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Six years ago, at a client’s office…
I finally finished the project I’ve been working on for three months. It was a 25-minute long presentation that wrapped up everything.
I would have been nervous *any other day*, but today I am 100% confident. I work hard, and it’s finally going to be completed.
It has been a long ride.
But, it’s about to be over.
“Let’s wrap up – you’ve done a good job for us!” said the client.
That’s it – this is the end of the road to my first paid project.
It has been a good time working with the client.
He has been really helpful to me – giving me the chance to work on this meaningful project and get paid simultaneously.
I’m fortunate to have such a good client for my first project.
Here’s the thing – this is a rare one-off project. Most likely, there will be no follow-up after this.
So, it means it’s time to “pick up the phone” (metaphorically speaking) and start looking for new clients.
The truth is…
While working on this project, my mind already starts worrying about what will happen next.
Will I get a new project sooner rather than later?
Will the client refer me to someone else?
Can I really build websites for living FOREVER?
Not only we have to trade away our most precious assets – time and attention to put food on the table.
Even when we have a project in hand, our thought would always be: “When will my next project come in?”
There is always constant self-doubt that maybe we can’t do this forever and the thought of we might crash & burned if we accepted too many projects.
Not to mention that people around us keep telling us:
While some might sound valid, it wasn’t necessarily best for us.
The thing is…
We often prefer to spend all our time developing websites than doing any marketing or business development work.
We don’t want to “sell ourselves” by giving a 30-60min presentation at a meetup or be on social media all the time.
We know how to code, but we don’t know how to do business.
And that has been the downfall of most solo web agencies – spend all the time and attention on building websites, thinking that it’s about enough to make a living.
Yes – coding skills are crucial, but only half the picture.
The other half is the business skills – knowing how to run your business, how to attract and convert clients, how to overcome objections when you’re pitching for a project, etc.
As a One Coder Agency, we need to have both coding and business skills in order to be successful.
Eventually, we’ll run out of projects to work on if we don’t learn how to do business and market our services effectively.
We only have so much time in our schedule to work on building websites.
That’s why it’s vital to learn how to run your business in order to build a successful web agency.
This question has been running through my mind for as long as I can remember.
At that time, It seems like there is the only way to become a sustainable web agency is to build a massive team and becoming a big agency.
But, deep down, I know this is not what I really want.
I’m bad at managing people, so the idea of hiring 10+ people is definitely a big NO-NO to me.
The idea of uniting a bunch of people to bring value to a web agency is something very alien and unnatural to me.
Plus, I don’t really want to expand to the point that every decision is out of my control.
So, what’s the other way of becoming a sustainable web development agency?
What if I don’t want to build a big team and a big web agency?
I believe if there is a better way to build a sustainable business, it has to be done without compromising who I am.
Funny how fate works…
Out of a typical Wednesday in February 2019, I stumble upon this book: “Company of One” by Paul Jarvis.
The title itself is very intriguing: Company of One. The subtitle: “Why Staying Small is the Next Big Thing for Business”.
Here are a few takeaways from the book: “Company of One”:
1. Staying Small as an End Goal
The end goal of staying small can be a big thing for business, and it’s something we should embrace as solopreneur.
A business doesn’t need to be big to succeed.
In fact, growth for the sake of growth would harm more often than it would help.
Never-ending growth means you invite more stress, bigger headaches, and higher risk into your business.
When you’re larger, you need to take care of more people – creating potentially more overhead.
Staying small is not about being a shrinking violet – it’s about finding a place where your value really matters.
Being good at what you do doesn’t mean you need to be huge to succeed.
There are plenty of business opportunities in the world that you can succeed at without being a giant.
Staying small is also a way of life.
This is not just about the business but also about your lifestyle.
It’s essential to have the right work-life balance where you still have time for family and friends, pursue hobbies and passions, and foster meaningful relationships in your community.
All these will give you happiness, peace, and joy, which goes against what popular beliefs say that you need to sacrifice these aspects if you want to be happy, successful, or wealthy.
After all, what is life if not the journey towards the meaningful?
The journey of life is the journey of living.
2. Prioritize profitability & efficiency
When you’re a company of one, you have to focus on improving your profits, maximizing efficiency, and stay healthy financially.
You’re accountable to your clients, your family, and yourself.
You, therefore, have the responsibility to make sure your business can stay in the game for the long term.
To have a sustainable business, it has to be profitable and efficient – anything else is a distraction.
3. Grow through client retention & loyalty
Sustainable success means having a few high-value clients on a long-term project basis.
Many big web development agencies are “hire and fire” type.
They are only interested in getting the next client because they know they will have a short-term engagement with their client.
The thing is, you need to continue to add new clients if you want your business to grow.
But they lose sight of the fact that to grow in business, it’s all about building loyalty with your existing clients – not by constantly finding new ones.
It’s more valuable to keep an existing client than first getting them than losing them to someone else later when you’re most busy and can’t be bothered anymore.
It’s better to have a few high-value clients than having many people who pay you tiny amounts.
It’s about quality and not quantity.
4. Set yourself apart by sharing knowledge
When you’re a company of one, you are your own brand.
The willingness to share your knowledge is the path to success in both business and life.
The smart ones don’t hoard information or knowledge – they share it.
It’s the fastest way to build relationships with more clients.
It’s also the best way to get more referrals and begin the sale process.
When you teach, you’ll be perceived as a subject-matter expert.
You’re helping someone else grow and become better when you share what you know.
Over time, you’ll build more trust & loyalty with your audience.
You’ll be known in the marketplace as a domain expert in the subject you taught.
Needless to say, this book has changed my perspective & mindset about how you can build a business around your life and not the other way around it.
This book also provides an excellent framework to help me understand how the business model for a web development agency can be adapted to be sustainable.
The best part?
This is THE confirmation bias I need to recognize that I’m already “company of one”.
It was like a light bulb. After almost 6 years of searching for answers, I finally found the right way of building and scaling a sustainable One Coder Agency.
And that’s how the “One Coder Agency” framework was born.
1. Running a web agency is HARD – especially if you’re a solopreneur.
2. The success of the solo web agency would depend not only on their coding skills but also on their business and marketing skills.
3. A business doesn’t need to be big to succeed.
4. Staying small means we need to prioritize profitability and efficiency and grow through client retention and loyalty.