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Hello, my name is Profit: A guide to talking to your clients about profitable projects.


hello my name is profit

Dear readers,

The following conversation is made available to help agency owners and clients understand the importance of running a profitable web project. If you’re an agency, this can help start the conversation with your clients. If you’re seeking to hire someone, this is a great primer to work with one another.

Thanks for inquiring about your project!

We love launching new and engaging projects for our customers. Each project is an opportunity to bring your vision to life, and help you reach the goals you’re striving for. Soon, we’ll start to discuss 90% of our client’s concern: Cost.

Before we get there, we need to discuss how to run a profitable project for both of us. As much as we all hope to repurpose existing technology or off-the-shelf designs, we must realize that your idea is unique to you and your goals. That is to say, we don’t have a cookie-cutter solution that we can simply plug in for you. We’ll need to properly plan, outline goals, and do the work to make it a real success.

You probably couldn’t throw a stone without hitting another boutique agency. We recognize this as our opportunity to gain your trust and develop a relationship, because in a world where you can hire a developer for $5, we deeply value your business. Most custom projects go beyond 90 days, especially if you need support, so reassuring trust for both parties (you and I) is paramount. We’ll be working together for a while!

We have a great team and an amazing process, and we will work tirelessly together to reach your goals; but before we begin, I want you to meet someone:

Hello, my name is Profit. How can I help?

Why Profit Matters

More friction means less profit.

More friction means less profit.

Your business probably needs to be profitable as well as well-developed. Am I right?

There are a slew of reasons why we need to stay profitable:

  • Salaries
  • Taxes
  • Growth
  • Supporting you
  • Our families
  • Profit

Without our friend, Profit, none of this can exist. Think about how hard it would be if your business wasn’t profitable. Yeesh.

So, how does a digital agency stay profitable?

Profitability starts with getting the project running as effectively and efficiently as possible — for both of us. Often, profit can be confused with, “we’re getting away with something.” Quite the opposite, really. Profit keeps us in business and keeps our team healthy. It doesn’t mean we short you on creativity or quality, and it doesn’t mean you expect us to build you Facebook for five-hundred bucks.

Chiseling away at profit

Throughout this conversation, we’re going to outline the many phases and interactions that keep a project honest and healthy during the agency/client engagement. It’s when the base of each scenario begins to erode that our profitability suffers.

See the chart above with the (common) $125 hourly rate explained. The more friction we have in a project, the more it reduces our chance of operating a profitable business. As we move forward, we’ll see that isn’t optimal for either of us.

But before we begin this journey, are we a good fit?

Maybe we don’t fit?

Do our expectations align?

Do our expectations align?

I realize that having a conversation about profit can seem a little odd, even uncomfortable. It is for us, too.

The idea is, hopefully, that we can enlighten you to the benefits of truly trusting and partnering with an agency that is passionate about seeing your idea succeed. We simply can’t do this if expectations aren’t aligned. Like I mentioned earlier, this doesn’t mean we charge an exorbitant amount of money just for the sake of it, but it does require that we are compensated fairly for the time, work, and team effort that we put in.

Sometimes, people see technology work as something that they can just “patch up.” Have a leaky faucet? Use some gum. Have a torn window screen? Use some tape. Sure, it works, until it doesn’t anymore and you have gallons of water on the basement floor or nasty mosquitos throughout the house.

Our fundamental offering is to build something of quality to today’s standards that ensures scalability and usability for your business and your customers:

  • Does it work?
  • Was it built well?
  • Can it scale as technology improves?
  • Can your staff use it properly?
  • Does it work well for your customer?
  • Does it deliver results?

We can achieve all of this when we’re running a healthy, profitable business. If our expectations align with your expectations then it looks like we’re a great fit. The project kick-off is right around the corner; let’s keep that profitable, too.

Where projects go wrong

It's not just the work that goes wrong.

It’s not just the work that goes wrong.

