WebDD -I was there, were you?
Tuesday, February 06, 2007 12:00:26 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
What an awesome event, I was originally in two minds about going to the latest conference installment from Phil Winstanley, Dave Sussman (and all the other dedicated people involved with the other DDD events) but boy am I glad I went.
This time I decided to take it to the next level and rather than driving down and back on the day I’d drive down the night before with Stacey and stay over in a local hotel. This worked really well, not only did it mean I was awake for all of the seminars but I could get some work down the next day too ;)
Anyhow, back to the day, for once I had the foresight to choose the seminars I was going to attend before I arrived and decided not to attend all of Scott Guthrie’s talks mainly because of the following I knew he’d have but also because of the great alternatives available so here’s my breakdown of who I went to see and what I thought of their talk:
Microformats - HTML to API (Glenn Jones)
Read Glenn Jones' blog post about the day
GlenN Jones (not Glen Jones as was listed in the schedule ;)) presented a very interesting talk on microformats, it’s not quite what I first thought it was (for some reason I thought it was some form of HTML applets but lets not go there!). Microformats are certainly something I’m going to look into in the future but as Julian Voelcker has pointed out quite how practical they are to use in a CMS situation I’m not sure.
I think from an SEO point of view and also from an information sharing POV they’re very interesting and I’ll certainly be integrating them into various sites for testing purposes sooner rather than later (in fact if you check out my about me page they’ll be there with the new update coming soon … now I just need to re-work my tag output* using IISMods' URLRewrite).
*Glenn pointed out that when using the rel=”tag” attribute the last “word” in the associated URL should be the tag itself -something I didn’t know but will be sorted as atm it’s along the lines of “CategoryView,category,Business,Business%20Start-up%20Advice.aspx” etc which isn’t very useful.
I think in principle microformats are a good idea for something like a blog or a semi-static site where the developer (or someone with knowledge of microformats) has control over the content but how you could role them out in a client managed site is a little more complicated and something that will need some more thought -do you offer buttons to insert the code markup for them? Can you offer nested content easily etc.
The other thing about them I’m not too sure about is (miss)use of the abbr tag -again that was only something I picked up in the talk so may have missed the point, I’ll need to look into it further.
Either way it was an interesting insight into a new concept that I’m going to support if I can :). Check out the main microformats site at: www.microformats.org
Glenn Jones is also the developer behind the back network site that was used to link all the delegates together, it’s an interesting concept that once again promotes a social network on the internet which is all the rage at the moment but also allows you to interact with other delegates before the event -this is something I’d have done had I had more time before the event!
Download the slides to the Microformats - HTML to API talk by Glenn Jones
Web Accessibility: What, Why, How, and Who Cares? (Bruce Lawson)
Read Bruce Lawson's blog post about the day
Making web sites accessible is something I’ve been interested in pretty much since I got involved with ASP.Net 1.1 and I get endlessly tired of hearing fellow ASP.Net developers complain that you can’t make web sites accessible using the ASP.Net platform -balls can’t you, ok it’s not something that comes out of the box and at times is a little awkward but a lot of it is just common sense and consideration.
Bruce Lawson’s talk was a breath of fresh air, it was great to see someone having the courage that I’m yet to muster (well, more the time but hey) to convince my fellow developers to make their sites accessible.
Why the hell shouldn’t your site be accessible to all? It’s not all about money, in my mind it’s just about being fair to others -following (as ever) Google’s moto of don’t be evil. I liked Bruce’s method of presentation as it was far more personal than the usual “you should care because it’s the law” or “you should care because you’re missing out on a ton of money”, when asking the question “who cares?” -using his words not mine- he said “rather than quoting facts and figures at you trying to convince you, -my mate Theresa does”. I think this in itself was a different method of engaging the audience and I certainly felt it worked.
The talk wasn’t particularly in depth (which baring in mind the audience I expected) but I felt it was enough to plant the seed of interest with those that weren’t otherwise that aware or interested about accessibility. I hope that they’ll now actively encourage fellow developers to take action -not necessarily by redeveloping their past sites as many clients can’t afford this, but by giving some consideration to accessibility in future designs -i.e. DON’T use buttons for menu systems!
I can’t hand on heart say all our sites are overly accessible but I’m learning and I feel each new site we’re involved in is that little bit more accessible. Bruce did share a very useful site called “Blind Webbers” where you can get in contact with screen reader users -I’ll certainly be checking that out with the new design for The Site Doctor, for others interested Bruce sent me the link: http://www.webaim.org/discussion/mail_message.php?id=9019. I’m thinking I’ll see what they think of Miss Mays adult store -could be a good introduction!!
The point that made me laugh the most was his demonstration of using “Click Here” as link text, his demo was simple but effective -you can check it out on his site: http://www.brucelawson.co.uk/index.php/2007/webdd-conference-slides-and-questions
One thing I do need to think about is the order of elements on the page, i.e. at present this blog layout has the menu appearing before the content -mainly because that was the quickest way I could get the layout sorted, but I think I need to re-order it so the menu comes last -that said I do have a “Skip to content” link at the top -how effective it is I’ll let you know. Another thing I also want to pass by Bruce is image replacement techniques as I’ve tried a few now and I’d be interested to see how they perform on screen readers and the like.
Download the slides for the Web Accessibility: What, Why, How, and Who Cares? talk by Bruce Lawson
Quick and dirty Usability tests - one week, no budget, and no usability facility (Zhivko Dimitrov)
Read Zhivko Dimitrov's blog post about the day
Again, interested in making my sites as user friendly as possible I thought that this would be an interesting talk but it wasn’t quite as it was portrayed -instead he went into how they perform remote usability tests with a budget. None the less it was a fairly interesting talk.
Zhivko is from Telerik and clearly has a fair amount of experience in usability testing, I was hoping he’d have some good ideas on how to offer usability testing on no budget but sadly he didn’t. There were a couple of interesting points raised however that I don’t think I would have thought of -firstly the re-use of testers, if you use a tester more than twice within a year they’ll start to know what you want them to say rather than what’s there. The other point raised was if you’re using remote testing, you loose the non-vocal indicators of frustration such as a furrowed brow or someone scratching their head.
Zhivko’s opening demo however was a recording of a guy trying to find a grid component on their competitors site, despite the fact they spent a fair amount of time laughing at the guy in the background I thought this was a great example of a poorly designed site and how important it is to highlight your site’s calls-to-action which is something that I’ll have to remember while optimizing our newest SEO client for online poker The Rivercard -one of the issues we have already highlighted is that many of their download links are below the fold of the screen which reduces the chance the user will click the link.
Download the slides from the Quick and dirty Usability tests - one week, no budget, and no usability facility talk by Zhivko Dimitrov
Connecting Design to Real Business Value (Brandon Schauer)
Visit Brandon Schauer's blog
As with Zhivko’s talk, this was another talk that wasn’t quite as it was portrayed by the title, but I was pleasantly surprised by the content. Brandon Schauer’s talk was more about business modeling and how analyzing the current business method can be improved with a little thinking (and design) -ok that’s obvious ;) but his methods were nice.
I found the talk incredibly interesting -especially following my mini-series on business start-up advice, I thought this was a really well timed and interesting talk. Some of the ideas he offered were simple and to the point so you can apply them to any business, the issue I have with it though is whether I can apply it to any of my clients -I’d love to take the time to go through Miss Mays adult store and help them improve some of their business processes but they don’t have the money to invest and sadly neither do I.
I do however think that I can apply some of the concepts he was talking about to an example business which in turn could then be a starting point to discuss business improvement with clients. This however will take a little time and I think Stacey will need to be involved as this is what she’s primarily trained in. Although I love developing and I don’t think I’ll ever get away from it (certainly not in the foreseeable future anyways) I am getting more and more interested in business analysis, it’s not something that I’ve really got any experience in yet (having only been in business for a few years) but perhaps one day it’s an alternative career path I can choose…
Either way, Brandon’s talk was well worth seeing and if he’s ever at a future conference I attend I’ll certainly make the effort to see him talk.
