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What does the future hold for the average developer/designer in a changing, maturing marketplace? I believe the future of this industry belongs to the individuals we can categorize as the developer/marketer or the designer/marketer. I’m talking about individuals whose technical efforts create a definable, measurable return on a client’s investment (ROI). In other words, those who offer their clients more than just an attractive, functional website.
Don’t Get Hung up On Labels
Let me start by saying, don’t get hung up on labels. I know, a lot of people love to debate labels in conversations like these. People who design and build websites can be placed into several categories. Let’s leave it at that.
Some are more developers or coders than they are designers. Others are better designers and struggle a bit with anything beyond basic code. And still, others are adept at hacking things together and making it work. No label required.
All the above may be facing some lean times in the not too distant future without making some adjustments. That’s where we can begin.
If the world worked the way we wanted it to, you’d be able to build and design “cool stuff” and the rest would take care of itself. Organically. Sometimes that actually happens. But the moments are fleeting and it doesn’t last.
Passing the Test of Time
I’m sure you heard the saying, “Give a Man a Fish, and You Feed Him for a Day. Teach a Man To Fish, and You Feed Him for a Lifetime.”
The saying came long before the commercial fishing industry and today’s massive 330-foot fishing vessels. Still, if you know what you’re doing and you have the right access, you can drop a line in the water and bring home fish for dinner.
That’s the analogy that comes to mind when I think about this industry and how this journey has played out for me over the last two decades. You fish, then buy a boat, then wonder what you’re doing to do when the 330-foot fishing goliath’s start consuming the industry.
Honestly, very few of my clients harped on the return on investment back in the old days. Especially in the 90s during the dot come boom. ROI took a backseat to the excitement and freshness of the times.
That time has passed and there has been a sense of staleness in the air for a number of years now. I’ve noticed (along with many others) that businesses aren’t so quick to drop thousands of dollars into projects anymore. Especially ones where a quicker return is improbable.
Times have changed, and people are wiser when it comes to these things than they’ve been in the past. Business people especially. They’ve changed.
May I have another slice of doom on top of that gloom?
Business owners want NEED to see a return on their investment. Many are no longer willing to play the long game. They rather test small before going all in and sometimes, small just doesn’t work. It’s like doing sit-ups for a week – just to see if it works or not.
But please, don’t just chalk this whole topic up to yet another doom and gloom prognosis. Don’t assume (as many will) that there’s no way out of what appears to be a spiral forming and no way (as Zig Ziglar might have said) to “turn lemons into lemonade.”
Keep reading because I’d really like to share a few more thoughts with you.
I understand – you may hate talking, reading or listening to just about any kind of “marketing-speak.” Maybe it makes you sick when you examine it in its current form. But even a sick person can swallow and digest what’s needed if the pieces are cut small enough.
You’re a developer… but you have the capacity to transform yourself into a developer/marketer – faster than you think. I believe necessity will demand it if it hasn’t already.
(Looking for a "less stress business?")
Hype Marketing – You Don’t Need It
Let me start by saying, I truly believe hype marketing is DEAD for the most part. If it comes back, as far as effectiveness goes, it will be in the future with another generation of people. The people of THIS TIME have had their fill.
It’s unfortunate, but even the word “marketing” has gotten a bad reputation over the last few decades. I wish there were another word I could use? I think the word “communication” fits pretty well, so let’s use that.
Marketing is Just Another Form of Communication
I opened the mailbox today and pulled out an ad with a coupon for a local pizza chain. That’s marketing. That’s sales. Simple, direct, to the point.
It didn’t have a “get rich quick” flavor” to it. It didn’t make outrageous promises. If you’re curious about their pizza and/or you like saving a few bucks, you might act on the offer. I did.
A few hours later, I sent out an email for a client. It was advertising a new product line the spa was carrying. I didn’t take the “killer copy” approach. I didn’t use advanced persuasion methods.
Despite that, it had a 25% open rate. I rarely see open rates south of 20% for any client. The email simply (and I mean simply) described the product, what it did… and how to get more information.
There wasn’t an autoresponder follow-up saying something like, “Frankly Bob, I’m surprised you haven’t responded to this offer. Have you looked in the mirror lately? You look like hell, Bob. Do you still want to look like this or even worse a year from now? Or, would you like to get those movie-star looks you so richly deserve? Respond before midnight and we’ll throw in our special eyebrow enhancer elixir – absolutely free.”
That’s the kind of text we’re all familiar with, right? Persuasion, manipulation and other questionable approaches that rub increasing numbers of people the wrong way.
You don’t have to do, be or employ any of those methods or approaches to succeed. Personally, I like the take it or leave it offer (this is what we have, this is what it does, this is what it cost, etc.). I don’t mind upsells either unless they make the initial purchase suddenly seem incomplete or lacking in some way. In other words, you bought a car… but it doesn’t come with tires – would you like for of those for an extra 1k?
Communicate via Email
Why am I talking about email marketing? I’m not, I’m talking about using email to communicate with people. We decided to drop the word “marketing,” because it made you nauseous.
I’m talking about it because it’s the only form of marketing communication that’s left for the average business that returns a consistent, positive ROI.
How Does this Connect with the Developer Skillset?
I’ve been using the developer/marketer (developer/communicator) approach since 2002. In all honesty, I didn’t recognize it as an “approach” back then. What I did recognize early on was the fact that web developers held a temporary place of importance with most business owners.
I was looking for a way to eliminate that.
My solution was to offer an email communication service (and a whole bunch of other things) to see what stuck and what didn’t. Guess what stuck?
