Thinking about Templates and Marketing

The first thing on this week’s list of Agenceum goals was the posting of the public web page templates that we’re starting with. There are a few dependencies involved, but first I need to clarify what these templates are supposed to accomplish. Here’s my lines of reasoning.

  1. A designer needs to show the design to land clients. Examples are the best, because prospective clients can judge using their own unvocalized criteria; in other words, clients know what they like when they see it. This is the easiest path to selling.
  2. The traditional path to show your examples is to have a portfolio section to your website. I could show a number of past projects, but ultimately portfolios are kind of empty. A great project, in my experience, tends to come from a good match of client and vendor values, therefore I would like to find a way of getting around the “wall of project postcards” to instead convey values and compatible competencies.
  3. The way I’ve sold traditionally has been through demonstrating my grasp of broad concepts, the ability to distill insights, and translating my understanding into specific implementations of graphics or code. I also put a very high emphasis on code quality and engineering. Most importantly, I’m not an “ornamental” or “style” designer; I specialize in organizing information so it makes sense. These are difficult concepts to substantiate with just a few pictures + handwaving in the copywriting.
  4. Custom projects are expensive and difficult to quote. It requires a lot of effort on the part of the prospect to define their vision, and therefore this requirement is a hurdle to be overcome. Additionally, custom projects are big time commitments for me as well, and working by myself has become increasingly unpalatable. I’d rather work with people, but finding the right ones has been a challenge for the past 20 years.
  5. To target the $50-$250 demographic, custom projects are not really an option. The R&D phase has to result in packaged solutions that meet a very specific set of criteria for the purchaser. Therefore, I don’t really want a portfolio page at all. I really need a package + upsell product page.

The non-traditional approach I’m taking is to share the basic source code. I don’t regard source code as my primary value to a client. It is the customization of that code to integrate the customer’s values and selling proposition that is valuable, and typically it’s only valuable to that client. For the $50-$250 client, we’re not talking about programming mission-critical space missions; we’re mostly using glue code to have one system talk to another, integrating existing libraries and GUI widgets, and populating a few interesting data structures.

So here’s how sharing the source code theoretically will work for me:

  • I’m rebuilding from scratch. I need to research and recreate dozens of standard website and interactive components that, while conceptually simple, each have their own implementation gotchyas. I’m building these basic stand-alone modules to strengthen my knowledge of best practices that will save me time in the future.
  • The basic stand-alone module becomes the product that’s sold. This is like the website template business, except one step closer to the non-developer consumer. Since my target market right now is the person who’s just getting started on a small scale, a rock-solid basic module is just what they need. They should be able to see what their dollar buys them; that helps allay fears that may get in the way of closing a deal.
  • The people who like what I’m doing are more likely to be people that I can work with. I am not sure how this will happen exactly, but it’s highly likely that I will meet one or two people who look at what I do, like it, and have some complementary skills and values. Documenting and sharing also helps me solidify my own understanding.
  • A growing repository of source code, well-documented and ready-to-download and experiment with, is a magnet for incoming links. This boosts page rank, increases visibility, and raises credibility. Of course, the quality needs to be there too. I don’t claim to be the best or have all the answers all the time, but I know the power of finding the right example at the right time is a blessing. These tend to come from bloggers and other people going through the same struggle. I’m happy to be part of that community.

So I have two audiences: potential clients and my peers. Potential clients don’t really need to know every technical detail, but they probably would feel good knowing that the engineering is there and how it can be customized. My peers would be interested in the technical details.

This reminds me of the way I feel toward certain cars. BMW comes to mind for having an image of both quality and engineering. However, BMWs are upscale, and I’m looking to create more of a mass-market entry-level good-enough quality+value offering. I guess that might be the renewed Hyundai USA. However, I think cars are too mass-market to be a good comparison. I’m really in an craftsman mode, putting myself back into the journeyman position, intent on showing what I can do.

The next step is to make an information page that address both potential clients and peers. This is an intermediate step; I need to gather all the information in one place so I know how to present it. Now that I am more clear on the WHY and WHO aspects, this should be sufficient to guide me in the next day.