How to decide on your offering

Paul Boag

This week on the Boagworld Web Show we are joined by Ryan Taylor from NoDivide to talk about what services your web design business should offer.

Skip to the discussion or this week’s links.

This season of the Boagworld show is sponsored by Template Monster and Lynda. Please support the show by checking them out.

Paul: Hello and welcome to Boagworld.com, the podcast for all those involved in designing, developing and running websites on a daily basis. My name is Paul and joining me as always is Marcus and Ryan Taylor. Now Ryan, 1904? The last time you were doing the show?

Ryan: Oh Christ, I don’t know. I used to do it all by myself.

Paul: Well you didn’t. You used to do it with Paul Stanton.

Ryan: Well, yes. That’s what I mean.

[Laughs]

Marcus: Haha, he didn’t do anything?

Paul: Harsh.

Ryan: What I meant was without you.

Paul: Ahh yes, you did.

Ryan: Nobody could understand what we were saying, but we had fun.

Paul: We might possibly have referenced that in the last show when we said that you were coming on. That the vast majority of people are not going to be able to understand a lot of what is said today.

Marcus: We will try and translate for you Ryan.

Ryan: I am going to try and speak in as broad a Yorkshire accent as possible.

Marcus: Well you are not doing it yet, are you?

Ryan: When we are being recorded we feel the need to annunciate and pronounce our words properly.

Paul: Queen’s English and all that, says the West Country Lad. So Ryan, we were talking. I made you stop. We were having a little catch up weren’t we, before the show started. And I made you stop because you were starting to tell us all about what was going on with you. So just for the listeners benefit it’s worth saying that Ryan was an Alumni of Headscape for a while. He worked at Headscape for a number of years. Then he went off and he did his own thing as a Freelancer. Now relatively recently you’ve started working with the internet famous Dan Edwards and you set up, what is it called? No Divide?

Ryan: No Divide, yes.

Paul: Now all I know about No Divide is you just ordered a load of pins and stickers.

Ryan: Everyone likes merchandise.

Paul: Exactly.

Ryan: Everyone likes swag.

Paul: So what are you doing with Dan? Tell me about No Divide.

Ryan: So, go back a few years, about four years, probably before I started working with the new guys I decided to completely give up doing any kind of design and just let people who are really good at design do design and I focus on development. So all throughout being Freelance I have always teamed up with a designer and I worked with a few different ones… but I met Dan at the .Net awards when he won Young Designer of the Year.

Paul: Was that the heavy metal year?

Ryan: No, it wasn’t it was one of the posher sit down meals.

Paul: Ahh ok, yeah.

Ryan: I can’t remember the comedian on stage… Jack…

Paul: Oh I know, yes.

Marcus: That’s the one I went to.

Paul: Yes, you were there as well.

Ryan: No it wasn’t Jack Whitehall, it was the other one.

Paul: He was funny.

Marcus: He was good.

Ryan: Yes, I like him. I see him on all different talk shows. But that was the first time I had even heard of Dan. And funnily enough I voted for him, because I am one of the judges, like yourself Paul. I voted for him because I liked his work. So I made it a point of introducing myself to him and it turns out that we got along really well and I had a project come up quite soon after that so I asked him if he wanted to design on it. And as it turned out we worked really well together. And probably for the last two and a half years we’ve been pretty much exclusively working together as Freelancers. He’s done all the design work. We built Oozled last year, the resource app and things like that and so we just enjoyed working. We are a good fit. Our skills complement each other really well. So towards the end of last year—I remember it was August as I was on holiday—and it was just a really rough year for both of us personally and professionally and it had just been… we were feeling quite flat and fed up. And I sent him a message and I don’t know why it even popped into my head, but I said that we should team up officially…

Marcus: Let’s form a band?!

Ryan: …we should team up and start an agency and just pool all our resources, stop all this invoicing each other and who gets what and all this. Basically we should get married. That was the text. We should team up and start a company called No Divide. And it popped into my head ‘No Divide’ from that saying, ‘United we stand, Divided we fall’. And we were propping each other at this point, we were just fed up and we were spurring each other on. So by November we had started the agency and we had come up with the Ox for the logo which we thought was quite original. The reason we have got that—the story is on our About page—there is a whole story is about where that line came from, United we stand, Divided we fall. There is a whole story of the lion and the oxen. In brief when the oxen stand together and point their horns outwards, the lion can’t get them. But as soon as they are separated, he picks them off one at a time.

Paul: Ahh.

Ryan: So United we stand, Divided we fall. So that’s where we got No Divide from. And also playing on the fact that he’s in Chichester and I am in Leeds. We’re roughly 250 miles away from each other. So we’re not divided by distance because we have got good processes for working remotely.

Paul: See now that’s really interesting. There’s a couple of things I like about that. First of all we were talking last week about whether you should be in a partnership or if you should work by yourself and you’ve done both. So have you found it easier being in partnership with someone?

Ryan: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Paul: In what regards?

Ryan: In pretty much every regard.

Paul: Ok.

