D. Agency - Knowledge Tonic

Why you can’t have a £50k website for £20k (and similar denominations)

Why you can’t have a £50k website for £20k (and similar denominations)

One of the key talking points at Drupal Camp London earlier this year was the challenge of pitching and the difficulty in providing profitable work on fixed priced projects.

It was interesting to hear one of our industry’s leading peer agency’s admit that historically, they lost money on 35% of all their fixed priced projects.

To alleviate this risk, another agency we spoke to has implemented a policy of not engaging in the RFP process at all.

They choose to provide a chargeable detailed design and functional specification instead. And since switching to this method, their lead to conversion rate has increased, their profitability has increased, all their projects get delivered on time, and their advocacy levels have gone through the roof.

Our role as an agency in the pitching process is to primarily to overcome two challenges:

  1. Fixed budgets that are allocated by finance departments as percentages of marketing spend, profit or turnover, which bear no relation to the cost required to deliver a  project successfully, and..
  2. Overcoming the tendency for a prospect to accept the lowest price because they can’t differentiate between the offerings

As a business ourselves, we fully understand the need to work with budgets.

But in the same way a fixed budget might let you fund an entry level Mercedes, but not a top level Mercedes with a bigger engine and stacks more features, so a budget you pledge to a web project may not be enough to give you all that functionality and design standard that you need to make the project a resounding success.

And success in most cases can be directly related to conversion rate performance, a subject that can produce eye-watering results.

Overcoming the tendency to accept the lowest price comes down to the challenge of helping clients understand that not all websites are created equal, despite them all being called websites.

And that in many cases, more investment will mean a superior return because the end result will convert a much higher percentage of users into leads, sales or advocates.

The anatomy of web design cost.

Web design cost is made up of two main components:

  1. The amount of hours required to build the project, and..
  2. The hourly rate of the agency

So what can a company do if they have allocated a fixed budget, defined their requirements and put it out to tender, only to find the projected costs coming back at two or three times their expectation?

Firstly, they can reduce the number of hours required to build the project

This is obvious, but no so easy to achieve.

It’s true that some agency’s work faster than others, Agency’s that have really sorted their internal workflow out, or that may have a deeper experience in the client field, or who have the ability to reuse code can often deliver a spec for spec site up to 20% faster, which translates to a 20% reduction in cost if everything else is equal.

Reducing the level of features is another way of reducing development hours, but prospects can really struggle with this. They will frequently use phrases such as ‘just’ and ‘only’ when talking about feature requests and who can blame them? The prospect only sees the end result, not what it takes to get there.

So if you want a £50k site for £20k you’ll start by trying to figure out how one agency might be able to work 20% faster than the others in your pitch pool, and that gets you down to £40k.

Then, you can try and understand how to reduce the feature set to reduce the development hours.

Wunderkraut, Europe’s largest Drupal agency have a great way of articulating this:

They argue that if 100% of the feature set will represent 100% of the cost and that’s too high, what if 80% of the feature set could be delivered for 50% of the cost?

That for us is a logical approach, and in many cases would deliver value for the client.

So reducing the feature set by 20% might get you your site for £25k, but if the 20% reduction is all the stuff that would really make your site fly, then caution is urged.

This is particularly relevant when it comes to conversion rate optimisation, and if that 20% of feature set or £25k of cost sees conversion rates drop from say 3% to 1%, you could be loosing hundreds of thousands of pounds of lost revenue in the first year.

Secondly, so what about reducing the man-hour rate?

Hourly or daily rates can be roughly split into five tiers. This is by no means cast in stone, but it does simplify the argument:

  • Tier 1 agency – up to £3k per day
  • Tier 2 agency – around £1.5k per day
  • Tier 3 agency – around £700 per day
  • Contractor – around £400 per day
  • Offshore contractor – around £160 per day

Unfortunately, making direct comparisons based purely on agency rate is difficult:

A Tier 1 agency won’t be pitching for a £50k project anyway. A Tier 2 agency will have more senior staff that will work faster than junior developers. They may also need less R&D so ultimately may be able to deliver a project in less hours.