Download the slids from the Connecting Design to Real Business Value talk by Brandon Schauer
Visit Scott Guthrie's blog
For the final talk I decided to watch Scott Guthrie’s talk about WPF/E and boy what a talk it was! I almost didn’t get in as we were hearded in like cows (which was most amusing I have to be honest), the woman stopped me right on the entrance -I think much to Julian Voelcker’s delight as he’d managed to get a seat. Luckily though the women on the doors (yes women -not burly bouncers!) took pity on us poor, desperate geeks in admiration of some Yank they didn’t know and let us line the sides of the auditorium -which meant I ended up getting a front row (floor) seat.
The talk was one of those “look at what’s coming” type talks but with a twist, it was something that I can see being of real use -and more than that gave you the urge to try it out. WPF/E looks like a really exciting new technology -even if Julian does think it’s just the same as Flash. As I don’t particularly like flash I think this will be a nice introduction to our development arsenal. That and the possibilities are far greater than those offered by Flash -especially where data interaction is involved.
Scott Guthrie did show an impressive demo of WPF/E which can be seen at www.vista.si -it’s one of those “wow, I can’t believe I’m seeing what I’m seeing” moments, the site is basically a replica (working replica) of Windows Vista -but on the web. It even works with Firefox!
The interesting point that I picked up on is their method of rolling out the WPF/E platform to users, rather than offering the usual Windows Update installer, it sounds as though it’s all going to be done in the same way the flash play is -a small (1.1MB IIRC) file will be downloaded the first time you visit a site that requires WPF/E and that’s it!
I do have concerns over the accessibility of WPF/E but Scott Guthrie did assure us that later versions of WPF/E will be made more accessible. At the end of the day however, I guess it’s just the same situation as entirely flash sites -those that want to offer them, have to offer an accessible alternative (and as Bruce Lawson pointed out -NO, IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE UGLY!).
It was also nice to see Scott Guthrie talk as there are so many blog posts around the net talking about how they saw him, now I can say that I’ve seen him talk -somewhat sad but hey!
The slides aren’t yet online but I’m sure Scott Guthrie will upload them to the Scott Guthrie's presentations page soon enough!
I always take a conference as a whole -there’s always going to be at least one talk which isn’t quite what you expected, if you can come away with at least one nugget of information that you didn’t have before -or- with a little of that zest for doing what you do back again it was well worth attending. In this case I got a real buzz out of most of the talks and have plenty of things to try out -now I just need to find the time!
And if all that wasn’t enough to get your juices going and wanting to do some more development, I (I think for the first time ever) won something in the raffle -I was in the queue hoping for the book on accessibility by Bruce Lawson but actually won a years subscription to ComponentArt’s Web.UI component set -I’m well chuffed at that, now I just need to find somewhere to use them!! Oh, I shouldn't forget the free copy of Microsoft Expression Web we were given, and the T-Shirts and, and... :D
I did get to meet up with a few people off the MsWebDev list but sadly not all -Mickey, I’ll have to say hi next time. The one thing that did amaze me was how long the lunch was, I don’t recall any of the DDD events being that long.
If you went and you’ve not already done so, you should go and leave feedback on the event -it’s the only way they can improve it ;) so go leave your feedback on WebDD (http://webdd.co.uk/Feedback.aspx). Apparently you can also review it on the back network site (http://webdd.backnetwork.com/reviews/editreview.aspx
If you missed out on WebDD 1, hopefully there’ll be a WebDD 2, I’ll post any news I have as soon as I have it -for my one blog reader that is :)
Finances (VAT, Accountants etc)
Sunday, February 04, 2007 8:58:09 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
This is something that we’re in the process of re-working as we have a variety of billing periods ranging from ad-hoc to annual. This is fine as long as you have some method of determining which method a client requires.
Stacey has devised a very good suggestion that should also avoid any complications with large annual invoices:
- £0 - £300: Invoice Annually
- £300 - £600: Invoice Bi-Annually
- £600+: Invoice Monthly (£50+pm)
There are a few reasons I like this method:
- You won’t upset your client by sending them a £500 invoice they’d forgotten about
- It keeps you in contact with larger payers more frequently
- For the larger invoices it reduces the impact to you if the client chooses not to pay
- £50pm+ is sufficient an amount to justify the 10 minutes admin a month
Payment periods are important, make sure every invoice has a payment period on it but don’t expect your clients to adhere to it. You’ll learn what each particular client is like at paying as you build your client base but many will wait until the last payment date to pay, if at all until you start to bug them (see: Processes and Procedures about having a dedicated admin day). Having a shorter payment period (or “Payment Required on Receipt”) will allow you to start chasing the client sooner.
What should your invoice look like?
There are a lot of example invoices on Microsoft’s Template website [http://office.microsoft.com/templates/] but it’s simple, keep them simple (this is a nice example: Services invoice with hours and rate) and only contain the information you need. Have your designer design you a nice letterhead that you can use with your invoices, not only does it look more professional but it ensures your main contact details are contained on the invoice, if your letterhead is a little different you never know, they may pay it faster as it catches their eye!
Again it depends on your particular line of business but I would suggest you have the following information on it at the minimum:
- If the invoice isn't on your letterhead paper then make sure your address is shown
- Their address –and if it’s a corporate client include a contact’s name to ensure it lands on the correct desk
- An invoice reference (an auto-number should suffice but you could prefix this if you like)
- If you have it, the purchase order number
- The date your invoice was issued
- The payment due date
- A summary of the items included on the invoice including:
- An SKU (if relevant) i.e. 1HOURDEV for 1 hour of development work
- A narrative (description) of the item
- Unit cost of the item
- Quantity of the item
- Line total
- Total amounts –if you’re VAT registered, include the amount with VAT, without VAT and the VAT itself
- Your payment terms (i.e. all invoices must be paid within 14 days)
- You payment details –sounds crazy but I see so many invoices without bank details or even information on who to make the cheque out to anywhere. It’s so simple to place this information on the bottom of the invoice, why make it harder than it needs to be for your client to pay you? If it’s not there, they need to make contact with you (if you’re around), you then need to look up that information, they then… ok you get the idea ;)
It’s obviously optional and up to you but I think it’s nice touch to thank the client for their business on or with i.e. on a complimentary slip the invoice (see: Client and Supplier Relations) –yes, I love my clients!
I’m not an accountant myself but my (far) better half Stacey is a chartered management accountant with CIMA (an alternative to ACCA) and I ran this past her as I had concerns with it. Her response was rather than obtaining (expensive) textbooks that you’re unlikely to understand (I’ve seen them, I can understand them but they’re somewhat boring) the best thing you can do is read through the documentation from the Inland Revenue –mainly because as soon as that textbook is printed it’s out of date which can (obviously) have massive re-processions for you!
There are many different accounting bodies and they all have their own specialities. It’s important to understand that a Chartered Management Accountant can’t necessarily help you with your tax return, in the same way a taxation specialist can’t necessarily help you with profitability analysis (whereas a Management Accountant can). One amusing ditty about Chartered Accountants (and I expect this covers other industries with multiple bodies) is that they all feel their chartering body is the most superior whereas they’re probably all much the same.
It’s important to remember that it’s the same as your industry, it’s great that the client knows what you’re talking about but it’s highly unlikely they know as much as you.
Again from Stacey, any accountant worth their money will save you more than they cost you, as with many things in business –recommendation is key, ask around friends and family or fellow businesses to find a reputable accountant and if at all possible get a few references.
There are many accounting bodies out there (CIMA, ACCA, CIPFA to mention a few) but make sure when choosing your accountant that they are chartered in some way or another as this means they’re more likely to be up-to-date with their knowledge and to some extent being regulated. When you’re setting out, you should be able to have all your books done for under £500pa comfortably.
