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The 14 mistakes that will kill your independent development shop

Steven A. Lowe | Oct. 15, 2014
Deciding to go it alone as an independent software developer is a liberating experience. The thrill of being your own boss cannot be denied -- neither can the fact that being your own boss means building a business. It's no longer simply about the code. Everything is your responsibility, from paperwork to partnerships, and with this increasing burden come greater pitfalls that can sink your business.

But this can increase your overhead significantly without increasing your revenue — in terms of both budget and time. Changing processes to accommodate new head count, training new hires, managing workloads — it can quickly derail your ability to close sales and deliver the quality your customers have come to expect. Hire cautiously.

Indie dev mistake No. 11: Thinking there are shortcuts to sales success

Most developers who go independent do it to solve problems, write code, and deliver results. They may not enjoy marketing and sales activities, but these activities can't be ignored — and I do not recommend that you outsource them completely, at least not initially.

There are no shortcuts to sales that work reliably, and each technique and tool alters your process in ways both subtle and gross. Long shots happen, but don't bet the farm on them; instead focus on steady, reliable, refinable systems that you thoroughly understand.

Evaluate each marketing/sales tactic and tool with the same critical eye you would use when deciding to adopt a new programming language or IDE. Play with it, run some tests and benchmarks, consider how it impacts everything else you're doing, and resist the urge to change directions too frequently. Even the most reliable, time-tested, surefire sales techniques take time and tweaking to work, so set realistic expectations and timelines, and be wary of abandoning existing systems before you understand them. If you hopped on the latest programming trend every month, you'd never finish anything and would quickly go out of business. The same applies to marketing/sales tools and trends.

Like it or not, there is no escaping the basic marketing/sales education process, learning curve, and effort. Go talk to prospects. There's no other way to learn this aspect of your business.

Indie dev mistake No. 12: Failing to document, refine, and automate processes and systems

Processes and documentation may seem like the stuff of slow, dinosaur companies — they may even be the chief reasons you left your corporate job — but the truth is, an efficient independent software business depends on them.

Chances are you already have processes you have followed, repeated, and refined for years. Some you may have even taught, directly or indirectly, to others. Do yourself a favor: Write them down, discuss and refine them often, and automate wherever possible.

Automation is your bread and butter. You probably extol the virtues of automation to your clients all day long. But your own internal systems are manual or nonexistent. This makes results somewhat unpredictable; worse, it wastes your time — and for an entrepreneur, time is the most critical nonrenewable resource.

Manual or hacked-together systems are fine to start with, but don't stay satisfied with them. Removing tedious, repetitive work reduces friction across all processes.


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