Some of the hardest problems in life and business assume the form of chicken or egg situations. You need the experience to get a job, and a job to get experience. You need some money to make more money, but you need money to have that “some” money in the first place. And so on.
In the services business that translates to problems like needing a portfolio to get projects and projects to have a portfolio, needing employees to have work but need work to have employees, and so on.
These problems are always tricky to work with because in most cases, the problem is just imaginary and in others, the solution is very specific to your situation.
But I’ll try to tackle two of the big ones in this issue and you see if that makes sense to you.
Problem#1: Portfolio & Projects
Every tech agency founder, especially if they are young, has thought, “But I have no portfolio”.
And it’s usually advised to just put whatever. Any side/pet project goes, or just go and build something in a few weeks and put it up on your website. And so on.
The fact of the matter is that the portfolio doesn’t matter all that much. I’ve been in dozens of sales negotiations, and I can only recall being asked about our portfolio once or twice.
You may be better off not revealing your portfolio, as I learned recently from Hamiz Mushtaq Awan (Plutus21) that in the long run, it can cause Conflict-of-Interest issues with potential clients. So maybe you worked with X but now Y doesn’t want to work with you because they are competitors, and they worry that you’ll reveal their secrets.
What matters far more than a portfolio is a “presence”. You may alternately call it “Authority Building” i.e. you talk about the problems you solve publicly so that your prospects know what you’re all about. In most cases, blogs, social media posts, attending events, etc. is a far better use of your time than worrying about whether the Portfolio section on your website only has 1 or 2 items.
You have to understand where the client is coming from. Just imagine that YOU are the client. Are you going to make a five or six-figure buying decision just by looking at a website or a portfolio? Most likely not. You are looking for a “reputation”, word of mouth, and testimonials — a portfolio can add to your reputation but it’s not the decisive factor. No single thing is.
Your branding is a sum of multiple things: social media presence, customer engagement, outreach, newsletters, how you conduct the sales call, etc.
So, if you’re just starting, it may be a more productive use of your time to worry about a holistic approach to building a reputation rather than coding up 10,000 lines in 2 weeks, so you have a trinket to show off on your website.
Problem#2: Work & Employees
This is a harder one, especially if you’re running Agency B (if you don’t know what that is, check out this post: All about project-based tech services).
The process of bidding on projects is often protracted and uncertain (in my experience, it takes anywhere from 20-40 days to close a deal — maybe that’s an inefficiency in our Sales Pipeline; I’d be curious to know your numbers). You can’t count on new leads to make hiring decisions.
Should you count on your finances? Maybe. You have to notice that you can run into one of two problems here:
- You have more work than you have people.
- You have more people than you have work.
It’s better to err on the side of the first especially if you’re just starting. The best you can do is communicate with the client “Hey we need to hire and train people for that. Can you wait?” as early on in the Sales process as possible to avoid any misunderstandings down the road. If the client’s on board, you’re good.
But you can also lose a lot of deals, in the beginning, this way because you have no brand equity to speak of and everybody in this business is in a hurry. Time-to-Market is essential.
There is no solution to this. My advice is just to be in a constant state of prospecting. Have a list of at least 20 people that you’re talking to at all times (more, if you have a bigger team). Your goal is to always have 5x more deals in the talks than what you can handle (adjust the numbers over time as you learn more about your closing rate). You lose some, you win some, that’s the name of the game but NEVER. STOP. PROSPECTING. Period.
At the end of the day, running a business is creative work. The act of creation is, by necessity, a messy one. If you’re stuck deciding the “best way forward” remember that in this domain the “best” is still undefined and that in many cases, your best way is simply forward.
As Senator Armstrong (from Metal Gear Rising) says:
“MAKING THE MOTHER OF ALL OMELETTES JACK! CAN’T FRET OVER EVERY EGG!”