In the past 8 months I’ve found three challenges to reaching my goal. First, I had some misperceptions of what level of quality of software businesses want. Second, I have been distracted from the truth by the echo chamber I participate in, specifically the Twitter followers and blogs I read. Finally, and most importantly, while I’m good at marketing, I’veÂ completelyÂ failed in selling the value of my services. Â The following lists the failings in detail with my new goals to fix those problems.
Why Double My Rate?
Iâ€™ve found there is a glass ceiling with programming rates. I figure if I find a way to break through that ceiling, then Iâ€™ll learn. You should always be learning in programming, and thus doubling my rate this allows me to learn.
Programmers Want to Create First and Foremost, Businessmen Want to Make Money First and Foremost
Any programmer who wants to be good is constantly focused on learning and improving their craft. Specifically we focus on anything, and everything that can positively contribute to ensuring we produce better code thatâ€™s more enjoyable to work with, reduces project risk, and ensures a good user experience. This includes, but is not limited to, learning new design patterns, languages & runtimes, and processes such asÂ ContinuousÂ Integration, Agile/Scrum, and TDD.
When talking to 3 successful businessmen I know, all 3 arenâ€™t focused on improving their craft. They are focused on making more money. My Dad is in sales and sells luxury hardware installations. My Uncle Barry is in luxury retail. My Uncle Flip is a corporate lawyer. All 3 are financially successful. Â While they have different educational backgrounds, and different businesses, all 3 corroborate each other. Iâ€™ve found that other successful people, whether in their blogs, in company press releases, or public interviews all have the same primary motivation. Theyâ€™ll quickly follow with others, but making money is ALWAYS #1.
Iâ€™ve spent 10 years learning how to make the best software possible. Itâ€™s not helping me make more money.
New Goal #1: Learn more about making money.
Good Enough Software
One thing I’ve noticed in my consulting over the years is that a lot of companies have an extremely low expectations for software quality & velocity compared to me and my colleagues. Many would rather purchase software made at Walmart vs. Louis Vuitton. While investing in the R in RIA has a higher return on investment (PDF), many find that simply investing in the ubiquity of Flash Player with its predictable playback is good enough.
Later, a lot of these companies realize their software has usability problems or is hard to sell. This is often where I come in; to make an existing Flex application look hot. This is backwards how youâ€™re supposed to do software. It happens again and again because companies are rewarded through profit for good enough software. While it costs them a lot more later to implement a design, at least they DO eventually recognize the value of it.
One of the biggest challenges Iâ€™ve had in winning new engagements is educating a potential new client on what the true value of quality is vs. â€œgood enoughâ€, as well as justifying the cost of good design and UX. While iPhone was a game changer, Android sales are surging past it. From a consumer perspective, many would agree iPhone provides a better user experience compared to Android, yet that is not hindering Android sales success enough to prevent it from beating iPhone in total market share. Having multiple operators, multiple device types, and targeting different demographics are all the primary drivers, none of which have to do with good UX. This fact validates the â€œgood enoughâ€ point, and makes it even more challenging for me to quantify the value of good design when it’s not a prerequisite for software profitability.
I still believe good design in software is a must IF you believe in quality. It ensures less risk, time & cost savings during development, and an overall better customer experience. This in turn leads to saving a lot of money as well as making more money.
New Goal #2: I need to get better at communicating the benefits good quality software will bring in both quantitative and qualitative ways. Â I know what they are, but wrongfully assume my clients do as well. Â Educating them with qualitative experience as well as providing hard numbers & associated risk costs should help.
New Goal #3: I need to quantify the savings & benefits of doing design early vs. later since in my experience every client who does design last ends up spending more and having more risk & technical debt.
Selling Value, Not A Price
Clark Howard, a consumer advocate and popular talk radio host recently said:
One good thing about the recession is that it has taught us to be frugal consumers.
He later went on to quote those retailers that did well in Q2 of this year. Unsurprisingly, most were retailers who sold goods as cheap as possible (Walmart, Dollar Tree, etc). Â I, however, consider my services top of the line goods because I continually focus on being the best. Â Even in the recession, people still buy Porsche’. Â This recession certainly has made me focus on what makes a Porsche’ a higher quality choice than aÂ Hyundai, and translating that into how I can sell my software services vs. competitors who compete on price.
