What are the guiding principles you use to make decisions? Over the past few months, as the Freelock team has grown, I've been spending more time on strategy, while delegating more and more of the day-to-day work to my team. To get us all working more effectively together, I needed to answer that question.

The more I dig into the decision-making process, the more I spend time on planning, the more I have found four key principles emerging that underly most of our business decisions.

We use these principles to make simple internal decisions as well as to coach our clients on how best to proceed, and they permeate our entire organization. They can be summed up as: Change, Results, Ownership, and Stewardship.

Change

We're in a changing industry, in a changing business environment, in a changing climate, everything's changing, all the time. We assume this is the case, and build solutions that are resilient to change, can help you capitalize on change rather than be marginalized by it. When change comes, are you caught by surprise, or anticipating it?

  • We never start with a blank slate. We're constantly refining our starting point, building out common functionality that we consider "must haves" when creating a web site these days. This means that practically from day one, our planning is all about how do we change the current system to reach the desired state?
  • By treating budget as a constraint, we can change the scope at any time, allowing our customers to change their minds mid-stream. Naturally this agility can cost more if you're constantly switching gears, but it also means you're getting the best possible result when the project delivers, based on information you might not have known at the start.
  • Drupal is one of the best platforms around for managing change. It expects that developers will need to change core functionality, and provides a powerful pattern of extension points called "hooks" where you can override fundamental things about the application, without changing existing code. Often this means it's relatively easy to add functionality later.
  • We're constantly playing around with emerging technologies, discovering what works and what doesn't, deciding what we think is worth pursuing and at what point it will become cost effective.

Results

When it comes to customer projects, we're not into flashy, substance-free mockups. We're after results. It's not about winning awards (though those can be nice), it's about gaining customers, increasing engagement, increasing sales, getting more participation, or whatever your goals for the project are. Everything we do for ourselves and our clients is directed towards some goal. We want to know what our customers' goals are, and use those as a yardstick of success. If we don't think an activity is going to lead to a desired result, we'll say so -- we want to make sure every project is successful in the ways our customers need them to be.

There's an implicit value proposition here: the cost of getting the results must be appropriate for the value of those results. The careful planning, quality assurance, and management we insist on for custom work does cost more than just throwing up a canned web site. That means there must be substantial value to be realized by the result. Often this value is hard to measure, but nonetheless it's usually quite real.

  • Having a visual representation comparing educational program results across two time periods makes it obvious to decision makers where there have been improvements and where they should focus their attention.
  • Putting sales opportunities into a web application allows an organization to grow their sales force to multiple people, and allows them to manage exponentially more potential opportunities.
  • Adding online event registrations embedded into a main web site allows cross-selling memberships and other events, facilitating event ticket sales and increasing engagement with an audience.
  • Measuring outcome data after a particular treatment across a broad population can help guide treatment decisions that will lead to a better quality of life.

Ownership

A key tenet of open source is that you own the solution, and nobody can take it away from you. This provides a huge benefit in terms of reduction of risk -- a vendor going out of business isn't going to put your business at risk. Software As A Service (SAAS) applications are a rental model -- if you stop paying, you stop being able to use the system, and your data goes away.

But worse than having to pay for service is that the service is optimized for the SAAS vendor, not for you. They are trying to make their service work for as many people as possible, and will focus their efforts on functionality they can sell to lots of customers (or at least makes them appealing to lots of customers). If you are trying to differentiate your business, your motives go directly against the SAAS provider -- you may want to make a system that gives you a competitive advantage, while the SAAS vendor wants to make a system they can sell to all of your competitors.

Owning instead of renting has a bunch of benefits:

  • Complete control over functionality, and prioritizing what gets implemented when.
  • Eliminate the risk of vendor lock-in -- you can find many contractors, employees, and vendors to help build your solution.
  • Your data is entirely under your control, and you can control who can access it.

There are some tradeoffs, of course -- ownership can involve a lot more cost, and it's up to you to make sure you have solid backups, redundancy, etc. It's almost always necessary to rent somewhere -- but we think if you're building for the long haul, you should own your business infrastructure as soon as possible and only rent out lower-level system infrastructure as necessary.

Stewardship

As members of many different communities -- Drupal, open source, Seattle, Puget Sound, business, entrepreneurs, the US -- we recognize that the reason we are here in the first place able to make a living is through the healthy, vibrant communities we're a part of, which give us so much value in the first place. It's our responsibility to give back to these communities whenever we can, and help them thrive and grow in a sustainable way -- our success depends upon it. Whatever we do, it should have a positive impact on the world.

Everywhere we look, we see problems that need solving. We have a great set of skills to help solve those problems -- we will actively choose work that promotes diversity, liveliness, engagement, collaboration, and generally make the world, or at least our corner of it, a better place.

What's next?

When I review what we do, I can tie everything to at least one of these four principles. And it makes us qualitatively different than many other web development shops out there -- we're working from an entirely different set of assumptions.

We assume you want to own your systems. We assume you are going to need to change things substantially down the road, and so we build in ways that anticipate those changes. We constantly evaluate what's worth doing, whether the cost of developing a particular feature is worthwhile when put in the context of your goals. And we're most interested in working with people who are passionate about what they are trying to accomplish, with a larger mission.

This month, we're highlighting a couple things we've been working on. First up, for our client spotlight, we're showcasing some of the dashboarding we've been doing to help define results for our company. We can now see more effectively what's working effectively and where we should next spend our attention. Then in the news, we're introducing a new low-cost offering, to provide a "rent-to-own" option...

Client Spotlight
Freelock News

It has actually been a fairly slow summer, and we've had time to enjoy one of the best Seattle summers yet. But in between our existing client projects and some new ones, we've been hard at work developing tools to deliver far more value, and get results fast!

Freelock Basic Business package

Introducing our newest product: "Basic Business."

In keeping with our principle of Results, we’re excited to offer our Basic Business Package for a low flat rate. This starter package is everything you need for a functional brochure web site setup for your business, tomorrow. Not only does your Drupal site have all the essentials, but we’re including full maintenance AND support services! Click Here to learn more about everything included with the Basic Business Package.

We have two levels to this package, a Shared Basic Business Site and a Dedicated Basic Business Site:

Shared Basic Business Site

$4200 $2100 (through Labor Day 2013)

The Shared version is a slightly lower cost, because you're piggybacking on a production instance, so there's less opportunity for customization -- but you can always upgrade later.

Dedicated Basic Business Site

$6000$3000 (through Labor Day 2013)

The dedicated package includes maintaining a development copy of your site, and allows for much more customization right from the start.

Our dedicated option costs $6000 if you pay for it in regular monthly installments, but is $3000 if you sign up today.

As an introductory, dog-days-of-summer package, we are throwing in the first year of support and maintenance for FREE, if you sign up before Labor Day!

Our goal with these packages is to give you the best of all web development worlds: a working site with an extremely fast turnaround, that will be a base for a much richer site going forward.

If you know somebody who needs a basic business site fast, please let them know about our great end of summer deal!

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