This article is geared towards anyone looking to implode under the crushing weight of unsustainable business practices, unreasonable client expectations, long hours for little pay, and a general sense of bewilderment as you ponder what went wrong. While that may not be you today, you may identify with one or more of these afflictions. Are you already recalling your worst client and the headaches they have caused? Here are some of the ways that you can hurt yourself as a web professional.
1. Be a Jack of all trades
It seems the conventional wisdom lies in how much you know rather than how well you know it. I see people who have skill sets that take up a lot of space on a resume. Admirable? I suppose so. Does it make you more valuable to a potential client? Absolutely not.
Think about it: has a client ever hired you just because you knew 8 programming languages and 10 web development frameworks? They hired you to work on a specific project that requires a specific skill set, and chances are you have represented yourself as an expert that is the best fit for that project.
If you can’t settle on a particular tool set, you won’t be able to gain that competitive edge we all desperately need to be successful. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but if you really think about it, no successful development company becomes so merely based on the size of their tool set. They become experts in a particular skill set, and they have value because they leverage their knowledge and find their competitive edge in that context. You can specialize in so many things; find a niche that works for you, and focus on that.
2. Take on every project that comes along
Getting work is great, isn’t it? As young, nubile professionals, there is a tendency to covet every job we get; billable time is billable time, right?
Inevitably, though, what happens as the workload increases? We gravitate towards certain types of clients that fit our skill set better, or people that we can tell understand our role as the experts versus "order-takers".
The point is this that you should be selective of who you work with. Don’t think of it as losing revenue as much as adding value for those you do choose to work with. Spread too thin, you lose the ability to be responsive to your client base; those people who are already sold on what you do, how you do it, and are willing to compensate you for the value you offer them.
3. Don’t have a business strategy
If business is good for you right now, then I would like to congratulate you on that. Often when business is good, it is easy to forge ahead and spend 8 hours in a day on billable work. You owe every moment in the office–and many of your moments out of it–to your clients first and foremost, right? It sounds harmless, but think of it like this: if you never sharpen your machete, how will you be able to cut a path through the forest?
It’s simply too easy to lose your competitive edge without knowing it, and then realizing as your clients move on one by one that the money didn’t come from manual labor, it came from your ability to continually improve upon the solutions you gave them in the first place, which in turn improves their ability to make money through the web channel.
On top of that, these are the people that are easiest to sell to. In sales, it’s called the low-hanging fruit.
4. Neglect your existing clients
Once you land a client and finish a project, be sure to put them on a nice ride that circles the park and walk away. They are happy and therefore they need nothing else from you. Time to hurry up and wait for the next word-of-mouth customer, right? Sounds like a safe plan. Occasionally you might need to call or email and see if they are doing okay, but that’s about it.
Now back to reality. When was the last time you reviewed your current client base looking at ways to improve upon their existing solution? Or talk to them for ten minutes and find out how things are going? If you are doing this, great, but all too often clients are left to grow old and hairy and slowly fade into the sunset.
Now imagine that there is a potential dollar figure that floats above each client and this represents lost potential revenue. You just can’t ignore your clients for long after that first project is completed. If they are happy with you, the first thing you have to do is think of another way to make them happy. You may want to give them some time to settle into their new digs, but at that point, you have a customer who understands the value you add to their company and will listen willingly to you for the next recommendation you can make to help increase their bottom lines. It really doesn’t get any easier than that to generate additional income.
It is good to talk to existing clients at least seasonally, but ideally to check in once per month and call it a value-added service because that is how attentive you are (to the money they are holding in their hand and ready to give to you for more awesomeness). Sounds exciting to me!
5. Don’t invest your revenue into your growth
Take the revenue, put it in the bank, and retire it from the business. "It’s been great working with you, but you can relax now and pursue whatever it is you like to pursue – maybe vacation in someone’s mortgage somewhere or take a ride in a 401K. Have fun".
Doesn’t that sound crazy? As crazy as that might sound, if you aren’t investing some portion back into growing your business (provided that is one of your directives), that is essentially what you are doing! You are sending perfectly good capital on a permanent vacation, perhaps eventually to be traded for a lifetime supply of unicorn glitter or a data plan for your cell phone.
It’s easy to be shy about using some of the capital you may have saved up to take a calculated risk on your business future, but then again, you took a risk going into business in the first place, didn’t you?
One entrepreneur thinks of his dollars as soldiers: they go out and they come back every day with hostages – more dollars. You can guarantee those dollars went out with a mission in mind though, not to wander aimlessly around waiting to be snatched up by someone else.