145-lee-jackson-dev

This week, we talk with Lee Jackson, host of the WP Innovator podcast. Lee is also the owner of a highly successful WordPress development agency that works exclusively with other digital agencies.

Lee shares his extensive knowledge of the web industry and agency life. He points out some mistakes many digital agencies are making.

 

In this episode, Lee tells us how he got his start in agency life, and he he founded Lee Jackson Dev, a WordPress agency for design agencies. Lee shares how he goes through the discovery, brief writing, and consulting phases with his clients, and how he earned the trust to be able to sit in on client meetings.

We talk about what Lee looks for hen hiring people, and the radical thing he does to find and develop talent. Our interview with Lee touches a lot on the business of running an agency, and practical tips for preventing scope creep and winning work. There’s a ton of knowledge being dropped in this episode, so you won’t want to miss it.

Full Transcript of Episode 145

Transcript of Episode 145 with Lee Jackson

John:
Welcome to WP-Tonic Episode 145. Today we’re talking with the WP Innovator, Lee Jackson.

Lee:
Hey.

John:
Who are you? Tell us a little bit about you.

Lee:
All right. Well, my name is Lee. I run the WP Innovator Podcast, which is a WordPress-based podcast for designers and web developers, and I also run Lee Jackson Dev where we work with design agencies all around the world. We build the WordPress theme part so the design agencies do what they do best. We do the easy stuff, the WordPress code that we love. So that’s kind of us in a nutshell.

John:
Excellent. I want to introduce my co-host, Jonathan. Who are you?

Jonathan:
Hi there, folks. I’m the founder of WP-Tonic. We’re a WordPress maintenance support company. We also do offer services for agencies similar to Lee if they’re looking for themes, plug ins. We can be your trusted partner.

John:
Excellent. I am John Locke. My business is Lockedown Design. I help blue collar businesses with local SEO, WordPress, and Woo Commerce. Jumping right into it, Lee, as you said, you’re basically a white label agency for … You’re an agency for agencies.

Lee:
That’s right.

John:
Definitely. Tell us a little bit about what is the right fit agency for you. How do you find those agencies to partner with?

Lee:
Sure. Okay. Well, the perfect fit for us is an agency that has about five people plus. So these are agencies that are working on a minimum of about £10,000 worth of work so it’s those sorts of builds. It’s not these small 1K or 2K builds. These are the 10K upwards builds where there has been a whole design process entered into. We kind of focus on specific areas so we’ll focus on agencies in major cities because they tend to be working on the bigger type of projects.

We also like to focus on agencies that have a particular niche because those niched agencies tend to charge more of a premium to their clients so that means there is more budget, not because we’re being greedy, but more because we just want to try and be paid a premium ourselves, so that we can just work on a few really good themes rather than trying to cram a whole lot of stuff in at once. Ideal turnover for those sorts of businesses would be about a minimum of £300,000 per year, which is with the terrible exchange rate probably only $350,000 per year. So that’s kind of the minimum.

Jonathan:
It’s not that bad. It’s gone up since Trump said he’s going to nuke everybody. Sorry.

Lee:
No politics.

John:
Yeah, definitely. Basically, you’re working with the agencies where design is really their focus and you’re coming in and making everything work. That’s basically it?

Lee:
Exactly. I mean, some of these agencies will have developers on site as well very often. But, again, even those agencies are a good target for us because those developers are frazzled. They’re working on tons and tons of projects so it’s great to have the extra resource and they’re also their attention is always grabbed by other stuff that’s going on in their business as well, whereas, this is all we do day in and day out. So it’s great for them to have us in there as well, either on site or just online doing code with them or telling them how to do stuff better, because we get to learn the new stuff all the time.

John:
No, definitely. Just for the listeners at home, what is the big advantage for those agencies to bring in someone like you? Is it just to keep their pipeline going or to just have that expertise on board?

Lee:
Well, the kind of area that we try to solve is if anybody listening or watching has had the problem where they’ve tried to get a freelancer through something like eLance or anything like that, it’s really hard to find those really, really good freelancers. And when you do you want to pay them all the money you can possibly pay them and keep them so you can keep them onsite, etcetera; however, for a lot of people they do find that they’re either having multiple freelancers doing one job or they get so far the freelancer disappears and the whole project falls apart.

Freelancers are like this, but there definitely freelancers that I think we’ve all probably experienced that. Some sort of failure halfway through the project. So what we’ve done because I’ve been in agencies now for … I know I don’t look old enough, obviously. Thank you. I’m sure someone just said that, but yeah. I’ve been in agencies for nine years so I’ve actually got a really good network of really good freelancers that work with me and I’ve also got several employees as well.

I guess the advantage for agencies using us is that they know they have got the accountability of an insured, physical limited legally binding company with contracts, etcetera, who say we will deliver this WordPress theme based on those designs. We’ve signed in blood. Feel free to sue us or hit us over the head if we don’t deliver it, etcetera.

Jonathan:
Water boarding.

Lee:
If they want to, whatever gets them off, really. I’ll keep it PG. Yes. They’ve got that kind of reassurance and then on the flipside what we’ve accidentally found that we’re doing, and shut me up if I keep waffling, is that clients really like to have me go to the sales meetings now as well. So not only have I been coding. I am coding less.