Ryan: I worked for you guys, I’ve worked for an agency. I was always desperate to work for myself and I’ve worked for myself. But I have suddenly got my work life balance back. And this works both ways, but I’ve got someone else watching my back. I’ve got someone else dealing with and email I might not have time for and vice versa. It’s a joint effort. Now two—now four people because we’ve got two developers working for us now—there’s now four people who are talking about the agency who are marketing and promoting us instead of one. So it just spreads the load. It takes the weight off. We are all in it together. If we are not then the company sinks. So you’ve got that motivation to just pool all your resources and ideas. The way it’s worked out, quite naturally, is based on our skill sets. I am the Technical Director. Dan is the Creative Director but he does much more of the marketing and promotional stuff. Kind of what you do Paul, he goes to speak at Conferences and writes more than I do and does more of the connecting with people on Twitter and things like that. I do more of the business management side. I know Dan very well and I saw the way he manages his accounts in Freeagent and I said ‘You are not touching No Divide’s accounts – I will do that’. He used Freeagent basically for generating invoices and had no idea how much money he had at any given time.

[Laughs]

So it was like ‘Ok, I am doing that bit. I know where everything is to the nearest quid’. I’m a bit OCD with that. There’s got to be somebody in the company who is.

Paul: I’m not saying that’s stereotypically northern, but…

Ryan: I am not the tight one though because I am the one who will more excessively spend.

Paul: Ahh interesting. So what about the remote aspect? Is that working alright?

Ryan: Absolutely love the remote aspect. I’m very much all for it.

Paul: Right. You don’t want to actually have to sit with Dan? That would be too much, would it?

Ryan: Well the funny thing is, it was from working with Dan we discovered that Skype has a limit as to how long you can have a video call for. And that’s four hours. And then it will cut you off. And you’ve got to ring back.

Paul: Really? Now that’s interesting.

Ryan: And we just discovered that because what we would do if we’re working on a project together we’ll turn the video on. And we’ll just be there working, maybe listening to music just over the microphone, one of us will play a song and then is something comes into one of our heads then we would chat, like we’re sat next to each other.

Paul: So almost a bit… have you tried out Squiggle?

Ryan: Yes we have tried out Squiggle.

Paul: But you prefer an open mic?

Ryan: Yeah. And we don’t do it all the time, because one of the advantages of working remotely is the fact that when you need to focus you can just turn everything off and focus and when you want to connect with people…

The thing we use is Slack. Slack’s nothing new. It’s been around for ages, but unless you have got a few people, that’s when the real benefit of it comes into focus. Because we’ve got four guys – and we’ve got Lucie who does content production for us. And also we’ve got some channels that…because the way Slack works is that you have different channels for different conversations so we have like a channel for each project. And on the project channel sometimes we’ve got the clients on the channel so they can interact with us through Slack. If we’ve got a freelancer working with us or someone who is doing a specific job like some illustration work or some additional front-end development, they will be on the channel as well. So it’s just the central place where everything gets pulled in. If someone commits to a project it pops up in Slack. Someone deploys something, it pops up in Slack. So you’ve got this kind of passive way of… you’ve got a feeling of what’s going on in the company from day to day without having to check up on them every two minutes. You know they are working because you can see how many lines of code they have written, or whether they have synched a psd to dropbox. It’s all just goes through this one system. It’s absolutely fantastic.

Paul: So your other developers are guys that you’ve taken on, they are spread all over the place as well are they?

Ryan: So Sam is in Newcastle. So two and a half hours north of me and about eight hours from Dan. And Matt is in Northampton so three hours north of Dan and three hours south of me. So if you draw a straight line from Newcastle to Chichester we all sit on that straight line with Lucie working with us, she’s in Nottingham which is about an hour and forty five minutes from me, so we’re all over the place. The thing is, it doesn’t matter to me. A lot of our clients are international. So we’ve got clients in America who we’ve never even met face to face. So why do we need to be face to face?

Paul: Absolutely.

Ryan: We’ve got no overheads. We’ve got no commute. If you think about the commute alone—I used to commute into Leeds every day—that saves me seven and a half hours a week.

Paul: Exactly.

Ryan: No commuting which is time I can spend with family, or time I can be spending on side projects – however I see fit. But you can work that out over the course of a year, and multiply that by four people, that’s a lot of hours that we don’t have to bother going into an office just so we can all sit next to each other.

Paul: So what kind of clients are you working with, as a matter of interest?

Ryan: Ooh. Right, we’ve got a big rebuild for a photography based social network. I don’t know how much I could say actually…

Paul: Ok, let’s put it another way. Is there a type of work that you are doing? That sounds like an app you are talking about.

Ryan: That’s an app and a website. It’s got a website bolted to the side of it and then a big social app. So it’s got a big social app for which we have used the Laravel framework. And so it’s got a big social part of it and then it’s got a standard website which pulls some information in from the app which is just a standard site and we use the Craft CMS to power the content for that site. And again, they talk with each other.

We’ve got a medium website for a bank that we’re working with that’s going to be fantastic and should be out in the next few weeks. And we’ve got another app that we’re quoting for at the minute which is quite a big one. It tends to be the bigger jobs, the three to six month jobs.

Paul: Oh crikey. So quite valuable projects then.

