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Managing a Drupal Consulting Firm DC CPH 2010 notes (and some thoughts)

Summary: Great diversity in approaches, some common themes: choosing clients who are well-resourced and good to work with, getting a project manager, relentlessly working on internal communication whether in-person or virtual, and sharing everything good. Commoditization of Drupal skills is happening, and the Drupal ecosystem demands a lot of investment in giving stuff away. Being Drupal experts won't be enough to sustain the rates that sustain this, specialization required.

Panel on Managing a Drupal Consulting Firm from DrupalCon Copenhagen 2010.

[Notes from the recording, i wasn't there. Listening encouraged; notes are scattered and not precise. People are identified by company, name, both, or occasionally neither.]

4Kitchens: We are happy to be the smallest company on the panel.

Our people were independent contractors for two years, and then we realized we needed to make them

I spent a lot of my time mitigating and managing growth-- i spent a lot of my time saying no to new projects and new hires. We've seen a lot of Drupal shops get really big, and crash.

Chapter3: made a list of the people we wanted to work for. chart our own destiny. a little bit bigger projects each time. Then we got into training, and now cloud-based

DevSeed: How many NGOs could we work with in a year? Now we can have a much bigger impact [by working with the open source community and sharing, with products that anyone can download]
honestly we're spread a little thin, so it will be interesting to see sustainability from a business standpoint.

Based in WashingtonDC, only 30% telecommuting. It's kind of tricky to sell DC to people.

Chapter3: 75% of clients we work with in Bay Area, in person has been very important

[accent] One day a week mandatory work from home, and one day mandatory you have to be in the office. Most employees very independent, now we are hiring junior people whom

Liza: always 100% virtual, idea of working in an office with people kind of [] me out. We see each other at workshops, at client on-site. But we hire people who are very good communicators. I have some dubiousness about a mixed environment, for the people not in the office... We just get the best people, whereever they are.

Palantir: We're mixed. Tapei and the international date line. Right now we're overhauling our tool stack for talking about projects, time tracking, [issue queue / tickets]
Only about 25% of our work is Chicago.

NodeOne was formed by two companies coming together.

4Kitchens: We don't have any clients at all near us. [Austin, Texas] We have always worked together, worked out of our apartment [his wife's, who was a cofounder, and his] for a year. Very fortunate to have a client to take a big risk on us and hire us to do a major, major project. Will have to have another office. Like the idea of cameras, just have to figure out I am amazed at how Lullabot is able to do what they do. Maybe it has to do with the onsite nature of the work?

4Kitchens 2: It's meant we cannot just pull in anyone and expect them to come work in Austin, so it means we have [worked with some

There is no exit strategy [some applause heard]. No judgement– just for us personally. This is a self-taught industry. I learned web development because i had a horrible job at a university

Liza: there were people who tried to buy Lullabot
I don't know of any company except Acquia that has an exit strategy
Lullabot is just the people - when a company hires Lullabot, they are hiring webchick. If we got rid of the people, we have... stickers? I'm not sure there's a market for that.

If you're doing it as a freelancer, it's easier, but the motivation of growing is to do bigger

One thing important for Drupal firms is -- and our expertise is that we do Drupal better than other people -- but that's going to become very commodified, i won't be able to quote the kinds of rates we quote, and expect a serious response. It's already happening.
not exit, but transition
the general Drupal firms "we are Drupal experts" will have to change
go beyond "we're smart Drupal kids, hire us to do your thing" to something more specialized

Tiffany: One of our long-term employees new job title is People & Process

I would have learned how to fire clients faster.
When we first started we were ready to do anything- e-mail marketing...

We shouldn't have even bothered with e-commerce. We do media sites and content sites and large sites.

I wish i had learned to identify problem clients. There are some significant tells. Having the courage and strength to tell someone that so completely relies on you for their business that that is their problem
I would not be so afraid of being sued– because it doesn't really happen. That was a big source of stress for a long time. Statistically it doesn't happen.

Chapter3: [what we would change]
We hired real project managers too late. Josh Koenig and myself managing all our projects for the first 3 years. We hired

I'd sit in these meetings and the client would say "I'd like this changed" and I'd say It's super-hard to find people who are very good and know Drupal.

Liza: Client management. Sometimes the project manager or project lead can do that, but it's critically important. Telling people no: not going to do that.

Running a Drupal shop. Someone has to be the one stepping in and telling the client no and telling the developers

Not being afraid of getting out of your comfort zone. It's so cozy being a freelancer, working enough to keep paying the bills.

A lot easier to work
2. client has to be resourced, which is budget and right personnel and process. "We need a single point of contact with you or we will not do the project."
3. has to be what we consider, not crazy. Not the first web site they've hired someone to do, so they have some clue what they're trying to do.

Nice person.
Nice budget.
Nice project.
Has to be two of the three, and one of them they have to be a nice person.

[different accent]
Very bad sign if "here's specification, go do it."

Same. I've never called it not crazy, i might start, but called it "good fit"

[same accent as other accent notes]
not have them have it too locked down, unable to

1. We do not take on any funded (VC-funded) projects -- that can really screw a company -- the hardest time we ever had, March 2008, 2009 (?) - companies went out of business, pulled our money -- sorry, you have outstanding invoices, good luck. We don't touch funded projects.
2. Really need to work with people who understand agile development and resource management.
Fixed bid is your budget. So we're going to build as good a web site as we can for that amount of money.
things are built in the priority they list. We rate it a difficulty on whatever. And they realize they want to spend their money on the most important things first.

It's a real problem how ... is treated.
If we can't actually pass of the project, it's not going to be successful in the end.

Anyone that wants to treat us as an implementor, that's a problem. By the time we're done with the site
have to be considered a partner, and be leaned on
that requires slow and steady client acquisition
We spend a lot of money communicating -- devseed blog. It's really expensive to run, but it starts to attract the right people. I want a project that involves a map, a lot of data, working in a place that most people won't go to.

Say no more.

Talk about the kind of work you want to do. We would go to museums and cultural events -- and talk about Drupal. And it sinks in.

We don't find the customers, they find us. Everything having to do with Drupal, we do.

Liza: At Lullabot, we don't find clients either, we filter clients who come to us. Does anyone on the panel have a sales person? Only one of the shops up here are doing sales-- the rest are [talking] as much as possible, giving away as much as possible, and then filtering what comes.

As a new shop, i think the only way to do it is - in an open source community - is just take everything you know, and tell everyone about it. You can do that if you're a freelancer or new, new, new, new. [that's how Addi got her job at Lullabot]

It's awesome to do a front-page blog. Takes a lot of time. You can be a brand new shop. You'd be very silly to not write a case

Give away everything you know, and don't be afraid to. Most business people's heads will explode.

99 times out of a hundred, you can tell someone how to do it, but they will then pay you to do it. demonstrate you know how to do that thing, and

PressFlow, case in point: We give it away, and a lot of other companies are using it. But it demonstrates that we are industry leaders in scaling and performance.

I disagree with everyone. Yeah, we discount projects that
Press Flow is amazing, but if you're a new Drupal shop, can you do that? I'd say go talk to all the design firms in the cities, go down to universities, Drupal's really hot there, do the same in libraries-- there's a lot of outreach things you can do-- and those initial sales

We got our first big client for a
an alt-weekly in Austin
Just having that, doing no marketing, someone somehow found it
Do put something out there

Searched words: 
business development


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