Intro: Hey everybody and welcome to another episode of How I Built It! Finishing our series on How to Build a Business, I get to talk to my friend Brad Williams about client relationships. We start at the beginning with finding a client, the proposal process, and touch on things like having a Discovery phase. We’ll get into that in a minute, but first, a word from our sponsors…
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And now…on with the show!
Joe: Hey, everybody. Welcome to another episode of How I Built It, the podcast that asks, “How did you build that?” Today, I have a good friend of mine on the show, Brad Williams of Web Dev Studios.
Joe: Brad, how are you doing today?
Brad: Hey, buddy. I’m doing well. How are you?
Joe: Well, as we record this, we’re in the throws of football season so I’m just okay. I’m sure you’re a lot better than me though.
Brad: I’m kind of average. The Raiders are doing … They’re doing okay. I don’t think the Giants are doing okay.
Joe: The Giants are not doing okay.
Brad: Yeah. We’ll survive.
Joe: They’re being very charitable because they gave the 49ers their first win, which is nice of them.
Brad: That was helpful.
Absolutely. I actually forgot you’re a Raiders fan and not an Eagles fan.
Brad: Yeah. So the Eagles are doing pretty good, but I’m a Raiders fan in Philly. So you can imagine. So Christmas is going to be fun because the Raiders are coming to Philly.
Joe: Oh, nice. Are you going to the game?
Brad: I don’t know. It’s still up in the air. The family’s not super excited about it.
Joe: Oh yeah. Because it’s on Christmas Day.
Brad: It’s Christmas Day. So hopefully. We’ll see.
Joe: Oh, cool. Maybe that will be a nice Christmas gift. This is coming out after that game. So we’re not dropping any hints for anybody in the meantime. But why don’t we get started with why don’t you tell everybody who you are and what you do.
Brad: Sure. So as you said, my name’s Brad Williams. I co-founded a company called Web Dev Studios about 10 years ago, and we are a WordPress development and design agency. We specialize in WordPress scale, WordPress in the enterprise, really building large WordPress powered websites. WordPress is the only platform we work on so we’re truly experts at it, which is awesome. We work with some really great clients. So it’s been a lot of fun from starting on a coffee table to growing our business over the years, growing with WordPress and working with some amazing clients and some amazing brands.
Brad: That is what we do.
Joe: Awesome. That’s kind of what we’re going to be talking about today, right? Usually on the show we talk about a specific product, but this is kind of in the middle of a business strategy series. We’re actually going to talk more about pitching a client and forming a new client relationship, right? Which is something that you have quite a bit of experience with.
Brad: The pitch, man. You ever watch Madmen? The old ad agencies and they pitched in the ’60s. Yeah, it’s nothing like that. Although that makes it look really cool, right? I guess other than smoking 50 packs of cigarettes a day. Maybe the day drinking isn’t as cool now. But yeah, pretty much the opposite of that. So you can imagine … So one kind of caveat is we are 100% remote company distributed. So we’re all over the United States. There’s 33 of us at the company. I think it’s important to kind of note that just in term of how clients find us and how we kind of get in front of clients in a pitch or proposal situation. So we’re not just an agency that’s located in Philadelphia with offices here. I’m in Philly, but we’re literally all over the United States.
Joe: Yeah. That absolutely does make a big difference, right? Because you don’t have the situation where you can just get in a room with your team and really hash things out.
Brad: Right. So yeah, I mean, it definitely has … I like to say it has a unique set of challenges. All business has different challenges. Some same, some different, and across all industries, right? So being remote is just another challenge. I think there’s definitely some pros and cons to it. I don’t think it’s better. I shouldn’t say that. I do think it’s better than kind of the traditional approach. I think there’s more pros than cons. The big reason for us early on was to just find talent. We started out in the Jersey Shore area. If you’re not totally familiar, outside of summer, there’s not a ton of people around there. So finding developers or designers that were local that could come into an office was next to impossible. So we had to. We were kind of forced into it, right? So we had to look outside of our area a little bit. Towards New York, towards Philadelphia, towards Baltimore, and we quickly realized why worry about the location, let’s worry about the talent. Let’s go after the talent, and from that day forward, we just hired based off the talent regardless of where you lived. It’s worked very well for us.