I started helping local businesses reach their customers with product updates, sales information and normal, everyday stuff like that. Here’s the thing, I just put the information out there without trying to persuade. I finished my sentences with periods instead of a half-dozen exclamation points. Tell me that kind of “we’re so excited about this new product we almost wet ourselves” approach doesn’t make you want to vomit at this point?
It’s all bull droppings. I know it, you know… and now they know we all know it. Bull droppings may help the flowers grow but they won’t do the same for a real business.
What was genuinely exciting about the email focus was the fact that I was able to produce the cold, hard numbers at the end of the day. Business owners understand numbers. They understand that 100 people read about their product in response to today’s email.
They understand that 40 readers clicked on the link.
That’s the kind of value they understand. You’re not just another chump shuffling files and clicking an update button a few times a month.
Look, you build the machine. If you plan a bit better, you can maintain and update it. And if you keep going… you can play a part in the income it generates on a month-to-month basis.
Don’t even try to convince me you CAN’T do this.
What About the Content?
Maybe you’re thinking, “I get all bogged down when it comes to what to say or what to write.” I understand completely, but we do have an advantage today that we didn’t have years ago. We have social media.
All the text, photos and phraseologies you need are there for you to choose from. Just go to their page and turn the weekly posts into weekly emails.
“What if they’re all dumbass posts?”
Then clean them up and be professional about it. You can have a little fun with it unless your client is a funeral home or something like that.
It’s not like you’re writing a 2,000-word blog post (like I’m doing right now). You’re simply sending out who, what, where, when and why emails. Sometimes “how-to.” Let me say that again, “You’re sending out who, what, where, when and why emails.”
No more than one a week. No less than one a month.
It’s no harder than adding a new page to a website and clicking send.
You personally respond to this type of simple communication all the time. We all do.
Sticking to the Basics
I sometimes find it hard to even present the basics as being the basics because I don’t want people to think they’re getting training wheel quality information. The basics are easily dismissed in favor of “cutting edge” solutions and approaches. I used to be one of those people.
Then, I discovered that most of my challenges were solved by returning to them. If that weren’t so, I wouldn’t say it.
Here’s a basic truth – good communication leads to more sales. It helps the right people say, “Yes.”
At the heart of the matter is the health of your business. I’m guessing you want to still be in business 2-years from now? Or, perhaps you want to be in this business long-term, for the foreseeable future? If that’s you, I believe this is the perfect time for a shift to occur in your developer/business life.
Many of you have focused on tech so long, you’ve lost touch with the marketplace outside the bubble. Maybe your bubble is WordPress? You live, breath and eat themes and plugins… but you’re not in the business of selling them.
Keep up with the changes, absolutely. I’m not knocking it. But friend, if Rome’s burning (again), there’s no time like the present to make gather your belongings and get the relocation process underway.
Back here on earth, your clients may not see the value in the fact that you’ve personally installed and reviewed 227 WordPress Membership plugins. Especially if you’re not the developer of ANY of them. If you are, that’s great because your effort can have a direct effect on your bottom line.
Next is the question of ROI (return on investment). I don’t know too many people who really mind spending some money when they’re making money. That’s why I couldn’t ignore it over the last few years when more than just a few people were complaining about purchasing plugins that cost between $100-200 dollars (with 40-50% discounts for yearly renewals). That complaint screams cashflow problems.
Believe me, I’ve been there and even though it’s been many years since, the memories are still fresher than I’d like them to be.
Now, flip the situation around and consider this – you’re an expense to your clients. Some expenses are worth it. Others aren’t. Do you want to find yourself in a place where a question mark suddenly appears next to your name?
It’s a rhetorical question if ever there was one.
So, accept the fact that your clients want to see a direct return on each and every investment they make. This IS the new normal. It’s not coming, it’s already here.
Let’s talk about the solution.
At the End of the Day - You Help People Make Money
It all comes back to money. I stared at that sentence for much longer than I wanted to. There are many ways to look at it, but let’s play it safe and assume your clients need more of it.
Not want more... Need more…
Think of it as food. One person wants more food. The other needs more food. The first might be pissed off if they don’t get what they want. The other may be dead.
Wants. Needs. Two different things.
If you really want to drive it home, take a longer than usually look at yourself in the mirror when everyone’s gone. After you get over feeling stupid, say to your reflection, “At the end of the day, I need to help my clients make more money.” It’ll be harder forget when you’re serious about it.
If anyone can talk you into doing anything, it’s you.
The code, the sites, the plugins, the scripts – they’re all a means to an end. Aren’t they? When you’re in the thick of it, the end may appear to be finalizing the text that appears in a footer widget. Developers can really stress over the details. Especially the good ones.
Once you snap out of it and realign your focus, you realize your clients need more customers, more repeat business, and yes… more money.
Even if your client’s driving force is to make people smile via their pork dumpling salad, they still need the money every month to make it happen.
Email marketing (oops) communication (or the lack of it) can have a direct impact on your client’s bottom line. This, in turn, has a direct impact on the light you (the expense) are seen in.
Most of your clients already have the text and images you need to get the job done. They have brochures and copy written by professionals. If they don’t, their competition does.
We’re talking about email, not a webpage.
All the talk you’ve heard about plain text emails working better than emails with images… I have almost twenty years of data that show otherwise for offline businesses.
Some businesses are image-driven. Food is one example.
Every industry is different, so do a little homework.
That’s about it for now. I hope I gave a lot to think about and at the very least, something you can begin testing in your own business.