Connecting With Clients

Web projects are most successful when there is clear and open communication between consultant and client.

When there is trust between two parties, communication is more honest. So, before I even agree to take a project, this ability to communicate — this connection — is something I’m looking for.

Here’s some of the things I’m asking myself when evaluating a prospective client:

Will I get along with you? Is your project a good fit for my expertise? Is there someone better suited for this project? Can I deliver multiple times the value you are investing?

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On Deposits, Working For Equity and Net 30 Payments

Let’s face it. It’s tough to talk about money, but it needs to be done, and brought into the open.

Many independent web developers receive questions about what type of payment structure they will accept before a project starts. Do you charge a deposit? Do you work for future equity? What’s your policy regarding Net 30 (or longer) payments?

While I can’t speak for other shops, my short answers to these questions are yes, I require a deposit before starting work. No, I don’t work for equity. And I avoid working on contracts where payment is unnecessarily delayed.

Here are the reasons why I structure payment arrangements this way.

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The Rabbit Hole of Taste

It’s interesting how there is a renaissance of chasing good taste lately. Perhaps it’s the Ira Glass quote that has everyone refocused on taste. I think it’s something that seasoned creatives of all kinds try to pass to the people they mentor — this pursuit of good taste.

This has a curious side effect. We each filter these sources of design, of music, of art, of literature — through our own unique perspective and personalities. What emerges on the other side is our artistic expression, our style.

But first, we learn by imitation. We absorb the work of the popular culture first. We are exposed to music, art, and writing when we are young, and this ignites the flame of curiosity.

This initial curiosity is what ends up pushing us further down the rabbit hole. We discover more about our favorite artists, and we learn what influenced them. We keep researching until we backtrack the source material, and find what influenced our heroes.

There is nothing new under the sun. But we keep finding new ways to present ideas in a way that is acceptable for our time.

Every great artist (or designer, or speaker, or writer) arrived not in a vacuum, but after years of reinterpreting the works that came before them.

The Rolling Stones were Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson as interpreted by five English guys. John Coltrane is mind-blowing even today, but it’s doubtful he could have existed without Django, Bird, Dizzy and Eddie Lang before him.

Every motivational speaker and business coach that exists today can be traced back to Napoleon Hill and Jim Rohn. Though technically, you could really say that goes all the way back to Cicero.

Flat design has less to do with what screens want than it does with the De Stijl and Bauhaus movements of the early 20th Century. Though it’s cute to think we are inventing ways of communicating information because we were the first generation to understand technology.

How amazing is it that the works of Homer, Shakespeare, Mozart, Beethoven, da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Aristotle, and Plato will be considered relevant long after anything that we create for the web today is dead and buried?

How do you create something timeless, that echoes for decades and centuries, influencing generations after you? You find your own taste by distilling your heroes down to their roots, filtering it though your own life experiences, and rolling the dice.

You are an agent of change with a ticking time limit on this planet. Dig deeper than you dared go before. Find the bones that today’s art and culture were built on and find what the corpus reliquia say to you. Find your voice by listening to those echoes from the past.

Why Does This Business Exist?

Every business exists for some reason beyond “just making money”. At least the ones that survive.

Boiled down into a single phrase, Lockedown Design & SEO exists to empower business owners by giving them the structure and knowledge to do business more effectively on the web.

Every business is a little different, but the overall goal is the same: give you all the necessary tools to make your business prosperous, today — and long into the future.

Who I Help

The clients I get the biggest wins for are well-established bricks and mortar businesses whose sales are flat, and who are unsure of how to use the web to boost their revenue. Most of the business owners are well-respected in their local communities, and their business currently relies heavily on referrals and word-of-mouth for repeat sales.

Most of these businesses need to expand their current awareness beyond their current referral base of current customers, but are unsure of how to leverage their website for marketing to the customers they would like to reach.

They may have a website in place already, but it may be what is known as a “brochure website”. This means it lists what they offer and contact information, but there is little or no functionality built into the site. If they have a contact form, it is rudimentary. If they have products for sale, there is usually no way for the business to sell them online.

These businesses make few (if any) changes to their current site, because the publishing system is too complicated. These sites may not have changed at all in many years.