Ryan: Yes, one of the bigger ones that we’ve launched in the last six months is one called Motion Array. Those guys are in America, they make really good After Effects templates and they have Stock music on there, Stock video, these things you can cut into your projects. That’s got so many moving parts on it, it’s a bit insane. It’s one of the projects that led me to thinking we need additional people. Dan designed it and I did all the development, it nearly killed me.

[Laughs]

So I thought, yes we definitely need some extra people.

Paul: Oh wow, it’s been so long since we talked that I had no idea. I thought it was still the two of you. For some reason I had in my head you were doing relatively small projects. But I was totally wrong. I pushed a piece of work in your direction—I don’t know whether they contacted you—but it’s probably totally inappropriate from the sounds of what you are doing. But there you go.

Ryan: Not necessarily. It just happens that the things we get in are quite… it’s funny because the work we get in has changed a little bit since becoming an agency.

Paul: Yes..

Ryan: Because a lot of the work that comes now are people who want almost to use us as their continuous technical team that’s working alongside the project. So we’re not just coming in, building something and moving onto the next thing. It’s building the MDP and then it’s writing it with new features and continue to port and all that stuff. So it’s like much more continuous than when you are a freelancer. Because as a freelancer, it’s much more… you come in for a bit and then you disappear and then you might get called back six months later to do another bit. But it’s not like something every month.

Whereas the things we are getting are… I mean that poses challenges in itself. Because if you have like a retainer in place with four and five clients, and you are still taking on more work, then you have to expand quite quickly because you need more and more people working.

Paul: But it’s really a good problem to have.

Ryan: Yes, good problems. I’m not complaining.

Paul: Hey, do you know we are sixteen minutes in and we haven’t started the podcast yet!

Ryan: It’s because I am so interesting!

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Discussion about what services to offer

Paul: Ok, so what are we supposed to be talking about Ryan?

Ryan: I don’t know, it’s your podcast.

Paul: I was about to go on, I wasn’t asking a question.

Ryan: Oh right, I thought you were asking a question.

Paul: Oh no. It’s alright. It’s ok. What we’re supposed to be talking about Ryan, is…sorry it’s my southern accent

Ryan: It is, I can’t understand a word you are saying. Marcus can you speak for a bit?

Paul: I am not sure Marcus is even here today.

Marcus: Honestly, I’ve been doing all sorts of work while you have been nattering.

Paul: Are you saying you’re not interested in Ryan’s life?

Marcus: Absolutely. I could repeat every word he said. Obviously I won’t do that, because that wouldn’t be very interesting for everyone.

Paul: So what we are going to talk about today is our offering. Now this is going to be quite interesting actually because we have three different perspectives. We’ve got Headscape’s perspective that had an offering that was established thirteen years ago and it has evolved over time. You’ve got No Divide that has been around… how long have you guys been around?

Ryan: November last year.

Paul: Yes.

Marcus: Seven months.

Paul: So relatively new, that’s been set up and you’ve had to work out what you are going to offer and what you are not going to offer. Then there’s me who’s come out of Headscape and am doing something very different in terms of Consultancy and I’ve had to work out what my offering is as well. I’ve had to work out what it is actually I do for a living. Which has proved problematic, I have to say.

Marcus: Surely it’s changed though, quite a lot since you started out Paul? Mainly because you personally—and I am not taking the mic—but you do like to change a lot.

Paul: I do, but not in that length of time Marcus. It’s only been four months mate. Even I’m not that bad. But no, it has evolved to some degree because people have given me money for things I wasn’t expecting they would give me money for, which is great. I’ll take it from anywhere.

Marcus: There are so many opportunities to be rude there.

Ryan: Ahh geez..

Paul: I know. I set them up. Yeah.

Ok so the first question that’s come through that I really like is—this is something I come across a lot—how much should you specialise and to what degree? So one end of the spectrum you’ve got people that specialise in a particular sector and in a particular size of project and work with a particular technology. So really specialised. At the other end of the spectrum you’ve got people that not only do web design but do branding and do print design and marketing and the whole one-stop shop thing.

Where do you draw the line there? What are the pros and cons of both approaches? So for example, Ryan… Dan is a hugely talented designer who could quite easily do branding type stuff. But do you do that kind of thing?

Ryan: We do branding. I haven’t found much that Dan can’t do so far, to be honest with you. He’s a pretty talented guy.

Paul: So just because you can do it, would you do it? Do you advertise on your website that you would do branding?

Ryan: Yes, I think we do. I think we do advertise branding. With regards to the specialising, the specialist and generalist discussion has been around for a long time. And I think there’s a direct correlation between the qualities of work you can output against how general you are in what you do. Meaning that if you spread yourself too thin, then there is a point where you can’t maintain the same level of quality across the board. And I think particularly when I started out, things were a lot simpler. When I started out you were a web designer and you did everything. And there wasn’t any of these specialties because it was simpler – a simpler time. But now, there are so many specialties if you try and do them all, you are killing yourself. And I think that’s the part of the problem I had last year. I was doing front and back-end development and I was switching between two or three different frameworks on any given build and different languages and syntaxes and approaches and it just got to a point where it was just insane. So there has to be a point where you hand off of some of that to somebody else. Not necessarily because you can’t do it, but because if you don’t then the overall quality of the output is going to be poorer. Because you are trying to do everything.

