Four Weeks To Your First Client

Lesson #5 – My Strengths & Weaknesses As A Web Developer

Introduction

As fellow humans we learn a lot from each other’s experiences. In today’s lesson I want to give you a closer look at some of my experiences in life as they’ve impacted my career as a web developer.

My purpose in sharing these experiences is two-fold:

  1. To help you connect more with me and understand why I’ve given the advice I have thus far.
  2. To help you gain from the experiences in life that I’ve had, without having to experience the same pains.

My Life As A Web Developer

I don’t know exactly how many clients I’ve worked with. My best guess is somewhere between the range of 150-250. I’m going to count them soon, but for now my guess will have to do. Whatever the number is what I do know is that I’ve had a lot of experience.

As I wrote this lesson I looked back on my experience and spent time thinking about my strengths and weaknesses. I chose two of each and decided to focus this lesson on exploring each of them in detail and offering you recommendations to apply to your own experience.

My Strengths

The Ability To Sell

The lifeblood of my success as a web developer has been my ability to build a relationship in a short period of time that leads to a sale. I haven’t always been good at it. Today, though, I stand on the shoulders of enough experience and developed intuition that I am able work through the sales process with relative ease.

There are three things that stand out as contributors to my success in sales:

  1. Practice – My first few sales were awkward. I had no idea what to charge (I still wrestle with that from time to time) and asking for the sale made me very uncomfortable. It took practice to get better at it.
  2. Taking Risks – I’ve taken risks in my sales experience over the years, which usually meant putting a price tag on a project that was higher than anything I’d done before. I wouldn’t always get a yes – the successes I did have, though, motivated me to keep going and gave me invaluable experience.
  3. Learning From Others – I’ve paid careful attention over the years to folks who are much better at sales than I. That’s meant reading books, watching a good salesperson at work, and asking for advice every chance I’ve had.

Along the same lines, there are three things I recommend you do to improve your sales ability:

  1. Practice – For those of you just starting, embrace the fact that you have begun a life-long journey. As you give each new sales opportunity your best, recognize that you are learning, that you’re going to make mistakes, and just like a baby learning to walk – that’s OK! Keep practicing.
  2. Take Risks – At 16-years-old I took up rollerblading and, for years, I was proud of the fact that I never fell. Not once. I’ve wiped out in plenty of other activities, but not rollerblading. I was careful, controlled, and I never fell. But I had a major problem. I never got good at it. Getting good means taking risks and pushing outside of your comfort zones. If you’ve been comfortably selling $1000 projects, perhaps it’s time to sell a $2000 project. If you’ve been selling $10,000 projects, perhaps it’s time to push higher. Look at where your comfort zones are and push them.
  3. Learn From Others – Be willing, and eager, to learn from those who’ve gone before you. Learn everything you can from me and don’t stop there. Find folks who’ve had more experience than I have and learn from them. Learn from people in different industries, ask questions, read books, and develop an attitude of constant learning. Time dedicated to learning and growing is always time well spent.

Range of Experience

Though clients rarely know it up-front, I have had a wide range of experience in the web development industry. I’ve run a web hosting business that failed. I’ve owned over 100 domains for personal projects. I’ve created information products that sold well. I’ve personally spent over $10,000 on Google AdWords. I’ve learned about SEO and have ranked highly for competitive terms. I’ve invested thousands of dollars into a website that flopped and I’ve built and still manage other sites that do well. I’ve learned Photoshop. I’ve mastered HTML/CSS. I’ve been involved and gained tremendous experience from large-scale web development projects that were way over my head.

I share all that (and there’s a lot more) to say that my range of experience has proven a tremendous blessing. I am able to relate and connect with clients at many different levels and, more often than not, I am able to answer their questions from personal experience.

Here are some of the factors that have contributed to my ability to acquire a range of success:

  1. Trying New Things – I’ve always enjoyed trying new things. I’ve learned that success in business requires a balance – I have to maintain a focus. At the same time, my willingness to try new things and stretch outside of what I already know has continued to pay for itself – time and time again.
  2. Being Willing To Ask – Much of my success in life has come as a direct result of my willingness to reach out and ask, to be proactive and to go after the things that are valuable to me. Once, I decided to write to a handful of major newspapers to find someone who’d be interested in interviewing me and telling my story. I was 18 at the time and thought I had already lived an interesting life. I emailed the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Sacramento Bee, and a handful of others. A writer for the Sacramento Bee got back to me and scheduled an interview. It didn’t matter that they didn’t run the story – what mattered is that I saw, again, the power of asking and doing what most people just wouldn’t do.

And here’s what I recommend you do:

  1. Keep Trying New Things – Some seasons of life are more conducive to trying new things than others. No matter what the season, though, stay open to trying new things. In the web development industry, stretch yourself to gain experience in new areas. Try out new technologies. If you decide to focus on WordPress as a content management system the same way I have, be sure that you’ve given other content management systems a try.
  2. Ask For The Impossible – There are many times in life where you’ll have an idea, or face a challenge, and then run into a wall. You’ll recognize the wall when you see it. Instead of just turning away, ask for a rope over the wall, the key to a door through the wall, or perhaps a demolition crew to take out the wall altogether. Have an idea for a website but the domain is taken? Ask for it! Make an offer – even if it’s a lowball. You don’t know if you don’t ask. Find someone you think would be a great client? Ask for the opportunity to get to know them and then ask for their business! Take what may seem impossible to you (or to those around you), ask, and keep asking.