These prospective clients know that they need to do something with their website and other marketing efforts, but lack the infrastructure, knowledge and confidence to take the necessary steps forward.

What I Do For These Businesses

Businesses looking to make improvements to their web presence are aware we are now living in an attention-based economy. Every business, large and small, must realize they are in competition with similar businesses for the awareness that precedes a buying decision.

Businesses that build awareness by continually publishing content on the web have a decided advantage over those that do not.

I help businesses who invest in their growth by providing custom web design and development, so they have the infrastructure they need to compete. Though every case is unique, I often add website functionality that allows them to increase sales, save time and market more efficiently. Though I’m not a marketing specialist, I share with them the strategies that have worked for others.

I give them the tools they need to grow, and show them how to use them.

I can offer advice on what to do next, but the content marketing has to come from within their organization. It’s difficult to be an expert on subjects you don’t live and breathe every single day, so I defer the job of content marketing to the people who know it best — the businesses themselves.

I don’t disappear after their web project is launched, though. I continue to be an ally and adviser concerning their web properties. I keep my clients websites properly maintained and operating at peak performance.

Why I Do It

It’s simple. I want people to be empowered in their lives and business. I want them to have power over their situation, and have control over their own destiny. The tools I use just happen to be digitally based.

But why?

It sucks to feel like you are helpless to affect the things happening to you. When you are running a business, this can be catastrophic. My biggest goal (in life, not just in business) is to help people find their own path to a better tomorrow.

Why This Target Market?

I have a unique perspective. I spent over twenty years working in the blue collar world before finally making the full-time transition to the digital world in 2012.

Most people I know who are web professionals grew up in that world. 8 times out of 10, their parents had a connection to computers, or programming or design. They’ve never known anything else, or their experience with bricks and mortar business was a couple of years waiting tables or running a cash register. This isn’t meant as a knock, but it’s hard to relate to people when you’ve never walked a mile in their shoes.

I was lucky enough to learn what it takes to run teams day after day in different businesses, to work those long hours when there was no one to cover the shift, and learn about the hidden costs of running a bricks and mortar business. I say I am lucky, because I also spent a few years learning about the web, learning about design and development before moving into that space. I was able to bring empowerment to my own life and my own business by focusing on a goal and not quitting.

I believe that people and organizations alike are continually changing and evolving. It’s inevitable, because the world changes right alongside us. When we stop growing, we stop transforming ourselves. When we refuse to try new things because we’re scared of failure, we become frozen with indecision.

But that’s not what I want for you. When I talk with CEOs and Marketing Directors of traditional businesses, I see a piece of my own story there. I want you to succeed on the web, because I know it’s possible. My role is to be a mentor and coach to you, not just a vendor who disappears into the mist once your website launches.

By helping business owners adapt to doing business in a digital world, I help my community thrive.

When it comes down to it, I’m not in the web development business, I’m in the client services business. More specifically, I’m in the empowerment business.

My business exists to help my clients achieve the goals they set out to achieve.

Just Keep Swimming Upstream

If you work within the web industry, you probably chose that path because you’re naturally creative in other aspects of your life. Whether you’re a musician, artist, or writer when you step away from the screen, that creative energy isn’t limited to one facet of your world.

You may have also chosen the path of being a designer or developer because you value your independence. You value having a degree of freedom. The older you are, the more you’ve seen how the digital world has seeped into all the parts of our lives, as if it was always there. Today, it’s hard to imagine a world before the web existed.

But let’s come back to that idea of independence for a minute. If you’re skilled in technology, you have a better chance of surviving today’s economy, true enough. But a lot of you may be yearning for more independence than you currently have. You’re beginning to realize that your open office is more similar to a factory floor from the Industrial Age than you care to admit. You still don’t get to call the shots. You take have to do things you don’t always agree with and you have less input in your day to day dealings than you would care to have.

While there is no good or bad when it comes to what path you choose, some people cannot be be happy forever if they stay in the same spot, year after year. Growth is something you may crave, and you’re just not experiencing it.

I have no idea what it’s like to work in a product based company, where the project never changes, but I do know what it’s like to work in client services, where you know the people you’re solving problems for by name.