Should you go VAT registered or not?
When setting up The Site Doctor, I chose not to go VAT registered on the basis that the majority of our start-up contracts would be non-VAT registered companies. As it turns out I was wrong as every man and his dog these days is VAT registered but more than that I feel that many businesses perceive non-VAT reg'd companies more fly-by-night.
Most people (especially in business) expect companies to be VAT registered so it hasn't affected potential contracts and we have the added advantage that we can claim money back ;). Sadly, the only people that suffer are non-registered people and at the end of the day they're unlikely to have the money to justify you not going VAT registered.
One thing to note if you’re setting up as a team is there is a limit on the turnover of the company at which point you are forced to be registered, this year (06/07) the limit was around £65k (refer to the Inland Revenue’s website [http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/]) so if there’s 3 of you in the team and you hope to take home £20kpa you’ll need to go registered straight away.
You don’t need to be over the threshold to be registered as you can voluntarily register before you reach this threshold. There are a couple of benefits to voluntary registration that come to mind:
- The perception of your company’s earnings is increased. When not registered, your clients will know you have a turnover lower than the current threshold. This is not a good start when approaching clients with a proposal near over this threshold.
- By charging input tax to your clients, you can claim some money back, virtually ever purchase you make has VAT added to it which you can offset on your charges.
One flipside however is the additional administration work.
Once VAT registered
Yes, a great tip and this is so easy to do if you've got access to internet banking through your bank, it also means you have a nice nest egg at the end of each year as Sean said -I did the same with my personal tax before going VAT registered.
In the case of LloydsTSB they allow you to manage both accounts within the single login which makes it even easier, if you want to be really prepared, just halve each invoice, put one half in your savings account to cover VAT and Taxes etc and the other half is what you take home.
Having a little money totting up on the side in this way allows you to have either: A nice little Christmas bonus (by this time you should know what your tax bill is going to be and you’ll have a reasonable idea of your Quarter 3 VAT return) -or- A tidy sum to invest into the business someway :)
We recently registered for VAT and the official stance on claiming VAT back was:
3 years on goods (hardware etc) as long as on the day of incorporation you still have the item, receipt and you've not sold it on.
6 months of services (hosting, domains etc) as long as you have the paperwork.
I was told that the Inland Revenue think nothing of start-ups and businesses in the IT sector to have a very low (or credit) first return (and if you're going registered from day one then the first few returns) due to the cost of setting up.
For the latest up-to-date information check out the Inland Revenue’s website: http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/
I couldn’t agree more, when you’re small, set aside a day a week to input your expenses into a database and as long as you’ve got your invoice lists to hand totalling up your income isn’t hard, the form’s dead simple (see photo) so there’s no need to worry about that. I’ve even uploaded the MDB that we’re currently using as a stand-in while our accounting system is finalised.
While on the subject, in-house system development –choose it carefully, weigh up the costs of doing it yourself against buying an off-the-shelf solution. As a developer it’s all to easy to say “I’ll do it myself and save a few quid” –it’s not always the case, I’m only having ours custom built so I can tie it in with other areas of the business.
Example Microsoft Access Accounting Database (21KB)
Whatever you do, make sure you have a separate business account, it portrays a more professional image for your company (payments to your company will be addressed to your company name rather than your personal name).
Keeping up a pension is important, talk to your accountant about the options available to you. It’s also worth considering alternative pensions such as property investment. I know a few business owners that own the property the business operates within.
That’s a fine tip, using a personal account for your company savings can indeed earn you an extra 3-4%pa which soon adds up. Make sure however it’s a separate personal account that you don’t tap into and don’t top-up with personal funds. That way you’ll make life a whole lot easier when calculating the business’ income from interest.
LloydsTSB also offer an e-banking option which is exactly the same as all other accounts except electronic payments (debit cards, e-pay etc) are free, paying in cheques however still costs (and a little more IIRC). It’s a good account to have if you’re web savy and can do the majority of your banking online.
Good point, the banks love you when you’re doing well however expect to be charged for your overdraft –many banks now charge a (reoccurring) annual charge of £50-100 for your overdraft facility, it may be a better (and cheaper) option to loan the business from your credit card if needed –taking advantage of the 0% period etc.
Saturday, February 03, 2007 8:57:30 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Call me a sceptic if you like but once
you’ve been in business for a while there are two common elements to pretty
much every new client:
- Every client’s idea is going to be the next big thing (in their eyes anyway).
- Every client has so many contacts that they’ll generate you more business than you can possibly handle
Both statements are usually used to
encourage you to give them a bigger discount or agree to some form of
partnership. I’m not saying you should immediately dismiss what they’re saying,
the best business comes off personal referral from a past client but instead
take it with a pinch of salt.
Don’t feel that you need to agree to any
partnership etc on the spot, go home, have a drink and then weigh up whether
you feel what they’re saying can be backed by what you see or whether it’s
likely to be a load of baloney. You really should look at every client as a
long term relationship rather than a one-off squeeze.
While on the subject of investment
partnerships with clients I think in the right situation they are a superb
idea. Since setting up The Site Doctor we’ve setup a number of investment
partnerships with our clients which have in some cases been very profitable,
others not so. The trick is to form your own opinion, if the client suggests
you do all your work for free and they’ll invest their time, ask yourself why
they don’t have faith in their own idea to invest any capital. Sometimes they
don’t have the capital ready and it’s a great idea, sometimes the investments
can be quantified equally through doing this just don’t let them talk you into
something your gut says is wrong.
What I tend to suggest in the case that
they can’t raise the full amount for your services is suggest a part share,
part capital payment but again you must decide how much the shares are worth.
It does take a little time to investigate someone else’s proposed business but
you’ll be kicking yourself if you don’t!
Once you decided whether or not to invest
your time and you’ve negotiated the best deal you possibly can make sure you
get it down in writing. This is very important and we’ve been caught out with
this in the past. We had a client who suggested a 15% turnover share for the
first year to cover 50% of the development costs. We negotiated over email and
had the agreement written down, where we were caught out however was with a
misunderstanding on our behalf –we assumed that we would get 12 monthly
commission payments but what wasn’t clarified was the client offered the first
month of subscription free –so straight away we were down to 11 months. Then
thanks to WorldPay, the first payment wasn’t received
until 2 months after the customer paid which meant we only received 10 months of
payments –luckily we’ve got good relations with the client and it was resolved
So if you’re going to go into an investment
like this, make sure all the cards are on the table otherwise you may not be as
lucky as we were! Before finishing this point, I personally wouldn’t agree to a
profit share on the investment without having a breakdown of all the expenses
otherwise an unscrupulous client may over-inflate the expenses and so reduce
Having a portfolio is a great start, depending on your industry this may not be possible.
If you’re starting out and have no portfolio (and have time) then why not
generate a few mock-ups of your work, don’t spend too long generating them and
they don’t need to be perfect working examples but people do tend to respond
better to something they can touch/see.
The classic phrase of “it’s not what you
know –it’s who you know that matters” couldn’t be truer. When I setup The Site Doctor I was lucky to have some excellent contracts through a good friend
Vladimir Srdanovic, though previously a developer he felt that he no-longer
wished to develop but instead just generate new business. I was keen and ready
to develop on a mass scale so teaming up made sense.
If you’re not lucky enough to have someone
like Vlad within your midst already then networking
is an ideal way to generate new business and as you grow will become
invaluable, whatever hang-ups you may have (age, gender etc) don’t let them
come into the equation.
Your local Chamber of Commerce will most
likely host events, the fee depends on your local Chamber of Commerce, but the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce for example charges an annual fee, after which
the majority of events are free to attend. We were a member of Birmingham
Chamber of Commerce for a couple of years however last year we opted out
because of the mentality within our local chamber. On reflection I would
probably opt to try more dedicated events such as those run by dedicated
networking companies but be prepared to pay through the nose.