So I think freelancers are starting to become more specialised either that or they work on very small things where they can do everything. So I think freelancers are becoming more and more specialised and agencies cover more things. They are capable because they have multiple people in who specialise in different areas, they are capable of doing a broader spectrum of projects.

Marcus: I reject the premise of your question.

Paul: I knew that would come up at some point. It’s not my question, don’t forget so you can’t reject my question. Go on.

Marcus: For example, I think Headscape is both a generalist and a specialist depending on your angle that you want to look at us. We do business analysis, we do information architecture, we do UX design, we do front-end development, we do back-end development, so loads of things. But we tend to only specialise in a couple of CMS’s these days. So if you come to us with a particular project on a CMS we don’t work with then we say ‘No we are specialists in this particular area’. So that’s why I reject the premise of the question. I think you can apply… unless you are doing one very, very specific thing—and I think I agree with Ryan on that there—agencies can spread what they offer a bit more basically because they’ve got more people who have different skills usually. If we didn’t do back-end development, would that make us more specialist? I don’t know. I don’t have an answer, but I don’t think it’s…I think basically you need concentrate on what you are good at.

Paul: I just wonder sometimes whether a client…because I am on the No Divide site and this could equally be the Headscape site..

Marcus: Well they look the same.

Paul: No, you’ve actually both got very similar lists of what you do. And split almost in very similar ways as well. So on No Divide it’s got Design, Creative Direction, Brand Identity, Web Design, iOS Application Design, Interactive Prototyping and then there’s a Development column with similar things, a Consultancy column and a Content column.

A client coming and seeing that can kind of respond in one of two ways. They can either respond ‘Oh wow great. I don’t need to deal with multiple suppliers in order to get everything I need for this project’. Or they can look at it and go ‘Ok these guys are a Jack-of-all trade and Master-of-none’. And that’s what I always struggle with, is identifying how clients potentially view that.

Marcus: Yes. I think specialisms are good at attracting people who don’t know you. So you can basically be an expert in a particular area to draw people to you. That’s a good thing about being a specialist in a particular area. Showing lots of different skills on your website? Again I don’t know really. I guess you could go too far, yes. I don’t necessarily think we do, we just list the stuff we do.

Ryan: I don’t think we’ve even been freelance all through No Divide. I’ve never had anyone come to me and say ‘I want to work with you because you use WordPress’. They always come because of the work you’ve done. The work is a demonstration of what you are capable of and if they like that work then they are going to approach you.

This may be a little bit controversial but what always worries me…I always get a little bit edgy when a client comes to us and says ‘Oh we want A, B and C but we are already dealing with D’. And you go, ‘Right, ok, who’s doing D’. And you see it and it we can do A, B and C really well, but D just lets it down.

Marcus: The classic one is the ‘Oh we’ve got a friend who has done some designs for us. Can you build it?’ We basically say no every time.

Ryan: Yes, we do.

Marcus: I mean, we have genuine enquiries ‘We’ve fallen out with our supplier, can you take over our website?’ and again not something we are particularly interested in. Though we do provide support to clients we have built sites for, we tend to be more front-end and design-led and consultancy-led. So even though we do do some back-end work because we are concentrating more on front-end stuff we need to have done that to have a good relationship with our clients. I guess some people would be the other way around.

Ryan: If we get queries like that we would try and encourage them to start thinking about a re-design and start it again. Unless you are taking over from somebody that’s built it very, very well, but you know yourselves how often that happens because if they are that good then they are still working with them.

Marcus: Or they’ve fallen out because of price or something like that. That’s the last kind of relationship you want to kick off with.

Paul: No.

Ryan: Yes exactly.

Paul: I tell you one thing I like about your offering or the way you present your offering on your site Ryan is below the list of ‘What we do’ you’ve got a bit about ‘Our process’ which point four of that is launch and refine. In that you very much push from the very beginning that it’s not a one off project that you then walk away from, there is a post-launch phase. That’s nice.

Ryan: We do try and have on-going relationships with our clients, trying right from the very start getting them out of this very mindset. We’re not building a wall and when you get to the top of the wall it’s finished and we walk away. We’re building something that evolves and continually changes and constantly gets updated, and things need adding and taking away. That’s a continuous thing. So it’s just setting that expectation from the start really.

Paul: I think that where I get a little bit suspicious when it comes to the generalised approach is where either end of the spectrum where you get a web design agency which says they also do print. That rings alarm bells in me. That makes me go ‘Ok so they are a print design house that thinks they can do a bit of web here? Or equally are they a web design agency that think they can do print?’ Because they are very different things.

Marcus: We’ve done a tiny amount of print over the years. We’ve never advertised that we do it.

Paul: No, that’s a different thing to help a client out if they need it and to advertise you do it. And at the other end of the spectrum where you get a development house that does all these kind of enterprise systems and then to claim ‘Oh we can do web design too’. And that’s because they view web design as Mickey Mouse coding. And so they can go ‘Oh yes, we can throw something like that together’. So that end worries me.

But then you’ve got to say, in today’s world is it naive of us to turn around and say ‘Oh yes, we do web design and we can do iOS design too’. Or is that something that is now a radically different discipline and are we pushing our luck saying we can do that?

