A Surefire Way to Build a Business That Lasts a Decade

by Jonathan Longnecker

A Surefire way to build a business that lasts 10 years.

Guys, did you know that 2015 marks 10 years of 47m? I'm having trouble computing that statement. Hold on. Cleansing breath. Ace Ventura face. Forehead wipe. Ok - better.

It also happens that 2015 is bringing about some ginormous changes, and I've been thinking back to how we got here. Needless to say there were lots of things that were thought, and the thinking gave me a few nuggets that I'd like to start sharing with you.

First up? Perspective.

When we start out we do it for the love of the craft. Mine was art and design - and soon became clean, standards based front-end markup that evolved into a full stack process from branding all the way to a finished content-managed site.

My drive was to do an excellent job artistically and technically, making a truly awesome brand and website for my clients.

While this obviously still exists, I've come to realize it's not the most important thing. (You may be having trouble computing this statement. Bear with me, keep reading. I'll get there.)

Something happens as you grow up a bit, learn the ins and outs of running a profitable company and see your clients fighting the same fight you are. Turns out we're all on the same team!

I realize that this flies in the face of conventional wisdom. Heck, there's even a whole site dedicated to client's stupidity. If you followed that link, you probably lost an hour at least. I'm sorry. But I think it really serves the feeling we “creatives” (Argh, buzzword!) have - that we know best. The client's an idiot, it's us against them.

But - yeah - it's not true. We're not some special unicorn breed of human beings or businesses. At the end of the day we all have to sell a product or service for more than it costs us to make, but less than what it's worth to the person buying it. Read that again, it's good stuff (thanks Seth Godin).

This is called a “Return on Investment.” And by using quotes I'm saying it in my jerk face voice.

Of course you know what an ROI is. I'm not looking to start a Mac vs. PC debate, but my MacBook Pro - expensive as it may seem to some - is a no brainer of an investment. I make a great living using it and it's rock solid hardware and software every day. The difference in cost is negligible based on the return I get running my business with it.

And this is what slowly dawned on me the last couple of years. It's not quite so much about the logo I design or the website I build. It's whether what I give them makes them more than I charged them. It's whether I'm a good return on their investment.

I would say it's that simple, but it goes deeper. Take away the money aspect and what do you get? A genuine relationship that is built on me serving my client in a way that only benefits them.

That means I'm always striving to be kind and generous in our interactions. Did someone ask a stupid question? I take the time to patiently explain what they're confused about. No judgment or snarky tones. Just helpfulness. I don't complain abou them on the Twitters. We're on the same team, remember?

That means I'm mindful of their money and time. Do they want to re-design their whole site again when it probably just needs better copy and explanations? I tell them that. Do they want to update and modernize, but have great search engine rankings? Then we don't need to rebuild the whole dang thing. Let's do a front-end redesign and add responsive aspects because last year your mobile traffic jumped up to nearly half.

That means I even turn away work from someone just getting started who doesn't need to drop a bunch of money on an unproven business model. Instead I spend 45 minutes on the phone giving them ideas on how to validate it and even get started for free. And they may have even been from Candada and I didn't realize it so I had to pay long distance fees. But it's all good. I'm just trying to help. Once you start whittling this down to it's most basic form you get, “Put others before yourself. Even when no one is watching.”

Most companies today have no concept of this. They only care about costs going down and profits going up. Many have become so big or so ingrained in our lives that they start to use that power to put themselves first when no one is watching. Or just right out in broad daylight because they can.

Will they stick around? Probably. They'll weasel and lobby and backdoor deal their way to staying afloat. But is that the kind of legacy we want to leave? Is that a cause (or business) worth putting a huge chunk of your life on earth into?

For me, the answer is no.

“Put others before yourself. Even when no one is watching.”

That, my friends, is a surefire way to build a business that'll last 10 years. Or maybe even longer.

September 08, 2015

Design, Business, Personal


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