Don’t forget that networking isn’t just
about making useful contacts to sell to, it’s also a chance for you to meet
your competition and other people involved in your industry. I’ve been meaning
to find time to setup a new media type networking group up in the
Midlands for a while but I believe the Multipack [http://www.multipack.co.uk/] does
pretty much the same thing as I was proposing.
Meeting your competition and others
involved in your industry is also useful because they may be able to throw you
work that they’re not able to undertake for themselves, for instance you’ll
find many design agencies have a mutual agreement with a development company in
place by which they pass web development work to their partner and vice-versa.
It’s also worth noting that networking is
no-longer just a face-face meeting event thanks to online networking sites such
as SoFlow and LinkedIn to
mention a couple, getting involved in these online communities may not generate
any business directly but will again give you the opportunity to promote your
As time goes by, you’ll be surprised where
your business will come from –always be pleasant to people and whenever
possible have time for people as they’re bound to thank you in one way or another
later. It’s always worth thinking long-term with any new contact, they may not
contact you straight away but get in touch from time to time and you never know
what may come of it.
When you’re at a networking event –in fact anytime you could bump into a potential client make sure you have plenty of business cards available with you. The best thing you can do to save fumbling through every pocket trying to find a card is to have 5-10 cards in each pocket (yes EVERY pocket!). That way no matter which hand you reach with you’ll quickly find a card. For those times you’re not expecting, keep a few cards in your wallet too or perhaps attached to the back of your phone* -basically with anything you take with you everywhere. Keep the supply refreshed too, I’ve been caught out before and you may just miss a great opportunity!
*I’ve not tried this but it’s a thought!
“Keep your hands free” -that was something I was told by a networking advisor and has always stuck with me and it makes sense, they always have a lot of free food/drink at these networking events so avoid the rookie mistake of piling a plate high of food and taking a glass of wine in the other hand –how will shake hands on introduction? Have a small plate of food and/or a glass of wine* –it keeps at least one hand free to shake hands with or hand out business cards!
*Some events shell out on fancy clips that hold the glass on the side of your plate but don’t get me started on those! Just don’t try is the best advice I can offer there ;)
Fantastic tip! This is something that we do
but haven’t pushed a great deal –a while ago, The Site Doctor teamed up with a Bristol based Mobile Development company called Mobile Pie, I grew up with one
of the owners Richard Wilson while at school and felt that his services
complimented ours. By teaming up we’re able to offer a broader set of skills
without taking on additional cost. By reselling their services you can also
start making money without needing to do all the work.
Along the same lines, if you’re going into web development, identify and be-friend good/great design companies, if you’re
able to get 2 or 3 design companies on your side then you’ll probably find
they’ll bring enough work to keep you busy all year around.
You’ll find your own style of meeting once you’ve had a few meetings with your new clients and the format of these meetings will obviously depend on your business sector but here are a few (some obvious) tips to having a successful meeting.
Before the meeting
- When arranging the meeting or at least before the meeting contact the client and ask them whether there is anything specific they would like to discuss.
- Prepare! It’s probably best to think of a meeting a little like a job interview, before your meeting do your research into the company.
The day before
Get everything together the day before your meeting, if needs be have a list of all the items you need to take with you and tick each one off. At the least I would get together:
- A pen and pad of paper (make sure there’s ink in your pen!)
- Contact details of the client –I would write these on paper rather than just relying on your mobile
- Directions to the client
- Any supporting documentation for the meeting
- Whatever you plan to wear. Deciding what you’re going to wear the night before the meeting saves time on the day and ensures that you’re not left needing to iron your shirt 10 minutes after you should have left…
What should you wear?
What to wear comes down to your personal feelings and what you feel is appropriate for the client. When I first set out I would wear a suit to every meeting as I felt it was what was expected of me –I expect this came partly from the fact that I went to a public school but also from the image I had portrayed in my mind but choosing what to wear isn’t always that cut-and-dry.
More recently I’ve been going to meetings more casually dressed, this is carefully judged however from my research of the company before the meeting (or after the initial meeting) but I’ve found that when dealing with SMEs –especially when you’re dealing with the founder of the business people seem to respond better. Wearing smart casual clothes also portrays the image that you’re comfortable with yourself and confident in what you’re doing.
Steve told me an interesting story about one of his friends who runs a very successful industrial heating and air conditioning company. This guy has a phenomenal turnover (his average contract is into 6 figures) but said that he soon realised he got most of his business when he turned up in a dirty boiler suit. His theory is that his clients feel that he as the MD is not afraid to roll up his sleeves and muck in.
That’s not to say however that there’s no place for the suit! I still wear a suit to corporate clients as it’s what’s expected, I love wearing a suit I’m just saying wear whatever you feels right for the client and industry.
On the day
- Be yourself, what you wear is crucial to this, if you don’t like wearing a suit or jeans then don’t. Getting a new client is all about being able to bond with the client, feel comfortable in yourself (and not putting on a front) and you’ll find it a lot easier to find some common ground. You’ll also find that people can see through you if you’re putting on an act, if this is your first meeting, that’s not a very good way of building your trust!
- Get there early. 10 minutes early is sufficient, if you get there earlier, wait in the car or around the corner but whatever you do, don’t be late. Yes you could argue that it’s because you’re so busy, but I feel it shows that you don’t care about the client more! If you’re going to be late due to i.e. the traffic, call the client and let them know 30 minutes – an hour before hand (with mobile phones you don’t have an excuse now!)
- Have fresh breath –nobody likes talking to someone with smelly breath and if you’re up against a couple of competitor companies you certainly want to be remembered but not as the “guy with the bad breath”. Keep some chewing gum, mints or even mouth wash in your car or laptop bag
- “To Tea or not To Tea” that is the question! I’ve found this can really disrupt a meeting if it’s a one-man-band. When the client asks if you’d like a drink, best respond something along the lines of “only if you’re having one” –if they walk in with a fresh brew you don’t want them to waste 10 minutes of your scheduled time making you a drink when you could be selling!
- Make notes. When you get into the meeting, open your notepad to a fresh page, head it up (client name, date, attendees etc) and leave it open with the pen/pencil ready to use. Pay attention to the client, remember what you can but if there’s something you feel is important write it down –all to often I’ve got out of a meeting, intending to make a note of something I’ve forgotten! Don’t make the same mistake. Make notes about the little things, names of the client’s family, birthdays etc as it will allow you to personalise future correspondence.
- Listen to what the client is saying. I can’t stress this enough, showing an interest in what they’re saying is important as the client is bound to give you lots of useful information –not necessarily about the job in hand but perhaps information you can use to your advantage later i.e. knowing they don’t like Whiskey would come in useful when sending them a gift.
- Don’t invite distractions to the meeting. I’ve decided against taking a laptop into meetings these days because they make the meeting very disjointed and it’s often unneeded –especially in the initial client meetings, opening your laptop screen between you and the client is like erecting a large wall between you! Make sure your phone/BlackBerry/PDA is turned off and any.
- Thanks to Mike A: Try to avoid talking business for the first 10-15 minutes of the meeting, use this time to talk about anything else possible. Look around the room and pickup on anything you can use as a talking point –perhaps it’s an example of their product or a family photo.
After the meeting
Whether you consider it successful or not make contact with the client after your meeting thanking them for their time and remind them of any information they’re meant to send you and/or any tasks you’ll be doing for them.
Client and Supplier Relations
Personally I think having good relations with all your clients is incredibly important. As I’ve said several times in this series of articles already, the best business comes from referrals, never underestimate the value of a good word. It really must speak volumes when a potential client contacts you and you’re able to say “look through our portfolio and feel free to contact any of the clients listed for a reference”.
Having excellent client relations isn’t really hard, give them an shining service, keep it personal, be open and honest and keep in contact after they’ve paid, I don’t mean call them up and talk for hours everyday but drop them an email or a call once in a while asking if there’s anything you can do to help them and if you supplied a service or good to them such as a website ask whether it’s still meeting their needs. Making this little effort can often land you more work as there are numerous times I’ve contacted a client to say hi and they’ve said “Oh hi Tim, I’ve been meaning to call you about xyz for a while”… Remember that your clients are no-doubt just as busy as you so make it easy for them to contact you.
