10 Mistakes I’ve Made Running a Design and Development Agency Over The Years

Every day I work on high 5 figure and even 6 figure web development projects, and I’ve learned a TON about how to get things done and get projects done on time and on budget.

In case you don’t know me, let me give you a little backstory (and I mean JUST a little).

Design and Development Agency Over the Years

I’ve been working and running design and development agency for more than 10 years and have been doing web development for almost 15.

Some lessons learned were harder than others to be sure, but all this stuff has helped me immensely in my business and the work that I do.

1. Getting Derailed Is A Lot Easier Than You Think

It’s super easy to get off track so you have to keep that “train a-rollin’ all night long”…

And as much as I love the old Aerosmith jam, this isn’t about that tune.

Instead, it’s about systems.

Because getting derailed is a lot easier than you think.

And systems are the tracks on which the train keeps rolling.

I’m not the world’s most organized person so this one came as a bit of a shock to my life. Early on in my career as a developer, I had a lot to learn about systems, to say the least.

You can’t just wing it and expect things to work. You need systems to onboard new clients AND train your team.

2. Walls Are Actually Freedom

When I got started I used to try to “over-deliver” and wouldn’t tell my clients when we were going out of scope.

What a HUGE mistake that was!

One time I was working on an enormous project with a huge budget. We built amazing features, and functionality in to this amazing site, but the client always wanted to tweak and ask for more.

So I continued to give in to their requests without any pushback because I thought I was going above and beyond.

In the end, I ended up incredibly frustrated with the project (even though it turned out amazing) and the client didn’t appreciate the lengths to which me and my team went to build such an incredible site.

So even though we created an amazing piece of work I was frustrated and the customer kept getting frustrated with the delays THEY were causing and didn’t value what we’d done!

No one was really happy if you can believe that.

Meeting and exceeding client expectations is EASY when boundaries are defined.

Now I make sure my clients have a clear roadmap from beginning to end, and I teach my students to do the same for their clients.

Meeting and exceeding client expectations is EASY when boundaries are defined.

When a client knows clearly what’s included and not included and you hit a home run on what’s included the value of what’s not included skyrockets and they’re more likely to be willing to expand their budget to do the out-of-scope work.

3. Content Is King – But Isn’t Easy

Content is ALWAYS the hardest part of building ANY project.

Yes – even with Funnel Scripts.

Content is really freaking hard work and virtually all clients struggle with it, if they’re not hiring a copywriter for their project.

Organizing and creating content for the pages in a funnel or on a website is always the biggest challenge clients face and that challenge is the #1 reason I created my Website Content Blueprint Guide.

Clients need a lot of direction and hand-holding if they’re not working with a copywriter. A lot of times after they’ve spent some time trying to put it all together, their eyes open and they see the value of paying for a good copywriter!

4. Finding Quality Help Is Very Hard (But Not Impossible)

It goes for all professions, but you have to test and evaluate everyone you’re looking to bring on to your team.

Sometimes the least likely candidate will do things you never imagined.

One time I had an intern who, when we first interviewed him, didn’t seem like a good fit. But I tested him anyway because in my field, not everyone is a charismatic extrovert who can command a room, if you understand what I’m saying.

I sent him the test we do for everyone we interview, and after testing his skills it was clear that I should give this guy a chance.

After seeing him work, his humility, determination, passion for being a creator and builder, and willingness to learn made him into an invaluable part of my team.

And I’ve changed my mind when it comes to hiring – I used to believe in giving people a chance to prove themselves.

Another big mistake.

Now, people have to show me that they’re really serious about the gig – they have to give me really solid reasons to hire them.

This means that there are some hard interview questions, and challenges. It’s the same thing I’ve done with my own team. They need to show me their skills and some ambition and desire for the gig.

5. “The First And Greatest Victory Is To Conquer Yourself”

You have to become a master at managing your creative energy.

And this starts by winning within yourself, as Plato noted, “The first and greatest victory is to conquer yourself…”

For those who don’t know, creative work is really freaking hard and it takes an enormous amount of mental energy to do it well.

You have to know when you’re at your best and then maximize the time you spend in that mental gear to get the most out of it.

You have to break up your tasks based on the mental horsepower it takes to complete them.

This has absolutely revolutionized my work. I know when I’m at my best and how to get the most out of my time, and it’s the same thing I work with on my team – maximizing your mental energy makes so much difference in being able to get stuff done!

6. “If You Think It’s Expensive To Hire A Professional To Do The Job, Wait Until You Hire An Amateur.”

When a client chooses to go with the cheapest option it always ends up being more expensive.

Red Adair, the famous “hell-fighter” made the point clearer than anyone else could:

“If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.”

Many times potential clients think they’re saving money going with the cheaper price quote on a project.

The problem is though, rarely is anyone ever really excited about the quality of work you get with the cheapest quote.

And what makes things worse is that when you go cheap, especially when it comes to online resource development, like web or funnel design & development, so many times you end up having to buy TWICE:

Once for the low-cost bid, then once again when you need to hire someone like me to come fix the mess and get it done right.

7. Save Your Sanity By Documenting & Reporting

Michael Scott was the king of procrastination when it came to signing off on reports and documents.

Don’t be like Michael, be like Pam.

Pam made it happen and got it done.

Document everything – for your sake, and for the sake of your client.

To keep your clients on schedule and clear about everything you need to document everything: scope of work, timelines, roles & responsibilities for everyone including the client, and getting approvals at all the key milestones.

Otherwise projects just go off the deep end and end up in a pit of despair where no one is happy at the end.

Following closely to the previous point…

8. Get Sign-off & Approval At Every Step

Sign-off approval means the stage is APPROVED and you’re ready to proceed.

It also gives you some backup in the event the client wants to backtrack.

(I’ve got a REALLY effective tool that I use with my clients and teach to my students that eliminates project stalls and keeps things moving.)

Part of delivering amazing service for your clients is communication.

Getting their approval means that you’re getting the job done, and helps them feel secure.

It also gives you the ability to have something back up an out-of-scope request if you need to.

9. Prospective Clients Need To Understand That There Are Only Three Kinds Of Service

You can only pick two of three: fast, good, and cheap:

  • good and cheap won’t be fast
  • good and fast won’t be cheap
  • fast and cheap won’t be good

It’s a simple principle, but it helps clients understand the value of the products & services you provide

10. Walk-Away Power is Everything

When it comes to the types of clients you want to work with, and just as importantly DO NOT want to work with, having the ability to walk away from any piece of business is crucial.

The worst place to be in is one of desperation because you have to have the work. You want your funnel full of qualified clients that are lining up to work with you.

You don’t want to be the one who’s chasing down every RFP, or quote request that comes around. Everyone has to keep the funnel full, but you don’t want to be in a desperate place where you end up working with clients from hell just because they can afford you.

I work on big projects with big budgets with a small team. The things I’m talking about here have been some of the most crucial things I’ve learned in the process.

And there is a lot more.

If you’re a freelancer or you’ve got an agency and you’re struggling with sales, with your projects, or you’ve ever worked with clients that try your patience with their tiny budgets and crazy demands, I can help.

I’ve got some exciting stuff I’m working on designed specifically to help people like you and me – agencies, freelancers, and creatives – to not only grow your business but increase your capacity and win projects with better budgets and better clients. If you’re interested in learning hit me up in the comments below, by telling me what your specialty is (graphic designer, funnel builder, programmer, copywriter, etc.) and the hashtag #creativesinquarantine

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