My team are coding more and I tend to be traveling more to client sites helping them with their sales process, being that really geeky guy in the corner who knows all the tech answers to all of the technical questions and reassuring the clients about security or reassuring them that we can deliver this project or taking the product brief, etcetera. That’s the other advantage. I can also be onsite giving consultancy whilst the company is still developing things for people.

Jonathan:
That sounds really great. Were you really surprised with that element? Is that one of the things that has surprised you …

Lee:
Yes.

Jonathan:
… that they want you to go to the meetings?

Lee:
Yeah. I was actually really surprised how little agencies, not all agencies, but how little some of the agencies I’ve worked with actually know about building websites and about the Internet and even about WordPress itself. Me being called in to help them answer questions and give their client the confidence was a huge surprise to me. I thought people knew a lot more than they do.

John:
That’s surprising.

Jonathan:
That’s interesting. Isn’t it? It’s always these things that come up that you never envisioned. Isn’t it?

Lee:
Yeah, exactly. It’s great for us. It’s consultancy fees, etcetera. It’s also good for us because we’re involved right at the very front so we can see all of the opportunities and actually help upsell stuff that our design agency client didn’t even realize they could upsell which, obviously, is also going to benefit us in the long run, but we’re going to build it, but it also benefits that client. It’s a great thing to be a part of, but yeah. I did not see that one coming because I just assumed everyone who is building websites out there knows what I know, which they don’t.

John:
Well, that’s good to know. Go ahead.

Jonathan:
No. Go on, John.

John:
Okay. One of the things you point out that’s very interesting to me is the agencies that you partner with they have the reassurance of knowing that they have another agency, another company as opposed to just having a freelancer or a geek off the street being entrusted with doing the work. Would you say that the processes and structure is the big difference between a solo freelancer and a bona fide agency?

Lee:
Hmm. Well, our process would be that we’re involved quite earlier on for the quoting stage where we’ll help them put together the brief. And that will be paid depending on how much work is involved or we will do it, some free scoping just simply because we know it’s going to be a good project. And then the way the process would work then is we would then they would do the wire framing. They get the wire framing signed off. They do the designs, etcetera, and then the designs and the entire product brief will come over to us where then we’ll reverse brief that and then we will build it.

That’s our process. I do know that with freelancers that I’ve had to use in the past, they have not had the ability to take on board all of that information in one go and be able to then go away for three weeks and then deliver something back. I’ve had to drip feed to the freelancer what they need to do, because they’ve not understood the whole scope of the project. So I guess the difference and the advantage of using like an agency like us is that we’ve been involved quite early on.

We’ve got an understanding of the project and then we can essentially be left alone at the development site to deliver the whole thing at one go. Because we’ve got a milestone set,and then initial QA where it’s going to be an internal QA between us and our design agency client, and they go and see where we’ve got to, etcetera. They can also have spot checks throughout the process as well. so they can see what’s going on. That’s how we’ve worked and, yeah, my experience has been I’ve had to drip feed quite a lot things to quite busy freelancers who can’t grasp the whole picture in one go.

John:
The reason I find this really intriguing is I do a mix of both my own clients and white labeling for other agencies. The reason why I ask that kind of line of questioning is with the agency there seems to be a different perception and if it’s a single person. In forming your current agency, how did you earn that trust to be involved with the talks and the client meetings and those things like early from the start? Was that something that you had from day one? Or was that something that you had to push for? How does that work with your partner agencies?

Lee:
With most agencies it was probably two or three projects in. When you’ve done it and we deliver. We have more conversations about projects they’ve got coming up. I dropped value bombs galore in those conversations over the phone and then, at that point, I will also say, “Hey, do you want me at the meeting to be a part of that to help?” Because I’ll be talking about stuff maybe the agency doesn’t necessarily understand or they want a safety blanket. That’s how that then starts and then that gets more and more.

There are even some agencies who come in right from the get go and we’ll just say, “Look. We can come onsite. These are our fees, etcetera, to come on and help you with this brief or help write the product spec or help you with this particular sales meeting.” People just grab it straightaway. Usually, those sorts of clients are usually based on a referral as well so they’ve already got that trust. They’ve not got the trust, but they know that they’ve been referred by another agency. They know we’re going to deliver or at least have some hope that we’re going to deliver.

I didn’t push for it from the very beginning. It just happened. Within the very first client, within about three projects in they were wanting me out onsite and that was when I was I was like, “Aha. Oh, crap. This is something I can actually do for people.” I realized here is something else we can monetize. That’s when that happened.

John:
Yeah.

Lee:
It wasn’t even a part of the plan. I just wanted to build WordPress things.

John:
Excellent. No. That’s excellent.

Lee:
Yeah.

John:
This is just a quick follow-up question. Some agencies is there a reluctance to have people come in like that to the client meetings. Have you ever encountered that or are people always just like, “No. Come in to the client meetings and help us write this brief”?

Lee:
Most people want help writing briefs because most people don’t know how to write a good brief. If the client doesn’t want to us onsite, it’s usually because we’ve not offered because we already know they’ve got a tech onsite or a project manager who is already building out that project. We’ve not had an issue yet where anyone has said they don’t want us. Yeah. I can’t think of anything.

John:
Excellent.

Lee:
No. Yeah. You find the more prepared agencies don’t need that sort of help and you just get an amazing brief and you can jump on it straightaway, but it’s the less prepared agencies you can instantly see they’re faltering and worrying about the project and the minute you offer it’s just the relief you hear on their voice like, “Yes, please. Come down to this meeting. We need your help,” which is nice.