The theory behind excellent client relations is that a happy client who has received an excellent service will come back -and- refer you to other clients. An unhappy client however who feels they have had a poor service will not only not give you their next piece of work, but they will tell a number of other people about the bad service they received. Someone once told me that 8 happy clients may refer you to one other client by one unhappy client will let 8 other potential clients know!
If you’ve had a good service, let them know. All to often people are quick to criticise and point out the faults with any given situation so thanking someone for a good service is a real breath of fresh air, it can really lift someone and make them feel that all the hard work and effort that they have put into the product and/or service given to you has been worth it. Remember that even if they’re a supplier, they may very well need your services later down the line and taking a little effort to thank them will go along way!
Absolutely, I feel karma has a lot to
answer for in business. At the end of the day, you’re the boss, if you’re seen
to be open and honest with people, they’re more likely to respond well, as your
parents have probably always said, honesty is the best
policy. If you’ve got a technical issue you may find they have a solution to it
that means less work for you. If you call them to confess to some service
downtime before one of their clients tells them, that’s got to be a good thing!
I like sending out cards and I think
excellent client relations are very important but every Christmas I hit the
same question “What should I do this year?” Each year it generally ends up with
me doing nothing but this year I actually got my act together and sent out a
couple of gifts which seemed to go down well.
Steve, my father-in-law has a client that
makes luxury hampers and he recommended I contact them to see if they could
help as the hampers were pretty darn impressive, he was right. The issue I
quickly realised was however, who should I send them to? Some of our clients
only bring in £20-30pa which didn’t really justify a £20 hamper. This year I
had already decided which clients I should send to, but while doing my books I
noticed a couple of other clients that I would have liked to send them to so
in-line with my current business reforms we came up with a system of grading
clients which I think will work well for next year.
It’s quite simple really, work out the
turnover and profit generated by each client/contact you have and grade each
one. For instance, you could spend £10 for every £1000 of business the
client/contact brings. I wouldn’t stick strictly to this however as you may
have some lower profit clients who you enjoy working with –don’t be stingy,
Then you have the issue of deciding what
gifts you would like to send out, the first year I was going to send out a few
bottles but a friend said that it was tacky, over-done and thoughtless (especially in the
city) so I didn’t bother. Try and make it relevant to your
company and different i.e.
Cocoa Creative [www.cocoacreative.co.uk] this year sent us a bar of chocolate wrapped in pink
paper, I thought that was cool, Stacey thought it was tasty. Either way it got
them a mention here which clearly means I’m thinking about them…
A word of caution: before sending out extravagant gifts to your client it is advised that you check any restrictions that may be in place on the total value of gifts allowed. I say this because there is a limit imposed on the value of any single item for doctors -at one point drug reps were giving away holidays for doctors to use their product over another so it may also apply to other industries as well.
I keep referring to clients and contacts
here because I would thank anyone that generates your business more work, it’s
a great situation to be in if you’ve got several mini-sales people!
Friday, February 02, 2007 8:54:07 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Evaluating when it’s best to do something
in-house and when to outsource it is invaluable -especially in the case of a
developer, the temptation to develop all your internal applications is great.
Sometimes it’s better to outlay £500 rather than spending many hours not
getting paid by clients.
If you’re starting up with more than one
person, having some form of blog is a useful method of conveying this
information as it means people can easily subscribe to the RSS feeds and keep
up-to-date with the latest information with minimum effort. If you use blog
software such as DasBlog [www.dasblog.net] you are also able to have
different authors on one portal.
While on the subject of blogs,
I would recommend setting up a company blog, or at least a personal blog with
plenty of references to your main website. These back links will increase your
visibility and hence ranking on Google but it will also increase your company’s
I would advise reading my other posts [The Scourge of Google and Public Facing Blogs and Blogging And Competition] which overviews what I see as the pros and cons
of blogging. As you’re here reading this, it’s evidence enough as to why you should blog IMHO.
Processes and procedures
Depending on your background, you may not
be too interested in the management side of business but it is very important
to have a number of management processes in place, you won’t necessarily be
able to set these up before you start but as you learn your business, get them
in place ASAP.
What sort of processes am I referring to?
- Have a client sign an agreement that
outlines the responsibilities of both parties (what you’re going to do for them
and what they’re going to do in return –e.g. pay) before you start work for them. Make sure you’re as clear as
possible so you can charge for additional services without the client
quarrelling with you.
- Depending on the size of the company have
the client provide you with a purchase order number. It’s best you ask whatever size the company is as it portrays the image that you’re
dealing with larger organisations but the worst they can do is ask you what you
mean. A purchase order number is basically a reference in the clients purchase
database letting their accounting department know your invoice is on the way
in. In many situations it also speeds up payment. When dealing with larger
invoices it’s a must because it’s the loosest form of guarantee the person
you’re dealing with has informed their accounts department and had the amount
- After you’ve had a meeting with a client follow it up a few days later with an email/phone call thanking them for their time, make it relevant to the meeting if you can and word it so it requires some form of response from the client. Making this post-meeting contact can be the difference between getting the work and not –in the same way making contact with a recruiting company after your interview thanking them for their time can make the final decision sway your way.
- Have a dedicated admin day. Initially this
can be something you do once a month but as your business grows you’ll most
likely need to increase this to once a week, as outlined in my previous blog
post about setting your rates [Pricing your work] you’ll probably find
around two days a week are taken up with adminy type
work. People are forever moaning about how boring doing a years accounts is
however, if you do break it down to say 2-3hours a week it’s a lot easier It’s
important to remain strict with yourself as there’s always something more interesting
- Invoice regularly! Sounds
obvious but it’s important. Depending on your business model, I would
recommend setting a day aside every month which is solely for invoicing. I’m
not just talking about sending out invoicing, I also mean chasing invoices as
you’re bound to have plenty of clients who will delay paying until you really
- Log payments and receipts –this should be
part of your admin day but it’s worth mentioning again. If you log all your
receipts and any payments on a weekly basis it should dramatically save that
end of year rush trying to find all your receipts for the accountant, if you do
it really well it should also save you a few quid!
Having someone who’s able to carefully put
people in their place and ensure the company is moving in the right direction
is important, it’s even more important when friendships are involved. If one of
you can’t cut the niceties and point out the obvious you’re more likely to fail
from the start.
Having someone who is presentable and can
communicate well is intrinsic to getting new business, everyone operates
differently but if your new client can’t relate to your representative you’re
unlikely to retain them for very long. As James said, if you can’t at the same
time tell them to cough up, you’ll probably find yourself with a very low cash
flow very quickly.
This is something that I’m approaching at
the moment, so it’s probably best to add in an article later however there is a
very good series of articles on Joel on Software [www.joelonsoftware.com]
about Finding Great Developers which is a good start [http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/FindingGreatDevelopers.html].
The hardest thing you’ll face (if you’re
anything like me that is) is loosening that tight grip you’ve got on your
business. It’s taken me 3 years but I’m finally allowing Stacey to take over
some of the admin work for The Site Doctor in an effort to lighten my work-load
(admittedly I should be blogging less too but hey). Accepting that other people
work in different ways is a surprisingly hard thing to accept when it’s your
own business. I’ve already accepted that if I want my business to grow, I’ll
have to put up with someone else’s coding style until we’ve found common
One final point I’ll make here though is
(again depending on your business model) you will need to get employees at some point so make some form of
provision for them. If you don’t get an employee and try to do all the work
yourself forever your business is capped and you’ll more than likely burn out.
Someone once told me the perfect business is one that can easily be converted
into a franchise.