My Weaknesses

Short-Term Clients

With 8+ years of web development experience and over 100 clients I thought I would have more to show for it. The problem is that I didn’t keep track of most of my past clients and, once the work was completed and I knew they were happy, I moved on – rarely ever to look back. I have friends in the web development industry who’ve built great businesses around long-term relationships with clients. They figured out ways to provide value to their clients on an on-going basis and, years later, they are still in touch and happily serving the same clients.

In other words, by failing to develop long-term relationships with current clients I’ve put myself in a place where I have to have a steady flow of new clients. There have been exceptions to this, but in nearly all cases it was the client, instead of me (who it should have been) that was pro-active about building a long-term relationships.

Here’s what I’m doing about this weakness:

  1. Tracking History – I am going back through and reconstructing my client history over 8 years of email into a spreadsheet. It’s going to take awhile. In that process, I’m going to look back over what I learned from past projects and I’m also going to look for opportunities to reconnect with old clients.
  2. Creating Processes – As I identify long-term relationship building habits that haven’t been strengths of mine in the past I am working them into the processes that I follow after each client project is complete. Creating a process and sticking to it allows me to invest the time up-front into figuring out the right process and then simply follow what I’ve already worked out.
  3. Identifying On-Going Value – As I go forward I am looking for ways to offer value to clients on an on-going basis. This has been challenging for me as my whole business thus far has been built around speed and focusing on only the initial project. Now I am looking for ways to leverage my talents and past experience to maintain on-going relationships with clients.

And here’s what I recommend you do:

  1. Keep Track – Make sure that you keep track of each new client of yours. Take note of things that you’ve learned about them during your work together. Record the time that you spent working on their projects. Record what they paid you. Track any and all relevant details and keep them organized in a way that you can readily refer back to and learn from.
  2. Create Processes – Write a checklist for what you do after each project is complete. As you identify a problem area in your business, take the time to solve it and create a process to prevent it from happening again. Review your processes on a regular basis and make adjustments based on what you’ve learned.
  3. Identify On-Going Value – Look for ways to offer value to your client on an on-going basis, long after the initial project is complete. At the moment I can only speak from limited experience. That’ll change here soon. Meanwhile, ask yourself this kind of question, “What can I offer my client that they would be happy to pay $200/month for? What about $500 a month?” Focus on ways to provide value that are not directly related to your time.

Self-Discipline

The art of self-discipline is the ability to do what you’ve already decided to do or what you know is right to do, whether or not you feel like it. My sense of self-discipline has matured a lot over the years – yet it’s still a constant struggle.

Here are some examples:

  • Checking Email – I have 3 email accounts I check on a regular basis and I like getting good news. I enjoy the thrill of a new client opportunity. I like hearing from clients who are happy with work I’ve done. Those are all good things! The problem is when I feel like checking email instead of getting work done, especially when I don’t actually have the time to reply to emails right then.
  • Late To Bed – I’ve learned that my most productive hours are in the early morning and, as I’ve tracked and observed my sleep patterns, I’ve recognized first-hand the negative effect that sleep deprivation has on my performance. Even so, getting to bed at a predetermined time is still a difficult thing for me. The problem isn’t whether or not I decide to go to bed late – the problem is deciding, in advance, to go to bed early and then lacking the self-discipline to actually see that decision through.

A lack of self-discipline has a negative impact on every area of life. The good news is that self-discipline can be acquired! Here’s what I’m doing to develop self-discipline:

  • Memorizing Bible Verses – In March of 2012, I accepted a challenge to memorize all 1000+ verses in the Book of Acts by the end of the year. It has been one of the most difficult things I’ve attempted – not because memorization is hard, but because it’s something that requires you to stay at it day after day, without stopping. I’ve missed a few days, but overall I have kept to it and I’ve noticed dramatic improvements in self-disciple throughout other areas of my life.
  • Learning From Others – Recently, I began to tackle the challenge of self-discipline on a more proactive basis. I purchased a book on self-discipline and I’ve begun looking for people that have strong self-discipline in one area of their life or another and trying to learn what I can from them about how they developed it.

Self-discipline is really important to your success in the web development industry, especially for those of you building your own businesses. Here is what I recommend you to do improve your self-discipline:

  1. Stick To A Good Habit – I chose memorizing Bible verses. I’ve also worked to keep up daily exercise. Pick a good habit, something challenging but manageable, and stick to it – no matter what. If you fail, that’s ok – get right back up and keep on going. Self-discipline is like a reserve of strength and it is increased the more you exercise it.
  2. Learn From Others – Find people in your life who have a strong sense of self-discipline, even if only in one area. Learn all you can from them and look for ways to apply what you’ve learned to your own life. Read books on self-discipline and seek out experts in your area of interest.

Moving On

I really appreciate the time that you’ve shared with me over this course! I have a few more things in store for you. In the next lesson, I’m going to tackle the web development business itself and give you my perspective on the advantages and disadvantages of starting a web development business.

Meanwhile, I look forward to hearing from you! Leave your feedback on today’s lesson using the form below and keep an eye out for next week’s lesson!

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