Studio FJ Blog | Archive
About a month ago, my little family decided it was time to move closer to the action. We love our current home, and it represented us well four years ago. But…our needs have changed. Our jobs are in different areas. How and where we spend our time is totally different. Bright-eyed and hopeful, we started a home search in the “urban core.”
Quickly, we realized how different house hunting was going to be this go-round. In this area, there are “flippers.” Some do a great job maintaining the historical and structural integrity of the home…some put up new paint and cheap cabinets and call it “200K of updates.” For a couple of increasingly handy people, we thought it was nuts.
I often go through similar shock at kickoff meetings when clients want to barter for things that they don't realize come standard, at least for FJ. We always say every company is different, and different is great. Without opposing perspectives, you can’t have a real conversation about the web or anything else.
That said, we feel there are a few basic rights clients have as future website owners:
1. An Unlimited Number of Pages Available (at a fixed cost)
I think some of this might come from way back in the days of dancing bananas and cursors that trail glitter. Back in those days, everyone was so excited about the endless possibilities of the web that they wanted each page on a site to be a brand new experience. One page was an ode to a rainbow unicorn. Another was a .avi rock concert. And so on.
Now, however, most firms approach site structure a little differently. We want the user to be able to recognize they are on the same site, regardless of the page they start on. We don’t want colors and fonts to vary much, if at all. So most pages use the same code, and with the endless content management systems (CMS) available to apply that code, creating one more page is as easy as clicking a button.
2. A Site That Looks Great on Multiple Devices (at no additional cost per device)
Mobile really isn’t that old, but it’s amazing how far it has come in shapes, sizes and how we (as web people) account for it. In the bad old days, professionals often just built a completely separate, tiny site. Things were missing from the full version, or in a totally different place. So folks added in a “back to full version” button. When scrolling around to find the contact page on the first smartphones proved too irritating, someone brilliant came up with responsive design. Put simply, this means the site fluctuates naturally based on the width of the browser. You can drag the corners in on your desktop and see the site rearrange slightly to give you the same site, optimized for a screen of that size.
Coding with responsive design means it’s all the same site with all code coming from the same place. They aren’t three separate sites. Should clients pay for the time and experience it takes to code it properly? Yes. Should they pay for a “desktop version,” “tablet version” and a “mobile version”? No.
3. Control of Their Content (and the training to feel empowered to take charge)
I actually saw a friend complain on social media awhile back at how frustrated she was that she was expected to update her company’s website content regularly…but she didn’t have access. She had to send all her copy, photos and events somewhere else and wait for them to get around to doing it for her. Of course, once they did, it was kind of a toss up whether or not her content was formatted the way she wanted.
This right, out of everything I’ve learned over the years, is my golden rule of web design. Having a beautiful website with phenomenal photography and witty copy means absolutely nothing if clients can’t update it as their needs change. I’m not talking about putting 60pt, pink mission statements on the home page. I’m talking about simple things like editing text, adding pages, deleting fields from a web form, adding photos, etc.
The second, and equally important part of this, is how easy you make it on your clients to make these updates. We train all of our clients—no exceptions. Even if they think they’ll never use it. Because, somewhere during the course that training, they start sitting forward in their chairs. Then they start asking questions about things they’ve always wanted to do with their site. Finally, they are actively clicking around, editing and publishing things when not 30 minutes ago they were convinced this was a pointless exercise. That’s because, by the time we get to this point, we know our clients really well. We can anticipate what they’ll need and ask for things we may not have thought of. By taking them through website updates they’ll probably want at some point (with us in the room for questions), they realize just how much freedom they have.
This also helps alleviate that strange fear that they’ll someone blow up their website if they touch it. I have no idea where that comes from, but I haven’t seen it happen yet.
~ Steph (Twitter)
Defining a competitive edge is one of the most important things a business can do. Popular marketing teaches us that we need to be all things to all people. Companies bend over backwards for clients to offer services they don’t specialize in. Why do they do it? Likely revenue, but sometimes it’s to make a company look larger than they are or the fear that saying no will damage their relationship with a client.
Companies should venture into new service offerings and go out of their way for great clients, but only if it fits the long-term growth strategy for the company and all service offerings are high quality. Otherwise it’s like an auto mechanic also offering poor car wash services and shoddy auto body/painting work. Just because they are all automobile-related, doesn’t mean they are the same. They are different services with a different set of skills and training required to perform them well.
Tech companies, such as web design studios, get lumped into the “technology” category. So we must be able to build your website, program your iPhone app, run all your social media and fix your computer, right? That shouldn’t be the case.
There are several types of companies that provide web design services:
- Template sites
- Web application developers
- App development shops
- Ad agencies
- PR firms
- Social media shops
- Hosting companies
And that’s just to name a few. None of these types are better or worse than the others, but it is undeniable that they have their strengths and weaknesses. Defining a competitive edge helps you isolate those strengths and weaknesses.
