I've worked in and with small to medium sized businesses over the years. From both viewpoints I've been privy to the relationship that exists between a company and its web developer.
In some instances I've been the company employee responsible for hiring and liaising with a web developer.
Most of the time, I've been the web developer hired by a company.
The dirty little secret of the web development industry
Over the years, something has become more and more obvious to me. Something that doesn't really get talked about amongst web developers, but that I know is top-of-mind for anyone responsible for a company's website.
The relationship between a web developer and their client inevitably deteriorates.
The website Owner & the Developer. A Tragedy in Four Parts.
As a website owner or manager, here's how the story plays out:
Clive Website Owner runs a successful cottage industry business selling bespoke mounted and framed prints in his local (bohemian) town. As his local market is beginning to saturate, he decides to reinvest some of his profits in a website for selling his prints online.
Clive is speaking to a hipster friend of his, called Dave, over drinks in a local trendy bar. Dave is telling Clive about the new website he has just had built for his niche beard oil business. He says it's built with WordPress and WooCommerce so it's really easy to use and looks super contemporary but with lumberjack icons for an ironic, rustic twist.
"In fact", says Dave, "Giselle, who built the site is just over there. Let me introduce you..."
We cut to Clive and Giselle having a really creative round-table discussion about how beautiful Clive's new site is going to look. Giselle is really receptive to Clive's ideas and the energy between the two is palpable. Together they hammer out a functionality spec and a design comp that both parties are really excited about.
Now we inter-cut a montage of a contract being signed and a five figure cheque being handed over.
Cut back to Clive and Giselle beaming - they shake hands and Clive exits left. Giselle sits back down to her laptop, cracks her knuckles and is obviously enthused to start work.
Slowly fade from black to an image of Clive and Giselle either side of a laptop screen, looking at Clive's newly launched WordPress and WooCommerce website.
Cut to a close-up of Clive's face. He has a huge grin and is clearly excited.
Cut to a close-up of Giselle's face. She is sporting a relieved looking smile.
Giselle says "It's great we got there in the end huh? Finding out you couldn't ship glass with your original courier, just before your launch party, was a bit of a shock. But thankfully we got that integration with the new courier set up just in time. The first guests have just arrived. Let's go meet them and have a drink. I'm just going to have the one because I need to shoot off and catch up on some sleep..."
Time passes. Clive is happy with his new website. He writes a couple of early blog posts but then starts to forget to keep it populated with new content. A couple of orders trickle in but he doesn't have much time to pay attention to it as he has landed a wholesale deal and spends the next 8 months busily meeting the demand for that. He asks Giselle if she could write a couple of blog posts but she responds that that's not a service she provides.
Fade from black, with the words "1 year later" superimposed. We see Clive leaning over his end-of-year accounts with a puzzled look on his face. We hear his inner monologue:
"When did this happen? The website orders have risen. I'm making 25% of what I made from that big wholesale order every month! And these orders don't come with any of the hassle of dealing with the wholesaler. I need to concentrate on growing business from the website! Let me call Giselle..."
Cut to Clive on the phone, "I've read these articles on WordPress SEO and how it can help to grow traffic to the site, so I just need you to do these few tasks. Can you get these done tonight 'cos I really want to see the results in Google as fast as possible? My budget isn't huge 'cos I need to keep this profitable for me, and honestly, you should have built this stuff in from the get-go, right?"
Cut to Giselle at the other end of the phone, not looking amused.
Clive and Dave are back drinking in the trendy bar. They're sitting at a table, nursing cocktails and looking glum. Dave says "yeah I just don't know what happened, she doesn't return my calls either. It all started so well and the site still looks amazing."
Clive nods in the direction of the bar. We see Giselle happily chatting with a friend. Giselle hasn't spotted Clive and Dave but the friend looks over and sees Dave. She smiles at him and makes a sudden beeline for the table. Giselle looks aghast when she sees what's happening but it's too late to stop her friend.
The friend walks up to Dave and says "hey Dave, thanks so much for hooking me up with Giselle, she's been so great to work with as we build the new site. I really appreciate the recommendation."
Dave and Clive look at each other. Then they look over at Giselle. Giselle looks sheepish.