Joe: Nice. You’ve definitely compiled a huge team, both current and alums of very talented people. I’ve had the good fortune of working with some of them either before or after they left Web Dev Studios. So you certainly have been able to find good talent.
Brad: Yeah. I mean, I mentioned it earlier, I feel like Web Dev really grew with WordPress, right? When we first started using WordPress, it was very much a blog platform. It was kind of one option that we looked at against a number of other options in terms of how we should build a website. As WordPress matured, so did our company and so did our clients and the size and type of websites that we were building. So once it really became more of a true CMS, we were using it full-time for everything. The larger companies were starting to look at WordPress as a viable option, and now it’s a bit of a no brainer for most companies that WordPress is a great option. Certainly one they should be looking at. It’s funny to think back that that wasn’t always the case. The first few years of the company, we had to sell people on WordPress. We had to really sell the on it. Now, it’s like they find us because they know they want it and they want to work with a company that specializes in it.
Joe: Yeah. Absolutely. Let’s start to really parch that out because a lot of … At least when I was freelancing, I always thought, “Man, how do you get the next big client or how do you even approach an enterprise,” right? So why don’t we start with how do people find you now? Is it basically like through your form or do you … What do you do to kind of put yourself out there?
Brad: So it’s a good question. One that people ask me a lot. How do people find you, right? So the majority of people find us via search or they’ve heard of us either via a WordCamp speaking or our various contributions to WordPress. We’re pretty active with our content, strategy, social media. We get good search traffic because of all those things, right? So we also have some books we’ve written. Maybe you’ve heard of them. Professional WordPress is a series that I was a co-author on. Lisa Sabin-Williams, my partner, has been writing all of the WordPress For Dummies books for like, I don’t know, forever. She’s done all of them. So if it’s got WordPress and dummies in the title, she wrote it or was a major part of it. So that helps, right? That helps just kind of validate that we know what we’re doing, especially earlier on when not as many people knew who we were.
Brad: So we also get a lot of … Another big stream of kind of referrals from either existing clients or friends in the industry or just friends in general. People refer people to us. We’re a “larger” company in the space. People look at us say, “You’re large.” It’s like, “Well, we’re really not.” In the grand scheme of things, we’re a very small company. But in the WordPress world, we are considered a bit on the larger size being 30 plus people. So we’re friends, I’m friends … Our company teams across the board are friends with a number of freelancers and smaller agencies and boutique shops as Medeiros would say. You know what I’m talking about.
Brad: So a larger client comes in the door and they know, “Yeah, this is bigger than what we can do. This is bigger than what we can support. Let me send you to a company that is better suited for this size of a project or a size of an engagement.” So we get a number of those referrals. So all of that kind of combined is where the majority of our leads come in. Now, we have been a little more proactive in the past year. So about more outbound. Being more kind of proactive rather than waiting for leads to just walk in the door. Be a little more proactive in our marketing strategy and kind of getting out in front of the type of clients we want to be in. It’s kind of a new area for us. We haven’t had to do that as much in the past, but we’re trying to be a little more proactive in that front. So that’s kind of a new area that we’re starting dabble in. But yeah, that kind of sums up how clients come in the door.
Joe: Gotcha. Yeah, that makes sense. I mean, I feel like the general sentiment right now in the WordPress space especially is there’s been a lot of success with … I say this all the time. The field of dreams approach, right? If I build it, they will come. I think there’s been a lot of success in the WordPress space up until recently. Now I think we’re seeing a lot more of people kind of having to put together a marketing strategy and be more outbound as you say. Would you agree with that?
Brad: Yeah. Absolutely. There’s definitely been a shift where it’s not as … Yeah, I like that analogy. The field of dreams approach. Yeah, I mean, a couple years ago we just sit back and the number of leads that would come in the door was ridiculous. We just couldn’t even spend as much time as we would even want to on them or we just had to refer them out because we were too busy responding to others. It was crazy. I think we’re a bit naïve in assuming, “Oh, it’ll always be like this,” and that’s not the case. I think a lot of that comes with the maturity of WordPress, and I think there’s a number of factors. I don’t think it’s all WordPress. I know it’s not all WordPress because I talk to other friends in the tech industry that aren’t WordPress at all, and they’ve seen a down tick in the past year or so of leads and kind of new engagements and work coming in the door. So I think it’s wider than WordPress, but obviously we’re in the WordPress space, the WordPress bubble, so that’s what we talk about and that’s what we’re looking at.