We have fine-tuned processes for the 3 most important pillars of your project:

Project Intake

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Understanding your business and your project with as much intimacy as possible is the heartbeat to any successful project. Proper discovery time and estimates will ensure that — you guessed it — we’re profitable. It also means that we’re not spinning the clock, charging you for iterations and design changes 6-months down the road – in turn, making you profitable.

The Work

Where the rubber meets the road. We see the goal (thanks, project intake process!) and our designers, developers and project managers begin the production process. Many meetings, Q&A’s, and tests ahead. As long as you’re not introducing any scope creep into the scene, we’re good to go.

Deliverable

Your project, fresh out of the oven. This is where the Intake process and the Work process high-five each other: the finish line. We’ll train you, create support documentation, and discuss new phases or goals for your business beyond this phase. If we’re in agreement, we’ll even stick around to help!

it’s everything in-between (or on the fringes) that fails

It’s easy to focus on optimizing the pillars of a project. There clearly defined lines, questions that need to be answered and code that needs to be written. It’s before a project starts, when it ends, and the gaps in-between phases where they are most likely to fail.

Expectations

This can crash and burn before a project has the chance to get off the ground (see do we even fit? above). If our budget requirements don’t align with your desired goals, even with some cost-cutting the chances are that this engagement isn’t going to go well for either of us. Believe me, we could probably build something amazing together, but it’s probably not going to be fun by the time we’re done.

Restlessness

Like a child the night before Christmas, you can’t wait to tear-off the wrapping paper, and we can’t wait to see you smile! But before we get there, we need to make sure we have the planning and discovery down to a science. Often, clients can get a little restless here, wanting us to jump straight-in and build. Sure, there will be some ebb and flow, but we’re going to measure and re-measure so the final product meets the mark. We want it done right, right?

Fell of the radar

The Bermuda triangle of a project; milestone sign-offs, content delivery, and the thumbs-up. Somewhere between us starting the work and delivering the project, we’ll need you to be involved in the process. If you don’t think you’ll be able to pry yourself from your meetings, which we understand, can you delegate to another lead on your team? Moving the project along is crucial to our friend, Profit.

One more thing

How about that new website design, great right? Wait, you want us to change the font-size after our many meetings that were specifically about font sizes? We get it, from marketing websites to web apps, this software is always in motion. That is to say, with all of our data-driven processes, we’ll never fully know how your users will interact with it until they load the page. Your business and goals will change, and so will your website. Introducing extended changes or revisions beyond our original scope can really hurt our profits and our relationship.

Let’s figure out a profitable support plan to keep those iterations and phases rolling. The whole idea of being friendly to Profit is so we can stick around and help your business for years to come.

What you see vs. what we see

You see one and we see many.

You see one and we see many.

All of these rules and regulations!

From your $25,000 project build-out to your $500 work order, there are a lot of people and factors involved. You’re pumped up about your new marketing initiative spend or you have a strict deadline of yesterday, and need some coding tweaks done to the site. No worries, we can help, but we always look at the big picture — no matter what size the invoice is.

Intake

Much like discovery, we need to meet and intake what your new thing is. How will it be applied to the website, and what is the existing code, or lack thereof, like? How will people use it? Will it break the site? Are there any security concerns? Who will do the work at our agency, and will it involve multiple roles/meetings?

Work

Let’s code it, design it, mold it, and shape it. This is the meat-n-potatoes. Time spent doing the task at hand.

Testing

We can’t just hand it over to you without testing it. Well, I guess we could, but you don’t want it to break your site or not render properly on your customer’s fancy new iPhone. Do you?

Support

I’m sure the smallest feature we added will take some training time. More than likely you will have some questions, and we’ll need to hop on the phone to answer them.

You see one, we see many

All of this is to say, there are a lot of human beings who make things happen behind the curtain. If it were just me, well, I wouldn’t be profitable.