No-one is to blame
Let me get this straight. Neither Clive, Giselle or Dave are to blame for the discomfort that occurs in this story. But it does seem to be the inevitable result of the traditional web developer / agency and client model (I've even written about it before).
Beyond the initial site build, the model simply doesn't work in the best interests of either party. But before that realisation dawns, the initially ecstatic client recommends the developer to another party and so the cycle repeats itself.
The 80/20 explanation
The 80/20 principle, or Pareto's Principle, has become fairly well known, since being advertised by Tim Ferriss and others.
Crudely put, the 80/20 principle states that in many instances 80% of an outcome is derived from 20% of the available inputs. This is often taken to mean in business that 80% of a companies profits come from 20% of its customers.
Now obviously the exact percentages can shift... it's only a principle after all.
But the principle can realistically be applied to the web developer and client relationship. Here's how:
- The client pays the developer a lucrative lump sum for an initial site build. The client is now in the 20% of customers providing 80% of the developer's cash-flow.
- The site is now built. The client approaches the developer on an ad hoc basis with updates, maintenance or bespoke functionality requests. These need to be costed each time and hopefully the developer gets the estimate correct or she is out-of-pocket. The ad hoc jobs are difficult to fit in between building sites for other customers. The client is now in the 20% of customers causing 80% of the developer's hassle.
Point 2 is where the relationship breaks down. It's a downward spiral from that point on and results in phone calls not being answered and email replies taking days to arrive.
Some developers and agencies have taken to charging clients a monthly retainer for maintenance. This is an attempt to preempt the issues in point 2 above. It's very much a 'reactive' solution to the problem though - a case of 'covering our ass if the customer turns out to be demanding'.
It also doesn't solve the problem of a developer or agency splitting their resources between building sites (the thing they want to be doing) and maintaining sites (which is perceived to be a chore).
ShopMonster is part of a new breed of service companies who's raison d'être is providing on-going WordPress and WooCommerce support for website owners after the site has been built and is live.
The companies currently operating in this space are focused solely on providing WordPress maintenance and/or WooCommerce help based on their customers' support requests.
ShopMonster is a little different.
ShopMonster goes beyond maintenance
Maintenance is a necessary part of running a website, especially a WordPress website. It's critical that you keep your site secure but it's also important to keep it up-to-date so you can take advantage of the widest range of plugins.
Maintenance is a necessary means to an end. The 'end' being the running of a successful website that brings a meaningful Return on Investment (ROI) to the business.
ShopMonster takes care of WordPress maintenance and security in the background - you never have to think about it. But that's not where the real value in the ShopMonster service lies.
Our intrinsic goal is to improve your websites conversion rate and grow its traffic.
That's what significantly impacts the ROI of your site.
Take a look at our prices for more info on the techniques we use to improve conversions and grow traffic.
ShopMonster is pro-active
Even if a developer or agency offers you a WordPress maintenance package, it will be 'reactive'. That is, you will need to submit requests for work to be done on your site.
This is backwards.
No doubt you are very good at what you do. But that almost certainly doesn't include being an expert in Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), Conversion Rate Optimisation (CRO), traffic analysis, domain modelling, web development, PHP, WordPress or WooCommerce and least of all the dark art of online marketing and traffic generation.
So how can you be expected to produce an itinerary of work that will boost your site's conversions and traffic and grow your revenue in the most effective manner?
At ShopMonster, we take a Deep Dive into your business and your website. We analyse it from every angle and proactively tell you what we think are the key areas to work on. Then we work on them.
Of course, we will present our thoughts to you for discussion and take guidance from you on the business factors in which you are an expert. But we are experts in SEO and online marketing - let us take that headache away from you!
If you're interested in letting us take over the burden of maintaining your site, improving its SEO and proactively analysing the most effective next-steps for growing your revenue, head over to the contact page and introduce yourself.
If you're not quite ready to take that first step, why not sign up for our short email course packed with free tips on getting the most out of your eCommerce store.
Let us know what you think
We'd love to hear your thoughts on the opinions I've laid out in this article. Do you agree? Have you been burned by a client / developer relationship that hasn't worked out in either parties favour? Or does your experience run counter to the story told here? Perhaps you have an example of a great working relationship between a client and a developer? If so, please share in the comments below.