Brad: So yeah, I think it’s opened our eyes. We need to be a little more proactive. We need to try a few different things. It’s not always going to be just everybody walking in the door and doing these massive projects and craziness like that. It’s also, again, I keep going back to the maturity of the community and WordPress itself I think it’s just inevitable. WordPress has been around for over, what? 12, 13 years now. Something like that
Brad: It’s growing up. So are all the companies around it. We’re growing up with it. So it’s just kind of the nature of the beast I think.
Joe: Yeah. Absolutely. That’s exactly right. We’ve talked about on the show development practices have been maturing over the last few years. We talk about like automated testing and other things like that that have been in other software project spaces before this, but we’re finally getting to a place in the WordPress community where that is becoming the normal thing.
Joe: So when you do have a potential client, right? Or a potential project, what’s the first thing you do? I know a bigger companies have RFPs, request for proposals. Do you go through that process or what’s it look like? Let’s say a potential client fills out a form on your website, what’s your next step?
Brad: Yeah. So, RFPs are interesting. Right? I think there’s like very, very distinct two sides of thought around RFPs. One is don’t ever touch them. They’re a waste of time. The other one is respond to every single one of them and eventually something will happen. We’ve kind of gone back and forth on that. My general rule with RFPs is unless it’s an opportunity we just don’t want to miss out on, unless it’s some brand that just really stands out. Like, “Oh, we want to work with them,” you know what I mean? We generally will not respond unless we have a bit of a inside track. Meaning we know someone within the company or someone that can kind of … We have a better sense of we might be in the short running. Not to say we’re trying to cheat the system or get around the RFP process, but to say it’s more than just an anonymous company responding to this document that you blasted out to who knows how many different agencies.
Absolutely. I mean, filling out an RFP, if you do it right, takes a lot of time, right?
Brad: Takes a lot of time. Yeah. I mean, RFPs are generally very specific. This is our goals, this is our current situation, these are the areas we expect to be accomplished by these dates, this is how you will respond, this is what we expect, and you have three days. It’s always … Or the dates already past. It’s like, “What?” It’s crazy because you have to … If you’re going to respond to an RFP, you have to follow it to a t. It’s the first test. Can they listen to instruction? If they ask you for four references, don’t give them three. Don’t give them five. Give them four.
Joe: Give them exactly four. Yeah.
Brad: It is the first test. So you have to follow it to a t, and it is a lengthy process. So you have to know going into RFP, you’re going to spend some time up front. You’re going to spend an investment to respond.
Brad: If you do it correctly. So generally speaking, we do not respond to RFPs unless it’s, again, an awesome brand that we really want to just have our name in a shot or we have a little bit more insider information and have maybe a connection or someone within the company that we can work a little bit closer with.
Brad: Now, the majority of the leads we get in the door aren’t RFPs. They generally have a here’s kind of a spec doc or here’s a general overview of what we’re looking for. Can you give us a quote? What’s it going to cost, right? That’s the number one question. What’s it going to cost?
Brad: Those are my favorite articles. I think you might have written some of these too. Like, how much does it cost to build a website?
Yeah. Yeah. Actually that was popular I think because you guy shared that out like one day and that got a lot of traffic. So I appreciate that.
Brad: Oh yeah. For sure. It’s funny because most of those blog posts I’m always like, “Oh, okay. I’ll skim it,” and I always go to the bottom because it always summarizes with, “Well, it depends.”
Brad: It depends.
Joe: Which is, spoiler alert, that’s how mine ends too.
Brad: Spoiler alert.
Brad: Yeah, it depends. It’s just like if you go to any agency, any web development, design shop and you go to how much is it going to cost. Well, it depends. They almost will never give you a price.
That’s because I always equate it to like we’re building a house. That’s like coming to me as a house builder saying, “How much to build a house?” Well, it depends. What kind of house do you want? How big of house? How many rooms? Is there a garage? There’s just a million questions to understand how much that house is going to cost or how much that website is going to cost.
Brad: So yeah, a lead comes to the door. The first thing we do is we want to hop on a call and really get to … I like to hear … The first question I always ask is, “Tell me about your project. Tell me about your goals. I want to hear it from you in your own words.” I know the documents and emails probably say that, but I like to hear it from them.
