In part one, I shared some of the painful lessons I learned by not planning. We also reviewed the benefits of planning and then began to lay a foundation for the start of a web development business. Now, let’s go deeper.
In this article, we’re going to focus on the launch of a web development business, moving from the idea to your first customers. These are the three steps to planning a successful launch:
- Start With Your Customer
- Decide What To Offer
- Make Yourself Available
Let’s explore each of those steps in detail.
1. Start With Your Customer
A good plan for a business begins with the customer. Who are they? What are their needs? How can we meet those needs? In my case, I hadn’t planned to start a business at all. I had published a tutorial on how to add a WordPress blog to an existing website. Some of the folks who read the tutorial began asking me to do work. At that point, I should have stopped, recognized a pattern, and decided to either pursue that direction further or change course.
Without a plan, I opened the door wide to any type of customer and as the popularity of my tutorials grew, folks began coming to me and asking me to do an increasingly wide variety of work. I said yes, without stopping to see if a particular type of project was really a direction I wanted to go.
For some of you, the answer will be obvious. You have an opening to a type of customer and all you need to do now is focus on serving that customer. For others, figuring this out is hard work. The important thing here is that you start with a plan. Plans can change.
Here are a few examples of the types of customers you might focus on:
- Non-tech savy small business owners looking for full-service (e.g. a complete website for their business)
- Business owners, of all sizes, needing a particular type service (e.g. businesses that want a blog and training)
- Businesses with special needs in a particular market (e.g. ice cream shops, lawn care businesses, or mold remediators)
2. Decide What To Offer
With your customer in mind, figure out what to offer. Lay aside any preconceived notions you may have and ask yourself, “What’s the best way for me to meet their needs?” Rather than just guessing, look for ways to ask. Interview potential customers and find out what their pains are. As you focus on web development, keep your eyes open for other needs, directly or indirectly related, that can be met – either by you or someone else.
Make sure that what you offer is aligned with what your customer is asking for, not just what you think they need.
As you figure out what to offer, here are a few recommendations from my own experience:
- Use a Platform – Don’t waste any time early on learning how to code. Use a platform that will help you leverage the time and talents of web developers who’ve gone before you. I highly recommend WordPress. Use and customize pre-built themes, rather than designing from scratch. Focus on providing value to your customers. They care much more about what you do for them than how you do it.
- Specialize – When it comes to web development, there are few things I can’t do and if I can’t do it, I can probably figure it out. When I list my services, though, I keep it simple. People want to work with folks who are great at what they do. Even if you may have a tremendous amount of capability, the majority of those capabilities won’t be relevant to your client. Instead, focus on the most important ones.
- List Your Prices – Put your prices out in the open. The problem with not listing prices is that it sends a subconscious message, “Let’s figure out how much you’re willing to pay and I’ll tell you how much I’ll charge.” The reality is that while you may “score big” on a project or two, you’re much better off putting prices outfront that you are happy with and saving yourself the time and pain it’ll take to sort and filter through folks who are “just looking.”
Here are some examples of the types of service you might offer within the web development industry:
- Child Theme Design – Choose a WordPress theme or framework and specialize in designing child themes for it. Popular examples include Genesis, Hybrid, and Standard Theme.
- WordPress Migration – Specialize in helping existing website owners move their website over to WordPress. Take a look at how I explain my own WordPress migration service and feel free to borrow.
- Theme Customization – Explain the value of using pre-built themes to your customers and become a specialist in helping them choose and customize an existing WordPress theme. Join a theme club (e.g. ElegantThemes) or use a theme marketplace (e.g. ThemeForest).
A note to the over qualified:
If you’ve already had experience in web development, you may need to set that aside. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean that it’s the best way to serve your customers. Look for ways to put any existing skill sets you have to use and, as you do so, be willing to set those skill sets aside or update them to make sure that you’re serving your customers in the best way possible.
3. Make Yourself Available
After deciding on a customer base and figuring out what to offer, the next step is letting folks know that you are open for business. In my case, that meant creating a “Services” page that explained how I worked and that I was, indeed, open for business. My problem back then is that I stopped there and didn’t look for ways to expand my reach beyond the traffic I was getting from my tutorials.
As you create a plan for making yourself available, here’s what I recommend you include:
- Build Your Own Website – This is an obvious first step. Don’t overlook it or take it too lightly, though. Your own website should be an excellent example of your capabilities. Write the content for each page with your potential customers in mind and make sure that each page has a clear call to action.
- Look For Opportunities To Give Value – People recognized the value of the information in the tutorials I wrote and that led to my first few customers. In your own business, look for ways to give value. Here are a few ideas:
- Write for your local paper – Start a column for your local newspaper and tackle the questions that business owners have about the web and technology. Focus on information that’s valuable to them, that saves them money, or helps them increase their revenues.
- Start a blog, specific to your target audience – Write guest posts on blogs your audience reads to get the word out.
- Write a guide – Target your ideal customer, explaining how to accomplish a particularly valuable task. Give the guide away for free or sell it for a low price
- Re-evaluate Regularly – Once a quarter, or even once a month, re-evaluate your website and what you’ve done to give value. Look at what’s working and what hasn’t worked, then re-evaluate. Make the evaluation process an integral part of your plan to ensure you stay on track.
Failing to plan is planning to fail. A few months in to my web development adventure I realized that I needed a plan. I decided to join forces with two other young men and we started another web development business that, 5 years later, is still running strong – with a plan for its future. Our plans have changed over the years and they will continue to change. The key is to take the time to plan and make decisions proactively rather than reactively.
As you start your web development business, take the time to plan. Follow the three steps that we’ve covered and get to work. We’ve only touched on the foundations, but in the beginning, those are what you need most. With a good foundation in place you’ll be able to continue planning, execute well, and experience success.
Have questions? Ask them in the comments below! I look forward to hearing from each of you.