Ryan: Well the interesting thing on No Divide we say we can do iOS design but currently we can’t do iOS development. Because Dan has experience in doing iOS design and I don’t think—maybe some people will disagree with me and I am not an iOS designer—but particularly in Dan’s skillset it’s not a big step from him designing an app or something to then designing an app for a mobile device. We don’t have any iOS developers on staff currently. We’d like to in the future but at the moment we don’t. So we don’t say we do that. We don’t false advertise and say ‘Oh yes we can do your app’ and then once we get the contract, scurry around trying to find someone to build it. We just do stuff we know we can do, and do well.

I think from the other perspective—the client’s perspective—when the client comes to a web agency, surely they expect that agency to be able to deliver their project in its entirety? Rather than a web agency turning around to say ‘We can design it if we do all the templates and front-end stuff but you’ll have to find someone else to put a CMS on the back-end or build you a bespoke system’. But then that client’s got to go off and find somewhere else and you don’t know who they are going to find and what they are going to do. I am always worried about handing over my hard work to somebody I don’t know. But I think that’s one of the things that nearly killed me as a freelancer. I am very…precious isn’t the right word because now I have got two other developers working with me, I know that they are good Devs and we are all working from a similar set of guidelines so the output is quite consistent. I think designers worry about handing over their designs to a developer they don’t know and the front-end developer is worried about handing their templates and front-end code to a back-end developer they don’t know.

So having those three things in house and content production as well through a form of Lucie is a nice… I feel like we’ve got a lot of the bases covered. And if we need something really specialist then we can bring somebody in to work with us and join the team for that particular specialty.

Paul: So is Lucie is employed by you or is she still freelance?

Ryan: No Lucie is freelance and we bring her in for content production. She’s got her own agency going and we bring her in as we need her. Because we don’t need her all the time, so we bring her in as we need her.

Paul: So if a client comes to you and says ‘We’ve got an in-house team of developers, we just need some designs from you’ would you turn that down?

Ryan: Not necessarily, but we would want to know who were the developers, meet with the developers, speak with the developers. We have, and not through all No Divide, but we have in the past, taken on work where it is just the design portion. But then again we did some design work for a site which was really nice design work and the developers were actually really good. But they specialise in Magento. We don’t know Magento so they built it and have done a really good job.

I think it’s like with anything, there’s so many people working in the web now it’s just making sure that you are working with people who work to the standard that you want to work to. Me and Dan were two freelancers who found each other and found we worked well together. So we trust each other to do the work. And you should find people that you can trust and I am not in the habit of blindly handing work over to people I don’t know. I would want to know where it was going and that would have a big influence on whether or not I took the project on.

Paul: It’s finding those people isn’t it. Because the danger is, the first time a client came to you and they wanted some design and you looked at Dan Edwards and thought ‘Ok, I could use him to do the design’. You were taking a risk, you were taking a risk that maybe he was shit. Maybe he might be a great designer but he could be incredibly un-organised. So there was a gamble there, wasn’t there?

Ryan: I’ve kicked him into shape, it’s alright.

[Laughs]

Paul: And then of course there is the other danger that if you don’t offer the complete service to the client, like you didn’t do Magento. There is the danger that the client goes to a developer who does Magento but that developer also does other things and ends up stealing the work away from you.

Ryan: Yes exactly. I’ve built sites for Mike Kus. Mike Kus is an absolutely fantastic designer. But him coming to me to build the templates, he’s taking a risk because the first time he did that, he would hope I was good, he’s seen my work but he’s taking a risk. He didn’t know if I could build his designs and everything. The first time you use anybody is a risk though. I had my garden landscaped. I didn’t know who I was hiring, I took a risk. He’s done a really nice job, but he could have equally been someone who had used sub-standard materials and all my garden subsided afterwards. Buying something from a shop – if I buy something from River Island, all my clothes shrink after the first wash, so I always go to Next.

Paul: So how do you find these people that you partner with. How did you find Lucie for example?

Ryan: How did I find Lucie? I spoke at Second Wednesday which is an event that she organises.

Paul: Oh ok.

Ryan: And we got chatting. She is kind of a friend of a friend. And I needed some content work doing for a website I was building and I just took a chance I suppose and just asked her to do the content. And she produced some really nice content. And I’ve seen other work that she’s done as we are now in the same circle of people. I’ve seen the work she’s producing for other people and the work she does for us and stuff, so she’s good.

Paul: Yes.

Ryan: We’ve been very lucky at No Divide because if you look at like—and this is going to sound bragging a bit—if you look at like our team and what they do, they are all very similar in that they are very proactive and contribute to the community. So you’ve got Dan. Dan’s won an award. He speaks at conferences all over the place – the future of web design and things like that. Then you’ve got Matt. Matt’s written a book and he writes a lot and Sam, Sam runs an event up in Newcastle and he’s got stuff on Codepen. You can see their work. You can go and find out about them individually and see what they are doing and you can see that they are good and the quality of the things they are doing are good. So I think that’s a really important thing when you are looking for people. The people that stand out are the people that contribute to the community. And that’s been the case for as long as I have worked in the web industry.