My advice to web professionals who feel small right now, but want to grow, is to just keep swimming upstream.

Blue Tang: Keep Swimming

Contractors and Consultants

If you’ve been inside the web industry in the past five years, you’ve noticed many web agencies are using contractors as opposed to hiring full-time employees. Many people predict that soon, most of us in client web design services will be considered contractors or independent consultants.

This isn’t a bad thing for agencies or web professionals. Hiring full-time employees incurs a greater cost tan hiring contractors, even at a higher rate than the base pay of an employee, the employer comes out ahead. There are significant hidden costs associated with employees (taxes, benefits) that raise their actual cost to the agency. Independent contractors usually charge more in base pay, but must do so to cover their own self-employment tax and benefits. Still, when many large generalist agencies (and even smaller agencies) have had to downsize over the past few years, this seems less risky.

Many smaller agencies may be comprised of one to three people, and the remaining knowledge gaps they have are filled in by their network of consultants. While the forecast for the client services part of the web industry is still stable overall, much has been unpredictable in the last few years.

This leads me to believe that many web professionals reading this now may also be acting as independent contractors.

Here’s Where It Gets Relevant

Many independent consultants (and even several agencies I know) subcontract to even larger agencies. There are a lot of projects these web professionals have worked on that would offer a ton of social proof — provided they can claim it as their own work.

There are thousands of stories like this. The actual client is separated from the group or person doing a good chunk of the work, and it’s not authorized for the people doing some of that work to claim it, because they aren’t the agency of record.

I have seen the following scenario happen with agencies and subcontractors locally and not-so-locally. The actual hierarchy of the project looks like this:

Client > Large agency > small agency > independent developer or micro-agency

The largest agency is the one that owns the client relationship. They are the ones that speak directly to the client. They are the ones that have diagnosed the problem and prescribed a course of action. They are the ones who the client trusts. Everyone else in the chain is being vouched for by the large agency, in exchange for the opportunity to do the work at hand. Conversely, they are isolated from the actual client relationship.

Now, there is nothing wrong with this at all, but you should take something away from it.

The client relationship is where the value lies.

Why Client Relationships Are Valuable

In his book, The Win Without Pitching Manifesto, Blair Enns reveals that the majority of value that a consultancy delivers is in the strategy stage. The farther a digital consultancy goes down the execution stage, the more the value contributed has a diminishing return. This is why for very large clients, these parts may be subcontracted to others.

These tasks still require skill, but they are the execution of decisions made further up the chain. They are not the formation of direction or the discussion of strategy.

(Similarly, the execution of design and development in the absence of strategy is devalued. Without a clear objective, a long-term strategy, and a course of action, these may be little more than sound and fury signifying nothing.)

Summed up: the contractors and agencies on the bottom of the equation may do significant work for high-profile clients, but they cannot put the logo at the bottom of their homepage to prove it to prospective clients, because either the client or lead agency will object.

And they are correct to take that stance.

The client relationship is where trust is established, and decisions get made. It is where bonds are formed, and partnerships are made. You have to travel UP the chain, and win your OWN clients of this caliber. You have to establish your own aura of TRUST.

Can You Get There From Here?

Being an employee is fine, and being a subcontractor is fine, but it’s not where you (or I) want to stay forever.

Every consultancy earns their own spotlight. Their client relationships are valuable, and they know it. So how do you make that climb to earning more responsibility and trust for your own small consultancy?

Clown Fish: Keep Swimming

One way you can do this is to do good work for the larger entities you are currently manufacturing goods for. Let people always speak highly of you and have good things to say about your reliability.

Let some of the larger firms in your circle know that you want to grow. They may be able to help you by providing referrals or connecting you to other people. But you’ll never get help unless you ask for it.

If you subcontract out directly to a smaller agency, you should be able to have direct interactions with the actual client. If you’re an subcontracting agency one layer removed from the actual client, you may be able to get access, or you may not. It depends, as the stakes get a lot higher the more you level up.

