It’s been a long day. It’s now 10:30PM eastern time and I’m on a plane headed back home to Denver, scheduled to arrive at 11:05 mountain time, which is both 35 minutes and 2 hours and 35 minutes away all at the same time, which I find to be terribly unfair. I’ve been up since 5:30AM eastern time, and had my first meeting of the day at 7AM. By the time I make it to bed, it will be somewhere in the neighborhood of 2:30AM eastern time.
Hey, Danny Glover — what do you think about that schedule?
You and me both, buddy.
So thanks to my punchy, overtired frame of mind and with a special shout out to the little bottles of Makers Mark that I had the good sense to bring onto the plane using my quart-sized Ziploc bag of liquidy stuff (seriously, all I brought was toothpaste and whisky), I’ve decided to jot down a few random thoughts from the last day and a half.
It’s odd seeing people you haven’t had occasion to cross paths with in a long time — I lived in Atlanta for about 17 years and I’ve been gone for five. At my morning meeting, a client commented that I looked good, “you don’t have anything hanging off of you,” which I took as a compliment, though in retrospect it seems like maybe that bar was set pretty low. I had a meeting at the office of my very first client, which was fun and strangely sentimental. I’ve been working with them for more than a decade and my team’s work has made an impact there. I had dinner with a friend last night with a designer who has been doing contract work with me since 2007. Honestly, he hasn’t aged a day and we joked like I had never left. My last stop before heading down to the airport was to drop in at the office of a former coworker. When we worked together 10-15 years ago he was a bachelor and a half if it’s possible to be such a thing. Now he’s fully settled-down and married with two little girls and I can’t believe I’ve lived to see a day where he is happily monogamous while I am single.
I believe it was Abraham Lincoln who said, “Damn, life is just straight fucked up and weird sometimes.”
The city of Atlanta proper has changed quite a bit (more on that later) but my former neighborhood in the burbs doesn’t seem to have changed much at all. I drove by our old house and it seems like almost nothing has changed… I felt like I could have walked right through that door and been transported instantly to 2012.
There’s little to be gained in offering services that clients don’t value.
At one of my meetings today, I had the opportunity to speak with a company that invested in one of my clients. We chatted a bit and he asked me about my company and about our QA (quality assurance) methodologies and staff. So I told him honestly and unapologetically that we have a staff of about five people and that our QA process is informal, both because of the clients we serve (small and midsize businesses) and the size of our operation (only five people so the cost of incorporating a rigid QA/testing methodology would require additional staff and that clients directly finance that staff). But I assured him that we take testing very seriously and do all that we can within the constraints that we have in time/money/staff. I also mentioned that while we like being careful, our clients tend to value speed and budget over precision: they don’t always have the time to support QA, they would rather have to fix a minor error after the fact than break their budget or have to approve an overage, and they would not hire us if we could not provide a competitive price.
The gentleman sitting across from me nodded and said he understood, and then pulled up a site that we had built for the client just a few days ago and pointed out a minor issue in how the design responded to smaller screens. On the one hand I was irritated that we had missed the error. But on the other hand, I also knew that we built that site in literally two days and managed to miraculously meet what the client was afraid would be an impossible deadline set by their customer.
I recapped the conversation for my client — the company CEO — and he said, paraphrasing, “Yes, but they take months testing things and we didn’t have that kind of time. Getting this done in less than a week made us look great and we can take the time now to fix the little things that no one has noticed. We NEEDED that site done, and you guys handled it.”
Given the choice of being precise or being perceived as the type of partner that would move mountains for their end customer, they are content with being the sort of partner that does their very best despite the chances of minor imperfections. At one of my other meetings today I had a customer tell me point blank that — regardless of the risk of missed deadlines — he wanted us to test the heck out of his site.
Days like these remind me that there’s something to be gained in being flexible. At the end of the day, it doesn’t make a difference to me if the client is most concerned with speed, precision, or budget. As long as they are honest with me, I can be honest with them as to what it will take from our collective teams to execute that. But the gentleman sitting across from me thought that I was wrong to launch a site in only two days even though my client thought I was a rock star for taking an impossible ask and making it happen despite a minor imperfection. So long story short, never assume what’s important to a client, ask them and build the project accordingly.
These are things that I know, of course, but always need to remind myself of.
This isn’t to say though that the client is always right. I recently responded to a client request with a very hard “no” because following the instruction would have severely damaged their online brand. I won’t hurt a client, even if they ask me to point blank, but I am happy to take a risk for a client, provided that they understand that risk.
You lose 100% of the sales you don’t make.
I caught myself trying as hard as I could NOT to sell a client today on some help wth Search Engine Optimization. Why would I do such a silly thing? Because his business is SO very niche, that search volumes for his keywords are exceptionally low — essentially no one actually looks for companies like them in vague terms on Google. When I tried explaining it to the client, he questioned me as if I was telling him that we simply couldn’t do what he was asking in terms of trying to get ranked on Google for specific keyword phrases. No, I told him, “It can be done, but it’s unlikely to benefit your business…”
Then I paused and said, “Unless what you’re really trying to accomplish here is strictly for vanity and branding. If you just want to be able to walk into a meeting and say that you’re number one or two or three for a relevant search phrase even if it doesn’t help you build web traffic, we can do that.”
Wouldn’t you know it, that’s what he wants! Not the traffic per se but the ability to claim his little sliver of online prestige. And there’s no reason I should deny him that if he’s willing to pay and understands what he’s buying into.
Gentrification is seriously a thing.
I was put up in the iconic Omni Hotel at the CNN Center downtown and met my designer friend for dinner at The Vortex in Little Five Points for one of my favorite burgers in the ATL. When I was a college student in the 90s — or even a grad student in the early 2000s — making that drive would have taken me through some less affluent and predominantly black neighborhoods. All that is gone now, replaced by hipster and yuppie-friendly live/play complexes and white people as far as the eye can see. But what happened to the folks who lived in those neighborhoods, where did they go? I hate to imagine it, but I’m concerned that the tension we’re experiencing now is just the tip of the iceberg compared to a serious battle along lines of class and race. I don’t imagine that people are terribly fond of the idea that they should serve s the custodians of inner city neighborhoods for generations, only to find that all this time they’ve simply been keeping it warm for wealthier, paler folks. Little Five Points though is essentially a time capsule, virtually unchanged in its ironic bohemian vibe.
This has been a bumpy flight and there were about 10 minutes that scared the absolute bejesus out of me.* I’m in the window seat and the woman next to me in the center seat is with the gentleman in the seat directly in front of me. I deeply regret not offering to swap with him before takeoff. That is neither here nor there, but bless her heart — the woman next to me keeps poking the husband with her iPad because every time the turbulence gets bad, the Internet goes out and she wants to watch her movie. But I guess she’s not making the association that when the flight is smooth that everything works fine, but not when we’re going through bad weather. So she thinks the iPad is broken and then the air smooths out again and it magically starts working. It may be the drink talking, but all of this seems an apt metaphor for life right now: life is shaky and scary sometimes at the end of a 15-year marriage but it gets better. And sometimes your problems are not exactly what you think they are.
Of course, I will look very foolish for writing this if my plane does not land safely, but let’s try to focus on the positive.
All in all, this was a good trip with appropriate measures of work, introspection, and pleasant conversation. Not bad regardless of how tired I am at this exact moment.
*Note to self: must find out if “bejesus” is proper to write in all lowercase or if it is more widely accepted to write as “Bejesus”, or possibly “beJesus”