Let’s be better. So we’re raising our rates, working less hours, giving more work to charities, and changing a bunch of stuff

SuperPixel started about a year ago and since then we’ve grown. We’ve added new help, we’ve added new clients, we’ve added new projects. We’ve also added a bunch of new work, emails to our inboxes, and some  mechanisms for how we work that don’t hold up with us today. We have more clients than Ogilvy and Mather and less money than a dorm room couch cushion. In that regard, our business sucks.

Let me clue you in on some of my thinking. What keeps me up at night is how myself and my team get by. There’s Natasha, who does amazing design work and has been working with us for over a year now. She works remotely from Missouri and has a young daughter. She wants her daughter to have a great education and the ability to go to college if she wants to, among other things like good food and time together.

There’s Tristan, who writes really great content, manages outreach and marketing, and can simplify complicated things into understandable pieces. He’s married and maybe him and his wife would like to start a family someday. Or for now, get some really good bones for their dogs.

There’s Kevin. He’s currently working with us this summer for internship credit and a little bit of money where we can find it. I’d rather not have to find it. I’d rather just be able to pay him a respectable amount of money. Those student loan bills aren’t going to magically disappear.

There’s me. I’d kinda like to be able to step away from my email for a few hours sometime. Maybe take a vacation, even if it’s just to the couch. I’d like to know that things will go on if I get hit by a bus. And we’d all like to retire someday and be comfortable.

None of this can happen today. We’ve hit a wall where we have so much work to do we can’t meet our own expectations. I want to do more for customers and build the kind of company that I’d want to hire. Part of that is making sure it’s sustainable and does a few key things really well. So to fix these problems, we’re going to make some changes. We’re going to raise our rates, work less hours, setup a fishbowl, and have more fun. Let me explain.

Still more affordable than everyone else but your neighbor’s nephew’s friend

We’re sticking to our monthly pay schedule. When you hire us, you’re hiring a team without all the overhead of having an in-house team. You’re hiring professionals with decades of combined experience. Since we don’t know how to make a crappy website or turn people over into a ridgid template system, we’re raising our rates to a minimum of $99 a month. If you pay a person peanuts, you get monkeys. If you’re an existing client and reading this, and if you pay less than that, your payment won’t change. Though if you’d volunteer to pay more, we’d certainly appreciate it. You have my email address.

We’re still less than practically everyone else. The other day someone at another agency in town told me, “We work in the mid-range market, starting at about $30,000 for a new site.” At our starting rate, it’d take 25 years to pay us that much money.

Emails and projects go into the fishbowl

You know that feeling when you order a pizza online and an hour later it’s at your door? That’s when everything worked well. But sometimes the pizza place gets busy. Sometimes they’re short staffed. Sometimes they get lost. That’s when you go online and check what’s up. Even if it just says “Out for delivery”, you’re likely to just say, “Oh, okay. Cool”, and then go back to watching TV. It’s good to be in the loop.

Half of my job is trying to keep clients up-to-date with their projects and I’m doing as good as I could be. The other half is working with Natasha and others on a project then turning around and explaining everything to the client. It’s redundant and inefficient.

So we’re going to open up what I like to call “The Fishbowl”. This includes three things: emails, overviews, and project updates.

1. Emails

Every time a client has a question they usually send me an email. That’s okay. For most things that’s the most appropriate way to do it — I much prefer it to phone calls or text messages. But then they sit in my inbox until I act on them, either by forwarding to someone else and acting as Mission Control or just doing it myself and replying back. I end up disseminating this information out over and over again to people. So we’re going to try a ticketing system.

“A ticketing system, really, Justin?” I know. That sounds corporate and boring and un-human. But we’ve figured out a way to have emails forwarded into The Fishbowl without anyone but us noticing. Now when a client sends an email I can forward it automatically or manually into a system that allows everyone on the team see it, act on it, comment on it, reply to it, view and add attachments, and assign it to someone for completion.

The best ticketing system is the one that clients don’t have to use. Clients won’t notice anything but a few more names from some new people in their inboxes at times. And hopefully faster service. Now if I’m away from my desk or in a meeting, stuff can still get done. If I get hit by a bus, things will still carry on.

2. Overviews

Like our proverbial pizza en route to your door, clients can soon login to our website and view a project dashboard. Among other things, it’ll tell you who’s involved on your project, how much money has been paid or is due, and what percentage of tasks are underway. It’ll also alert you to what’s holding us up and link to files about your project — like mockups. It will allow you to add new services with us, too. So if you’re interested in some content marketing and you’re not currently getting that, you can sign up with a check of a box.