More people means more money, you say? Well yes, it does cost a bit more to work with an agency, but it also means you have the most skilled and talented people working together across the various tiers of your project. From project managers to support staff, it’s a team effort — much like making a movie.

We deliver what the project needs

It's not about picking your favorite shade of blue

It’s not about picking your favorite shade of blue

So you thought we were through the hard part?

Defining the single purpose, or goal, of a project is not only the hardest part, but the most important part as well. The creative process is an exhilarating and overwhelming (if you’re new to it) roller-coaster ride. It’s imperative that we keep our cool and guide the project toward what it really needs to be successful, not what we simply want for fancy features. The average project goal looks something like this:

  • Improve the design
  • Increase page speed
  • Capture more leads
  • Integrate e-commerce

Likes and dislikes are very subjective. You like one shade of blue, while the agency knows that data-driven metrics prove another shade works best. We must lead the project with a bipartisan stance, as to say, we serve the needs of the project before the needs of our “wants.”

Why do we create goals? To meet the needs of your customers and visitors.

The visitors that will, ultimately, make you profitable.

It’s never going to be 100%

We realize this

We realize this

Arguably the #1 reason why we need to stay profitable.

Every project, large or small, has its nuances that can modify the direction one way or another. We expect that, and we’ll plan for it when we develop our project outline and the budget. Let’s address some common speed bumps:

  • Missed meetings
  • Too many meetings
  • Not signing off on phases
  • Lack of content or assets that we need to collect
  • Team leads change
  • Scope creep

Falling out of sync

We intentionally structure our agreements in phases, so in the event that we’re no longer compatible with one another, a mutual break-up can happen. Like dating, we’re not ultimately sure if the new person we’re courting will be the right fit for a long-term relationship.

Ending early certainly is not healthy for either of us, but if we’re honest with one another, this stuff can happen. It’s never going to be 100% perfect.

  • Software isn’t perfect.
  • Goals aren’t perfect.
  • Timing isn’t perfect.
  • People aren’t perfect.

It is said that No plan survives contact with the enemy.

I’m not a fan of relating our relationship to war, but it’s a harsh reminder that we’re just humans trying to get along with other humans, working together to achieve a common goal.

We need to trust  both sides

We need trust.

We need trust.

You expect that, with the budget you’ve set aside, you will reach the goals of the project; and for every dollar spent, you expect a dollar in return.

Like you, with every hour that we spend working with your team and within your project, we expect that same dollar in return. We’re also expecting to create something that we can use to demonstrate our skills to prospective future customers. We can’t do this without winning your trust and achieving the goals at hand. When this happens, a quality product is created that we’re both happy with and can both profit from.

That’s what profit means to us. That’s how profit translates to a better experience, and in the end, how profit builds a sustainable business that is mutually beneficial for both you and me.

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4 Comments

  1. Susanta on November 3, 2015 at 7:51 am

    Great post, Matt! I really like how you break down each complex part of agency-client relationships in simple words and even simpler graphics. Simply wonderful. Indeed, our clients tend to see just one thing while we see the rest too.

    • Matt on November 17, 2015 at 7:43 am

      Thanks!

  2. Katie Keith on December 9, 2015 at 2:25 am

    Some really interesting ideas about how the different parts of the project lifecycle affect profit -thanks! What I have learned about running a WordPress agency is that you need to clearly define the scope in a positive way. Restricting the number of hours spent on design changes is not a negative thing or something to be defensive about, as many WordPress developers are. Instead, it’s an opportunity to make the project profitable and cost-effective for both parties. (I love your example about wanting to change the font size after many meetings about font size -so true!) I wrote a post a while back about how to manage scope creep in WordPress projects which your readers might be interested in – as you say, this has a big impact on profitably.

    • Matt on December 9, 2015 at 10:41 am

      Thanks for stopping by Katie! Glad you liked the post and yes, scoping WordPress projects can be…fun…to say the least 🙂

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