In the interest of being transparent, there are things that Studio FJ isn’t as good at as other companies. There are also things that we succeed at. What’s important is that we (Steph and I) know what these things are and make sure to talk about them with our clients.
I’m sure you’re thinking, “Why would you do this? Are you telling me that I should tell the client what I’m bad at?”
Nope, not at all. What I encourage folks to do is to think about the long-term relationship with their clients. Studio FJ loves our clientele and we have great relationships with them, but that isn’t by accident. When we get an inquiry we don’t try to hard-sale a website to a client who isn’t a good match for us based on our competitive edge. What we do is look for those who have needs that line up with our services offerings. They may not know what they need, but we ask questions and are honest with ourselves and the client about our findings.
Let me give you an example using a sandwich:
- Studio FJ offers the following:
- Whole Wheat Bread
- Pepper Jack Cheese (mmmmmm)
- Arugula (double mmmmmm)
- Salami (triple mmmmmm)
Some of you are thinking that sounds disgusting! You’d rather have Italian bread, horseradish, turkey, mix-greens and tomato. Others are thinking that it’s time to go home and make the sandwich I listed above. If a client needs wheat bread and pepper jack cheese based on our analyzation of their needs, BAM! it’s a match made in heaven. If they need potato bread, roast beef and mayonnaise, we will talk to them about the project and then educate them on why we may not be the best match. We also let them know that there’s nothing wrong with potato bread and roast beef, so we aren’t turning them down because whole wheat bread and salami is superior. We genuinely give a crap about folks (for lack of a better word) and want them to work with the best shop for them. That isn’t always Studio FJ.
This isn’t a common approach to inquiries, but I cannot tell you how appreciative clients are of this. I’ve made some amazing connections with folks we will never work with because I was open and honest with them, as oppose to hard-selling them on something that may not be the right fit for their needs. Over the past 7 year, the amount of times I’ve been thanked for actually educating clients versus just selling them something is too numerous to count.
At this point, you’re really thinking I’m crazy! Why wouldn’t you want the project even if it’s not the best match? Projects == money. Money == good. Good == happy.
Here’s why I do it. We’ve been in business for over 7 years and have built hundreds and hundreds of website for hundreds and hundred of clients. I can confidently say that we have great relationships with our active clients. We get continued work from them. They love us, we love them, and our work ethic, company reputation and Steph and I’s personal happiness is great as a result. Yeah, I could probably increase our quarterly revenue with a couple extra projects, but we stay small on purpose. We focus on match-making, not sales and, as a result, we build great lasting relationships with amazing clients that pays off in the long haul.
Think about it this way. If you were in the client’s shoes, you would want the same, wouldn’t you?
In closing, and like all my other articles, I’ll say that this is what works best for us. If you’re a brand new company, you may need to take whatever projects you can to get off the ground. If you’re a huge company with a lot of payroll and overhead, you’ll likely have to diversify your skills to keep your profits steady…and that’s cool by us. This is just our approach for a strategic, small company with several years under our belts.
Subscribe to our blog here and watch for my future article on how to define your competitive edge.
Last month, I celebrated my first anniversary as co-owner at Studio FJ. James first hired me in 2012, and though I’ve always had some say in the company, this year was a completely different game. It’s difficult to explain just how much has changed, but I can tell you a few things I’ve learned.
1. We’re All on the Same Team
There are people out there whose sole purpose in life, it seems, is to make you feel like the bug to their proverbial windshield. After meeting a few of them, you may start to develop some serious defenses to survive. It’s totally natural. Just don’t forget how to let the good people in.
Most people, like I talked about in my last post, want to like you. They usually already like your work, because they chose to hire you. At the end of the day, you all want the same thing: a kickass website. So when they have questions or don’t immediately agree with you, remember that. They aren’t jerks. They bring a wealth of their own experiences to the table, and ultimately, their different perspective may help you see a bigger picture to create a better product.
2. You Don’t Have to be Smooth
Last January, I had this idea that “co-owner” meant I had to be able to walk into any room with a big smile and instantly be best friends with everyone. As your classic introvert, you can imagine how I felt about that.
Don’t get me wrong, I love meeting new people and my favorite part of what I do is helping other business owners expand their reach online. Their passion is infectious and watching their growth, knowing I helped, is absolutely priceless.
I’m not, however, your typical “sales” personality. I hate small talk and my face has a way of broadcasting whatever I’m thinking—even if I manage to keep it from coming out of my mouth.
Luckily, I found out that client personalities come in as many shapes and sizes as the rest of us. There are super shy, yet super successful, business owners out there. Lots of them. It boggles the mind.
What’s even better is that my practical personality is the perfect compliment to the no-nonsense, the shy, and the “just not really that interested in your life story” types. I would even go as far as to say I have more meaningful relationships with our clients than I would if I tried to be anyone else.