Paul: I wholeheartedly agree with that. I would much prefer to hire someone that is putting themselves out there and is contributing. And that’s a really interesting point for people who want to develop their own careers as well, how important it is, to get out there and do stuff.

Ryan: Yes, absolutely.

Paul: The same was true for you and me as well and how we built our career.

Ryan: Yes that’s true. I mean, I started helping you with the Boagworld podcast and then just leeched off you for a few years.

Paul: Yes, and then you dropped me like a stone.

Ryan: Dropped you like a stone when people gave me work.

Paul: Yes, and as for Marcus, he does bugger all.

Marcus: Sorry?

[Laughs]

Paul: See. My point perfectly made.

Marcus: Have we moved onto another question yet?

Ryan: How many questions are there?

Paul: We are not going to cover all the questions, don’t worry about it. So I wanted to ask about hosting. Because that’s an area that client’s want yet brings with it a lot of pain and misery at the same time. Do you host for your clients? And do you provide some kind of… can they ring you up on Christmas day when their website goes down?

Ryan: Those are two separate things.

Paul: Right. Go on?

Ryan: No we don’t host for our clients. But we do set up their hosting for them. So we will register some hosting with a service provider that we recommend. They pay for it, they can contact that hosting provider if the server goes down. Whether or not if they can contact us on Christmas Day depends on the support contract we have in place with them.

Marcus: Oh I would like to read that.

Ryan: Well. This is something that we are still working out because it’s different for every client as well. It depends what it is. If your client was Twitter—which it never would be because Twitter have a massive team—but if Twitter went down on Christmas Day, how many guys at Twitter do you think would have gotten a phone call to say ‘Twitter has gone down, it’s Christmas Day’. Somebody is going to be working on it to get it fixed.

Marcus: But to support that, they have to have as you say, a lot of people. You haven’t got a lot of people in No Divide, there aren’t a lot of people in Headscape so providing that kind of 24/7 level of support is really hard. And you have to be very clear I’ve learnt over the years about what you do offer and what you don’t offer. And you have got to be honest and up front with potential clients about it.

Paul: So what do you say, Marcus? What goes into our normal Service Agreement?

Marcus: Basically that we will provide support during working hours. And I state what working hours are. And that includes the period between Christmas and New Year. And I will basically speak to clients and say ‘That may raise alarm bells for you. And if you phoned me up, probably not on Christmas Day, but on Boxing Day let’s say, and something catastrophic had happened I can almost certainly say we will deal with that. But I am not going to put it in writing that would guarantee we would deal with that.

So that’s the position we are in. We provide working hours support but we are very proactive with our clients about dealing with issues as and when they come up. And that seems to be ok now. In the past we’ve had overnight support contracts and all that kind of thing and we are just not big enough to deal with it. You need to have a team of people who are just doing that. And then it’s fine because you will have rotas and some people do nights and others do days and then you swap over and that kind of thing. We don’t have enough people to do that. So don’t pretend you can – that would be my view.

We also used to provide hosting and manage hosting. They’ve all gone.

Ryan: It’s a full time job doing that. I think there is two other points to make. By not hosting for the client and the client has got a relationship with the host provider, if the server goes down they can contact the hosting provider, they don’t have to contact you. And the other thing that complicates support is when your clients are in a different time zone. So you work 9.00am to 5.00pm and the clients are in America and so are five hours behind you, they have only got you for a very, very small window. And that’s difficult to manage.

Paul: So what do you do about that?

Ryan: Previously I worked at all the hours fixing things. But yes, we are still finding our feet with that. I think like Marcus says, it depends on your size. So one option is you can have hours when your support is if it’s a bug that’s within six months of the work being completed, we’ll fix it free of charge. If it’s something like an SSL certificate has expired which we had recently. What had happened? An SSL certificate wasn’t working because Chrome had changed the security encryption level for SSL certificates and so they needed an updated SSL certificate. Well that’s not our fault, so that’s chargeable. And then if it’s a high priority and it’s outside of our support hours then you can look at charging double time or something like that. You leave it to the client and say ‘Do you think this is a high priority and you need this fixing in the evening, it’s going to be double time to get this fixed’. And then you need to decide whether it’s worth it providing that level of support. It’s like being on call all the time though. Something could go wrong at any time and the more work you do and the more clients you have, the more chance you are going to get called out. Which is hard.

Marcus: Yes, it’s something we’ve had to consider regularly for years. And as you said, the more client’s you’ve got—obviously we’ve been around for a very long time and some of our clients go back ten years—you’ve just got to be up front and honest. And also, one thing we’ve done probably in the last two or three years is basically say to clients—this is clients that we don’t work with anymore but we’ve still supporting their site—is that ‘You need to have some kind of arrangement with us, you need to have some kind of support and maintenance agreement with us that states this is what we are going to do, otherwise we can’t guarantee we can respond at all’. Even to that catastrophic thing I described earlier. So we have been very keen to ensure that everybody’s got at least some kind of agreement in place. Even if it’s just for a few hours that they can call on. I think that’s an important thing, alongside me saying earlier that out-of-hours work we do on a best endeavours basis. That’s all we can do.

Paul: Another thing that Headscape used to do, whether you still do… is people can get a faster response if they pay more? That’s not a very well described version of it. But do you do that?

