Journal 5: I repositioned my business
As I wrote in August, I decided to reposition my business.
To be precise, I've put data visualization to rest and from now on solely focus on custom software development for small to mid-sized businesses.
This journal entry will be about
- the reworking of my website,
- the new services I offer,
- and how I plan to market these.
Reworking my website
The decision in August was not a hard cut, but rather the end of a slow process that began in late 2018. I hardly did any data visualization work since then, and I figured it is time to reflect that change in how I present myself as a business.
The next logical step was to rework my website.
Ditching dataviz (not entirely)
I began by moving all dataviz content onto a separate domain.
You may wonder why I haven't just deleted it.
First of all, I would have felt very sorry to simply wipe it away. Also, I would like to still keep the door a little open for dataviz projects. The big difference is that I will not actively promote it anymore. That means, when introducing myself, I will no longer mention data visualization unless it's really relevant in the respective conversation.
Removing "building company websites"
After I've moved all dataviz related content to customdashboards.dev, these two services remained on the site:
- "Web development"
- "Building company websites"
You may wonder about the second.
It was a relic from the past. When I started out five years ago, offering to build websites was a life insurance kind of thing. The reason was that, in contrast to webdev and especially dataviz, I knew there would be a proven stream of demand for websites.
Luckily, I managed to get most of my business in the other two areas and haven't had to build too many websites. Due to that, I steadily made the "building websites" service less prominent on the site. Now, I figured it was time to remove it entirely.
Thus, only the service offering "web development" remained on the site.
What to do with "web development"?
I must admit, "web development" was poor wording. While I hoped it would come across as "building business web applications," I learned that for most people, "web development" means "developing websites." Clearly, this wasn't what I was offering under that term.
Even for people who have a similar understanding of the term "web development" as I had, it is still a pretty general concept. When a person thinks a custom piece of software could solve their business problem, would their first thought be to look for a web developer?
No, it wouldn't.
Someone skilled in developing web apps might be part of the solution, but I believe looking for a web developer is not what's predominant in their minds at this point in time.
As a result, I concluded to repackage "web development" closer to what's in the mind of potential clients when they consider hiring someone like me.
The new services I offer
Thus, I replaced "web development" with these two new services:
- Maintaining existing custom software
- Developing entirely new custom software (green-field)
These reflect two typical situations I found small to mid-sized companies being in. Either (i) they run existing software and look for a new maintainer, or (ii) they want an entirely new system to replace their old one (often based on Excel and paper).
In other words, both services address specific points in time prospects find themselves in. The result should be that the copy really "speaks to them" so that they recognize more easily if the service is what they're looking for.
Where is the web part?
The web remains at the heart of what I do technically.
However, as I said before, potential clients' primary concern is not if a solution uses web technology or not.
For sure, it is an important detail when a company with a web-based system seeks a new maintainer. However, it's just a detail, not the primary concern.
For green-field projects, if something will be web-based or not is even less relevant. A web application might be the best solution, but it does not have to be.
What I want to say is: The conversation with a potential client isn't going to start with whether a web solution is a good fit or not.
To summarize, I'll continue developing web applications, but I change how I talk about it to potential buyers.
Last week, I finished reworking my website, which, of course, included describing the new services. Now it's time to spread the message.
Putting an emphasis on maintaining existing apps
In the coming months, I'll emphasize marketing the "maintaining existing apps" service.
Here is why.
First of all, I believe more organizations are running existing systems than organizations with the need for an entirely new system. At least, that's what I've seen in the past years. Of course, it could also be the case that I'm just bad at acquiring green-field projects.
A second reason is that I actually like maintaining systems because it translates to smaller chunks of work. Tasks usually take a few hours up to two weeks. That, in turn, allows me to do side-projects more easily. Also, I really appreciate the long-term client relationships.
What about green-field projects?
I don't want to give the impression that I'm not doing green-field projects. It's just the case that I meet much fewer people in need for something entirely new than people with existing software.
How to market maintenance services?
There are two situations to get your foot into the door.
Either you've got to be there ...
- when (i) the customer is fed up with their current maintainer (unfortunately happens way more often than I thought)
- or (ii) the current maintainer has no time anymore (e.g., giving up on freelancing, starting a product).
However, the difficulty is to reach potential clients. There is no gathering of "businesses unsatisfied with their current software maintainer" or a "self-help group for businesses left alone by their software maintainer."
Thus, the most effective way I found so far is getting referrals from people who potential customers ask for advice in these situations. IT admins and software developers are two such groups of people.
Another opportunity is to contact former maintainers of systems you already take care of. They might have other projects they want to get rid of. Similarly, one could reach out to freelancers, who recently started a software product. They may as well be willing to pass maintenance clients on.
Asking for referrals
Consequently, the key point is to make sure possible referral sources know what you're doing and that you're actively looking for new business.
I would like to take the opportunity and do that right now: I'm currently looking for new maintenance clients.