The days when we associate auto dealers with salesmen who dress and talk like Herb Tarlek from the 70s sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati are long gone. Today, if your dealership website isn’t carrying out a considerable amount of the work that used to only happen in-house, then you’re already missing out on an enormous amount of business.
Every freelancer dreams of a land flowing with milk and honey where the perfect web development clients are ready and waiting to spend big bucks for a rocking website. A land where prospects understand the intricacies of the art and respect the skill and expertise of you, the developer, without giving you a 6 for a 9 or heavily discount your work. We’ve all heard stories of clients from hell and there are some developers I know who seem to have a platinum subscription to the hell clients express.
As developers, we tend to complain a lot about these clients from hell without realizing that we possess the power to up the ante in our favor, in large part, by approaching our business in a manner that demands admiration and respect.
Web Development is an Art and is Big Business
People in general tend to think of the term “freelancer” as someone who is doing work to simply get by. It’s less respected and not a legitimate profession. In fact, I personally know a developer who had a difficult time receiving payment for work because the client thought “freelancer” meant free work. I place the blame on him in that case though.
The point is that your mindset as a practitioner and business owner has to be serious. You may be a one-man army but you have to think and present yourself like a major brand to be reckoned. This can be achieved and is evident through making simple changes in your business. Let’s discuss some.
1. Don’t Give in to the Temptation to Under-Quote
Particularly for new developers, it may be tempting to offer quotes much lower than average market rates simply to undercut other players, with the hope of attracting clients and winning bids. Don’t do it. This practice can only devalue the market on a whole and in the long-term forces the market of developers to yield to lower expectations from clients. Know what your work is worth, be aware of the market and align your quote.
For instance, if you know you’re worth $100 per hour, do not quote $20 solely for the sake of winning that client. If you find that most of the clients you’re getting are continuously whining about your cost and worth then you may need to reevaluate how you’re acquiring those prospects.
In another case, my bid has been rejected in the past because I simply under-quoted. The prospect doubted the value of the work I was able to present because of the low rate and went with a developer who quoted 2x my rate. Cheaper isn’t always better.
2. Embrace Public Speaking
Many hardcore developers are introverts and thus like to sit quietly and do their work. We avoid confrontation and like to keep things simple. These are great qualities which make up the best of us. However, the ability to sell and present will take you a long way.
Look for conference opportunities to make powerful, impressive presentations on your unique approach and expertise on a particular subject or market. Events that attract CEOs, managers and other decision makers are vital and will expose you to a flurry of businesses looking to make a bigger impact online and finding ways of connect with the ever-evolving digital world. Inject yourself into that environment, start a few conversations, acquire some names and contacts then keep the conversations flowing after the conference.
Trust me, this approach can score you huge contracts.
3. Make the Decision to Specialize
Being a Jack of all Trades may seem impressive but your ability to own and conquer a set of very specific tasks or solve rare and peculiar problems, will be more attractive to businesses and big spenders. There are so many people trying to do everything that they end up entirely failing. If you are in love or have a somewhat special relationship with Java, for example, then hone those skills and be known for it. If you have a special love for UX Design then master that before moving to something else.
Specialists are able to offer more targeted and quality work than the full house developer. In addition, specialists are simply sexier 🙂
4. Kickstart Your Portfolio
Whether you’re a new or seasoned developer you need to have a personal project under your wing worth admiring. Think of a problem you’d like to solve through your coding skills and develop something so rare, so powerful that it cannot be ignored. Make the project around solving a problem that your target audience has and do it beautifully. That project could sell for millions or be the trump card you need to close a deal with a potential client.
Prospects love to see work completed that they can relate to. It validates your abilities and gives them a sense of confidence that you can handle the job.
5. Produce Beautifully Designed Invoices & Quotations
Spend time to create clear, original and elegantly designed quotations, proposals, invoices and other stationery. Don’t take your expertise for granted, thinking that your ability can convince a client to work with you. You’ve got to play the game. As prospects shop around for the best developer to complete their work, many of them in fact cross developers off their list who present bland, colorless proposals and quotes.
If you’re not willing to spend time to present yourself well then it is assumed that this attitude will pour into your work.
6. Don’t Abandon Traditional Brick & Mortar
Believe it or not, we still live in a world that responds to good old-fashioned presentations. Schedule meetings with prospects, get some proposals and material printing and get out of your home or office to engage them face to face. There are still many big spenders who prefer seeing things presented on paper and in person; and I agree with them. It’s more personal and they get an opportunity to evaluate who they’ll be doing business with. It means a lot for many prospects and many developers ignore and take this for granted. This is an opportunity to stand out and clients will appreciate it.
7. Be Transparent & Use a Contract
Big business demands the use of contracts. It shows that you’re fair, serious about your work and are not afraid to be accountable. High paying clients especially need to be reassured of your accountability and diligence towards getting the job done. Invest a bit of time to draft an effective contract / agreement that outlines every aspect of your projects and addresses all potential concerns.
Remember, you mean business.
8. Take a Risk, Present a Prototype
Without risk, there is no great success. If you’ve been eyeing a prospect for some time now and see where they would do well with a complete redesign of a website or approach to a product, do the work before approaching them. Create a working mock-up and request an audience to present it. This not only shows you’ve got the chops to do the work but is also an opportunity to showcase your unique talents while showing some bravado in your risky venture. This helps your prospect better visualize the possibilities and creates a powerful connection with you.
Of course, you should do your due diligence to determine whether your end product is useful for the prospect or not. Also, I don’t recommend doing this for every prospect but should certainly be attempted for the account that is worth acquiring. Choose wisely. Even if this does not land you a contract immediately, they will be impressed and will refer to you when the time comes.
