The biggest opportunity for most web developers is actually assessing the business problem that needs to be solved.
A scenario I keep observing in the web industry is focusing too much on the technology and not enough on the business problem.
This scenario plays out in different ways, but usually with newer developers, or fledgling web studios.
This isn’t a new problem. It’s something that’s existed as long as the web has existed.
My friend Christopher — who runs a successful software and web design consultancy in Visalia, CA — wrote about this way back in 2004.
I am always surprised at the number of professionals who, by word or deed, express that they are not concerned with business problems, only with technology problems. I’ve worked with people who will gladly stay up all night long trying to figure out why IIS isn’t delegating security credentials from one machine to another, but are absolutely uninterested in figuring out whether or why the business needs a web application in the first place.‚
You are not an artiste. You are not even in the software business. You are in the problem-solving business. More to the point, you are in the business-problem-solving business. The technology problems you solve should always be in the context of solving a business problem. If the solution to a particular business problem offers less benefit than the effort required to solve it, you should be working to solve a different problem.
Christopher Hawkins, from “Repeat After Me: I Am Not In The Software Business.”, 2004
While it’s necessary to always keep learning when you work in technology and software, clients aren’t paying you for the latest technology stack. They are paying you with the expectation that their business problems will be solved.
Strategy Cannot Exist Prior To Understanding
When business owners reach out to a web design company, it’s because they have a business problem that they need help with.
However, inside various web development communities, there’s a lot of misguided focus on what cool tricks the code can do rather than the underlying problems the code can solve.
There’s also a lot of focus on the tools or platforms that we use. And while it’s good to specialize (I focus strictly on WordPress), the reality is that everything that exists now on the web will inevitably change.
The platforms and code that we use will continue to evolve.
Some platforms will become extinct on a long enough time line.
Anyone remember when Flash websites were everywhere? Then HTML5 came out. And Apple said they wouldn’t support Flash on iOS. Then Google said Flash sites would be downgraded in search results.
Now, by that time, Flash was already a pale shadow of it’s former glory. And every web studio that wanted to survive had long since moved away from it.
So those web studios that carried on moved on to using different technologies, but that isn’t the reason that any web company survives.
The technology used to solve a problem is always secondary to demonstrating the ability to diagnose new business problems and solve them.
In other words, anyone can build you a website. But that doesn’t matter if the website doesn’t solve your issue.
99.999% of business issues boil down to either making more money, saving money, or saving time.
Did your last website solve one of those concerns, or did it make the problem worse?
The tools used to solve a problem are nowhere near as important as actually understanding the problem in the first place.
You can be the greatest web developer in the world, but if you don’t make your clients business better, then it’s all for naught .
Paid Discovery Is Where We Assess Business Problems
One thing that’s missing from a lot of web design processes is a discovery phase.
Discovery is a series of conversations between the web agency and client, to help define the problem, and bring to light details that are important to know.
In my own discovery sessions, I try to discover is much as I can about the clients’ business. The better understanding I have of their business, the better equipped I am to solve their problem, and the more clearly we can define the problem.
But discovery is not just for the web consultant. It’s also for the client.
Often times, there are things that come to the surface during the discovery phase that the client had not previously realized or thought about.
Maybe it’s the act of asking questions and then taking those questions is deep as possible, to discover as much as possible. But for whatever reason, discovery almost always helps the client think about their business problem in a fresh context.
Now after the discovery phase, their problem is well-defined. Then, and only then, is it possible to put together a definitive proposal that will outline the business problem(s), address how they will be solved, and outline a strategy for solving those problems.
Some agencies charge for discovery, because there is immense value in going through this process. We also charge for discovery here at Lockedown Design. There are several reasons for this.
Why Paid Discovery Is Beneficial To Everyone
Clients usually approach the web design studio with specific ideas already in mind, such as “build me a website” or “make me rank higher in Google”.
These items are often part of the solution, but very rarely are they the only part of the problem.
But a great number of agencies and freelancers skip the discovery phase, take client requests at face value (never asking why), and go straight to the proposal. The bid in these proposals is often a blind guess, which may or may not accurately reflect either the complexity of the true problem, or the value of solving that problem.
Blind Quotes Benefit No One
Human beings get attached to the first number that they hear. And when you tell them later on down the road, after the project has already started, that the original number you came up with was just an estimate, that doesn’t go over too well.
The more time you take to investigate a problem and diagnose it correctly, the more accurate a number you can come up with for a quote.
A price quote is often one of the first things that a small business client wants when soliciting a web design firm. But without getting adequate details about the project, and actually investigating what challenges the project might face, it’s impossible to give an accurate quote.
Three Reasons To Do A Paid Discovery Phase
There’s three really good reasons for doing a paid discovery phase before sending out a proposal to our clients.
1) By having a series of conversations before you start working, we’ll all have a better grasp of what the problem is and what needs to be done.
A proper discovery phase paves the way for sound business strategy, and a clear scope of work. This leads to an accurate proposal quote, and ensures everyone is on the same page throughout the project.
2) Paid discovery allows the client to find out what it’s like to work with a consultant without committing their entire budget to the project.
After the discovery phase, clients can walk away with a scope of work document, a set of requirements, and clearly defined solution to their problem.
If — for whatever reason — the client don’t enjoy working with a consultant, they can take that valuable information to another agency. The client still has made progress on their project, and the majority of their project budget remains intact.
The purpose of a paid discovery is to put together a thoroughly investigated, well thought out, accurate proposal.
The majority of clients choose to go forward with projects after completing the discovery phase. The risk of committing to the larger project is significantly decreased after doing a paid discovery phase.
3) I paid scary phase is advisable is it prevents the web studio from jumping in with both feet without having a project strategy in place.
Larger agencies almost always have a paid discovery phase to reduce risk for themselves and for the client, and to ensure their project is going to be successful.
It is often newer freelancers that choose to skip the discovery phase, and go straight into designing and developing. The problem with this is, they may be trying to solve the wrong problem, because they haven’t dug deep and asked necessary questions.
Discovery Lays The Foundation of Communication
Technology is all well and good. But a web development stack should never supersede our main purpose for existing — solving complex business problems.
When you get to the heart of what any good web agency does it isn’t about designing websites, or writing code. It will always be communicating with clients, properly diagnosing their problems, and then coming up with a well organized plan to solve those problems.
The goal is always to leave the client in a better position than they were before.
Web design awards don’t matter.
ADDYs don’t matter.
How many followers you have on social media does not matter.
The only thing that matters is, Do you have a proven, repeatable design process for solving business problems for your clients?