2014 was a year with mixed reviews - incredible highs, devastating lows, and a frantic pace that seemed to cripple any attempt to take control of the year’s direction. After a two week hiatus over the holidays to catch my breath, here’s what I’d like to get out of 2015.
This is also not a finely-crafted article, but rather a work in progress - so don't be surprised if you find unfinished thoughts or even sentences.
This is not a "New Years Resolution" post at all - it's more of a diary entry that I've decided to publish in the hopes it stands as a signpost that I can return to throughout the months to come. I am notoriously bad at keeping these sort of commitments, and while it's therefore tempting to temper my aspirations, it's also true that failure is squarely in the path towards success.
Making, Signing & Keeping Contracts
Our company does a mediocre of the paperwork side of business. We've made some minimal strides in the past but as we grow in size and take on bigger (and more costly) projects, we need to get some contracts in place. I'd like to see at a minimum a one-time contract signed between ourselves and clients, establishing things such as:
- rules of payment
- payment or deliverable dispute
- early project termination
- intellectual property expectations
- fee structures
- IE8 policy (see below)
- included support & warranties
I'm sure there are other things to cover, and perhaps more contracts to sign. I'm happy to hear suggestions.
Our cozy relationship with our clients means that we often provide support at no cost. I think it's time we are compensated for our committment to being a phone call away. I'd be more than happy with a simple nominal fee, even if it only covers 50% of what we may do in return. It would still be a great step in the right direction.
Referral & Markup Revenue
In the past I have always been hesitant to skim money off the top of referrals or white label systems, but the lack of wisdom in that stance is financially crippling, to be honest. We suggest services to our clients, and sometimes even run them on their behalf.
Company Internet/Social Profile
Our company website does a good job of presenting our work, but it does very little to introduce who we are behind the name. Our Facebook page similarly doesn't do much to show off our personalities; our Twitter page comes the closest, which is a sad testament.
I think this is an important task to tackle as I think it will play a central role in acquiring new work this year. I'd love to see us start blogging, or at least start creating something online that is ours and not our clients... actually, that's exactly what I want: to release, publish, create something that is One Darnley Road's. I don't care if it's a page that tells you what time it is, just something to express our creative spirit.
I had the huge pleasure of speaking last year at GeeUp; I'd like to try my hand at it again this year. This is a huge undertaking, and a massive time suck, but I get so much out of it personally. To get to this though, I know that I need to publish more, write more, and hone my voice. Otherwise I won't be invited to the party.
Since there's no other place to put it, here are some quick ideas of things I could write about:
- how we price responsive designs
- how and why we use Preboot
- our Craft boilerplate
- Preparing a CMS for our clients
Alternative Pricing Model
This is a strange one, but - we operate as a traditional agency model when it comes to project scoping & pricing: we discuss the project objectives with a client, ask for a ballpark budget, and then cobble together a project "estimate", usually an X to Y range, and then get to work. There are two problems with how we then proceed:
- We do not accurately track our time & cost against this X to Y range as we work. In the end, we bill a minimum of X, plus some number that "feels right", below Y - unless something exceptional change or circumstance justifies clearly billing the entire Y amount.
- We rush the estimating of this process, and as a result often underestimate the final cost. The client wins almost every time.
For some clients, this model will have to remain in some shape or form - sure we may be able to improve the accuracy of our "feels right" pricing, but some clients will still require a clear X to Y for the "total" cost of a job before proceeding.
However I'd like to try an alternative pricing model, something that is more "agile". The idea is to quote for an in-depth discovery phase, which might even involve some minimal design work if necessary. We may still draw up an "X to Y" as a conversation starter, but the outcome of the discovery phase would be a more accurate X to Y quote which the client would then be invited to consider. Something that would be accompanied by a scoping document and a detailed project schedule. I know this is a no-brainer to some, but for us, or more finely for our clients, this is a big pill to swallow.
Along these lines, I'd like to also start the conversation earlier with our clients about ongoing costs - phase 2 or 3 budgets, year 2 or 3 budgets, launch & promotion budgets, etc. It isn't that I think we mislead clients to think that they will only need to pay once and then have a 100% perfect website for years to come; but I do think we could empart more wisdom to them up front, and help establish working expectations on deliverables & outcomes.
Price Sheet Guide
As mentioned above, we tend to "feel out" the right cost of a job. But we could be more scientific in our approach - much like we count up templates to add cost, and apply markups for things such as responsive design, there are certain features & functional requirements which add a clear additional cost to a project. These should be documented, accounted for in projects, and ideally tracked during project development to refute or confirm the original estimate.
For example, slideshows. Slideshows often are tossed around during a project brainstorming and promised without much thought, but when it comes time to build them, their costs can vary widely. Do they contain captions? Might they contain videos? Is this a responsive site? Are there multiple transitions that need to take place? How many slides might we have, should they be lazy loaded? Are they going to take up 100% of the browser height?
We host personal & client sites across a few hosting companies, and it makes no sense. I'd love to see these consolidated under one roof.
A friend tipped me off to the Hanno Playbook, and it took hold of me like a first love; this is exactly what I think we need for ourselves. One takeaway from the writing is that I liked the idea that it was something that could change over time - rather than articles or blog entries which must be published and never touched again, their Playbook is an ever-evolving document. It also has a mixed audience - it's both for employees & clients, so that everyone is clearly on the same page.
Our version could similarly attempt to document our process, our expectations, our services. We could also publish similar documents which mention favoured tools for development, plugins for site functionality, etc.
Google Apps for Business
I can see a few places where our company might benefit from moving to Google Apps. Better email and collaborative document writing are the two that immediately spring to mind.
Who doesn't love checklists? Actually I hate them and love them. Love the idea, usually fall short of the expectations. and never complete. I've Googled plenty for various project checklists, and they all miss the mark for our needs. Perhaps it's time to build our own. I'm talking about checklists for things like:
- project kickoff
- website launch
- content planning
- project estimating
- quality assurance
I'm the first person to want to say goodbye forever to IE8, but for our typical client base, it's still a browser we need to pay homage to. But I'm happy to deliver a modest version: Non-JS, non-responsive, non-AJAX. But to do this, we need to clearly indicate this with our clients, and give them an opportunity to pay for an upgrade to support IE8 fully. In fact, this could be extended to any browser outside a "supported" list. I'd be even happier if the fee is non-specific, e.g. tracked & billed as a separate cost.