John:
No, definitely. That’s it. It’s always nice. It’s nice to be needed …

Lee:
Yeah.

John:
… for sure.

Lee:
You get free coffee and tea, and you get your lunch paid for as well, which is nice. Why the hell not?

John:
That’s a win-win.

Jonathan:
[crosstalk]

Lee:
I got this double chin going on here now as well. It’s a bit depressing, but anyway.

Jonathan:
Do you get nice biscuits?

Lee:
Yeah, usually Bobbins. You know bobbins. You don’t get them out there. Do you?

Jonathan:
No.

John:
We don’t.

Lee:
You shouldn’t have moved. Should you?

Jonathan:
Well, it was either sunshine or biscuits so I chose the sunshine. Right.

Lee:
Touché.

Jonathan:
Sorry. I was really interested whatever you just said, but that sentence where you said most agencies aren’t really that good at writing briefs. Can you broaden that out and why they’re not very good, and some of the things that they might be able to? Based on your experience, why are they not very good and what are some of the things that they might be able to do to improve that situation?

Lee:
Cool. Before we offend all agencies listening to this …

Jonathan:
Well, we already have. We already have, Lee.

Lee:
You’re brilliant at writing briefs. What I’ve found is most of the agencies that we have worked with are, unfortunately, not as good as at writing briefs with their client and a lot of the time it’s not the agency’s fault. It is actually the client’s inability to explain what it is they want and because the agencies are working on … It’s mainly a problem of time. Isn’t it? The client comes to you that we want to website and we kind of want it to do this and do this, and do that, and the other. The agency has this time issue where they need to … You don’t want feast or famine so you want to keep these projects coming in.

They’re trying to win these projects. Get them through. They’re replying to [inaudible [00:15:12] tenders and they’re getting screwed over. Once they’ve got that kind of the project in, they suddenly realize that there is so much more that the client wants, etcetera. When I said they’re not good at giving briefs, I think what they’re not good at doing is that detail part. They’ll read a few paragraphs and not think through what those three paragraphs of content actually means. There might a paragraph talking about that there is a log in area where people can message each other.

This is probably a bad example, but if someone thinks, “Oh, okay. Yeah. We’ll probably do a plug in for that,” or something like that, they then might also be some other line as well saying that we see some information based on their user information. Okay, but what they’ve not realized or not thought about is that there could be absolutely tons of different custom fields, I guess, that goes to all these users. There might be a completely different workflow for different user roles.

There is all sorts of things that have not been asked and then when the client says, “Well, I want managers to.” The quote has been sent out and they say, “Right, okay. So we need a user role for managers and we need a user role for marketers, and we need a user role for” … Suddenly, the project scope has just increased significantly. Everyone is arguing because, “Well, we said we need people to be able to log in,” and then the agency is arguing back saying, “Yeah, but you never said you need all these different role types.”

Then it just becomes a mess and it’s usually because you’ve got quite a bad brief from their client. The agency then hasn’t really had the time or necessarily taken the time to think through and ask questions back to get that clarity on those things, and then you just get that messy project, which then means, and I hate seeing this happen, but you end up getting a site eventually delivered. Everybody is stressed and angry at each other and that end client hates the agency now, and they’re never going to work with them again.

God, the site is awful, and they’re going to bitch about the agency and go off somewhere else. That whole process needn’t be such a mess. I’m not saying it happens all the time, but I’ve definitely seen it quite a lot over the last nine years. That sort of people just not taking a step back to think about what that paragraph of content means with regards to code and what other questions you probably need to make sure you ask. That was a long-winded answer. There are tons more. I could keep going.

Jonathan:
No. I thought that was a really fantastic landscape you’ve drawn in it. Just to finish off a sub question, what do you do? Because I’ve been in that scenario and I totally agree with everything that have just said. You learn it by your intelligence and experience that you just, but there have been scenarios where I’ve had clients. It’s not working with an agency, but with some clients where you start asking very details questions and you start to get a bit of pushback that they say, “Well, why do I need to ask why you are asking all these questions? I thought you were the professional?” and “You should know”.

Lee:
You’re the expert. Arrgh.

Jonathan:
You’re the expert.

Lee:
Sorry.

Jonathan:
How do you deal with that without … Is it really a red flag or is there some methodology based on your experience where you can deal with that scenario and explain why it’s necessary to ask all these questions?

Lee:
Sure. It can be a red flag for definite because if somebody isn’t prepared to invest in the brief, some of their own time, etcetera, so they’re going to get what they want, and all they’re really worried about is dollar signs etcetera. What’s the invoice and you’re going to be able to deliver me a clone of Facebook, please. That is definitely a red flag. What I tend to do in the use of brief with the client is instead of asking them about technicalities, I actually take them through user stories.

I just say, “Great. This is fantastic. What do you want to build? This is really, really exciting?” Let’s just establish who the main users are going to be. I have person who is logging on the website who just wants to sign up for a newsletter so that’s user one. We’re going to call him Paul. You’ve got user two. He is going to go into the website. He is going to register and join your social section. He is user number two. We’ll tell his story. That’s you. The client, the administrator, and we’re going to tell your story about you’re going to do as well.