Well put, you need to be able to fall off
your bike and get back on again so to speak, you will make mistakes and if you don’t I doubt you’re taking enough
risks and so will just end up ticking over, there’s nothing wrong with making
mistakes as long as you can learn from them and move on. Listen to your gut
instinct and as soon as it turns sour pull out!
Taking an all -or- nothing approach to
things, giving it everything you can/need to until the point that your instinct
says enough and then cut it off straight away is important.
Be careful, but don’t let your project or
company suffer as a result of being prudent. If you’re going to talk to someone
that’s in the position to do what you’re proposing (i.e. they have the skills
or can buy them) at the very least have them sign an non-disclosure
agreement to give you a little backup. If you’re really worried, prepare your
material so it gives them the minimum amount of information required for their
input and explain your reasons for doing so.
Either way, if you ever discuss a project
with someone else (even internal employees) there’s a chance it’ll get stolen.
The best advice here is learn from it and move on. If
you want to pursue the matter in the courts weigh up whether it will be at the
cost of the detriment of your company and/or image.
When I first set out, I had to take a
client to court and cutting a long story short settled out of court because I
calculated the rest of the time I would spend preparing for court would cost me
more than I would be awarded. It’s also worth noting that if the amount is
below a threshold (IIRC £5000) you can go through the Small Claims courts which
saves you a lot of expense and agro.
Action pack or Empower
Working from home
Thursday, February 01, 2007 8:52:38 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
When you set out, cutting costs is crucial to your long-term success so working from home is an ideal solution, but is it really a good idea? What will happen when a client wants to meet? Will I ever be able to leave work?
Your working environment
Firstly, make sure your office space is as dedicated an office space as possible, I know it’s difficult to spare the space when you live in a 1bed apartment but at least have a desk that allows you to fold away your papers safely. This is doubly as important if you’ve got kids or a loved one as that will take away the opportunity for them to “accidentally” spill a mug of coffee over your latest proposal.
If at all possible, dedicate an entire room –or even a floor if you can spare it to the business, there are a couple of reasons for this, the first is that you’ll be able to rent it to the business and then offset that expense on your tax return, another and I feel more important reason is that you’re able to get into another frame of mind when entering that space. I have an office at the rear of our property which is completely separated from the house with the exception of a small tea hatch. I’ve always felt that this has allowed me to semi-detach* work from home even though they’re within the same boundaries. Where at all possible I avoid mixing the two to re-enforce the segmentation.
*You’ll never really be able to detach from your business –it’s part and parcel of running your own business I’m afraid.
Depending on your personal mentality, having some form of dress code can also help you segment home from work, if you’ve already got a suit from a previous role, why not wear that while at work, then when you get home in the evening change into your home clothes. This may seem wacky but you’re not doing it for others, more so you can mentally detach from work. At the end of the day, you’re working from home so you can wear what you like and the likelihood is no-one will know*.
*I was told an “interesting” fact the other day, apparently it’s been estimated that somewhere in the region of 30% of home-workers work naked. It’s a disturbing thought –especially when you’re on the phone to someone you know works alone. Luckily I can reassure you that I’m not in that 30%. Yet.
Have a routine
Have a routine –this is very important, in the same way you would if you were working for someone else, make sure you’re in work for a given time and stick to it. Luckily, my better half Stacey has a full-time job which means she is up at 0630 every day for work as it is, I’ve forced myself to get up with her and get into the office ASAP which has worked well. It doesn’t matter whether your routine is 0900-1700 or 1700-0900, as long as you stick to it you’ll avoid countless duvet days –remember, when you’re not working, the likelihood is you’re not earning*!
*Again, this depends on your business model!
It is also worth setting yourself a finish time as part of your routine, you’re likely to work over a lot of the time but actually having a time to stop and get your coat gives you a deadline to work towards. There is a great article from Ryan Carson on A List Apart about working 4 days a week [The Four-Day Week Challenge], I think it’s a great idea and one that really is achievable but I agree with him, it's worth accepting that there'll never be enough time to finish everything.
Being the only person in the office I didn’t overly want to leave the office to itself and not having anyone to spend that extra day with (Stacey’s at work), I’ve chosen to make this change in stages. At the moment I’m following Google’s example of 20% time. 20% time is something that Larry and Page adopted from academia but in short, everyone is allowed to dedicate 20% of their working week to something that isn’t part of their day-job. This may be something they’re interested in developing for personal reasons or just an idea that you could profit from.
I’ve found this to be very beneficial to my working week especially when I’m in the middle of a large project, it gives you a little breathing space which in the past has allowed me to work out issues that had me banging my head against the wall. It also makes the weekend feel longer so you can relax more and prepare for the week ahead.
I like this 20% time concept (or as I call it “Fun Fridays”) not only because I'm able to step back from any on-going projects and relax a little more during the weekend (even when working on the weekends) but also because of where it takes me. For instance, a couple of Fridays ago I came up with the idea of writing a “Suggestion Box” -a simple Web User Control that can be added to any future project, it allows the user of the site (usually an admin user I would think) to suggest additions/alterations to the application. The suggestions are then stored in a central database for me to review later. The users can also rate other suggestions (using a little AJAX rating system ;)) so the managers are able to see the most popular ideas and gauge which are worth adding to the system. The plan is to review the (user) based suggestions with the management on a regular basis (even if it's just over email) and generate more work that we wouldn't have otherwise had. Although I identified the idea during the normal working week, had I not had “Fun Fridays” it would still just be an idea.
Having a routine for starting and finishing your day will allow your mind to be in the right frameset and again add another level of segmentation of home and work life. Being able to turn off at a given time and feel that you’re able to relax in the evening is very important.
Won't my clients mind?
In a word: No. I wouldn’t worry too much on having clients come to your house for meetings as depending on your business, I expect you’ll find that the majority of your client face to face meetings will be on site but for those that aren’t, why not check out the local hotels, pubs and coffee houses for a suitable meeting place. Find a couple of options and check them out at various times of the day and week so you know what to expect. Are they quiet? Are the tables big enough? Does it portray the right image for my company?
Many local hotels now offer conference and meeting rooms that include facilities like internet access, tea/coffee and other amenities but they’re at a cost. Alternatively your local Chamber of Commerce is likely to offer the same forms of facility if needed.
Asides from the work/home segmentation, one downside to working from home is that you will get rather cut off from the outside world. This is fine if you have the need for many client meetings or on-site consultancies but can be tough if not. You can easily remedy this by finding your local coffee shop, gym or pub and take a little time each day/week to get out of the office.
There is a new form of business establishing itself at the moment which offers dedicated office space on a monthly retainer so if you choose to work from home for the majority of the month but would still like to retain a little face-to-face contact with the outside world you could check out the serviced offices. Another advantage of having these offices will also mean you meet other businesses.
I’ve been working out of an office at the back of the house for 3 years now and it’s the same telephone line, friends and family know this so when they call and I don’t answer, the “Welcome to The Site Doctor” answer machine message doesn’t worry them. I’ve not had any issues with this, the only thing I would recommend is you have Caller Id added and if you can’t remember telephone numbers get a phone/display that has a memory for you, that way you can easily ignore business calls out of hours if you so wish.
Remember that when starting out, it’s important to keep costs as low as possible and although having dedicated office lines is nice, it can also be expensive. Skype is a cheap VOIP solution however I’ve had issues with it’s reliability for Skype-Skype calls in the past so can’t personally recommend it.
Wednesday, January 31, 2007 8:51:29 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
At the very least I would recommend it’s worth writing a SWOT analysis, this will give you focus and allow you to visualise your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats more clearly and perhaps spot something that’ll be crucial to your success or failure. Depending on how fast paced your industry is, it’s always worth re-evaluating the SWOT analysis every now and again.
Once you’ve written your SWOT analysis, show your friends, family and colleagues and see if they can add to it at all. Don’t worry if they criticise it, if you can’t justify or argue your point, perhaps it needs a little more thought.
