Monday, February 25, 2008

Web designers learn to stand their ground

The following story from the Financial Post caught the attention of one of my colleagues at Avigdor Technologies. It's been reposted here since the content hits very close to home for Red Dream Studios, a company that typically gives back, or provides work to start-ups at costs much lower than your average multimedia development company...

Hang a shingle and open a business and what do you get? Clients, hopefully, but no matter how few or how many there are at the beginning, there will inevitably be some who will be problematic for a young business startup. Trent Haus and Jason Orban learned that lesson first hand.

Eager to please clients who retained their service when they opened their multimedia design company, they found themselves putting in many hours for free. "You don't want to disappoint your new clients, but you get to a point where you're getting mad because they're asking for more and more and they don't want to pay," says Mr. Orban, who, with Mr. Haus launched OH! Media three years ago. "We had to learn to be able to say, 'No, we can't do that.' "

Mr. Haus agrees: "It really hurts the bottom line. You don't even realize that until you step back and talk to someone else about it."

While opening a business is a challenge in itself, Mr. Orban and Mr. Haus had already been through the metaphorical ringer: As Web designers for a Saskatchewan film company, they had witnessed five rounds of layoffs before they were let go.

Through their work at the film company, they won a national award last year for their Web site design commissioned by Verite Films for the popular teen show, Verite Films also produces the popular sitcom Corner Gas. It has transferred its business to OH! Media, and is the duo's flagship client.

Still, when Messrs. Haus and Orban started out on their own, they needed to diversify and build their client base.

After being laid off, Mr. Haus enlisted in a course through Canada's Employment Insurance program that offers training to start a business. There he learned about CYBF. OH! Media applied, was quickly accepted and was assigned a local accountant, Sandra Jackson, as mentor.

In their first year of business, Mr. Haus says they gleaned advice from Ms. Jackson as they became encumbered by a few really difficult clients.

"They were larger clients and they wanted things yesterday and were asking for things and we would keep on giving and giving," he says. "In the first year we were eager to please everybody. We thought that if we made one client angry, they would tell everybody."

Ms. Jackson helped the designers stand their ground. "She told us just from her own experience how to deal with clients who aren't paying."

Early on in her own business, she had to learn how to draw the line. "Realizing you can't be everything to everyone all the time is perhaps a difficult thing to accept," she says. "However, to succeed at your business and be able to provide excellence to your customers, you have to be able to accept that you may not always be the right person for the client, even if you know you can do the job.

"It's not a failure to decline a client. I look at it as a success because you know more about yourself and don't waste the client's time or yours by trying to be something to them that you cannot. It is also easier to be more particular about whom you accept as a client as you get busier and know that there is work out there and you will be able to attract it and keep it," Ms. Jackson admits.

The advice she gave OH! Media came from her own "school of hard knocks."

She advised Messrs. Haus and Orban on how to teach clients to understand the value of the services, which in most cases, they "really do come to appreciate.

"Others can be fired," she says, "Once that is done, it's amazing the relief you feel. It makes you stronger and more confident in yourself ... to say no if that is what is required."

Daryl-Lynn Carlson, Financial Post Published: Monday, February 11, 2008