Then we actually then start flashing. Fleshing or flashing? Fleshing out those stories and as we flesh out those stories, which are just paragraphs. Type in the web address and the web site will load. You will see at the top right-hand side, wherever, a button saying, “Join our newsletter.” You’ll click on that. Fill in this email address and press send. It will tell him to check his email. We’re just telling a story, but inside of that is pretty much all of the technical spec that we can further flesh out and we can get the client then to sign all of those stories.

When the client then says to us, “Where is the bit where Paul is able to share with all of his friends?” We can then look back at that story that we wrote about Paul and say, “There is absolutely nothing in the story that says he can hit a button to share with all his friends. That’s called the change control and we need to quote you for that and maybe build that in.” I find if I do it as a user story where we’re talking about what we’re doing is with the client.

We are talking about how can we empower the different key users to do what they need to do? It’s not tricking them, but we’re round about creating a product spec without the client realizing they’re creating a product spec. I am now saying to the client, “What do you want to happen when X, and Y, and Zed happens?” I am going to say, “What does Paul need to see when he gets to this point and what shall we allow him to do?” They’re actually part of creating a story, which then essentially becomes your brief.

Jonathan:
I thought that was great. What do you think, John? Do you think we should go for our break and then come back?

John:
Yeah. Let’s go for a break. When we come back, we’re going to be talking more with Lee Jackson, the WP Innovator. We’ll see you after the break.

We’re coming back from our break. We’re talking more with Lee Jackson of WP Innovator/Lee Jackson Dev. One thing I wanted to ask you, too, you said right at the outset of the show you’ve been involved in agencies nine years. I know you look youthful and people will say like, “That can’t be. Nine years.” How did you first start building up this agency? How did you first get involved with it? What’s the origin story of Lee Jackson Dev?

Lee:
Okay. Well, back when I looked exactly the same as this because I lost my hair when I was 18. That’s depressing. Isn’t it?

Jonathan:
Yeah.

Lee:
I can see a tear in your eye, John. Did this happen to you?

John:
No, just over the last few years.

Lee:
Okay. Yeah, right. It’s just the quality of the image. Okay. The journey to this, the creation of Lee Jackson Dev that does what it does started around nine years ago where I actually joined an agency. It’s an existing design agency. I joined as an equal share partner so I joined. There was two partners already so I became the third partner. They were a design entity that tried to build websites through third parties, etcetera, and they recognized that they wanted to actually build their own digital department so I got to invest in that business, become part of that business, and build that whole digital part of that company.

That was maybe a five-year journey of being in that agency, seeing how a design agency works, and then knowing what I know to do, and then essentially us building this machine as it were of a full design agency, a design and digital full service agency. After about five years, the problem there was that laid out the groundwork. We got the team and everything involved. There was an awful lot less for me to do when I was having to do lots of boring stuff like administration and writing stuff, and sending off invoices and all the stuff I utterly hate.

Essentially, at that point I was getting this hunger to start something new because I’m definitely somebody who likes to be creative so it was about three or four years ago. It was four years ago we started the transition of me moving into my own agency where I could do what I loved doing so much at that agency, which was helping people offer a digital service and, essentially, I could then do all the bits I loved around the world so that I’m not having to do all the boring stuff that I hate doing like invoicing, and all that stuff.

I’ve got loads of other people to do all that for me. I get to do this creative part and empower lots of agencies now instead of just the one to become full service agencies without them having to go through that long, five-year process and have capital and then do all that other stuff that’s involved. That’s kind of the journey so I’m still involved in that agency but, obviously, a lot less now because I am involved with a lot of other agencies as well doing this packaged service.

John:
No, definitely.

Lee:
The story.

John:
Yeah. It’s a great story. As growing your agency when you broke off on your own, when you first start like a smaller agency a lot of the time the founder or the founders are doing everything when it’s a couple of people. You know, one or two people. As you grow, your role … What would you say your role becomes more of? Is it more sales? Is it more winning business and then you’re delegating out? How does that evolution of an agency look like? What does it look like?

Lee:
Originally, it started off with just me. Well, it was actually me and my colleague Karthik. So we went out and Karthik was doing most of the PHP backend code. I was doing most of the frontend code because it was just an easy split. I was coding on into the middle of the night. It was awful. I was doing it so many hours just to get things going and then, over time, I’ve now got staff and I’ve got people, different freelancers, who are on contracts as well around the world who we can turn off and on with certain projects.

Nowadays, I also say what went from 99% me coding has gone down to about a, I’d say, 40% of time I actually get to do the code part, but then I’d say 30% of the time I get to the do the other part I love, which is sitting in front of people and helping them solve problems, which also leads to sales anyway, and then there is also 20% of my time, which is a little bit of boring stuff I don’t like doing, but I’ve got to do because there is laws and you have to do some bloody VAT return. There is all sorts of crappy accounting stuff I hate, but I have to do.

Also, a little bit of that is also sales as well, but the more old-fashioned salesy sort of stuff. Also, in my podcast … I’m going to confuse my math now. I also do a lot of podcasting in that 30% that I mentioned because that’s my way of talking with people and helping people solve problems as well. There is the podcasting and doing the onsite visits. It’s that side and it all kind of … I guess you can lump all that into sales. Can’t you? 40% code and then the rest of the time I’m sales, and a bit of admin.

John:
Yeah, definitely.

Lee:
I’ve obviously never thought of an answer for that. I was thinking that one out loud.