Marcus: Not really. There was a point when we did do that properly. ‘This rate will get you a response within an hour, this rate would be whatever..’ But we found that if you do that, you’re having to push back ongoing project work to fit it in. So what we’ve done, which seems to work pretty well—we don’t stick to it utterly religiously—is to have one day a week which is a ‘Fixed Day’ where we will build up small tasks on sites that are up and running and have a day blasting those, every week. So basically your standard response time within the support agreement that you’d have with Headscape will say that standard fixed stuff, small feature changes is that we will do all of those on Wednesday, usually. Wednesdays are considered Fixed Days. And that seems to work really well. As with all things, being a small agency you have to be flexible. Sometimes you need to do more than that, sometimes you might have to jump more quickly, other times you can not have any Fixed Day tasks and speed up a project. So that’s an idea that’s worked quite well and clients seem to be ok with.

Paul: I tell you the one other area that I wanted to talk about in terms of offering before we wrap up as we are beginning to run out of time, is Consultancy. Every project involves Consultancy work. As I look down at No Divide’s ‘What we do’ list and Headscape’s ‘What we do’ list, you both of you and myself all list Consultancy as services we provide, whether it be website reviews, user research, customer journey mapping, whatever else. But even if a client doesn’t pay for that, some of that stuff is necessary on a project anyway. You have to do planning, analysis and that kind of stuff. So where’s the line of what’s chargeable and what’s not as an agency? In my situation I am a Consultant. So it’s all chargeable. Because that’s the only thing I do. But in your situation, it’s a little bit more complicated and I am interested in where that line gets drawn.

Ryan: We’ve talked about this quite a bit, me and Dan and one of the things we don’t do is we don’t provide a shopping list of services that we are providing. So we don’t list out and say this much of the money is going on branding, this much is going on design, this much is going on consultancy, this much is going on project management, and this much is going on testing. Because this then instantly gives the client this thing where they will go ‘Oh don’t bother about doing any testing, I don’t want consultancy and I will project manage it. Can you bring the price down however many grand’. And I would go ‘Well we need those things to provide what you require’. So we don’t do it. We quote to deliver what they require for the project and they either accept that quote or they don’t. And within that we are consulting, we’re managing the project, we are designing, we are branding, we are building, we’re delivering their requirements. And there is no lines, there is no like ‘Oh we can save money if we don’t talk to you and give you ideas’. It’s just they are paying for that service. That’s how we approach it.

Marcus: Interesting.

Paul: Yes, because Headscape don’t do that.

Marcus: I do have to just point out that I have just had a calendar reminder that I need to put my out-of-office on. Why could that be?

Paul: I don’t know.

Marcus: I am going on holiday!

Paul: Nobody cares about you Marcus.

Marcus: I do!

Paul: Where are you going?

Marcus: To the Isle of Wight.

Paul: Oh that’s really dull.

Marcus: No it’s not. I am playing.

Paul: Oh yes, that’s really exciting.

Marcus: Yes, I am playing a couple of gigs in the Isle of Wight, it’s like a tour overseas.

Paul: Anyway, you’ve got to finish this podcast. Why doesn’t Headscape do that? Why Marcus, why?!

Marcus: Well, many, many clients want you to outline and give modular pricing. And I think it’s actually a useful thing to do. If someone comes back to me and says ‘Oh we’ll project manage it’ I’ll say ‘Well ok but you will be doing it with us and we are not reducing that price’. I see where you are coming from Ryan but there may be a particular aspect of modularised pricing when the client puts their hand down and says ‘Actually we don’t want that. We really don’t want you to do that part of it’. So everyone wins. We don’t have to do that bit, their price gets reduced, blah, blah, blah.

But I think it’s useful as the project is going on, especially if scope is creeping, that you can refer back to ‘We said we were going to spend a week on this particular task, the scope has moved beyond a gradual creep to a bigger creep now and it’s looking like we will spend twice as much on it as we said in this long list of stuff so therefore the budget is going to have to go out a bit to compensate that’. I really struggle to have that conversation if I hadn’t of shown them that price for that particular part early on. But that’s just me.

Paul: So the flip side of that then is that if you’ve put in a line for doing some usability testing. What do you do when the client turns around and says ‘No, don’t want that’.

Marcus: I would have a conversation with them along the lines of ‘You do want that. This is why, however we could probably…’ It’s a tough one isn’t it. Usability is a tough one as I have often used it as an example in the past of an example of where you could reduce budget. We all should do it, but not doing it doesn’t mean to say we are going to design a completely unusable turkey.

Ryan: But that’s the thing. You are going to do a certain level of usability testing even if you cut it off that list. Because you’ve got to for it to be functional. To a certain quality.

Marcus: What Paul is referring to, is getting external testers to test it. But yes, of course, we have to test it, yes. And then I am with you Ryan, that’s all part and parcel of development work. I don’t mind. I think you have to deal with it. You also have to deal with the fact that clients have set budgets for projects and you have to work the scope of the project often to fit that budget. And if it means removing some things and not others, then so be it sometimes. Obviously you can go too far on that and then I’d say ‘Look, sorry, we just can’t do this. Sorry we can’t do what you want within your budget’. But I’d certainly always try to work something out to fit within the budget.

