Getting my ducks in a row after two years in business
Two years ago I started my own business as a solo consultant. Now it's time to align the communication of my services with what I've learned.
When starting out, I didn’t know much about which kind of problems people would seek my help for. I only knew that I wanted to stay in web development and land some projects in data visualization. Hence, my service offerings on my website were (and still are) vague.
Also, I’m no longer happy how the services pages are structured – the service offerings are at the very bottom of the page and a potential lead has to wade through a lot of information she or he probably isn’t expecting at this point. Most of all, some service offerings are almost laughable in retrospect. They are poorly described as well.
After two years I have a better understanding of the concrete problems potential clients are seeking help for and in which situations they are doing so. In the next few weeks I’d like to rework my website to better reflect that.
Here’s a quick rundown of what I will probably going to offer on my reworked site.
“Google should pay for something like that” was the feedback I got for an audit, I prepared for a guest lecture at FH CAMPUS 02 in 2017, of the back then relatively new Google Analytics startpage.
Although I have never got paid for an audit so far, I’d like to add that as a low fixed-price offering. I’m convinced it is pretty valuable for a product team to get concrete tips on how they can improve their dashboard without too much effort. Often, only a few design tweaks – for example showing values of the previous time period to enable faster interpretation of the current status – can make a dashboard tremendously more useful.
Obviously I’m trying to come up with a hip name for this. But in essence it’s about helping a product team to develop a new dashboard (or improve an existing one). That’s actually what I’ve been hired for a few times already.
For example one client won a large project because of the dashboard I’ve helped them to build. Not only was it outperforming the competitor’s dashboard in the eyes of their customer’s board, it also did a good job bringing the years of hard work to light my client – a big data startup – did to develop the underlying algorithms.
The package will have a clear structure:
- Helping the team to figure out what the dashboard should convey.
- Presenting the team ideas and options (real-world examples, hand-drawn mocks).
- Creating a wireframe with which the development team knows exactly what to build.
- In implementation phase, be available for technical questions around building dashboards.
- Optionally helping to implement custom plots with the charting library in use.
Custom chart creation
I’m not sure if building custom charts (preferably in d3.js) is something people will hire me for exclusively. Yet, it has been a part of projects in the past two years and I guess it will be a part in future projects as well. Anyways, I like to list it as a separate service to test the waters and to show visitors that I’m also capable on the technical side of things.
Other data visualization services
I’ve held a guest lecture on designing efficient dashboards a couple of times now. Like myself, developers often find themselves in the situation to create some kind of dashboard without the help of a designer. In these cases having a clue of basic dashboard design principles could really benefit both the developer and the product being built. Thus teaching that stuff to peers might be a worthwhile thing to try in the future.
tl;dr In web development I’d like to narrow down my communication to helping small to medium sized companies with the maintenance of their existing business applications.
Since the beginning of my professional career in 2005 I went through the whole stack multiple times. I have built web applications in Java, .NET, PHP and node.js and hit SQL queries against pretty all major relational databases. I would call myself a generalist, others might call that a full stack developer. I outlived JSF and ASP.NET Forms. Heck, I even feel comfortable writing CSS.
Anyways, the past two years have shown a clear tendency: In the area of web development, I almost exclusively got jobs around maintaining and further developing existing web applications for small to medium businesses.
Sure, I’d love to create a web application from scratch some time again, but I’m not promoting this part of my business in public too much anyways. Because of that, I think it’s a good move to adapt the service offer to speak to the needs of exactly those small to medium businesses that seek a professional and dependable hand in maintaining their existing web apps.
A side note on dependability: I count four projects I landed because the old developers no longer responded to change requests and questions of the client. Communicating in a professional way (which includes responding to emails and phone calls) already sets you apart from the competition.
Two nice side effects of these engagements is that they make up a steady revenue stream and don’t eat up too much time.
I’m not going to introduce any significantly new services. Instead, what I’ll try to accomplish is to present my services in a clearer way closer to what people find valuable. To summarize, the services are going to be
- Dashboard Audit
- Dashboard Ideation (working titel)
- Building Custom Charts
- Maintenance of existing business web apps
I'd see the refinement as a success when potential clients feel more comfortable to get in touch and if my personal network better understands what I am capable to help with.