John:
That’s cool, definitely. As you’re growing, how do you know who to hire? How do you know when it’s time to hire someone and what is that hiring process look like?

Lee:
Okay. You may or may not have heard this from anyone before, but my hiring process is to find someone who cannot code for toffee and then teach them how to code. Other than existing freelancers so existing freelance contractors I’m kind of lucky that I don’t have to find anyone new because I’ve been in the industry nine years. I already know a lot of established people and the hiring process for anyone else means that I get them to find somebody that they would trust to also join the team, and then we try them on basic projects, and then try them on more and more complicated things.

That’s the process there, but for hiring people in my UK office, I tend to hire people who have got pretty much zero knowledge other than a real hunger to want to get into web development that maybe knocked together some websites a little bit and maybe a bit of HTML and a bit of CSS, maybe, maybe not, but they’re just really desperately hungry to find out how to build websites. Like my recent, Larissa joined a year and a half ago now, and she came. She only knew how to create websites on Blogger, which is not very hard. There is no HTML involved at all.

Now, she is building WordPress themes, creating loops, hooks, everything, and is able to sit and do the work on her own because she has had this wealth of knowledge plowed into her over one-and-a-half years. She can go alone now. She is doing loads of self teaching. I guess what I look for in people is somebody who is hungry, somebody who has self taught themselves to do something so you know they’re self motivated and they’ve got an interest in things and, also, someone who likes Marvel over DC. That’s the three criteria.

John:
No. I’m DC all the way.

Jonathan:
It’s crucial. Isn’t it?

John:
Except for the live action movies.

Jonathan:
Exactly.

Lee:
Yeah, well, that’s what I’m talking about, the live action movies. That’s freaking amazing on Marvel.

John:
Oh, yeah. Oh, no. Marvel has got it all over DC there.

Jonathan:
I’d like to ask when we were doing our pre-show chat. You said you saw a lot of agencies making – it’s understandable linked to the things we have said previously during our interview around time, multiple projects, the need to get multiple in house to pay for the actual bills, the business, all the pressures that an agency faces on a day-to-day basis. You said you see a lot of mistakes in basic project management. Would you like to talk a little bit about what were some of the biggest things that you’re seeing most regularly?

Lee:
Well, a lot of it stems from that briefing process right from the get go. If you’ve not had a good briefing process, then it’s pretty much going to affect everything else. Obviously, the first mistake we’ve already touched on is making sure there is a good brief. The second mistake we tend to find is that no one person is responsible for the project and for seeing that project end to end so you tend to have a lot of cooks and no one is particularly in charge and it can get very messy so that tends to be where there is a bit of extra cost that we end up sinking into us.

We end up eating that cost ourselves to keep the project going so that we can deliver the project where I end up being the guy who jumps on the calls, gets different people involved in that call so I can make sure that we keep pushing things through. That’s definitely not ideal so not having a project manager who is that one point of reference for everybody and having a weekly call to say, “Right. Lee, you were meant to deliver this for this date, and Jeff you were meant to do this, and John you are meant to do that.

Where are we? What’s the update? Why haven’t you delivered? What’s the new date?” All of that sort of stuff it’s just a case of everybody is doing a bit of everything and nobody necessarily knows what and when it’s going to be finished, etcetera.

Jonathan:
You definitely need a cat herder. Don’t you? It’s always amazing when start to go wrong how a lot of people just disappear. Don’t they?

Lee:
Exactly. Another mistake might be as well is the idea of … Well, there is a couple of other things. With regards to the finances, some agencies and it boggles my mind, don’t necessarily take much money or enough money up front so that then they try and put the pressure on to speed up the process of the project. The payment ends so, obviously, if you can get something like a 50% deposit or at least a valuable enough deposit that’s going to last you a few months or help you survive a few months to the next payment, that’s one of the things we’ve seen. That can be very difficult.

Then another thing will be I guess it’s with that project manager side as well. It’s not laziness. It’s just a lack of time, but kind of hoping that you can give your design assets and a few paragraphs to a developer. I’d hope that they would just build it. That’s quite a common mistake, not having an actual handover call. I always insist on a design handover call and a project scope handover call as well. I have a call with a designer who designs that thing in Photoshop or whatever tool they’ve used. It’s usually Photoshop.

They tell me how everything is going to work, what they expect something to. What’s going to happen on this slider? You want that to fade? All right. Let’s make a note. This slide here is going to fade. What’s going on happen whenever we [click on this]? They’ll say, “Right, okay. Look at layer four. That’s the drop down layer.” Okay, great. Let’s note this down, etcetera. We’re getting a full handover of that and, also, we’ll then have a conversation, usually with the designer half the time on just considering the final product spec of what it is that we’re going to be building, etcetera.

That’s, again, a common mistake. Here are all the files. We’ll see you in three weeks. Get the site finished. Why is this not finished? Why does that not do that? Why is this not doing that? Well, there is a few anyway for you.

Jonathan:
Yeah. In the process, I actually find Zoom fantastic. I actually recalled all the meetings and then …

Lee:
Yeah.

Jonathan:
… obviously for legal reasons you’ve got to get their agreement, i.e. they know that you’re recording, but then I do a transcript, and then we base it, but we have the recordings as well. In experience, I don’t know if you agree with this, underbidding is one of the main reasons why a lot of projects go pear shape is endemic in the industry to some extent, underbidding. I would imagine that’s one of the areas based on your experience that you can really help. Can’t you? Have you come across a lot of projects where the price point you literally almost had to laugh and say, “This isn’t going to work”?