You can get a lot from that, right? You can understand not just the specific goals that they’ve written out on paper but you can hear a little bit of the emotion behind it. You can understand a little bit more about if they’re having some struggles, if our website is just a terrible experience and we can’t work on it. Everyone’s frustrated and they’re all coming to me. You can get that. Or maybe it’s a new initiative and it’s a new hire at the company and they’re just super excited and engaged. You can just sit back and listen and listen to them explain to you what their goals for the project are, what they’re looking to accomplish, and then start digging into some of the specifics. I’ve always felt like that’s really good way to kind of kick off those conversations.
Brad: Plus, again, going back to being remote. We’re generally not sitting across from a table. We’re generally on a phone call. Sometimes we do video, sometimes we don’t. But we’re … Just like we are right now. We’re talking, right? So I also want to get to know the person a little bit. I want them to get to know me. I want it to be a friendly and fun conversation. Joke around a little bit, start to build a rapport because at the end of the day you’re both kind of interviewing each other, right? Are they a good fit for you and are you a good fit for them? Yes, it’s great to make money, but do you want to make money at the expense of working with a terrible person.
Brad: That is going to treat you and your team like you’re inferior and I’m paying you. You work for me and you do as I say and that’s that. Do you want to … Some people might be like, “Sure.” But most of us are probably like, “No. We want to work with good people.” We want a partner. We’re not just a client relationship here. We’re going to be a partner, an extension of the company. I’d like to try to look for those things when I’m on that call and try to figure that out early if there’s some concerns here or not.
Joe: Nice. That’s fantastic. I love that for a few reasons, right? Because you’re not just relying on the words that they sent to you, which are probably more calculated, right? That’s the pitch that they practiced, but when you ask them on a phone call or a video call, you’re getting what’s on the top of their mind, right? They’re no reading the script that they wrote.
Joe: Like you said, it is a relationship. You’re interviewing each other. I think that a lot of people tend to take it a little bit too personally if they don’t get a job, if they’re not hired by a client. I used to take it personally all the time.
Brad: I still do sometimes.
Joe: It sucks. Yeah, right.
Brad: I don’t think you ever get over that completely, right?
Joe: Especially if it’s someone you really want to work with.
Brad: Oh, man.
Joe: But I mean, somewhere along the line it was decided that you guys wouldn’t be a good fit, and I try to think it’s for the best even though sometimes it might suck.
Brad: Yeah. I mean, that’s how you have to look at it. It is business at the end of the day. There’s going to be some that just burn you a little more than others. There’s going to be some you might breathe a sigh of relief. Like, “You know what, I’m actually kind of glad we didn’t get that because the more we understood, the more we realized it might not be the best project in the world.” So yeah, I mean, you kind of got to brush it off, try to learn what you can from it, if anything, so you can use that for the next discussion or pitch and move forward. Yeah. At the end of the day it’s sales, right? I wouldn’t consider myself … I can never be like a door to door salesman. That would be an impossible job for me, right? I couldn’t sell cars. I’m not that type of person.
Brad: But I’m very passionate and excited about the web and websites. So I’m less trying to hard sell people and more trying to understand their goals and speak to how we can help to accomplish those goals and the direct result is essentially I’m selling the person on Web Dev Studios and our solutions and what we can give to them. That’s kind of how I look at it because I’m just not a salesman. I could never be a salesman, right? Ever. So I just speak to my passions, which indirectly help us bring in sales. So I found a way to make it work over the years and it seems to work well.
Brad: I think clients and the people we speak with and our partners really respect that because I think most of them anyways get that. They understand that passion. They hear it and they see it. Really anytime you can work with someone that is passionate about what they’re doing, and I preach this to the team and the people we’re interviewing and hiring. Anytime you can work with someone that’s passionate, it’s going to be reflected in their work across the board because they actually care. It’s not just making a quick buck and sending you on your way as quickly and cheaply as possible. They care that the end product is something that they want to be proud of, they want you to be proud of, they want to be successful, and that’s how I try to approach it and that’s how Web Dev Studios approach it and how we kind of preach internally about we’re partners with our clients. It’s not just a client relationship. We’re an extension of their team and we want them to know that from the start.