A Tier 3 agency may on the other hand have exactly the right project specific experience and may also be able to deliver a project faster than a competing agency.

A single contractor won’t have experience across all the main disciplines of creative, design, UX, architecture and development, so will only provide a cost saving if part of a wider team.

Going offshore won’t deliver the same standards by a long way and in our historic experience won’t offer a genuine cost saving – not when you take into account the greatly increased project management and delays for misinterpretation or reworks.

Conclusion

If you want a £50k site for £20k, its safe to assume you can’t. Something will have to give. You’ll either have to peg back your wish list of functionality, or accept lesser levels of design and development standards, or cut corners (and be aware these are being cut).

In our opinion, cutting back the functional wish list is one logical approach, because if managed correctly, you can always build this back up in the future.

Another option is to stick to the specification but build the project in two or more phases. We’ve had a few projects like this recently and its almost self-funding for the client. Phase One delivers an immediate sales uplift, which helps provide the budget for Phase Two and so on.

That said, the option favoured by many companies is to stick to the wish list and budget and keep going until you find an agency that will help – and there are plenty of agencies out there willing to take on a project for a relatively low budget and hope it all works out.

Unfortunately, motivations will probably wain after the thrill of the win wears off, and the chances are you will contribute to our deplorable industry statistics:

  • 65% of all projects are delivered late
  • Clients are disappointed and don’t getting what they expected in 35% of cases, and this rises to 50% when the work goes offshore 
  • (Source: Aberdeen Group).

But dissuading prospects from this approach is a tough sell – especially when all the indications at the start suggest you really can get a £50k site for £20k.

We continue to try and find ways of helping companies make better-informed decisions, and on the whole we are getting there.

I hope this article gives you food for thought, and best of luck with whichever approach you take.

Internships….the foundation to a successful career

Finding work, as a fresh graduate can be a real challenge, and even with our brand new glowing qualifications, we do not have any real work experience, which is what most employers are looking for. Yet to get this experience you must find a job!

This is one of the biggest stresses of entering the big bad world … but for every stressful situation there will be a solution. And my solution to this problem was finding my internship with D. Agency.

I believe Internships are majorly underrated, as they are often stigmatized with being the office slave and completing all the jobs the other staff do not want to do. However since starting my internship at D.Agency this has not been the case for me at all.

From day one all the staff were very welcoming and made me feel part of the team, and throughout the week I felt like I had gained exposure to real world problems and oversaw issues that were never found in my textbooks; and I probably learnt a lot more than I ever have in a whole university semester.

Internships….the foundation to a successful career

In addition, my boss Phil is one of the best bosses I have ever had, he has taken me under his wing and filled my brain with facts about marketing that will definitely become valuable to my future career. Working in an agency environment with a small team is also very stimulating, despite everyone working very hard the atmosphere is calm, laidback and pro active (Which is ideal for your first proper job).

I am currently working towards a marketing qualification, which is strengthening my knowledge in Google Ad Words, benchmarking and how to write a detailed digital marketing plan. This qualification is a great exchange of service and experience between myself and D.Agency as I am building upon my experience ,while D. Agency is receiving a brand new digital marketing plan.

Moreover, the pinnacle of your undergraduate education gives you the chance to use the skills you learnt from studying in a real-world setting. I definitely think internships deserve more credit than they are currently accounted for, and the Bournemouth University and Santander partnership is a fantastic scheme to help students find a paid internship to kick-start their career.

I love what I do so far as an intern and I am excited and eager to come to work every day to learn more and work with such talented and bright people. My internship has already showed me this is the career path I would like to take and from here I plan to go onwards and upwards.

Check Out Our New Studio Space

Expanding into larger office space is always a great opportunity to design things just the way you want.

We are moving across the reception into Studio 4 in June so we thought it would fun to run a post highlighting the process on a step-by-step basis.