9. Answer Questions
Yeah, this sounds very simple but 80% of my web development clients, upon first speaking with them, lamented on the fact that they could not reach a developer to answer their questions. They suffered many unanswered emails and calling design houses only to be blocked by a receptionist or assistant. Be accessible and the right clients will find you.
Also, remember that you’re the humble expert. Taking the time to educate your prospects and clients not only builds trust but places them under a certain amount of obligation to use your services. Be generous.
10. Don’t Be Afraid to Collaborate
If you realize you may not have the skillset required to tackle certain prospects or take on particular jobs, then collaboration might be a solution. There are some clients who tend to prefer or are more comfortable knowing that they are working with a team of professionals versus a one-man show. Take the time out to build your network of capable developers and designers who complement your skills. Come together, make an arrangement which allows each of you to pull on team resources when necessary. Depending on your comfort levels with each other, you could formulate a separate brand or partnership used when working with larger clients. This offers the flexibility and leverage of pulling on resources only found within a team to acquire larger, more demanding and rewarding projects.
Work smarter, not harder.
Acquiring valuable high-paying clients is not a far fetched goal but is attainable for the developer who dares to think and do things differently.
Happy Friday Focus! Today we’re looking at designs with a bit of a “dip” in them—one content area leading into another with a nice little curve. Can you spot them? Read on!
Designs of the Week
I like the combination of wood, light grunge, stripes, and glossy (web 2.0) green—all used in moderation. This design is the poster child for “the dip” technique I’m talking about: a nice column containing navigation links at the right instead of the usual header area, ending in a curly brace shape pointing downward to the rest of the sidebar.
This shade of blue is quite popular for girly sites, especially wedding-themed ones, combined with slab serifs and calligraphic fonts. This one looks a little flat, literally, with no textures or gradients, and the girl looks like a cut-out doll with the stark white shadow!
Looking for the content? It’s tucked away in the top drawer. The focus of this design is a parallaxed animation featuring an pixelated rendering of the site owner during different times of the day. Right now the screenshot shows him typing away at his laptop (if you watch long enough, his dog shows up but gets shooed away and floats off into space), but click on the different color swatches at the bottom left and you’ll see him doing other things like dreaming in binary, grabbing coffee from out of nowhere, and playing arcade games. Aside from the fact that the colors per scene are blended really, I think this is a smart, funny way for strangers to get to know this person better, even by a little bit.
First, while the callouts aren’t interactive, I like how the first slide is styled especially the halo around the “view portfolio” circle. Hovering over the top navigation gives you circular backgrounds, too, but the active ones get pointers and turn into speech bubbles. There are cool slopes marking each section, and inner pages crop off the the very large headings to focus on the content below.
The welcome blurb plays with depth by blurring and resizing objects to make them look like they’re in the background. The illustrations are straightforward, but the use of a patch of grass to separate each section is clever. You must also check out the hover effect on each portfolio item, like a store sign or label. I must say, though, the way the contact form is center-aligned in the footer is a little weird!
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This week on Friday Focus we’re featuring a specific type of texture being used in websites: denim. Is it the new wood pattern? Let’s find out.
Designs of the Week
I like that the texture used isn’t the typical blue fabric, which also means you aren’t limited by the color palette for the design. You see color swatches at the top, a fixed red ribbon background, and a huge call to action button once you get to the bottom of the page. Also, in the quest for integrating social icons into a design, we come across another technique: there’s a dark silhouette of the Twitter bird, which “lights up” into full color when you hover.
The jean texture looks interesting but seems to be fighting with the navigation text. I think it’s good that the figure text is actual text, and not merged with the rest of the pants diagram. The “Made In Europe” text looks a little out of place, and could have been styled more like a badge than a button. What I really like is the textured circular backgrounds in the four bottom links—not mind-blowingly stunning but a nice touch.
I love the stitched look especially on the logo. It’s a simple design, based on an existing theme in fact (as noted in the footer credits), but the idea of using two “layers” in the background, bounded by a vertical border on either side, is something I don’t see everyday.
This site ties many different elements together to create a lovely design: vintage typography, tickets that look like tickets, folded tabs, and even orange-dyed denim shaped as ribbons! However, the orange on dark gray, combined with the Harlow font, is a little taxing on the eyes.
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Designs of the Week
It’s probably a minor thing but the logo colors don’t seem to match the shades of blue and orange used in the background, although they do have translucency and overlapping shapes in common. The look is colorful, light, and very readable. I think the triangles are there to break the text-dominated pages a bit. I find it interesting that in the Platform page, the sidebar is used as the location for the diagram, instead of above or mixed in content, whereas the Blog is a one-column layout and has no sidebars.
Remember those centered seals? This reminds me of that, but with a triangle. Looks like a well-tailored site mixing light textures and transparency, but minus points for not putting in any content in the Portfolio and Project pages.
There’s one really nifty effect here: if your internet connection is fast enough, a “dressed up” sketch fades over an “undressed” one like a virtual paper doll. It’s not complicated or flashy (imagine how you can take things further), but it drives the fashion concept all the way home! There’s also a fabric swatch feel between the triangular shapes, bright colors, and subtle patterns.
Again with the pattern mixing plus translucent images, some of which should be better off as inline text replacements. The lightbox could have been customized further.
First of all, I’m stunned by how bright the green is, which is good, except for the area where it’s used as background for white text—not recommended! The circular slideshow is definitely catchy, especially with transparent images being used. There’s another projects list at the bottom right in addition to that. Lastly, I love the use of a triangle content area for the footer.
You know how people are using circles everywhere these days, including framing content, because of border-radius? This site is like that, but with triangles. It’s not even remotely half-assed though. In the Work section, images and captions are cropped in skewed boxes. Clicking on the G at the top right displays the underlying grid. The code is a little messy in some places but overall, an outstanding job.
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