This is primarily for new or large undertakings, like developing a new site. This is for clients only and will let us get contracts signed, documents reviewed, and designs approved electronically without relying on a chain of emails going back and forth.

3. Project Updates

We’ve long used Asana, a project management system that lets us put tasks into a threaded view so we can comment and work on them. This is almost always incredibly mundane stuff, like watching someone make a cheeseburger. But if you’re about to eat that cheeseburger, watching someone make it is an interesting experience and helps you understand what’s going on. So we’re going to open up our project management system as part of The Fishbowl.

If you’re interested in following along on our internal workings and seeing that, yes, we’ve spotted that bug in your site, but no, we haven’t figured out a cause yet but think it might be on line 21 of functions.php and that Kevin is looking into that, now you can. This is also useful when we’re working on a design so you can see some revisions and what’s going through our heads, even if we scrap it and do something else. Instead of silence or an email from me saying, “We’re working on it!” until we get our 8th revision done, you’ll know we weren’t just wasting time. If you had a house built, you’d want to stop by every once in a while to see how it’s coming along, even if the drywall isn’t up yet.

This, too, is for clients only. Existing clients will receive an email soon with some login details. They’ll be able to access everything from their own dashboard.

Working less hours and having more fun

It is not possible for anyone to work 10 hour days every day and not become exhausted, drained, and useless. So we’re not going to work on client stuff on Fridays anymore. Not unless it’s a dramatically important issue or extremely time-sensitive.

Instead, we’re going to do what we’ve done the last couple weeks and spend Fridays working on “other stuff”. For example, Natasha’s been drawing some great new artwork and icons we can sell and use for projects. I’ve been working on templates for our small-but-growing online store that are unique, location-based, or otherwise hard-to-find. I’ve wanted to work on some resources for high school web design teachers to use in their classrooms, too. We have a ton of ideas on stuff like this and we’ve not been able to do any of them. For us, it’s like raking sand in a zen garden, and it’ll make us more productive during the rest of the week.

If a person can’t have fun, then why are we bothering? We have to be able to afford to live our lives. We have to enjoy our work (and for the most part we really do, we just need to work out some creative juices sometimes.). We have to be fast, efficient, and really damn good at what we do.

And we’re giving more to worthy causes

We do a lot of work for nonprofits. They’re some of our favorite people to work for and with. But there are a lot of worthy causes around the country and right here in Indianapolis that don’t have any money at all. Grant funding is such a difficult thing to navigate and deal with many nonprofits are too busy feeding people to have the time to apply for grants. Sometimes, grants just don’t exist to cover them for whatever reason. A good charity I worked with a couple years ago struggled just to get their 501(c)3 designation from the IRS and were effective sitting ducks for two years while they waited.

I’ll give you another example. There’s a group of women based here in Indianapolis that service a crisis hotline for women who have lost a child during pregnancy or birth. Their website is run through Tripod. A name in cheap web design so old you just said to yourself, “Wait…they’re still around?” This crisis line has been around since the 70’s and this is the best that’s been done because they’re too busy answering the phones.

Even our already affordable service is too much for them, given that they’re mostly volunteers. They’ve been approached by a larger firm to do their site, which is fine, but larger firms that donate sites tend not to support them much going forward. It’s not always, but often, a very one-time thing. I know, because I’ve done it through organized service projects like Refresh Weekend in conjunction with IUPUI. That’s the antithesis to how we think sites ought to work and why I’ve been reluctant to do charity work lately.  An effective website doesn’t just get created and sit. Rather, like your organization, it should be a living thing, always adapting, improving, and helping you achieve your objectives. But we have to eat and pay rent, too.

Natasha had an idea recently: what if we could donate a site like how Thoms or Warby Parker donates their shoes or glasses: buy one give one. That works okay enough for commodity products, but this is a custom thing that requires more effort than going into a warehouse and we just haven’t figured out a way to solve this problem.

So we’re going to try and do it through IndieGoGo. Starting now you can nominate a charity or nonprofit that’s doing good work in your neighborhood. We’re seeking the nonprofits that do amazing things with practically no help or funding. We’re going to start a campaign on IndieGoGo and solicit donations from everyone and everywhere. Some of the money will go to cover our efforts in developing a site for them and being partners with us. Hopefully in the super long term, after a couple years, they’ll be able to pay for ongoing maintenance work. The surplus will go as a direct donation to the organization. If we don’t meet the goal, the money is returned to donors. If no one donates, we’ll go back to generate more ideas.

It’s fun and it fits with our already expansive list of non-profit client work.

Go and nominate a charity or organization now.

About the author

Justin Harter

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