Lee:
Yes. Well, underbidding is a very big problem. Again, it goes back to that whole briefing process. If that briefing process has not been taken into consideration and they’ve not thought the process through, they’re more than likely going to under bid. Whenever I quote for anything I always add a massive contingency on there as well if I’ve not got enough information. With regards to a situation where somebody has unfortunately under bid as it were I can usually help save that process by something called a Statement of Work.

They will have given a brief based in, usually, a tender document. I don’t know if that’s called the same in America whether they have tenders.

Jonathan:
Yeah.

Lee:
Yeah? Okay, great. You go through the tender process. You’ve got a brief. You’ve made a whole lot of assumptions. Yeah. Okay. It’s going to be that much. You send that over there. You’ve won it. Brilliant. Okay, right. Let’s get into the nitty gritty now.

It’s perfectly reasonable for you to now insist on a Statement of Work that is agreed between you and the client saying, “We had your needs listed on the tender. On the tender some things on that were listed as absolutely needed. Some were listed as it would be really good is these could be, and then some were like nonessential. All right so let’s talk about these and let’s now create a statement of work for you where we talk about all the things that we’re going to develop within the scope of the budget that we’ve all agreed. We’ve agreed 50 grand.

You’ve given a list as part of this tender of all the things that you would like to see. Let’s now list them in order of priority. Let’s get all the main ones into this project into this budget, etcetera.

I’m going to split this out into sprints as well, and then we’ve got a statement of work for each one of those sprints, but make sure that we’ve covered all of the main things that are needed, and then if there are a few things that drop off at the end, i.e. the client has run out of budget for, that’s not necessarily a major issue because we know and we’ve agreed during the conversations that these things are not necessarily important for this particular phase. These can be a phase two, a phase three, a phase four or whatever sort of phase.

It is understood that they will be budgeted for separately and quoted on separately, etcetera. Usually, that’s how we can save an issue, a problem where someone has received quite a vague brief, 250 grand to it, and then realize someone needs Facebook, and then we’re like, “Right, okay. Let’s talk about this, and what are the main features you need to happen? What’s a blocker? Right? Let’s get a block or two.

Delivering a website would be our next feature and then what’s not a blocker or something that’s so nice to have that I can go over in that pile and we’ll do whatever those we can into this budget, but it’s not necessarily going to happen. We tend to find as well that most clients in a tender process understand that although they have a document that says all the things that they would absolutely love to happen, most good people understand that we cannot get the Earth based on a scanty document and a guessed budget in from someone else.

So they are open to that statement of work process partly because a lot of people don’t necessarily know how to visualize what they want anyway. They’ve got these general ideas. A lot of times …

Jonathan:
Well, it’s all in …

Lee:
Yeah.

Jonathan:
I’m trying to find the right words here. The actual process is a discovery process …

Lee:
Exactly.

Jonathan:
… anyway. Isn’t it?

Lee:
Yeah.

Jonathan:
The actual process of building something that’s reasonably complicated is going to be a discovery process.

Lee:
Exactly.

Jonathan:
What’s your position on advising the agencies that you’re working with around paid discovery? Do you think it’s something that any agency that’s dealing with a reasonably complicated proposal or bid should really push for is paid discovery?

Lee:
I do a lot of paid discovery. We tend to. The idea is it’s harder on tenders because people expect to be able to issue out a tender and you ask questions, but you can ask questions of a particular person or group of people, but you still have to prepare your tender and they expect you if you have meetings or any type of questions that you’re not going to be charging for that because essentially you’re all pitching on this idea. When you put forward, hopefully, you’re with a tender.

However, in a lot of processes we’ll have a client that comes to the agency saying, “We want to develop a new portal for our clients and we need it to do an awful lot of stuff and we need it to integrate with X, and Y, and Zed.” At that point, that’s where most of our clients will introduce a paid discovery stage. They are saying, “Okay. This is really exciting. We understand you’ve got some budget. That’s great, but we’re going to need to do some consultancy onsite to help you unpack what it is you want and need, and help you create a brief to allow us to spend some or all of that budget on exactly what you want, depending.

That seems to be taken quite well from most businesses that I’ve worked with. Again, it’s because we’re dealing with clients who are working. We’re working on a spectrum of most builds are a minimum of 10 grand or higher. I’m not saying we get 10 grand or higher necessarily. That would be wonderful because we’re just doing the code part, but the agencies themselves are working on 10 grand or higher web projects, therefore, they tend to be working with bigger budget clients who are a team of people who understand that they need to pay for consultancy to be able to put together what it is they want.

The flip side is I’ve never successfully sold any paid discovery to a one or two-man band who runs a local business. They want you to give your time, your energy for completely free, and they can’t necessarily pay the source of money either to actually get the website built either. So that’s a common problem for us. That’s why they would not be our target audience because we just can’t. We couldn’t maintain that multiple site so that’s all a level.

Jonathan:
Yeah. I totally agree with you, again, but, also, there is a comment I want to see if you agree with it. I think the tendering system endemically leads to underbidding, really.

Lee:
Totally.

Jonathan:
It’s a total falsehood anyway.

Lee:
Oh, I can’t stand it.

Jonathan:
It leads to rushed proposals, lack of detail, and ridiculous [expectations]. The whole process seems logical to some extent, but it just leads to total underbidding and disastrous projects normally.