Defiantly, when setting out less is more. It’s easy to setup i.e. a web development business for only a few hundred pounds but by having lower overheads, it will mean as you earn off your first few jobs, you’ll have more to invest in the company.
What benefit is there to your company if you go out and get the best PC, the biggest office with a couple of secretaries and some flash car? In reality you’re more likely to struggle as you’ll be setting off on the back foot. Make sure you carefully weigh up any purchases, perhaps by categorising them into i.e.:
- Would improve work capacity
- Would like, could perhaps improve work capacity
- Would like but wouldn’t improve work capacity
- Don’t need but look, it’s cool!
If you’ve got investment for the company and can afford to buy all the cool kit from the offset, great but it may be a better idea to keep that for a rainy day. Although I’ve got no proof I’ve always felt that had I not had to earn every penny we had to spend as a business I would have been far more complacent and so lazy and the business wouldn’t be where it is today. Along the same line of thought, I sometimes wonder if I could have done anything differently/better if I did have money to invest at the start and whether it would have got The Site Doctor any further.
This is a very good point, it would be worth noting this down in your targets and goals list [Targets and Goals] as it will give you something to focus on. Think of all expenditures on an annual basis, then when you have the annual expenditure you can work it out on a average number of jobs and/or a monthly figure making it feel more achievable.
Targets and Goals
Personally I can't stress how important targets are enough. Have a set of personal targets as well as business goals -NOT "Make loads of money". The targets should be SMART* (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely), write your targets and goals down somewhere as it commits you, you don't need to read them again just as long as they're there.
*Thanks for the acronym Stacey!
When setting out I had a few:
- Turnover £500pm for the first 12months (then rising in year two)
- Pay off all and any accumulated debts that we had (credit cards etc)
- Go on holiday once a year
- Be able to buy and afford to run an RX-8 (long story)
Tick them off as you go and add more as needed, they'll give you focus and drive. I would recommend having a selection of goals including something that would appear to be unrealistic as it will give you something to really strive for. It's also worth telling other people about your goals as in an odd way, it commits you to the goals.
A new one on me that I’ll be reading up on tonight! Guanxi [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guanxi]
At the end of the day, a business plan should enable you to visualise your goals as a business which in turn will allow you to focus your efforts. Don’t panic about not achieving everything at once, prioritise and attack one thing at a time.
Setting your rates
Firstly check out my previous post about how I suggest you go about set your rates [Pricing your work] as it has a great way to quantify your rates with meaning that’s also scaleable.
I agree and this is something that I’ve only come to appreciate relatively recently. When setting out I decided that the first few jobs would be relatively in-expensive to build on our portfolio, this was a real Catch-22 as I felt compelled to deliver amazing results for next to no reward. This temptation is great when you start out. You end up becoming a busy fool, working all the hours given for little financial reward (which limits potential investment in your company). You end up begrudging your clients and if you were to let it continue I would imagine start offering a lower service, or worse decide that running your own company wasn’t a good idea.
We recently re-jigged our pricing structure while analysing where I felt the business could do better and the only difference it has made is to my happiness, I feel far more rewarded for the work I produce. Interestingly the quantity of work being obtained has also increased somewhat dramatically so don’t think that your price will always sway the decision –a lot of the time it’s more about whether the client responds well to you.
It’s also worth pointing out that higher (not extortionate) rates, aren’t always a bad thing, I’ve lost out on pitches before because we’ve been too cheap and the client has opted for a more costly company, this isn’t always the case but oddly being more expensive often suggests you’re better.
Finding a niche isn’t always something you can do when you first set out as until you’re within a market you may not know the market well enough. If you do find a niche however, make sure you run a SWOT analysis on it first, it may not be that no-one else has noticed it, it may just be that others have tried and failed –that’s not to say that you can’t make it work however!
It’s defiantly one of the best things you’ll ever do –I would imagine this still counts even if it goes terribly wrong. I was once told that once you’ve been self-employed you’re effectively unemployable ever again and after having been self-employed for 3 years now I can see what they were getting at. I don’t think it’s so much from an employer’s POV but an employee’s, I would find it very hard to give up the freedom/control myself and so will do almost anything to avoid it!
I think this is a nice place to close this article, so in closing I’ll say that even if it fails you won’t regret trying, it’ll most likely be one of the hardest but also most rewarding and filling things that you’ll ever do. The worst thing you can do is not try and end up forever wondering what if…
Contracts and Terms and Conditions
Tuesday, January 30, 2007 8:50:24 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
IIRC as a new business you’re legally entitled to 30 minutes of a solicitor’s time which you should take advantage of. Sadly 30 minutes won’t last very long so prepare a set of your most important questions first. It depends on your local Chamber of Commerce, but when we were a member of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, they used to offer you low level legal support as part of your membership.
Although it may seem a large expense when you’re starting out, I really would recommend getting some form of T&Cs drawn up. Spending a couple of hundred pounds at this early stage is likely to save you a lot of hassle later down the road. It’s also an idea to have a coversheet written up that can accompany the T&Cs which has a few blanks you can fill in. We’ve called this our “Agreement for the provision of service” and it reads along the lines of:
Agreement for the provision of services
This agreement made and entered by and between [YOUR COMPANY NAME] (hereinafter referred to as “The Supplier”) and [CLIENT'S NAME], whose principal place of business is [THE CLIENT'S ADDRESS] (hereinafter referred to as “The Client”)
The Supplier agrees to provide [LIST OF SERVICES] services as outlined within the proposal dated [DATE OF DETAILED PROPOSAL].
The Client agrees to pay The Supplier [DEPOSIT AS A PERCENTAGE]% (£[DEPOSIT AS A FIGURE]) of the total project costs on the completion of this agreement followed by [NUMBER OF PAYMANTS AS A FIGURE] ([NUMBER OF PAYMENTS IN WORDS]) additional monthly payments of £[MONTHLY PAYMENT AS NUMBER] from [START DATE] totalling £[TOTAL PAYMENTS AMOUNT IN NUMBERS] ([TOTAL PAYMENT AMOUNT IN WORDS]).
The Client agrees to the total project costs of £[TOTAL PROJECT COSTS AS A FIGURE] ([TOTAL PROJECT COSTS AS WORDS])
The Client is aware and agrees that additional services beyond the original specification may be subject to additional charges. Any additional charges will be confirmed in writing by The Supplier before being undertaken.
The Client also agrees that The Supplier will offer on-going support, maintenance and monthly reporting for a combined total of [DETAILS OF THE SLA] from [START OF SLA] for a monthly payment of £[MONTHLY PAYMENT AMOUNT] until instructed otherwise.
On completion, The Supplier will supply The Client with relevant timesheets for the development work if requested.
In accordance with our Terms and Conditions, Value added Tax, where applicable, will be added at the appropriate rate to the total of all charges shown on the Client’s bill.
We agree to the Terms and Conditions of The Supplier
IMHO you can write these yourself as they’re more just a summary of what you’ll be doing for the client in plain English so there’s no argument. I would state the total amount you’re charging –both in numbers and words, any time frames and additional services i.e. hosting.
Make sure you have the client sign two copies of your coversheet before you start any work for the client, you then sign and return one copy for the client’s records. The other, make sure you store somewhere safe (just incase!). I’ve not found clients object to signing T&Cs before work starts as it protects both the user and the client but I have found the coversheet helps clarify things for everyone.
There are a lot of contracts available for you to download online if you don't want to write your own or can't afford to have them written for you.
If you’re setting up with more than one person –especially if they’re a friend or loved one writing some form of contract between the two of you is incredibly important. Not wanting to sound negative but you never know what stresses and strains may be put on you and what effect they may have.
When forming the contract, if you’re going to do it yourself, make sure you overview the financials very carefully, at the very least I would cover the following:
- Any investments including details about who invested what, how long the investment will be for, any conditions associated with the investment and clear details on the repayment(s) of the investment.