Paul: Oh well, that’s a good point to end on. A point of slight disagreement.

Marcus: That never happens, does it?

Paul: I know, it’s quite frustrating. I need to get people with diametrically opposed views in. It would be a lot more interesting. I want a good fight. That’s the trouble with inviting people you know and get along with, you see. I need to pick people I really hate in the industry and get them instead.

Marcus: Who’s that then Paul?

Paul: I am not listing.

[Laughs]

Paul: I tell you who I don’t hate – is Lynda.com. Did you see what I did there?

Marcus: Yeah.

Paul: That was good! See I’ve become a lot slicker over the years Ryan, you can tell can’t you?

Ryan: Yeah, yeah. I’m just going to eat my banana while you do the sponsor lead in.

Paul: That’s harsh.

Ryan: I’ve nothing against Lynda. Lynda’s really good.

Paul: It’s just sponsorship generally, you don’t care for that?

Marcus: It’s just you Paul.

Ryan: It’s just you.

Paul: Oh it’s just me speaking. Right, that’s fine. So Lynda.com have over three thousand on demand video courses—I can’t do this seriously now—about business, creativity, technical skills, you name it. Great place to learn any new skill from designing websites, coding apps, even running your own business which is really cool and very relevant to this series.

It’s interesting this morning I was just writing a post on sales techniques and so I was also preparing this for today and so I thought I’d do google to see if they’ve got anything on sales techniques. Of course they’ve got stuff on that. They’ve got loads of stuff on it.

There’s even a video that tells you how to go about asking for a pay rise. So anybody from Headscape or No Divide listening to this show, if you want a pay rise from Marcus or Ryan then there is a video that teaches you how to do that, which is great.

They’ve got thousands of courses on demand, you can learn at your own schedule which is really great because the courses are structured in such a way that you can either watch them from start to finish or you can consume them in little bits as you go.

So there’s loads of stuff. All of that is free and accessible for a flat rate. You can get a ten day free trial as well to get you up and running to try it all out, to check out some of the courses on there and there are literally thousands on everything you can imagine. You go to Lynda.com/Boagworld and you’ll be set up in minutes and it’s really easy to use and there’s load of stuff there and it’s great and I really like having them as a sponsor. It’s always good to have sponsors you actually think are cool.

So there you go! That’s pretty much it for this week, except for Marcus’s obligatory joke. We were going to get the guests to do a joke.

Ryan: My jokes are too long and filthy.

Marcus: I’ll hand you one over Ryan. I was going to do a couple of very short ones, so here you go Ryan.

Paul: So you are pinging him a joke.

Marcus: I’ll do this one.

Police arrested two kids today. One was drinking battery acid and the other one was eating fireworks. They charged one and let the other off.

[Laughs]

Paul: I like that actually. That’s quite a good one.

Marcus: Here’s one for you Ryan.

Paul: You should have sent this one before you told yours.

Ryan: A classic Tommy Cooper gag.

I said to the gym instructor, ‘Can you teach me to do the splits?’

He said ‘How flexible are you?’

I said ‘I can’t make Tuesdays.’ Was fifth.

Marcus: Ignore the ‘was fifth’ on the end of it.

Ryan: I was thinking, I’m going to spoil the end of it here.

Marcus: You did. And you still had to say it.

Ryan: I just thought it was funny. Funnier than the joke.

Paul: It was actually, just randomly adding ‘was fifth’ on the end.

So there we go. That’s it for this week. It’s really nice to have you back on the show. We need to meet up. You don’t go to enough conferences anymore Ryan.

Ryan: I going to be at Reasons. Reasons to be Creative in Brighton.

Paul: Oh good.

Ryan: Are you going to be there?

Paul: No.

Ryan: No? Oh there you go.

Paul: I don’t go to Brighton.

Ryan: I’ll be in Chichester next week actually, which isn’t far from Southampton. Where are you though?

Paul: I am in Dorset. I don’t leave the house. We need to find a conference we both go to. We need to make it happen. Because that’s the only time we meet up. But yes, thank you so much for coming on the show. Next week we are going to be joined by yet another Headscape Alumni. This is getting dull!

Marcus: You don’t know anyone else, do you Paul.

Paul: No, I do. I know lots of people. This is just how it’s worked out. Basically people come to Headscape and then go and set up successful businesses. They look at Headscape, how that works and do it in the opposite way, you see. So next week we have got Rob Borley coming on the show who is going to talk about—this sounds so dull doesn’t it—we’re going to be talking about finances.

Marcus: Zzz. And I know so much about that.

Paul: Well you need to talk to Chris and find out how he does things.

Marcus: I know more than I say.

Paul: It would have been great to have Ryan on the show for this, because apparently he’s a tight arse and likes to know where every penny is.

Ryan: I’m not a tight arse, I spend it all. I just know exactly all is and where it’s all going.

Paul: There’s nothing wrong with that. That sounds very sensible to me. I like that.

So I think that would be quite interesting so we will get into things like how to manage it. We’ll talk about things like Freeagent, we’ll talk about accounting fees and budgeting and all of those really exciting topics next week. So join us again. But for now, Ryan thank you for coming and thank you everyone for listening.

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