Don’t Let Your Business Run You: A Snapshot of Web Development Team Success

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Don’t Let Your Business Run YouIf you’re end of year project is to develop an app or work with a developer, stop what you’ve planned to do after reading this review and pick up Don’t Let Your Business Run You: How Less Everything Makes $1 million Annually from Client Services. Meant for a web development audience, much of the book is also useful for the small business that sees technology as an increasingly necessary operation.

The authors, Allan Branch And Steve Bristol, write from their launch experience with Less, a small award-winning development firm.  I learned about the book during Allan’s appearance on Melinda Emerson’s weekly twitterchat Small Biz Chat.

When you read the opening chapters, being flexible is the modus operandi behind strategic choices and reviewing potential teammate. And these authors have brash but approachable personalities  – the company website lists its personnel with the byline “We’ve assembled a team of people that give a sh**”.

The first sentence of the book says if you are not wiling to change, give the book to someone who does.   That flexibility helps to make firmer decisions, such as their opening point about selecting who the customer is:

“We put clients in two categories: the ones who listen to you (those who really want your expertise in more than just code/design) and the ones who don’t…You’ll have to figure out why clients are hiring you. Most clients will hire you for your knowledge and expertise, but maybe it’s just because you’re in the same city, or because?you have experience in their industry, or perhaps you’ve built the type of features they needed before.  It might be simply because you’re the cheapest.

Whatever the reason, it will be easier in the long-run if you figure it out and accept clients with similar motivations. Once you know why they are hiring you, you can decide if you want to continue with these types of clients/projects and enhance the aspects they are looking for.”

Notice that I wrote the word “selecting” your clients instead of “understanding.”  That drawn-line-in-the-sand quote may speak to online developers, but the thoughts easily apply to other industries.  When Allan and Steve offer the other clients types, a small business owner with a few years under the belt will nod in agreement.   Combine this chapter with the book No You Can’t Pick My Brain, and you get the idea.

Quick asides throughout the book display the authors’ lightheartedness: When talking about partnerships being meant for each other, Steve references Allan as Forrest Gump’s Jenny. And there is a nice-but-intentionally-subtle-failed plug for LessAccounting, the account software they offer. Their humor and directness makes the book a good read.

The subsequent chapters set expectations about marketing your business and what certain client responses can occur.  Here is a rundown of what I considered thought-provoking quotes:

“Too many sites make their companies look unapproachable. Whether you like it or not, approachability is the opinion of the viewer. You never know when you’ll have a potential client looking for a freelancer or a small web company. Be very conscious of how you’re going to be perceived.”

“Marketing is about standing out, being approachable, showing value and giving love. Rinse and repeat.”

The follow quote reminds about how referrals are truly offered – from people you know, not just those who have been:

“At the very least, you should be able to find 2-3 hours a day to contribute to an open-source project. Most new business comes from referrals, so becoming the hero of a bunch of developers will likely lead to those developers mentioning your name when they have the chance. This is a great way to get some fairly easy exposure.”

This last mention is a reminder of where analytics and online marketing measurement is heading – there are still business stuck on eyeball metrics and not engagement. Allan and Steve do not delve into social media deeply, but their thought does temper expectations to realistic business-building levels:

“The best marketing doesn’t instantly get you a surge of traffic. Those people are quick to forget and never come back. Good marketing builds and builds, growing bigger and bigger. The things you do today will not affect your business for another 6-12 months.”

Building A Team Starts With How You Talk To Each Other

Allan and Steve shared some really solid hints at hiring and working with technical professionals, increasingly a necessity across all businesses.  The focus in Chapter 6 on interviewing developers is a great must read.

“Hire communicators. This doesn’t mean someone who just emails … Hire a person that follows up their employment application with an email that is clear and to the point.”

Allan and Steve also offer some interesting insights into what business should look for in partners. They believe resumes really don’t tell a lot about who can bring a solution to your table.  And they believe in businesses building on their own “home cooking”, so to speak, such as this comment on consultancies:

“A consultancy without any of its own projects is a real head-scratcher. How is a client supposed to trust you to make decisions with their project (using their money), when your consultancy doesn’t even build its own apps?“

So why should businesses have their own projects? One answer appears above this one:

“….How can you judge a consultancy based on past client work? You don’t know how much of the project they were involved in. Perhaps the client had terrible requirements. You can’t see through that stuff and into how the consultancy would make decisions.”

The last chapters deal with finance and accounting – not as deep as a standard finance book (see our short list of finance books), but still a useful reminder why cash is king.

Although the book is meant for up-and-coming developers, retailers large and small should read Don’t Let Your Business Run You. It serves as an excellent supplement to project planning. Once you do read it, you’ll find working with technical project managers and developers will be a piece of cake everyone can enjoy.

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Pierre DeBois Pierre Debois is Associate Book Editor for Small Business Trends. He is the Founder of Zimana, a consultancy providing strategic analysis to small and medium sized businesses that rely on web analytics data. A Gary, Indiana native, Pierre is currently based in Brooklyn. He blogs about marketing, finance, social media, and analytics at Zimana blog.

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