I’ve been running Tornado for eight full years now (in our 9th year). Every time I celebrate a New Years day I think to myself how amazing it is I’m still doing it. Why haven’t I quit yet? Believe me. The temptation has been there before. Right now things are going amazingly well at Tornado, and it’s a trend I am very excited about.
Since I don’t feel qualified to put together a big long post about ways you can be successful in the web industry, I thought the next best thing would be eight points — one for each year I’ve been in business.
Some things I’ve learned:
- Change is good. Often when things seem the very worst and you can’t believe you’ve gotten yourself into a situation it can be helpful to change the bad thing. Just do it, get over it, move on. Often times, more often than you might think, change is good.
- People don’t change, much. I’ve hired so many people over the years who couldn’t do the job. Then I’d go and hire them again. I have soooo learned this lesson. People don’t change. Usually it’s a performance issue but sometimes it’s just that they can’t do the job whether it be a technical limitation or a personality defect. Get over it because they won’t be changing.
- Hiring the best people is smart. It is expensive hiring the wrong people and that is one reason why if you are really good at what you do you can charge higher rates (basic economics). I’ve got a very, very short list of good developers I trust and I’m willing to pay them what they ask. Usually they’re really nice and get the work done fast. Something to do with motivation and skill.
- Don’t complain. There is this one PHP developer that I work with that I recently complimented. I knew he was very good and finally realized why I like working with him so much: he didn’t complain. Whenever I would give him a new project he’d ask all the right questions and just tell me he would get it done. Then he’d get it done and without a single complaint! It’s brilliant. He’s the only developer I know that doesn’t tell me what a pain something is going to be when I show him what we need to accomplish. It’s pure heaven.
- Get to know people in the industry. Surprisingly, contacts do make a difference. Get to know people. I’ve discovered a huge advantage by knowing and doing business with about a dozen or more different agencies in the last two years. As a result they sell projects for us, manage them, and then line up additional projects for us. It now makes up a good quarter of our business. The key to getting to know people is being friendly.
- Charge for proposals. I’m not going to give this secret away. You can read into it what you want.
- Suck it up and just do it. Two years ago I was hired to provide ecommerce integration for a local company and was working with an account executive with a lot of experience. When the designer bailed I stepped in to save the day and while I didn’t make a lot of money, I got to be the hero on a high profile project. Since that day I’ve done at least 50 times the amount of work with that client.
- Deadlines matter, but so does getting it done. So many designers and develpers are flakes. While everybody makes mistakes it is the pattern of success or failure you need to be concerned about. Everybody’s failed and everybody’s had successful projects. Something important to look at is that ratio because I’ve had a ton of projects in the last 8 years that were delayed for whatever reason. One time I had a web site project go two years due to various client delays. But we got it done and it’s been a great client ever since.
Now for eight (business) goals:
- Residual income is really valuable. There have been times in the last eight years that I wanted to quit what I was doing and go get a job working a 9-5 job. The stability of a 9-5 job is often due to the consistency in which money comes in the door. While I’ve developed a lot of resources that generate constant revenue I’ve also learned that nothing lasts forever. I want to develop residual revenue that really lasts and eventually completely replace my income with residual sources.
- Work normal hours. I’ve been known to work 80 hour weeks and get myself burned out. Consistency is the spice of life if you want my opinion. Not variety in this case. I think another way to put this is work/life balance.
- Build cool stuff with small teams. Sometimes one person can get more done than two (or 10). I’ve seen the power of small teams. Poor performers can’t hide in a team of 2 or 3 and I’d like to build really cool stuff with small teams. Speaking of poor performers. My resolution is to hire less of them. I’ve worked with far to many bad programmers.
- Track business trends and statistics better. If you want to make something better then track it. I’m working on tracking financial and project trends better (cash flow in weeks, not months for example). The best companies know exactly how long it takes them to do something and can spot potential problems early because of statistics. They can also spot opportunities.
- Build my top secret web app. This project has been on hold for so long it’s like a bad phone call. This year is the year it will happen.
- Work somewhere else for a month or three. I’ve always wanted to try this. Pack up your day to day goods and hit the road. The internet industry is one of the few in the world that enables you to travel the world and work all at the same time. I wouldn’t mind going to some far off city and working there for a period of time. Just to get away and yet still work.
- Expand and build upon our good reputation by marketing. I’d love to cement why our company is different and how we work within our local market. I’ve sent out about a half dozen email newsletters in the last 5 years. I need to send them out more often and revamp our letterhead and envelopes. Having a better business identity system helps to cement your company as strong
- Improve customer service. I think the best way to decide if you have good customer service is to analyize what happens when things start to break down. In my shop, if we overcommit ourselves it becomes painfully obvious when we can’t provide perfect service. Understanding our limits and making our service better will go a long ways.
I left personal goals out because, well, those are boring.
As I write I’m remembering that I built my first web site in 1996. That’s ten years ago! I have always respected people who have been in an industry ten years. It’s sort of a badge of honor to say you stuck with something that long. I have no intention of quitting. I really do like this industry despite the constant learning curve.
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