Design Concept

Well we have access to the studio now and fortunately we have a great head start. Studio 4 had recently been converted back to a photo studio so we pretty much have a blank canvass of freshly white painted walls and ceiling with a contemporary grey painted floor.

The team are all having their say on what we should do, and Senior Designer Paul Barnes wasted no time in showing us all where he thinks it should go.

Checkout his design concepts:

D. Agency Studio Concept (Back Wall)

 

D. Agency Studio Concept (Kitchen View)

Middleweight Drupal Developer Vacancy

D. Agency Hiring Drupal Developer

US

We are one of the UK’s fastest growing Digital Agencies delivering exciting projects using the Drupal framework.

We believe users around the world should enjoy more compelling online experiences and Drupal helps us deliver on that vision.

Our team contributes regularly to the community, and we are in the process of launching our first distribution called DRUMA (Drupal for musical artists).

We’re Drupal through-and-through, and keen to talk to developers with a demonstrable track record on medium to large scale projects over the last 3-years.

If you’re worked with Drupal already that’s an advantage. If you haven’t, we can fast track you through our D. Academy but we’ll need to see the right passion for the product and the community.

YOU

Ideally situated in Bournemouth, Southampton, Poole or at least in daily commuting distance to Bournemouth, you’ll have a solid programming background.

You might not have a degree in Computer Science, so if you don’t, Zend Certification or similar will help, and you’ll have been developing in PHP for 3-years.

Brownie points will be scored for Drupal Organisation Membership, Contributions to the Community, experience working on Acquia Cloud, and Acquia Certified Developer status.

Above all though, you’ll have the potential to stretch your legs and solve real world client challenges with the most appropriate solutions.

Desirable

  • Drupal 7 Site building experience
  • Drupal 7 module and theme development
  • Responsive theming using HTML5 + CSS3
  • JavaScript / jQuery development
  • Experience with version control systems, particlarly GIT
  • Scrum and Agile workflow experience
     

Drupal Developer Skills

OUR STUDIO

We have just expanded into larger studios within The Picture House, a converted cinema and retro hub of like-minded creative businesses.

It’s a chilled environment, with a luxury kitchen, dining area and private shower. Bournemouth train station is a 20-minute walk; we are on the main bus route from town, and a 35-minute drive in from Southampton.

D. Agency Studio

 

OUR AMBITIONS

We are an ambitious agency set to double in size during 2014. We work on a diverse portfolio of projects for international businesses’ and are keen to make our mark around the world.

There’s a lot of respect for our people and we are big on maximising potential. We are building one of the most comprehensively skilled Drupal teams in the world and look forward to seeing how you’d expect to help us achieve that.

BENEFITS

  • Competitive salary – dependent on experience, with 6-monthly ramp-ups
  • Staff bonus scheme
  • Continuous professional development
  • Personal accreditation programmes funded
  • Prestigious environment

 

WHAT NEXT?

If you are looking for a move and think you fit our profile, get in touch now.

Even if you’re not desperately seeking to move right now, get on our radar because we are moving fast and you never know how things may change.

We don’t do formal interviews straight away. Our Studio Director Phil Allen prefers to meet up for an informal chat over a coffee or a beer.

If the vibe is right, we can take things further.

 

SORRY: ABSOLUTELY NO AGENCIES UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES – IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN THIS POSITION BUT ASK AN AGENCY TO APPROACH US ON YOUR BEHALF, WE WILL NOT BE ABLE TO CONSIDER YOUR APPLICATION

Can Drupal Sites Run Effectively on a Windows Server?

Windows Server Drupal Hosting

It’s not uncommon for us to receive requests to build, maintain and/or host Drupal websites on Windows servers.

Here are the main reasons why:

Familiarity – The client is aware of the Windows brand and trusts it.

Experience – The client has existing IT staff, well versed in administrating and maintaining Windows servers.