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Joe: Nice. That’s absolutely fantastic because it’s a good relationship is definitely the foundation, right? That a good project is built on. Along with understand the project, right? So you have that initial call, it’s time for you to build out the proposal. Are you doing other research after the call to see exactly what they need and what they’re about and how you would do it? How deep do you get into implementation during the proposal process?
Brad: This is a tricky one, right? Because there is a number of different ways to go about this you could spend a lot of time up front. Like really understanding every minute detail of the house you’re building, right? “House”, the website. Every little specification up front in the proposal. The challenge with that is, again, is the upfront time and investment, right? We used to do that. We used to spend 20, 30, 40, 50 hours upfront, and realized over time that it wasn’t … The upfront investment for us was not paying off in the long run. We weren’t getting enough clients to justify doing that over and over. So what we did is we found a happy medium of really understanding the project from more of a high level. So understanding if it’s a fresh rebuild. Is there design phase? Yes. Okay. How many mock ups do we need to do here? We’re going to do five and these are the five pages. Really high level. We’re not getting to specifics of what are in those mock ups.
Brad: Now, we are talking about features and functionality. If there’s any integrations with third party services, any APIs, any special widgets or modules that we want to discuss so we understand. So from a high level, do you need a calendar? Are you accepting payment? Are there subscriptions? Are you selling product? That type of stuff.
Brad: Then we architect a proposal around that. Again, that high level plan and we’re pretty good and kind of taking those high level over view and putting real dollars against it based on level of effort that we know from past experience, from past projects, and what that looks like. The goal is we don’t want to give the client, “It’s going to cost you $10,000 to build your website,” and then we get in there and realize, “Oh, this is actually going to cost you like 20.” That’s a terrible situation and one you never want to find yourself in.
Brad: Because it’s bad for you, it’s bad for the client, it sours the relationship. It’s just bad. You make those mistakes early on when you under bid. I think everybody does when they first start. I think my first website was like couple hundred dollars, right? I’m sure we’ve all done those and we look back like, “Wow. They got a good deal.” Or maybe not if you look at that code 10, 15 years ago.
Joe: I’m sure. Yeah. I got a good deal. I got paid to learn.
Brad: Yeah. So we’ve gotten pretty good about taking our past experience, what we know about projects, what we know about designs and architecture and development and features and integrations, and putting together numbers around that. At that point, we’re looking to kind of solidify that high level plan and get signatures. We’re trying to get an agreement in place and say, “Great. We’re going to move forward.”
Brad: The very next thing we do is what’s called a detailed discovery phase, and that is drilling down the minute detail of the project line by line, and we put together a proposal plan, which I like to call the blueprint. You see where I’m going with these? So the blueprint of what we’re going to build, which is the exact specifications of the website. It’s all right, if we’re enhancing the search, how are we doing that? Are we using elastic search? Are we using search WP? Are we doing it some other way. Like actually putting together the development plan. That is something that takes weeks to go through for a relatively decent sized project. It’s a number of weeks if not longer. The reason we’re able to spend that amount of time is because we have a signed agreement. We have money to cover that. We have a line item in our proposal that covers that discovery time. So we can sit there with a client over the course of a bunch of phone calls or screen shares or in person meetings and hash this out.
Brad: That approach has worked very well for us. So when we’re done with that discovery phase, we have a detailed plan. We go back and forth with the client on our visions and we get that thing as flawless as we can, and then we have them sign off on it. That is the build plan. We now have our blueprint, and we’re ready to move forward into development.
Joe: Nice. That is the investment for the client is obviously we’re going to give you something that at the end of the discovery phase, we deeply understand. So you’re not going to get hit with one and a half or two times what we originally quoted you, right?
Brad: Exactly. We make sure if we quote you a $20,000 project build, we make sure that the discussions and decisions within the discovery phase are in line with the budget. So we don’t want to say, “Hey, we can do this, this, this and this,” and then we include I and realize, “Oh yeah, by the way, that’s going to cost you an extra $5,000,” right? We want to say, “Hey, there are other options. However, they would probably be beyond the budget we set. Do you want to discuss those knowing that it will an increase in cost?” We let them make that decision. If they say, “Great. Let’s go ahead and talk about it so we know what that cost would look like, and then we’ll decide if we want to include that.” Okay, so we’ll figure it out, put the details around that, and add it as a line item.