There are a ton of expenses working for yourself. People who work at companies as W2/employee’s often have no clue of these expenses, and often respond with sticker shock to some quotes. Some just have no idea of the costs of software. Some are just playing the haggling game until I call their bluff.
I’ve spent years building the Jesse Warden personal brand, trying to cash in on my passion andÂ not bothering to have a resume. Â Many of my first time clients have no idea who I am, nor who my company is. Â If it’s a referral client, they’ve only gotten a distilled version. Â Thus, I have to start from scratch to sell my expertise, my experience, and my company’s value.
Two of the recommendations I received from David Ortinau, Jeff Roberts, andÂ Ed Grasing was to sell value, not price. I donâ€™t compete on price; I ensure Iâ€™m the most expensive to associate myself with the quality I deliver. This doesnâ€™t work, though, if you donâ€™t have an established brand the client can already recognize, like Cynergy. You can do this by showcasing past work; not just the project, but the VALUE it provided the previous client of yours. Â Additionally, doing the legwork on how much it will cost them if they DON’T hire me/my company helps inspire a CYA (cover yo’ arse) feeling.
I’ve done enough consulting to know projects that should of taken 3 months that took 8. I’ve even bid on projects where I said it’d take 4 months, the client figured 2, and then I later hear from those who won the bid that it took 10. Therefore, it shouldn’t be overly difficult for me to also create a project cost estimate based on what I know will happen when others who compete on price do it instead of me.
New Goal #4: Create case studies from past clients that show the value my skills provided them, and how much money it saved/made them.
New Goal #5: For new projects where Iâ€™m putting together a Statement of Work (SOW), also add what the cost will be without hiring me.
Selling Myself as a Purple Cow
Seth Godin has an idea about making a product a Purple Cow; something unique that stands out. Â Things that makes me unique in the Flex Community are I know how to implement complex designs in Flex, have a thorough knowledge of the Flash Player from my Design Agency background doing Flash, and have an extensive network to use in hiring/sub-contracting additional help as well as answering questions outside my expertise domain.
Not once have I used those 3 things as a selling point to clients about what value I provide. Â However, Universal Mind, three times, has used those traits in selling me to THEIR clients, the now defunct ESRIA once, and Roundarch once.
I’ve also recently joined Web App Solution as a partner. Â One of the goals was to further increase my networking value since I now have 3 additional senior Flex/Java/Blaze DS resources as well as their experience.
New Goal #6: Use my unique traits to help sell my value to clients.
My goal this year was to double my rate for the sake of learning, and hopefully making more bling. Â I want to break the glass ceiling by years end. Â Even if I fail, I’ve learned so much already in trying. Â I’ve also gotten really close a few times this year so I know I’m making progress.
Another over all goal that I’ve been pursuing is to seek out mentors in the business field vs. the software development one. Â When starting out in software, the #1 thing that helped me the most, quickly, with the least pain was mentors. Â Everything from official ones to simply reading their books/blog posts. Â I’ve sought outÂ entrepreneurs and others online, cornered ones I found at conferences I attend so I could grill them, and gotten a lot of good book recommendations for business as opposed to software.
TheÂ consolidatedÂ list of my new goals to help reach my New Years Resolution:
- Learn more about making money.
- Get better at communicating the benefits good quality software will bring in both quantitative and qualitative ways.
- Quantify the savings & benefits of doing visual design early vs. later.
- Create case studies from past clients that show the value my skills provided them, and how much money it saved/made them.
- For new projects where Iâ€™m putting together a Statement of Work (SOW), add what the costs/risks will be without hiring me.
- Use my Purple Cow/unique, standout traits (design integration, Flash Player knowledge, network) to help sell my value to clients.
This is a lot harder than I thought. Â My Dad just said to double my price and the work would roll in. Â I’m not the salesman he is, though. Â Either way, I’m making a lot of progress and learning a lot, so I know I’ll get there eventually.