John:
Does this feel like a hug moment? Do you need a hug here? [hugs screen]

Jonathan:
I always need a hug, Lee. I think we’ve covered some really interesting stuff. I think we better call it a day for the podcast and go to our bonus content. What do you think, John?

John:
I think it’s time for bonus content so I want to remind everyone. If you’re getting value from this episode, and this episode is very valuable, be sure to go to iTunes. Leave us a detailed review. We just got a review today. We are trying to get to triple digits so anything that [you can do helps] … Leave us a review. We would totally appreciate it. I want to thank you to our listeners and our viewers. Our numbers are definitely going up. We are getting more and more people listening to the podcast so I just want to say thank you. We appreciate it.

Be sure to check out our Saturday show in Episode 146, I think it is? We’re going to be talking about our favorite tools for running a web design business; productivity, organization, project management, all those things so be sure to check that out.

Lee, how do we get a hold of you? Where do we find you?

Lee:
All right so you can find me over at leejacksondev.com. That is my main website and, also, where the podcast is. That’s the WP Innovator Podcast where you can have me in your ears. There is 52 episodes that you can enjoy as back episodes, as well as 31 October episodes that we did for Halloween, which are really quite cheesy, but full of good advice, so be sure to check those out. I live on Facebook so go. I’ll have to send you my Facebook link. Won’t I? The best way to get me is leejacksondev.com/group and you’ll be sent to my Facebook group where you can connect with me on there.

I’d love to be your friend as well because I love family and friends all around the world, and then Twitter is @LeeJacksonDev. Again, I live on Twitter as well and I’m nowhere else. Twitter, Facebook that’s it.

John:
Economy of social media, definitely. I love it.

Lee:
Thank you.

John:
Jonathan, how do we get a hold of you?

Jonathan:
Oh, yeah, but before that hopefully Lee is going to be joining us for the Saturday show. Aren’t you?

Lee:
I will be. Yes.

Jonathan:
Yeah so we will be learning all about the tools that his and his team utilize. How to get a hold of me is quite easy. Either email me at [email protected] or my Twitter. I’m normally on the Twitter. I’m going to try in the New Year do more Facebook, really. We are going to do more stuff on there as well, probably. They are the main ways to get a hold of me, John.

John:
Excellent and you can get a hold of me at my website, which is lockedowndesign.com. You can follow me on Twitter @Lockedown_ and you can find me on my Facebook page, which is just Facebook.com/LockedownDesign. For the WP-Tonic I’m saying adios and we’ll see you on the website for the bonus content.

Lee:
Bye-bye.

Jonathan:
Bye. Righty-o so it’s the bonus content. So Lee, what got you into podcasting? What was that step like and what drove you to the world of the BBC?

Lee:
Well, first of all, I’ve got a face for radio. Second of all, I’ve got a beautiful voice so I felt I should share that with the world. So there’s that. Basically, there are a gazillion WordPress developers in the world. I think that’s an accurate figure. How do you stand out from other developers? You build a problem so that’s exactly what I did. I built a platform with the WP-Innovator Podcast with my very niche audience of web developers and design agencies and creating tons and tons and tons of free value where I am telling people essentially how to do what I can do for them as well.

I am giving away everything. Telling people the tools, all sorts of stuff, etcetera, to give them tons of free value so that I am in people’s ears and they can grow to know, like, and trust me. It’s kind of a way to network. Isn’t it? As a result of the podcast, I stand out. I’ve got a higher credibility. People are following me in the social media. Followers are through the roof over the last year. What the net result has been is tons and tons and tons of leads and opportunities to do business with great agencies around the world simply because I chose to podcast.

I needed to find a way to stand out and the only way I knew to stand out was providing tons of free value, and you probably know I can talk a lot so I figured let’s …

Jonathan:
I would have guessed it.

Lee:
Let’s put that skill into use and talk a lot, and stand out.

Jonathan:
John, can you see that even though Lee is a Canadian at heart, he’s been in England. Did you see the natural response at my little jibes? It’s the joy at the little. Sometimes I don’t know if you … Actually, that’s an interesting topic. I don’t know if you’ve found it as well, Lee. Have you had to actually calm down some of your Canadian Englishness when interviewing Americans about the little jibes? They don’t exactly totally get it.

Lee:
No. My problem is I’ve got the issue where I start to copy people’s accents by accident. If I am interviewing an Irish guy, I’m like, “Yes, to be sure, to be sure.” I’m, “Oh, my gosh. I got to stop doing this. He’s going to think I’m taking the Mick.” Yeah. I am terrible. I just start making fun of people.

Jonathan:
Oh, dear. That would be bad. Yeah. I understand the reasons you got into podcasting, but during the first episode. Can you remember going back your first episode and what it was like?

Lee:
Yeah. It was a year and three days ago. I can remember what it was like. I was in this room. This is my home. It’s evening here. You guys I think it’s midday for you. I totally over thought the process so I must have recorded 800 versions of it and written tons and tons of scripts and ripped them all up and then, eventually, I thought, “If I don’t do this, I am not going to launch so what I am now going to do is write five bullet points and then I’m just going to talk and I can always edit out the balls ups later so that’s exactly what I did. Boom. Did it in about 15-20 minutes and that was ready. That podcast was ready so yeah.

