Skunkworks

skunkworks

Back in October, I announced my departure from WP Engine. At that time, though I didn’t talk about it on this blog, I decided to take some time off, more or less. Since 2006, I’ve been hard at work with very little time alotted to myself. I spent 2 years with b5media and jumped immediately into a failed role at Lijit (who has now been acquired by Federated Media – nice work, guys!). Upon my departure from Lijit, shortly after the market bottom in 2008, and needing money desperately, I went into full time WordPress consulting. I did that until I moved to Austin last year when I went in full time on WP Engine and stayed there for 15 months or so.

So basically, I haven’t had a lot of time to myself. So I took time. In the past few months, I’ve taken some large consulting contracts, but mostly, I’ve spent time travelling to Maryland, Seattle, Chicago – all for pleasure, nothing for work. I’ve spent time trying to weigh my priorities and wants. I’ve tossed around starting up a new company or doing something different.

At the end of the day, now that it’s 2012, I know what I want to do. It’s a bit unusual, but I think it’s important and can really revolutionize a boutique agency. I’m not comfortable doing social media work. I’m too honest and raw in my own online presence and many companies and clients may not be comfortable with my level of authenticity.

I also don’t want to do what is common among agencies – sweatshop site development. Hey, no offense. That’s what it is. Take on 30 new clients, promise them websites that are the brainchilds of the agency marketing “expertise” and ask the developers to crank them out with little to no strategic or creative input.

That might work for some developers, but I’m not a normal developer. I’m a highly established WordPress professional that has commanded 5 figure consulting deals, written a 700+ page book on the subject and have built some of the most complex WordPress solutions I’ve ever seen (Humble brag! Also proprietary, but can provide in person demos). I’m not a good fit for sweatshop site generation.

You know what agencies need that no one is doing because no one has taken the time to think outside the box? A skunkworks division. What agencies need to differentiate themselves from the thousands of other agencies they are competing with is a person or small group of people with autonomy and who are focused soley on creating disruptive technologies that no one else is doing. Try things. Fail at some, succeed at others. Test market demand. Offer exclusive access to stuff that no other agency has. Innovate, innovate, innovate.

That’s what I want to do. And someone sees the sense in that. And someone realizes that that is worth thinking outside the box for. Someone is willing to invest in that competitive advantage. Someone gets it. It’ll take money. It’ll take risk. It’ll take balls of steel. Or you can be normal. Who wants to be normal?

So as we enter 2012, I am open to conversations around this or other creative outlets you might want to explore if you want a competitive advantage. Email me at aaron@technosailor.com.

Changing Roles at WP Engine

For some time, I’ve felt there was a change coming and today, I’m ready to announce that my role within WP Engine is changing. Starting today, I have transitioned into an advisory and consulting role with the company.

Effective immediately, I will be taking the portion of the business that focused on professional services and consulting to allow the company to focus on premiere WordPress hosting. It’s a good thing and I’m excited about the possibilities. Back in November, we decided to start taking on some professional services work to augment demands from many of our customers. It was awesome to have fast, secure, scaleable, managed hosting but they wanted more!

And we wanted more.

However, as the company has evolved, taken funding, hired more people, addressed growth challenges and built out our hosting option, it seemed clear that the professional services portion of the company was a separate kind of deal than what we wanted to focus on.

So today, I’ll be taking that portion of the company (and all related existing and current relationships, as agreed on), and working on that. Meanwhile, I’ll still be working with the company to guide direction and strategy. So it’s good for everyone.

Effective immediately, I am available for all WordPress consulting roles. However, I am also currently entertaining all possibilities involving full time employment as well, and welcome those conversations.

To contact me, please direct emails to aaron@technosailor.com. As transitions go, the immediate financial impact is something that I need to consider.

The Most Expensive Question

What's the Point?

The most expensive question you can ask a consultant is, “What else do you recommend?”

This seems like a simple thing. At least if you’re a consultant. Potential clients approach you and they know they need something done. They may have a good idea of what that something is and they may even be able to provide a wish list of things to get done. However, for all that preparedness they ruin it all for their budget by asking, “What else do you recommend?”

Now some consultants do business this way. They are paid to help the client understand their needs and map out a solution. However, understand that this is a very expensive proposition in most cases. Hours of meetings and calls and emails exchanged back and forth can go into defining the scope, as we call it.

What's the Point?
Image by skipnclick on Flickr

We’ll usually approach the client with open ended questions to get a high level view of the client project.

  • What are you trying to accomplish?
  • What is your ideal end result?
  • What problems are you trying to solve?

Once I get a broad picture of the project, I can schedule conference calls with relevant parties to discuss each answer to each question. This is for the purpose of defining the details. Each call could take an hour or more and might span more than one call. This is all billable.

At the end of these series of calls/meetings, we still might have a bunch of email exchanging to do. This is even before we begin doing actual work. You can easily rack up thousands of dollars during this process.

The next phase of the project involves deliverables. Having defined all the scope details, the project probably goes on Basecamp or some similar project management service. Most consultants have a “floor” that is a minimum threshhold. I know people who will not work on projects below $50k. Others won’t work below $25k.

At this point, if the client is still not mentally committed to a path, there can be a lot of potential for “Scope creep”. That is, when the scope of the project slowly expands to incorporate other areas not defined in the agreed upon scope. Good consultants see this coming and can either agree to it pro-bono (bad policy), agree to it as an added service/feature (billable) or convince the client the idea is bad (it might be).

Scope creep is rarely good for the client, though. You’re definitely going to get billed for it when working with most consultants.

Bringing this full circle, however, you can mitigate your costs when dealing with consultants by having a really firm idea as to what and why you want to do from a high level. Leave the details to the consultant to work out, but strategically know where you’re going. If you can define the scope (wireframes are always helpful), you can lessen your cost even more.

The more we as consultants have to do, the more you’ll pay. We don’t mind helping, but if money is an issue, be careful and come prepared.

And for God’s sake, don’t ask “What else do you recommend?” We can make a mint off that question.