I know, I know. It’s cheesy. “Be yourself” is the oldest, most tired piece of wisdom out there. But it was therapeutic to learn that it was totally okay for clients to get to know me slowly. To not be BFFs right out of the gate. Because, over the course of the project, I almost always find myself in a meeting or a phone call where we’re all cracking up, genuinely enjoying each other. I don’t think everyone can say that about their web people.
3. Adaptability Will Get You Everywhere
Last year started with getting used to working from home. Like I talked about in this post, it wasn't always easy and came with lots of preconceived notions on how much work I actually do. Ten months in, I had it all figured out. I had a set schedule, regular in-person meetings to keep client relations strong (and my pjs from becoming a uniform) in addition to planned friend outings to avoid becoming a hermit. James and I had talked about getting an office once he moved back from Durham, NC, but ultimately came to the conclusion that we didn’t really need it. The system worked great, so why fix it?
Then, one day between meetings at The Red Cup, I spied a little sign on the counter. It advertised a small office space available upstairs in the cheery green building across the parking lot. It was as close to fate as I’ve ever been.
Three weeks of DIY renovation later, we had a beautiful, clean, modern office smack dab in the cool part of town. I heard the "Hallelujah Chorus" on repeat in my head for about a month.
Then, inevitably, reality hit. I had a hairy commute again. Limited parking. Chatty people coming in and out when I was trying to get stuff done. No control over the thermostat. A new mail person who didn’t visit us on a regular basis.
It was the office of my dreams, but still the opposite of everything I’d worked so hard to learn the first part of last year on top of a crazy-busy project schedule. So I had to adapt. Having The Red Cup within reach definitely helped. :)
Moving to a new office is only one of many changes we’ve made this year, too. Our process has become even more thorough over the past 6 months. We’ve also adapted our project materials. We’ve officially added hosting, photography and content writing to our services. Heck, even the way we introduce FJ to potential clients is different from last year.
Even after seven years in business, we’re still finding new ways to make our lives and our clients’ lives a little easier. It keeps us from getting too bogged down in the day-to-day helps us stay relevant.
~ Steph (Twitter)
One of my first memories is of giving my little brother the last piece of my chocolate birthday cake. I was trying to stop a temper tantrum…and it worked, silencing his ear-splitting rage mid-screech. It took me almost 20 years later to realize the other two things I’d done: one, deprive myself of something I was passionate about (there isn’t much that displaces chocolate on my hierarchy of needs) and, two, teach my baby brother to scream to get what he wanted.
Hello. My name is Steph and I am a recovering people pleaser.
To be clear, there is a stark difference between providing excellent customer service and being a people pleaser. When working together with your client, “yes” can be a positive, empowering answer. For people pleasers, “yes” is a shackle, because they are physically incapable of declining any request. Even when that request is to tell the client whether or not they think animated honey badgers are a good idea for the home page. (Answer: always.)
People pleasers, myself formerly included, often mistake themselves for “nice people.” Our worst fear is making someone unhappy and we will do anything to avoid it: from working late nights and weekends to meet an unrealistic deadline to silently eating the cost when a client knowingly obliterates the project scope.
The horrible irony is, we aren’t being “nice” and it doesn’t make projects any smoother. What we’re doing is coddling the client, not unlike a two-year-old. When we say, “absolutely! We’ll change the font to 72px” what we’re really saying is that we don’t trust them to handle any level of conflict. We’re secretly afraid that “no” will turn otherwise functional adults into a hot, angry mess.
So now we get to the real problem with being a people pleaser—they avoid the real problem. The truth is, most people you’ll deal with in a professional setting have been doing “professional” for a while. You aren’t the first person to disagree with them. So there’s a pretty good chance they’ll respond rationally. By being passive, you’re robbing them of the chance to have a mature discussion on what you believe is best for their project. Which is, really, what they’re paying you for. Tell them (calmly) how you came to your recommended conclusion. It never hurts to approach conflict as a chance to teach your client about what you do, as long as you’re willing to do the same for them.
If they do start shrieking, hey, congrats. You stood up for yourself and now have an excellent story to tell at happy hour. If you have enough guts left over, get someone else to buy you a tall beer when you tell it. Not everything is worth the conflict.
It’s important to remember, however, that being a people pleaser sends conflicting signals on how your clients should treat you. Whether you’ve quoted a fee higher than your client was expecting or just plain disagree on what makes a great website, you deserve to be treated like a professional. For example, lowering your fee for no reason other than the client wants it? That tells them your rate was arbitrary and therefore completely negotiable. You must either a) not know what your services are worth or b) your services must not be worth very much. Both of which are 100% bullshit.
You have worked so. hard. to get to where you are. The best thing you can do for yourself and your clients is to use those hard-earned skills.
Questions? Comments? Lay ‘em out in the comment section or send them here.
~ Steph (Twitter)
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