Why Your Web Design Business Model Is Wrong, and What You Can Do About It
The conventional wisdom of web development is wrong. Developers, designers, and agencies have fallen into the trap of offering a wide and unmanageable array of services to anyone willing to pay, and in most cases, they simply can’t deliver. The business model is flawed. A far better approach to running a successful web design business as per the top web design companies is to productize the offering. This means fundamentally reshaping the business model to thinking like a product owner rather than a service provider, which will lead to less stress and more sustainable business.
Starting from zero. Every time.
Writing proposals and detailed technical documents are not something that many web developers enjoy. Sure, it can be satisfying to plan an exciting new project, but all too often things change with uncomfortable regularity, and all you want to do is get into development. Even when using a framework like agile, the many moving parts can be tough to bear and it’s easy to become overwhelmed.
For smaller teams and individuals, in particular, the management of this can be exhausting and destroy both the profitability and morale of a project.
The model that most design agencies naturally gravitate to is often not the best. What you need to do in order to deliver better work at a more profitable rate is to productize your skills so you can deliver a solution that does away with the painful and laborious aspects of project delivery.
A method that means you won’t have to start from scratch every time.
What is a productized service?
For many companies, choosing which services to offer clients can be tricky in itself. You and your team probably have an array of skills, many of which lay dormant in most projects. And when a client mentions some challenges, in particular, a bell rings in your head and you enthusiastically shout “we can do that!”
Experienced developers would agree this is usually not the right path to take. If you want to relieve yourself of the fatigue of constantly trying to live up to the many needs of your clients and prospects, you need to compose your offering in such a way that it feels like a product that solves a specific problem, rather than a service that addresses many problems.
If you think of a website design project as a deliverable solution rather than a service, you begin to see it in a different light.
How to Productize?
The process of productization needs to be focused and ruthless. The challenge here is to change your mindset from that of a service provider to a product developer. Think about it. Software as a service (SaaS) product is just a set of features packaged into one piece of software and then sold as a subscription. The point of note here is that SaaS solutions typically solve one core problem for one core audience. And so this is what your service must do, too.
Define your customer
Before you can realistically productize your service, you need to pick a market segment. The reason for this is that you will develop a process by which you can follow quickly and in a repeatable fashion - the varied nature of most design agency projects make it unrepeatable. A good way to start is to think about commonality in feature requirements. Let’s take, for example, websites for guesthouses. You can make a number of assumptions right off the bat:
- The website will need a gallery of photographs
- Users will need to be able to enquire and/or book a room
- The website should integrate TripAdvisor to display customer reviews
Once you have identified a core customer type (guesthouses, in this case) and some key features, you find that productization becomes much easier. A skilled and experienced developer could go away and build a very decent website armed with this knowledge alone!
On the marketing side, it makes it much easier to sell. How much better do “we make websites for guesthouse owners that are guaranteed to boost occupancy rates by 150%” than “we’re a creative team making cool stuff for businesses of all sizes”? We’ve identified a key demographic (guesthouses) and their pain point (low occupancy rates).
Developing your process
So you’ve put together a website that guesthouse owners would love (NB it would be prudent to spend some time talking with this customer type to find out their goals in more detail). The task now is to embellish this with a service that allows you to do it over and over for each new customer, without diverging from your original build too much. This includes, but won’t be limited to:
Developing an onboarding procedure that can be repeated (think about questionnaires, feedback loops, and timescales)
- Setting up templates and development processes, so each project looks the same from a management perspective
- Crafting a support system that funnels your customers down the same process to answer their queries
There’s more to developing a solid web solution than this, but the principle here is in constantly asking “how can I make this repeatable?”
The benefits of productized services
It can be emotionally draining to approach new projects when you don’t have a clear business model, and most agencies are doing it wrong. Their business models are flimsy and their work is consequently difficult and sluggish. With a productized service:
- Your work is more predictable in terms of customer requirements and pricing, so you can project cash flow more easily
- Your proposition is much easier to sell because you’ve defined one audience, and are solving one - or a small set - of problems
- You don’t have to spend time going back and forth with spec documents, because the goal is already set out before you even speak with a prospect
- The model has repeatability in its DNA, so you can theoretically hire others to do the majority of the work for you.
There aren’t more agencies with this type of business model simply because it goes against conventional wisdom. It’s also quite difficult to master.
And although this may be quite an appealing model to many business owners, it certainly won’t be for everybody.
When you shouldn’t productize
This business model shouldn’t apply to everyone. In particular, if you and your team enjoy varied work, or your projects are truly unique and of varying financial value, productization may not be the answer.
This model suits businesses who want to solve a problem in a very specific niche. If you enjoy the hustle - and the potentially high rewards that come with this - the productized model is probably not for you. To some extent, many businesses already have processes that let them deliver more quickly (i.e. templates, UI kits etc) but productization takes this to the next level by defining a key customer type and building a “ready to go” solution that they can just buy.
This won’t be the answer for all web design businesses, but productization may be a hugely positive revelation to web designers who are truly solution-focused and work predominantly in one niche.