had some processes in place and he taught them to me. I have known him for a few years so it was a pretty easy transition.
When we sat down and actually looked at building the processes out as we moved from a team of 2 of us and at the time I left there was 10 . It had to be specific enough so people knew what was expected, specific enough that you can sell into clients. Let them know you have one round of design upfront, two rounds of revisions then one round of development and then a Q & A round and that is it.
You also had to be able to sell into the sales team, it’s that classic thing the more you can educate, the better your sales go basically.
8. Find you unique lead advantage?
In business there is so many things to get a head around but really a lot of business comes back to how you are going to get customers. A lot of content we’ve had on the Agency Talk podcast over the last nine episodes really has to do with how you are going to get customers.
When I reflect on my time running my web design business, I think there was so many different ways I tried to get customers but in the end I was really only able to find one that really worked for me. At that time, it was SEO. Basically, I was able to rank really well on Google and get a lot of leads through Google that if I had to pay Adwords for I would have been broke overnight.
At least for me, I realized that a whole bunch of ways that generating leads didn’t work for me but then I was able to find that one that really did work for me that was able to use my strengths and kind of scale that a little bit.
I call that a unique lead generation advantage, what is it about you or your business that is going to give you that advantage in a particular way of generating leads.
9. Get you business model right
Probably the biggest tip that I would give, the one I wish I had been aware of when I first started out is it’s all about the business model. With a web design / development business, you really don’t make much money or any money when you’re developing the sites. All the money is in the recurring stuff at the back end of it.
So once you have finished the website for the client you haven’t finished the work because there’s so much ongoing stuff you can then develop a relationship with the client with and can keep charging them from website maintenance, to updates, to software upgrades to online marketing from search engine optimization, to social media marketing to pay per click advertising, on and on it goes.
It takes you a bit away from the web development “per se” but to ensure the financial strength and growth potential of your web development business, you’ve got to look at recurring ongoing opportunities to make money and keep the wolf from the door so the recurring charges and opportunities there are just enormous and a great way to make a really good income as a web development agency.