7 expert tips on how to build a wildly successful web development company
Is there one, universal rule explaining how to build a successful web development business?
No, there isn’t. We wish there was a handbook for web development business at least. Fortunately, there are people like Robert Jacobi from Arc Technology Group, who is very successful in this business and who wants to share his experience with you.
Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all rule, but Robert, who has been working in web development since 2000, will try to help steer you in the right direction for sure.
Check his expert tips and use them every day.
1. Don’t Be Afraid. Everyone Was a Newbie
Being in the market for 16 years gives you brand recognition and experience. What’s your advice for people who are just starting their business and want to obtain quality leads?
There is no simple advice. I can tell you our story and what we did to be successful. First find something that will make your business unique and do not spend a lot of $$$’s doing that. Here is our story.
We started small as we wanted to conserve capital and make sure we had the necessary means to pivot the business if required. Our strategy was to focus on providing an open source solution to businesses who were used to proprietary solutions previously. We leveraged the flexibility of open source solutions to deliver exactly what our clients wanted. Combined with quality customer service we were able to differentiate Arc from the competition. Finally we wrote down in detail who we wanted as targeted customers and where we might find such people. We attended many networking events including local chamber of commerce groups on a variety of subject. Local publications have multiple events as well. Executive groups have events as well. We kept going to events on a regular basis to make sure the word got out of what Arc could do and that we were looking to grow. to different groups’ events and meetings.
How many meetings have you attended? Was it closer to 5 or 50?
Way more than 50. It took multiple attempts to even obtain an initial meeting. Then sometimes multiple meetings to get to where we would talk about a specific project or areas the company may need help. It was a slow process and required patience which sometimes is not that easy.
So, your advice is to not get discouraged easily and to go to one meeting after another in order to meet as many people as possible.
Absolutely. I’ll add one more important thing. The key is to attend meetings where there are a few technical people around, which makes you unique. Business networks or specific industry associations are the best places you need to be. That was the way Arc Technology grew in the beginning.
2. Direct Communication is Everything
How do you proceed with inquires from clients you get via email?
The first thing we do every time is responding to any inquiry by picking up the phone and calling the customer immediately upon receiving an inquiry. We speak to them,versus responding digitally as we have found this type of communication eliminates most misunderstanding.
How do clients usually react to that?
They love it! Most companies don’t ask for that. We’ve found out from small to medium to very large clients that other vendors do not ask to have this kind of conversation, don’t try to really get to know the potential client. Most of them simply rely on email or other digital communication which is not really the same. Talking to a human, understanding their needs, their business process, how they work - it helps to find out what is going on plus it takes the relationship to the next level and removes you from just being a name to being an individual.
Do you meet them in person or call them?
In person is always best! There is no substitute for talking directly to customers.
Does it mean you need to limit the range of your services to the part of country you reside in or you just travel a lot?
It does not limit the range however being in Chicago allows easy access to many large companies, so it has never limited our range. We show them how we work which is just as important as what we do.
3. Ask Questions, a Lot of Them
Once you talked to your customer and you know their needs, what’s the next step?
Our next step is a draft, a proposal with the scope of how we understand the project to proceed. Then we wait for feedback from the client, to be sure we are going in the right direction. Sometimes you need to ask additional questions and wait for further customer feedback. It takes more time, but it has many benefits. Through every step of the process we believe in collaboration with the client. It is a team approach. After we have all agreed on what needs to be done we include pricing and payment terms in the scope of the project.
Quite a lot of work. And you do it all for free.
Significantly these actions pay off. Most requests we get are very warm leads if not hot. I mean someone who is looking for a similar solution to what we’ve already done for someone else. Or even has met us at the conference or meet up somewhere. We are not randomly picking up requests for proposals in the Internet. Grabbing some random RFB (Request For Bid) and responding to that is a waste of time. We seek people who need our expertise and do business in a similar fashion as us. Those companys who like to work as a team are our best prospects. We try to avoid a supplier relationship with potential customers.
You invest quite a lot of time in the early stage of a relationship, but does it pay off?