Brad: Hey, if you want this, it’s going to cost x. It’s over and above what we originally quoted, but we make sure it’s part of that conversation because we just want to be as transparent as possible. We don’t want to surprise our clients with an unexpected cost because that will always end badly. So just keep it part of the conversation. Keep that total in your mind. Oh, we have x amount of mock ups. This is all we have. If you paid for five and you need an extra mock up, okay, we can do one, and here’s the cost if you want one more mock up. But it’s outside of that initial estimate.
Brad: So again, that’s worked well. So by the time we get down with that discovery phase, nine times out of 10, we’re lined up with the initial cost we gave them and away we go.
Joe: Nice. So now, as you move forward, right? So we’ve talked about the contact, the initial phone call, the proposal and then the discovery phase essentially.
Brad: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Joe: During the build phase, what happens if, because there’s a million things that can blow a projects budget, right? Either you misquoted, which it sounds like you do have a safe guard in place for a lot of the time, the discovery phase, or maybe the client … It turns out the client doesn’t actually know, despite the discovery phase, what they needed. How do you kind of mitigate that? It’s like, “Okay. We’re approaching our budget. We’re definitely going to go over. How do we properly communicate that to the client without torching the relationship?”
Brad: Yeah. That never happens, right? Ever.
Joe: No, never. Everything’s always under budget. I mean, that’s how …
Brad: I know. Yeah. A couple scenarios here. I think one is if something new is introduced and that never happens, right?
Brad: So something comes to light that we didn’t know about or there’s some feature that needs to be rebuilt on their own site that was not a part of discovery. So we have a change order process basically where when something like that comes up, we identify it. We have a call and a discussion. Basically a little mini discover. Okay. Let’s understand what we’re looking at here. Let us put together a plan of what it’s going to take to execute whatever it is you’re requesting. We’ll put together our cost, and say, “Okay.” It’s essentially a change order. It’s usually a one page add on to the original contract, and it just says we’re going to do all this for you. It’s outside the original agreement, but we’re going to do all this stuff. It’s going to potentially maybe adjust the timeline, maybe. If it does affect the timeline, so we have that in there. Timelines being pushed an extra week. It’s going to cost you x dollars. If you want to do this, sign here and we’ll get it in the schedule. So that’s usually pretty cut and dry as long as it’s clearly out of scope.
Brad: The other scenario, which is a bit trickier, is when you kind of committed to something and as you dig in you realize it’s more complicated or bigger than you expected, right? Maybe there’s some API integration on the surface that looked pretty straight forward and you get in there and realize, “Well, this isn’t straight forward at all.”
Brad: It’s going to take way more time. That ones tricky because you kind of have to look at each case case by case basis, right? So there’s no set answer. Generally we’ll look at and say, “Okay.” I always approach it as, “All right. What’s the impact here? Why are we off? Was it our doing or something unknown?” If it’s our doing, what is the impact? How off are we? How much extra time do we need? Then you have to make the decision, is this something we approach the client with or is this something we just eat the time on basically.
Brad: It’s not black and white. It’s every projects different, every clients different. So you have to kind of take in on the different variables and make your decision on how you want to handle it. But I always gauge it against how well the projects doing, how well we’re working with the client, how good the relationship is. Obviously the nicer the client is, the more our team likes to work with them, the more we want to hook them up.
Joe: Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely.
Brad: There’s nothing better than saying, “Oh, we came across something. It’s going to take a little extra time, but you know what? You’re just such a great client. We want to really help you out here. There’s no cost to you. We’re going to take care of it. We got it.”
Brad: On the flip side, if the client isn’t as nice, then we’re less likely to kind of go that extra mile, right? Because it’s like, oh, you know, they’re kind of mean to us on phone calls and they’re always yelling. I don’t feel like we want to eat this, you know what I mean. It’s just you got to kind of judge it based on what’s going on. But it does happen. It always happens. So you just got to kind of access the situation and make a decision from there.
Joe: I would imagine that decision is probably at least partially influenced by are we going to continue the relationship with our client, right? I might be more likely to eat the cost of something if I know we’re going to continue the relationship over the next few years or something like that.