You’re never there to poach anyone’s clients, spotlight, or glory. Never mess with someone else’s money. But what you can learn by listening to what clients are truly concerned with at the next level above you is the real gold. This will help you identify common problems in specific industry verticals, like HVAC and AC repair, for example – and you will see those patterns over and over again. These are the problems that you want to get good at solving, as they are signposts on the way to your goals.

Identify who your ideal clients are, and pursue their attention by tailoring your content towards their needs.

Dream big. Map out ten clients you can work with today, ten you want to work with two years from now, and your ten “pinch me, I’m dreaming” clients. Think about how you would get to work with the clients on your dream list. Backwards engineer how many steps it would take to get on their radar.

Always be leveling up. You don’t want to be serving the exact same clients ten years from now that you are today. That may sound harsh, but it’s not meant to be. The projects you are doing today should be stepping stones to projects you want to do in the future. Be sure to be scouting colleagues, so you can eventually put your clients in capable hands when you do make that next leap forward in your own consultancy.

This may mean you have to do projects within a certain vertical, leveling up to get to your goal. It may mean that you decide to do a favor for someone who can open a door for you. If you don’t visualize and plan for where you want to go, you won’t get there, you#&8217;ll just drift.

Most of all, keep swimming upstream towards client relationships that you can own. Like a salmon fighting it’s way against the river to spawn, you need to be aiming towards establishing client relationships where you can provide the most value possible.

Stop Spam Comments On Your WordPress Website

One of the most common frustrations for site owners is getting spam comments their website. Spambots bounce around the internet, seeking comment forms to fill out. Site owners are left to sort through the accumulation of gibberish comments cluttering up their website database. No one has time for that.

Fortunately, there is a practical solution. Akismet is an anti-spam plugin for blog comments from Automattic, the folks behind WordPress. It’s also one of the most popular plugins, with over 1 million active installations.

Here’s how Akismet works.

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Message in a Throttle

I have talked to scores of people in your exact situation. You got a website up and running, but not much happened, so now you are looking into how much you should spend on marketing and SEO.

Those are good steps to take, but before you do that, I want you to take a deep breath and take an outsiders’s look at what customers might see if they come to your website.

Because all that money that you’re about to spend on marketing, ads, and pay-per-click will all be in vain if you don’t have your messaging right.

Connection In A Noisy World

The majority of business owners I’ve run into in the last year are interested in marketing. Like you, they see a correlation between site traffic and boosting sales. In almost every single case, the pages that they were spending money to send traffic to were not written for their target customers, or there was not enough information there for customers to make a positive decision.

We all have something that we want to sell. Your target customers have something they want to buy. But you’ll still need to convince them that your business is the best choice to solve their needs.

Customer service is about listening. It’s about hearing what they keep asking. It’s finding out what they think, and making adjustments.

Perhaps the most overlooked part of web design is focusing on the messaging of the site.

Sending Out A Message

Your message is what you want to get across. It’s the reason customers will want to do business with you instead of your competitors. It’s the reason that customer loyalty exists. When your customers resonate with your message, they are willing to come back and do business with you, year after year.

Even if it’s not in vogue to say it out loud these days, words are the most important part of designing your website.

How else are customers going to choose you except by the messages and words you use?

If you understand what your customers want, what they feel, and what they’re looking for, you have a damn good chance of crafting messages that will reach them.

But thinking about what customers are thinking, and then putting that down in words that are compelling is often a difficult task for business owners. Writing is a muscle that, frankly, most people don’t exercise. As a result, many websites have very thin content, or have messaging that is not speaking from the customer’s point of view, but usually from the business owner’s point of view.

These two personas usually have different perspectives and needs. There’s a subtle shift here that needs to take place to have effective website copywriting.

Heroes and Villains

One thing that I’ve had to work hard at myself, is making sure that the customer is the hero of all my stories, and not myself. I’ll say that one more time for the people in the back:

Your customer should always be the hero of the story, not you.

What do I mean by this?

Every great story has a hero, a villain, and a mentor. The customer is the hero. The situation or circumstance that they are trying to change is the villain. Your product or service is the mentor.

Your customers are looking for a solution to their particular problem. Your business is the Mickey to their Rocky, the Yoda to their Luke, the Gandalf to their Bilbo.

