Why Staying Ahead of Your Competitors Is Such a Big Deal
Here’s a piece of advice: Don’t half-ass it.
When you do work that’s half-assed, it sets a bad standard for your company. It says, “hey, look at this crap.”
At Hub & Spoke, we set out to do something different.
Our market was crowded with low quality “template website” purveyors creating websites that might help pay the bills, but provide no creative stimulus to the designer.
Sure, sometimes you have to do a template website, but the real joy in this job is creating something from scratch. As a visual person, someone who longs to create interesting and dynamic designs, hack job websites aren’t my thing.
I’ve been designing websites since 8th grade, had my first paying client in 9th grade, and I worked with Fortune 500 companies by the time I graduated high school. I also started a successful photography business, and have been published in just about every sports publication you can name.
In 2013, I decided to make the leap and open a full service agency with real employees. I had no more desire for the never-ending journey of freelancing.
So, what’s a new firm to do to gain clients? Well, of course, you have to make ends meet… but, that doesn’t mean you have to half-ass it.
We decided the best way to produce a quality product was to not follow the others in our market. I chose to make our company a market disrupter, and responsive web design became our calling card.
We knew the best way to avoid the template trap was to stay above it, to exist in a realm our competition wasn’t yet exploring.
To our competition, responsive web design was still an industry buzzword—a piece of jargon that they couldn’t monetize.
To us, it represented the best way to disrupt a competitive but antiquated market.
A year later, and now our competitors have all altered their sales pitches, websites, and portfolios to reflect our disruption. From responsive design, we branched out into high quality video production, targeted content marketing, and brand development, and provided a host of services and a quality level not seen for our market size.
We even held a conference that 150 people attended, featuring a panel of visual artists and market leaders that talked about the need for quality design work. We did things differently, and it paid off.
In 2013, Hub & Spoke completed 28 web design projects—pretty good for a new company that wasn’t ranked on Google until its third month of business.
By differentiating our business model, we avoided the trap of sloppy web work. We focused on doing something no one else in our market was doing, so that people wouldn’t think of us as just another web design agency.
We rapidly grew, gaining clients that kept me awake at night, worrying about what they might think as more pressure mounted.
BUT DON’T BE AFRAID
We all have clients we fear.
They’re the ones who pay your market rate, whom you meet with often, and who let you explore the intersection of user interface and user experience.
You want to impress them, so you try harder, but what happens? You miss deadlines, the project spirals, and suddenly you have a messy situation.
But, that doesn’t mean you should fear them!
You’re in the business to serve your clients, but they shouldn’t control you. Don’t let your clients cause you to do half-assed work.
They may have a deadline, but often it can be moved if it gives them a better product in the end.
Remember, it’s better to be honest and open with a client than to risk a hit on your reputation if something goes wrong. The best way to avoid this?
HAVE A PROCESS
Year one for any business is hard. It comes with a steep learning curve, constantly changing processes and methods, and managing new clients and endless sales pitches. Year two through infinity? Well, they’re not exactly easy either.
The key to stay above it all is to have a process, even if it’s not perfect. Refine your process as you grow so it fits your needs.
I’ll be honest. Hub & Spoke went through four different project management apps, all rubbish, but that helped us learn our process.
How does your client intake work? How do you keep them informed? How do you keep the project from stalling?
These are three of the most important process questions you’ll have to ask yourself on each project.
With a solid process, you’ll have a foundation you can always rely on. You’ll ensure the non-design side is taken care of, every time. So, you can focus on the important part.
It’s often said, but usually ignored: Always learn. Whether that’s from a mistake that cost you a client or it’s from reading the latest news in the industry.
Learn and soak up as much as you can. Then put that knowledge to use. How can you produce high quality work if you’re not willing to learn?
Look back on your work, your decisions, and your outcomes. Ask yourself: Did we grow from this or was it a cluster****?
By the end of 2013, we had nine employees, launched websites for the biggest names in town, had a clear skill set that was differentiated from that of our competition, and started the process of delving into new markets.
Hell, we were even producing a weekly television series on food!
Looking back on all of this, we took on a lot in year one. Would I do it the same way again? Nope, but I can’t change the past, so I must learn from it.
It blows my mind what we did in year one, and all it took was a focus and determination to do quality work.
When you focus on not half-assing it, you enjoy your job and produce great results. These results lead to more work than a template website ever would generate.
– Be different. Don’t try to mimic your competitors. Stand out.
– Don’t be afraid of your work. Clients are people too.
– Have a process, even if it’s always evolving.
– Learn from your mistakes and the industry around you.
And most of all, don’t half-ass it!