Brad: Oh yeah. Absolutely. I mean, if it’s going to be ongoing, which the majority of our clients are ongoing clients, right? We do our initial project, we roll into kind of a support, maintenance agreement, and we continue to support their website. Whether it’s updates or backups or minor development things, maybe it’s full blown rolling out new sections, phase two, phase three type projects. But the majority of stuff if you really kind of set that great relationship with your client, why would they want to go anywhere else? They want to continue … If they already built that rapport with you and your company, why go find some other company to work with? They’re going to stick with you, and that’s the most important part is to keep that relationship as healthy as possible, to keep that client as healthy as possible because a one off project could turn into quadruple the amount of overall money from that client over the course of two or three years of them doing support and some random work here and there. So it’s super important to keep that client retention as much as you can.
Joe: Nice. Absolutely. We’re coming up on time here. I’m thinking maybe I can steal a few more extra minutes from my Patreon subscribers if you don’t mind.
Joe: But for kind of to put a nice bow on this conversation, we’ve talked about basically everything except the development phase. So what kind of … You’ve won’t the job, you’ve won them over with the discovery, and you’re ready to launch. When in that process do you try to hit them with a retainer or when do you try to secure a continued relationship, right? Because I feel like timing is very important there, right?
Brad: Yeah. For sure. So our initial proposal has information about ongoing support, post launch support and maintenance and some options there. We bring it up initially with zero intention of getting a commitment at the beginning. Sometimes they want it because they need to get everything in the budget all at once. Great. There’s the information. Here’s the cost. We bring it up initially just so the seed’s kind of planted, right? You’re right. Timing is the thing. Over the years, we weren’t good at this early on. We were terrible about it, in fact. We would launch a site and run to the next one and we would have no follow up conversation. Then they’re gone, right?
Brad: Years ago, we were like, “We got to get better at this.” So generally speaking, we start to bring up that conversation around QA. so we’ll do our overall development, however many weeks, four, six, eight, 16 weeks, whatever.that’s full blown development. Then we go into an internal QA phase. It could last a week or two, maybe longer, depending on the size. That’s where we’re doing internal QA, cross browser testing, functionality testing, load audits, all that, performance, all that good stuff internally. Then we hand it off to the client to do their QA. Every client is a little different in how they do QA. Some have QA departments, some have one person that’s going to poke around, some don’t even look at it.
Brad: So generally right around the time where we’re doing our QA, we approach the subject and say, “Hey, we’re coming up on your QA period,” and after QA’s done, we’re talking about launching. So we’d like to start the conversation pre-launch at least initially, and then we like to try to dedicate a call post-launch with the stakeholders and to really go through the options. Our support is really kind of configurable based on the client needs. So we want to sit down and understand what kind of support they’re looking for, how involved or not involved they want us to be ongoing. Some want more support, some are completely hands off. They want us to do everything including minor content changes and little adjustments that they could make but they just don’t want to. They want to have a company that does it and they don’t have to think about it. To other companies where they have an internal development team that we basically hand it off to them, and then we’re done. They support it.
Brad: So we kind of have those conversations or craft that support plan based on their needs. Generally it’s either going to be right a week or two pre-launch to start those conversations, but post launch is where you really get into the meat of it because the problem is pre-launch, they’re focused on pre-launch, right? They’re focused on what’s coming in the next few weeks. So it’s good to kind of, again, plant that seed but not get too deep into it, and then try to set a call about a week or so post-launch, at least for us that’s how we do it. Then we go through the options.
Joe: Gotcha. I mean, that makes sense too, right? Because I week post-launch you’re probably coming up on the end of your post-launch support contract or whatever, and now the client really is starting to think about stuff like that.
Brad: Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. It’s a good time to do it about a week after the dust has settled from the launch usually. If your launch went smoothly, I would hope so. So it’s a good time. The dust settled a little bit. Like you said, they’re starting to wind down the post-launch stuff and start talking about what that ongoing engagement looks like.
Joe: Gotcha. That’s fantastic. So well, Brad, thank you so much for your time. I’ve got one more question that I’m going to combine. It’s like two questions I’m going to combine into one.
Joe: That is what’s one thing that you want to improve on your process moving forward, and maybe based on that, do you have any trade secrets for us?
