We love our clients. We love to serve. We don’t always get it right. We are constantly looking for ways to be better.
This week, our team celebrated interGen’s founding as a web development firm 12 years ago. In the beginning it was just me...
It was March 2006. I had a growing awareness that there were a lot of people and companies that were building websites but the service after site launch tended to fall short. Existing service models seemed to fall into one of two camps...
Good Luck Getting Help
Requests for help from original developers were often responded to weeks or months later, sometimes not at all. Developers hadn’t really priced service into their business model. From the developer’s perspective, it is hard to provide great service if you need to chase down the next gig to keep revenue flowing. From the client's perspective, you can feel trapped by technology that you don’t fully understand and that isn’t part of your core business. You are not sure who to trust or how to get good, cost-effective help.
Hold on to Your Wallet
The other alternative was that there would be significant hourly rates tied to every interaction with the developers. This model sometimes creates better service, but the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) on a website becomes completely unpredictable. In theory, a client (site owner) can decide how much they are willing to spend for updates and changes. However, sometimes problems arise that aren’t related to updates. There are genuine technical issues that need resolution for the site to be functional. In those cases you either pay an unanticipated amount for help or live with a hobbled website.
The Hidden Costs of Website Maintenance
There is a crucial part of the conversation that is missing entirely from the two models described above. Modern web development tools like Joomla and Wordpress can do amazing things and they are getting better all the time. The way they get better is through updates to the software.
While it might be tempting to follow a “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality the reality is that the online environment is constantly changing and evolving. New threats and vulnerabilities are discovered all the time. If there is not a competent party consistently applying software updates, your website is exposed to these evolving threats. Software updates are usually very quick and simple, but sometimes cause conflicts. When they do, you want someone that knows what they are doing to resolve it.
In addition to updates there a shockingly high percentage of sites that are running without a backup plan in place. When there is a big enough problem with the site, backups can usually be restored within a matter of minutes. If there is no backup, the site can be down for as long as it takes to solve the issue or in extreme cases the site is lost completely and the entire investment in building the site is forfeit. You have to start over and your site is gone until the new one is ready.
The Good Luck Getting Help and Hold on to Your Wallet models described above are reactive and often don’t include updating or backups. They provide budget hosting and hope for the best.
They are setup to put out fires as the arise rather than prevent them. A site that isn’t updated will have problems at some point. If it is not backed up, recovering from those problems will be time consuming and expensive.
Another Path to Serving Clients Well
We love building new websites. Even more, we love helping people. I wanted to build a business that avoid emergencies and fire drills and focused more on providing great value and service. I needed to make sure that our business model was sustainable too.
Our Subscription Service was designed from day one to address the biggest challenges above. All our sites are regularly audited and software updates applied. We take daily backups that are stored in three different locations (on server for speedy convenient access, at the Amazon East Regional Data Center, and on our own local storage). For our clients this is invisible, but it provides the peace of mind that we have done everything we can to secure your investment in your website.
We provide upfront, clearly communicated pricing for our Subscription Service. There are no gotchas. The only change in your pricing in the course of the year comes if you ask for new features or help managing your content. We provide unlimited training and support for all the features currently included in your site. If you want help writing content or managing information we can do that too at an additional hourly rate. However, the actual maintenance and day to day use of your site is fully included. You don’t have to be afraid that their is a meter ticking just for asking a question or getting a problem solved. This makes the cost of maintaining your site simple and predictable.
Having covered maintenance and cost control, we get back to the beginning. You want timely, expert help with your site…
One Man Does it All
For the first five years or so, interGen was a one man show. I was building sites, providing support, managing billing, legal, and finances. The life of a freelancer is liberating? I have always worked hard to provide a one business day turnaround on support requests. Any technical problems with service interruption need even faster response. How does one person do that consistently?
Until very recently my laptop and cell phone were my constant companions. I take them everywhere. I have memories of family campouts sitting on my sleeping bag in the tent with my laptop tethered to my phone for internet access. I was fixing issues and answering questions. I have certainly been blessed to enjoy great time with family and friends, but there was never a real vacation. This isn’t a complaint. I didn’t really mind too much. I loved the freedom of the entrepreneurial journey. And, God bless my wife.