- Profit share, I would suggest including information about percentages if possible (even if you’re planning on a 50-50 split).
- Liabilities and ownership–this is something that will come with time but it would be a good idea to overview everyone’s roles within the company. I wouldn’t encourage a blame culture but associating responsibility is important.
- Decision making. At times you will be required to make important decisions on a company basis, this is easy if you’re a sole trader but if there’s more than one person, how will you decide what to do should there be a split? Will you bring in a mediator to make the final decision or will you toss a coin?
At the end of the day, as John was getting at, no matter what the current the relations are between the company’s partners it’s best to be as explicit as possible to avoid any disagreement later.
A great point and well put. When you set out, scream and shout about the fact; let everyone know what you’re doing –and don’t forget to tell all your friends and family too. If you’re lucky, they’ll know someone who needs your service and will recommend you (or mention the fact allowing you to follow it up). The best business* we’ve had in the past has always come from recommendation.
*“Best” isn’t always quantified by the cheque at the end of the job
Business start-up advice
Monday, January 29, 2007 8:47:39 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Wednesday 6th December 2006 was an interesting day for me, I often get asked about how I run The Site Doctor and how I set the company up in the first place, but on Wednesday I had no less than 3 people mention that they had thought about setting up their own business but weren’t sure how to go about it or whether they should so I thought there must be more.
Leon Jollans was the first and posted a question on the MsWebDev list (message in the archive here) asking for some advice and seeing as a plethora of fantastically useful information was offered I thought I’d wrap it up for future reference.
Before we get down and dirty with the advice, the first thing I’ll say to you is:
If you’re thinking about it, do it –there’s never a better time than now.
Cheesy as it sounds, it’s true, the number of people I’ve spoken to in the past saying that they’ve thought about it but the time’s not right is unbelievable, if you start off with that attitude, the time will never be right, there will always be a reason not to do it. The thing you realise once you do take the leap is; it couldn’t have been a better time!
In regards to how many businesses fail, I believe the official figures in the UK at the moment are 1 in 5 businesses make it through the first year. This would explain why the government is giving so many breaks to SMEs, so just remember -you're the 1 in 5!
Ok so to the tips, I’ve tried to get these into some form of logical order but some comments span multiple topics so I apologise about that.
Update 16th Feb 2007: The article is now available as a downloadable PDF
- Business start-up advice
- Before you get going
- Contracts and Terms and Conditions
- Business Plan
- Working from home
- Day-day running
- New Business
- Finances (VAT, Accountants etc)
Thank you for taking the time to read the articles, I hope it wasn’t too overwhelming for you and more importantly I hope it’ll be a useful reference for you in one way or another. There was a lot more I want to add but it was starting to be never ending story so I had to put closure on it, over time however I expect I’ll add more so check back soon!
Here’s to your success!
As I said at the start of this article, it is largely based on information posted on the MsWebDev list so thanks must be given to all those that contributed:
Useful References / Links
The following links may also be interest to you:
Before you get going
Monday, January 29, 2007 8:44:40 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
I think this is a nice point to start off
with; it’s unlikely that you’ll be setting up a company doing something that
you hate but it’s worth thinking about exactly what you wish to do. When I
first setup The Site Doctor and people asked me what The Site Doctor did, I said
“Web Design and IT Consultancy” as I felt it was broad enough cover everything
I was interested in doing, as it turns out I would think the majority of our
work should now be classed as “Web Application Development” but you try
explaining what that is to your IT illiterate friends ;)
I would be interested to know how many
companies start out aiming to offer one service and then diversify into other
more specialised areas –I would think it frequently happens after identifying a
Identifying a source of quick (and if
possible easy) revenue is a great idea, it doesn’t have to be something that
you’ll continue in the longer term but this will ensure that the first few
months while you’re establishing the company aren’t as hard as they perhaps
could be. When I was setting up The Site Doctor I was prepared to take a
part-time job to subsidise the business should it not generate enough income,
luckily I didn’t need to but having a backup plan is always a good idea!
The other advantage of doing i.e.
contracting or freelancing is that you’ll be able to get straight into the
market place, letting people know about your services and identifying potential
markets. The sooner you can get your face known, the more likely you are to
generate new business.
I would recommend talking to an accountant
to understand the pros and cons about each type of company. Setting up as a
sole-trader or partnership is easier in the short-term but switching from a
sole-trader to a limited company later may bring added complications and/or
paperwork that could be avoided.
If you’re starting out on your own, it’s
probably worth looking into the option of setting up a networked business. I’m
not sure if this is the correct term for it but it’s what I’ve been using for
some time now to describe how The Site Doctor operates. The theory is simple,
rather than having a load of in-house staff which will increase your overheads,
make tactical relations with other companies offering complimentary services.
As mentioned later in the series (see New Business –Networking) we have setup
ties with design companies, mobile development companies and a variety of other
The beauty of this form of co-operative
business is it allows you to be a single point of call for more services than
your core business which is more likely to keep you in the forefront of the
clients mind. It also has the massive benefit of having back-up staff without
the cost. If you’re planning on running a development company, why not find a
couple of other local developers or development companies who can take on some
of your workload? Initially you may not be making any additional income on top
of their charges, but should the workload continue, you’ll be able to consider
taking on an employee safe in the mind they’ll pay for themselves.
Steve (my father-in-law) went on a local
business course many years ago before starting his Birmingham couriering business and is forever
spouting pearls of wisdom that came out of it. From what he’s told me, the
course has helped on many levels when running his courier business from
decision making to re-assurance.
One point that Steve did pick up on from
the course that I feel is relevant is the idea of listening. His course leader
suggested that if you ever had the opportunity to take a successful business man/woman
such as Richard Branson out for dinner, take them to a nice restaurant and pay
for the dinner, not to impress him but to have a couple of hours of their time
–something that you perhaps wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise. I think this
applies to all business owners (I’m open to offers!) as you’ll have a great
opportunity to learn from someone who’s been there and done what you want to
As far as I know, he’s never got any sniff
of business out of the course but I would suggest using the event as a networking opportunity as the attendees are most
likely new to business and in need of some contacts.
The business course should also expand on
some of the points raised here. I’m not sure where the best place to look for
one is, there are plenty available through Business Link but I would think
finding one run by local business owners may be of more use.
As with announcing your launch, get
involved in communities, it does cost you in time but people respond well to
you giving something back and it often results in more opportunities arising
which more than cover the costs of participating. You also get a nice warm
feeling from knowing you’ve helped someone else!
There is currently a huge amount of information
available on starting your own business and running your own business from the
government as there’s a drive to encourage start-ups in the UK, pop down to your local business
link and you may even find there are grants available to you.
A name is an important factor of your
business, make sure it’s scaleable and something that you’re proud of. I came
up with “The Site Doctor” as the business name primarily because (among other
reasons) I felt the majority of our business would come through fixing
You should be proud of your name for
obvious reasons, but remember that you’ll be needing to say it to people on a regular occasion. You’ll no-doubt also be frequently
asked how you came up with your company’s name or as to its meaning as small
talk at networking events and the like, so have a response prepared before the
event (even if it was just something that you thought sounded cool!).
The reason I say you should ensure your
name is scaleable is because I feel “The Site Doctor” portrays an image of a
one-man-band which is something that I now can’t get around without changing
the name. I did think about re-branding the company as “TSD” but on discussing
this with existing clients and friends we felt that it was somewhat impersonal,
I’m inclined to agree and would steer clear of acronyms for your name.
Remember that branding and company image is
a profession itself and having a few quid to outlay on it won’t hurt. You can
see the past incarnations of The Site Doctor [New TSD Design] which we’re currently trying to face lift but I would recommend having
it designed professionally, not just to impress potential clients but also to
give you confidence.
Sean’s idea of having templates for your
proposals is a great idea and one well worth passing by your designer. By all
means have an idea of what you feel your company’s brand should look
like/convey but remember to leave a little room for the designer to make suggestions.