The seasons of Web Development – it’s crunch time

Year after year I’ve seen Web Development Businesses struggle during the holidays. You are probably thinking, “what are you talking about Wes, we are slammed with a ton of work!” You might be, but because your head is buried in your work, you are missing something that’s right in front of you. You are making a big mistake and you don’t even see it. Every industry has a season. In Web Development, there are times throughout the year where you have to get all hands on deck and push through. Over the years I have seen these times blend into a state of constant development or they come to an abrupt halt. We are now entering a very tenuous season in Web Development, for what we do now will keep us afloat into the new year. You might think I’m sounding the alarm, because websites need to be ready for the holidays, but it’s not the websites or the holidays that are the problem, it’s the decision makers.

Why is this crunch time?

There are different sections of Web Development that heat up this time of the year. If you are in eCommerce, this is your big moment. Your website needs to be updated and ready for the holidays. Black Friday? Cyber Monday? These can make or break some small businesses. If you have a Web Development Business or you are a Freelancer, the most important thing for you to think about right now, is invoicing. See, pretty much after Halloween, people start to check out and after Thanksgiving, some are just unreachable. So, it’s not just finishing work, it’s getting feedback from the decision makers in a timely manner, so that you can invoice. This is only part of the solution. If you typically get paid from clients on Net 30 or 45 day terms, if you don’t invoice soon, the accounts receivable person may be out for the holidays and you won’t get paid until next year!

What you should be doing now

  • Review projects. Assemble the team or look over the active projects you have and see which ones you can get to billable the fastest. Re-prioritize and move those to the top of the list.
  • Call your clients. Let clients know ahead of time that you need to wrap up their work and will need to get paid before the end of the year and make sure you are on the same page. This is important, because some businesses have money that they have to spend before the end of the year and others will be trying to hold on to what they’ve got.
  • Increase cash flow. If things are starting to look ugly, go back through your email and find those small jobs you turned down or call back that client that had a small job you didn’t have time for. Offer to take the job if they are able to pay it in full in the next couple of months.

How to get off the roller coaster

I have gotten laid off this time of year and also had to be the manager to let people go. At a time when you are supposed to be celebrating, giving the bad news to a family, is devastating. For the business owner, it’s irresponsible and bad planning, for the Freelancer, it may be time to look for a job. The good news is that all of this is preventable. After years of being on this roller coaster ride, we started developing some strategies to get us through this funky time of the year.

  • Plan earlier. This may seem obvious, but you have to get your head out of your work and remember what month it is. If your client is a corporate company that frequently takes time off during the holidays, get a handle on this earlier. Don’t wait until the last minute!
  • Change your payment structure. If you can get off net payment terms, do it. These payment terms are difficult for small to medium businesses. I personally don’t agree to those terms and walk away from jobs that do. Some clients make exceptions or will pay a larger up front payment if you do accept those terms. Work with them to see how much latitude you have.
  • Take on smaller projects. Cash flow is king. I’ve always said a Web Dev Business survives by having a balance of large jobs and small jobs. It’s difficult to walk this line at first, but once you get the hang of it, it’s magical.
  • Target seasonal businesses early. This is a big one. After years of dealing with normal companies who’s offices would be ghost towns during the holidays, I started contacting businesses that thrived in certain seasons. I hit everyone from ski resorts and coffee shops in the summer time to beach resorts and swimsuit makers in the winter. Everyone is gearing up for the coming season and they need help. You just have to be the right person at the right time to ask if they need help.
  • Stay on top of invoicing. Probably the biggest reason why companies fail during the holidays. First, you have to invoice regularly. Second, you have to contact people ahead of time to see if you will get paid for the invoice you are about to send. Sending an invoice, doesn’t mean you will get paid. Address this early.

I can’t stress enough the importance of implementing a strategy for this time of the year. I’ve seen so many businesses that lay people off around the holidays, only to struggle at the begining of the year, because they are under staffed. It makes me sick to my stomach. Please get a handle on this part of your business. You have worked so hard to get your business to where it is today, don’t ruin it, because of poor planning. Start making changes now.

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