Yes, it takes time to build a relationship. Nothing happens overnight. The more time it takes the stronger the foundation becomes. We’ve been around for 16 years so we have a pretty good idea what the requirements are. And we have found it pays off.
4. Focus on Quality and Execution
The image you paint so far is quite sunny but let’s talk common problems. What are the typical obstacles?
The biggest obstacle is making sure you have the clients invested in the project, that they are on board and they engage in what is going on. It’s critical that the client is active at every stage of a project .
For instance, a web developer’s typical complaint is “we don’t have the content from the client”. The thing is to communicate with each other at least three times a week to make sure the client knows where we are. That keeps the project on budget and on time, which is critical to being successful.
5. Understand and Plan Your Finances
From what I’ve heard from many Perfect Dashboard users from all over the world is that sometimes it is very difficult to make ends meet while doing web development. And you have developed quite an impressive company. How did you manage to achieve that?
Obviously, it’s a lot of work. From my point of view the financial aspect is crucial. You have to keep everything under control and plan your budget accordingly. For example, by creating milestone payments for long term projects and remember to set specific dates and amounts for clients so you can manage cash flow.
A good idea is to require a down payment before a project begins, it establishes trust between you and your client. The standard in web development businesses is 30 percent. Make sure you state your terms clearly every step of the way.
Our clients participate actively in the creation of the project at every stage. We create the budget together, that way there are no surprises for either the client or the consultant.
When you take care of your customers and exceed their expectations, growth and financial success follow. In terms of managing finances I have found it is better to bring in someone from the outside to help as most tech people are better at technology than finance. In this what you focus on your expertise and do not waste time learning something new at the critical time for your business.
6. Keep Details In Writing
What was the biggest single lesson you’ve learned from the project, you can recall right now?
There were many many lessons we have learned... Probably the biggest single one was making sure that all issues, changes and details are in writing and agreed upon prior to work beginning. It is critical to put everything down on paper. Verbal “Yes, we agree” or “Yes, we understand” is never enough.
When you have it in writing, you can go back every time and explain why something was done in a certain way. It is helpful when explaining extra costs with new requirements. Moreover, everything should be signed.
7. Community Makes You Stronger
Arc Technology is an active sponsor of many Joomla events around the world. How did you get involved with the Joomla Community?
We have been in web development business for 16 years. We started with building our own CMS and run it for a few years. Then we reached the conclusion it is easier to work with a larger open source project than maintain our specific code. We did a lot of research at that time and we started with Mambo, that we found was very flexible and very easy to adjust to our clients’ needs. Eventually Mambo became Joomla and this is how we’ve started. Simply, we felt that community was so friendly and successful that we should get involved.
Years ago you made an initial evaluation of Mambo, then Joomla as a platform you’ve worked with. The question is whether you did any reevaluation during recent years and if so, do you still think Joomla is the best solution for the needs of your clients?
That’s a great question! We do constant evaluation. We run WordPress or Drupal to find pros and cons of each system. Our team is very willing to learn new technologies so we constantly learn. We actually see that many open source content management systems have very similar sets of features and functionalities. However, having so many years with Joomla allows us to act quicker with this CMS. Additionally, Joomla is easy to use, robust for all types of development needs (especially integrating with cloud services), and inexpensive to maintain.
Many people are concerned about security issues...
Joomla security issues haven’t been bigger than in any other CMS. The main thing is doing constant updates, managing and monitoring websites security solutions. There are many great tools that make this happen.
Having a platform like Joomla that is constantly being utilized and evaluated by thousands of contributors and users creates a quicker turnaround for any kind of security issues. The community can find any issue quicker and gets results faster. With a custom CMS you don’t have such a big support base and thus problems may take longer to be discovered and ultimately resolved.It is true that the more people trying to resolve a problem the better the ultimate solution becomes.
How do you see the future of Joomla?
I’m very excited about what is going on with Joomla now. From a technology perspective we observe a huge transformation. The community puts a lot of effort to make Joomla even easier from users’ perspective. It will be even more clear and simple to use. This is a right direction.