Brad: All right. Two combined. Trade secrets. I’ll hit that one first. One thing I’ve learned being remote communication is like critical, right? With a team and with our clients. It’s just that much more important because we’re not face to face, we’re not in the same room, we’re not in the same building, we’re not even in the same state mostly. So one thing I’ve learned is while communication is definitely key, some things that are often overlooked are having more one on one conversations with your team. So about a year ago I started having one on ones with my management team. So my project managers, directors, as well as our lead developers. That is anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes where it’s just me and them. We have video and we chat. It doesn’t have to be like a run down of current projects or active statuses. It can be if that’s what’s on their mind and they have concerns or whatever. But it doesn’t have to be that. It’s just time to get some face time. It’s a one on one.
Brad: When we were smaller and younger, it was a given because I was working with everybody every day, but as we got larger, that wasn’t the case. Many times while I’m still talking to our PMs and our leads very, very often, I’m doing it in group settings. I’m not doing it where it’s like a one on one where you’re going to get much more open and honest conversations, and that’s really, in my mind, really I think helped the relationship between the executives, myself and Lisa, and our leads and our PMs. I think it’s helped the health of the company because we just have better communication.
Brad: So it may not be the biggest trade secret, but it’s one that I learned I think a little bit late is that kind of one on one time, even with a smaller team, just having set aside time to interact face to face just you and that other person at least once a month is super valuable. You will learn so much. That’s been great. So that’s a bit of a trade secret and one that I’m sure people do. But if you’re not, you should try it because you will learn stuff and it will be great.
Brad: What was the other question? That was a long answer.
Joe: What is one thing that you want to try to improve upon with this process in the future?
Brad: Okay. So our process, it probably sounds like it’s this flawless … I think it sounds not flawless, but this really perfected, stream lined, everything is just rainbows and unicorns and it’s not true. There’s always room for improvement. There’s always room to make things better. One of the things that we always struggle with is keeping our process documented and current, right? So it’s one thing to have a process. It’s another thing to have it documented in a way that you and your entire team can understand it. That’s one thing we’ve struggled with because we get it documented and then a year goes by and we’ve made all these adjustments but we haven’t updated any of the documentation because it’s like the most thankless job in the world working on documentation. Even documentation to cover your internal process, but it’s so important. Not just for our team to make sure we’re following every single step, every single time and staying inconsistent. It’s important for like on-boarding when we bring in new developers, new project managers and say, “This is our process. Read it. Learn it. Understand it. Live it. Because this is what we do on every project and once it’s documented, then you can really truly make sure that you follow it to a t every single time.”
Brad: I’ll tell you, every single project that goes off the rails, I can always point to one spot where we did not follow our process. We skipped a step or we didn’t do something like we’re supposed to, and it hurt it. So it’s getting that process that works for you and your team and getting it written down and keeping it current. That’s one of my goals because we have not been good at doing that. So while I feel like I know it very well, we probably all have it in our heads slightly differently. So we got to make sure it’s written down and it’s agreed upon and everyone’s on the same page. So it’s definitely a goal we’re working towards.
Joe: Nice. I dig that. Me, as a developer, I, as a developer, and I know a lot of developers listen to the show. They could probably level with that. They really relate to the disdain of doing documentation.
Brad: It’s the worst.
Joe: So awesome. Well, Brad, thank you so much for your time today. I really appreciate it.
Brad: Yeah. Thank you, man. This was a lot of fun. Glad to be on the show.
Joe: Thank you. Yeah, absolutely. For anybody who wants to hear just a little bit more, maybe like 10 or 15 more minutes of me talking to Brad, we’re going to get a little bit technical in the second part, which is over on Patreon.com/howibuiltit. Otherwise, until next time, get out there and build something.
Outro: Thanks again to Brad for joining me. I love talking about this stuff because a good relationship with a client can be worth more than the biggest marketing budget. I think that’s something we’ve learned over the last 3 weeks: connect with people, forge relationships. For those non-football fans, The Eagles went on to win the Super Bowl. Brad went to the parade. I waited patiently for baseball to start.
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For all of the show notes, head over to howibuilt.it/72/. If you like the show, head over to Apple Podcasts and leaving us a rating and review. It helps people discover us! Finally, last week I published my brand-new Patreon page. It offers a lot better rewards, and great goals, and I’m really doubling down on it. So if you like the show and what to support it directly, head over to patreon.com/howibuiltit/. You can support the show for as little as $1/month.
Next Week, we’ll close out this series talking to my good friend Brad Williams about client relationships. Brad works with some big companies over at WebDevStudios, so he knows a thing or two. Make sure to tune in! And until next week, get out there and build something.