The messaging on your site should play that up to the maximum. Your customers are coming to you needing help with their problem. And whether that problem is big or small, your product or service is going to have a positive effect on their situation. In some cases, even a transformative effect. Be the mentor, but let them be the hero. Make your customers the star of their relationship with your business.

Bringing It Back Around

Both you and I are in complete acknowledgement that marketing and driving traffic is important, but what I’m trying to stress is that you need to have the copy on your landing pages set up to resonate with your prospects, so they end up converting or making a purchase. Make them feel like they came to the right place and leave no doubt in their mind that you’re listening to them. This will bring better results than just going free willy with marketing and traffic spend on traffic, without getting your website copy primed for success.

Momentum Is Everything

Momentum counts for a lot — more than we realize. Ask the sports team that goes on a winning streak going into the playoffs, or the business that is always able to attract top talent. Momentum is a like a snowball rolling downhill, gaining speed and mass with each passing second.

But momentum can work both directions. And whether momentum is positive or negative, it tends to keep going in the same direction unless acted upon by an more powerful force.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics says that all energy eventually dissipates. Energy needs to be replenished in all systems, including our businesses. No business can run perpetually without continually replenishing revenue, talent, brand awareness and customers. Even at the highest levels, nothing runs at 100% efficiency. To stay in motion, everything needs a steady source of energy.

Avoiding Entropy In An Organization

Everything in the Universe is subject to the effects of entropy.. Your business is no different. It lose steam or run out of fuel if you don’t constantly push, and replenish your main sources of energy.

Businesses need revenue and profit to survive. Revenue makes up the lifeblood that makes a business thrive. Revenue comes as a result of qualities like problem-solving, innovation and reliability. These are qualities your customers need to know you possess.

All successful businesses exist by filling some sort of need. They solve some sort of problem, each doing it in its unique fashion. These differences are what make one brand or service different from another. Do your customers know what makes your business unique?

Momentum is built when your business gets all the possible work it can handle. If you are building momentum, you are constantly building awareness of what your business does, and why you do it better than your competitors. But awareness of your business eventually dissipates from your audience, and you need to give it a boost.

When times are good, it is easy to slack off on your marketing efforts. One day becomes a week, a week becomes a month, and soon a year has gone by with no marketing effort.

When business is abundant, you may stop looking for new customers. In your peak season, you may stop publishing on your website, social media, and other channels. Soon, the momentum you once had is lost. Everything loses energy eventually without a boost. You can run out of fuel if you don’t constantly push. Your competitors are pushing — are you?

Many wise people have told me that when you’re busy, that’s exactly when you need to be looking for more business. When you get slow, it is easy to panic. If you have predictable seasons when you are slow, perhaps you figure you will do all your marketing then. But people are not looking for your services in the slow season. While it is good to build awareness of your business in slow times, that cannot be the only time you put effort into marketing.

Every industry has predictable cycles of feast and famine. It takes discipline to step on the gas when you are still busy, and it feels like your days are already too long. But if you do not concentrate on marketing at these points in time, your future potential customers will not think of you when they need your services.

From my own experiences, blogging is not an “extra” or a “nice to have”. It is one of the main ways people discover my services. Some people don’t like to write for their website. But every business needs to do something — whether it’s social media marketing, question-and-answer videos, a podcast, or live local events.

Becoming an expert is both simple and hard: Consistently publish answers to customer questions.

We’re living in an age where everyone is bombarded with a constant stream of information. Those who constantly work to get their name in front of their customer base will rise above the din and ruckus.

Business isn’t a sprint. It’s a marathon.

Advertising is expensive, marketing can be expensive, but publishing only costs you time. A website by itself isn’t going to bring business results, though it is part of the puzzle. You need to bring people to your website. This is momentum.

I’ve seen lots of businesses fall off this year. The commonalities with all of these businesses were they didn’t publish regularly, they made almost no effort to market themselves, and they were completely heads down in their work.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Don’t wait to lose all your momentum. Don’t wait for your energy to dissipate before you worry about finding new customers. Find people where they are, even if they don’t need your services today. To become “top of mind” for your target customers, you have to be there before they actually need you.

Start building up your brand equity today. Step on the gas even if you’re already in the lead.