That was my many hours wasted but eventually got to the stage where I realized you totally don’t have to have it perfect. You just need to have something out there.

Jonathan:
Yeah. My co-host, my gracious co-host John Locke knows my note-taking abilities. Don’t you, John?

John:
Oh, most definitely. Do you mind if I ask Lee a question here?

Jonathan:
No. Of course you can.

John:
We’re good. Cool, cool, cool. I want to touch back to something that you said like when you were talking about hiring. When you take somebody with a hunger to be in the web industry, they have the thirst for agency life and you train them up from the ground up.

Lee:
Yeah.

John:
A lot of people, you may or may not know this, but I spent 20-plus years working in blue collar trade and I went through an apprenticeship before, too. It’s really interesting that in technology there doesn’t seem to be much apprenticeship at all. People don’t mentor. People don’t apprentice people and it’s like, “We can’t find anybody that fits what we’re looking for.” “We want somebody with 87 years of React knowledge and I can’t find it.”

Lee:
87 years, that’s brilliant.

John:
Why is it that tech companies, web companies, agencies, all these sorts of people don’t just teach people?

Lee:
I don’t know. Teaching is so cool. One of the things I imagine is a lot of people hire reactively so you are hiring. You need to hire quick because you’ve got a problem, therefore, you need to find that guy with 87 years of React experience so you’re desperate to find him and he also doesn’t exist.

The other problem is when you do hire the person with tons of experience, you’re also hiring somebody who potentially thinks they know how to do it probably better than you, so you instantly have this dynamic where your company works in a certain way, and then you have somebody else who is like, “Your previous coder was terrible. What was he doing here? Oh, this awful.” You get all these problems there as well. I am actually talking from experience here. I once had to hire quickly and made a huge mistake.

Also, I hired someone who had a massive chip on their shoulder who thought they knew better than everyone, and it was really stressful and we got very little done because we were always arguing. That was the catalyst for me thinking, “Why the hell don’t I just start to teach and to help people become who they would like to be?” I mean, it’s that freaking Biblical principle as well. I go to church and they talk a lot about discipleship, like helping somebody else, because that also helps you to learn yourself so I’ve learned so much just by teaching.

I’ve got so much amazing, like so many great stories just from being able to teach people, and so much pride in seeing how far they’re going. I wish people did this more. We’re already looking at our next apprentice to bring another apprentice in because it’s frigging addictive. And we’re going to grow into a really cool company full of people who have started from the ground up. I don’t know. Maybe we should start a movement, guys. What do you think?

John:
I think so. I‘m down.

Lee:
I’m down with that. Let’s do it.

Jonathan:
No. I think that was a fantastic question, John. It comes across, though, because I regularly listen to the podcast and you’ve had some fantastic interviews, and it does come across the joy of your personality that you like discussion, and you like to teach people. That’s evident. I would thank you for what you’ve done. It’s been a fantastic podcast, actually.

Lee:
Thanks, buddy. I appreciate that.

Jonathan:
I think we better wrap this up, John. Don’t you think so?

John:
Yeah. I think so. Yeah. I mean, is Thanksgiving a different day in Canada? I can’t remember.

Jonathan:
They don’t have it, John. We don’t have Thanksgiving.

John:
Maybe a different day.

Lee:
We have it October. Thank you very much.

Jonathan:
Do you? I didn’t know that, actually.

Lee:
It’s already happened.

Jonathan:
Why is that, actually? I’m interested actually. Is it Canadian Day or something?

Lee:
I have no idea because I’ve not been there for years. Remember. I left when I was three or four years old.

Jonathan:
Oh, I didn’t realize that.

Lee:
There is a whole … I had a little kid’s Canadian accent that was totally drilled out of me by the time I got to school. There is an awful lot of things culturally that happens out there that I, unfortunately, have not been a party of. I always said I was going to move to Canada when I was 18, but when I was 17 I met a beautiful blond English girl and the rest is history. I’m still here.

John:
I can’t fault you.

Jonathan:
Yeah. I can’t fault you on that. Can we? I’ve got a colleague who is based in Canada and I’m sure they don’t have Thanksgiving, but maybe they have got some celebration. You’ve never informed me of that, Lee.

Lee:
I don’t know. They have National Moose Day.

Jonathan:
Yeah. I’m sure they do.

Lee:
Yeah and there is Canadian Bacon Day.

Jonathan:
Yeah. I’m not keen on that, actually. I prefer British bacon.

Lee:
Canadian Bacon” is such a good film, guys. Go and watch it.

Jonathan:
Right. Thank you for coming on the show, Lee, and we look forward …

Lee:
A pleasure.

Jonathan:
… to you joining us on Saturday. It’s going to be a wild show.

Lee:
Yes.

Jonathan:
Our round table so …

John:
Oh, yeah.

Jonathan:
… our round tables are always amusing. Aren’t they, John?

Lee:
Brilliant.

John:
No. They’re really good. They’re actually some of our most popular shows, believe it or not.

Lee:
Nice.

John:
Okay.

Lee:
I’m looking forward to it. I’ll make sure and brush my hair this time. All right, thanks guys.

Jonathan:
See you later.

John:
All right, cool. We’ll catch you.

Lee:
See you.

John:
Thanks, Lee.

Lee:
Bye.

John:
Bye.

Jonathan:
Can we end it? Are we off air, John?

John:
Yeah. I can stop it.

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