About five years in, it became evident that I was not able to keep up with everything on my own. It was at this point that interGen became something more than a freelance opportunity. I added part time help in support and accounting. It was great. I was still always on call, but just having some help was incredibly liberating.
Internal coordination was not too big of a deal. Most requests still came directly to me and I just played a little bit of traffic cop forwarding items to the team members best able to help. It wasn’t perfect, but it served our needs at the time and kept things super personal for our clients; almost all of whom were on a first name basis.
The funny thing about success is that it always carries the seeds of the next level of challenges. About three years ago it was evident that I needed to decide if interGen would persist in functioning as a “freelancer with help kind of business” or whether to make the jump into something more. On a personal level it was a question about whether I was building websites or building a business.
It really wasn’t a hard choice. I love working with people. Websites are really just the playground that allows me to share in life’s journey with others. It is the business value that I can provide. How interGen provides that value is what makes it unique.
So, with a fresh mandate interGen has grown our team and our client base pretty dramatically in the last few years. We are managing hundreds of websites from New York to San Francisco and everywhere in between.
Fortunately, we started laying the groundwork for this transition years ago. We put in place the systems and processes needed to effectively help a growing client base. We encouraged existing clients to use these processes at every opportunity. In effect, getting help for a question or concern with your website is as simple as sending an email to our support system rather than sending one to me personally. You still get help from a real person with a real name and personal contact info. The difference is that on our end the support request gets automatically tracked so that we are sure everyone is getting effective help. In addition, the entire support team is immediately aware of the request for help rather than having the bottleneck of a single person (me) filtering and forwarding everything.
The support system has been in place for several years now and the vast majority of our clients have come to appreciate a quick turn around from our team on their questions and concerns. I still get a healthy amount of direct inquiries to my personal address, voicemail, and even texts. I either address them directly or forward them to the team member better able to address the concern in the moment. It helps keep my finger on the pulse of our clients’ needs and concerns.
I am the Speed Bump
I am increasingly aware that I never want to lose the personal connection I have with so many of our clients. If you know me at all, you know I love to chat. I love to hear how people are doing, what they are struggling with, and what they are hoping to accomplish. Sometimes that conversation is enriched by being down in the trenches helping solve technical issues. More often, there is little personal connection in addressing a straight forwardtechnical issue.
As we continue to grow the number of clients with which we work, I am faced with some challenging choices. I can reduce the fraction of clients that I connect with personally (greater depth, fewer connections) OR I can reduce the amount of time I spend with individual clients (more contacts with less depth) OR I can shift the focus and nature of my conversations (more connections with more depth). At the start of this year I made a conscious effort to shoot harder and more deliberately for the last option.
So for me personally it is the journey from troubleshooter, through traffic cop, to team leader. We have people better than me and smarter than me in each of the respective areas of our team. That is on purpose. It is super energizing to be surrounded by people that push me to get better and to be better at what we do. I love our team. They are truly amazing.
We have the team. We have the processes in place so that our clients can effectively work with the team. We have been communicating those processes for years. There is one last person that is slowly getting the message. He is positioned somewhere between my chair and my keyboard.
In recent weeks, I have had to shift from living out of my email inbox between meetings to living in our project management tool. Our project management tool tracks the timelines and commitments that our team makes to each other and to our clients. In trying to troubleshoot and trying to direct traffic, I sometimes miss deadlines and commitments that I have made. It hurts the effectiveness of our team and it hurts our clients. They reach out to me expecting the one business day turnaround that we have fought for since the beginning. Because I have come through in the past, it creates an end around on the processes that we have built.
If you want to connect directly with a particular team member, that is great too! Please reach out. We will do our best to get back to you in timely fashion. However, please understand that we will be honoring the other commitments that we have already made first.
Let Us Have It
In the spirit of continuing the conversation, let’s connect! Feel free to share any thoughts, comments, or reactions to this or any of our other blog posts. You have the option of simply commenting below and posting to your facebook feed too if you like.
To all of our current clients, thanks for being there. We love you. If you are new to interGen or just lurking, we would love to hear from you too...
Maybe we can find an opportunity to create · together.