Costs – The client wants to make use of their existing Windows environment to save costs.

Integration – The project needs integration between a Drupal solution and Windows specific software such as a back-end office, ERP or CRM.

Considerations

Setting up Drupal on Windows server might seem like the logical solution, but here are a few things to consider when considering deploying Drupal on a platform that is not naturally optimized for this use:

  • If set-up, deployment, development and testing tasks take longer, then development costs will be higher.
  • If core updates, security patches and contributed module work takes longer to implement, then ongoing maintenance costs will be higher. If these tasks are skipped because they’re difficult to implement efficiently, then the chances of a security breach are increased.
  • Drupal is a big beast and performance optimization is essential to a successful project. Slow loading pages increase friction, create stress, cause abandonment, and may affect your visibility in Google search.

Challenges

1. Development Skills Crossover

The Drupal community now numbers over a million individuals (based on active drupal.org member accounts).  Let’s be conservative and say that a quarter of that number is developers. 

That’s a pretty healthy talent pool to dip into but is dwarfed by the number of skilled Windows technicians there are out there.  The problem is that there is not as much overlap as you might hope between the two.

No developers are well versed in every available technology, and most will focus on a number of associated technologies or disciplines, so a Drupal developer is likely to be highly up to speed with PHP, MySQL, Apache, Linux, and quite possibly other CMS’s, programming languages, etc that go together with other parts of that knowledge base, (e.g. Wordpress, node.js, etc). 

Likewise someone who has the skills to administrate a Windows server is quite likely to have experience with .NET, SQL Server, IIS, etc.

Unfortunately, the reverse is also true… An individual that’s dedicated a large amount of their career to open source development (which is probably the case if they’ve ended up being a Drupal Developer) is less likely to have the same skills as a Microsoft certified technician and vice versa.

Now I’m being careful to use words such as ‘likely’ here, since there will be many exceptions; highly talented and technologically agnostic individuals who can fit into both sets of shoes, but it’s safe to say these are very much a minority. 

Which means that the large talent pool we were looking at before has now shrunk significantly.  There’s no reliable source of numbers here but I’m guessing that you’d be looking at most a few thousand individuals worldwide… many of whom will not be available to contract in.

You can imagine that it will be difficult to find the right people and probably more costly when you do.

If you do already have any tame Drupal Developers who are also Windows server administrators on the side then you’re in a fortunate position, but bear in mind that you would be in the same position if they become unavailable or the relationship breaks down.

2. Robustness

Drupal can and does run on Windows… There are almost certainly examples of Drupal sites on Windows out there.  

However installations on Windows will be a significant minority.  Again it's difficult to get hard numbers on this but I wouldn't be surprised if less that 1% of Drupal sites run on Windows.  

If the proportion is 1% then that means only 1% of site building and maintenance time is occurring on Windows based builds, and if we assume that Windows sites get the same average traffic then only 1% of end user interaction occurs on Windows hosted sites.

In addition, the vast majority of development of the code within Drupal itself and contributed modules and themes is likely to have been done on a LINUX/UNIX based operating system running Apache.

The upshot of this is that if there are issues with Drupal (or it's modules/themes) that only appear on one operating system or server software then they are far more likely to have been found and solved already on say a LAMP stack then on Windows/IIS.

3. Optimization

During the process of putting together any software, including content systems such as Drupal, hard decisions have to be made based on performance.  

An optimization that might improve performance in one set of circumstances could reduce it in another, and sometimes in these situations the developers end up join deciding that the improvement for the many trumps the degradation for the few.  In the case of Windows / Linux / Anything else, it's pretty easy to imagine which system will end up getting the most benefit from optimization.

The individual decisions may not make much difference on their own, but the combined effect of many such performance decreases across a system as large as Drupal will likely be significant.

Additionally, there's far more chance that performance issues that exist in Drupal on Windows may not have been identified / isolated / resolved purely because of the much smaller amount of time that can go into testing and developing on Windows.

4. Support

I'm talking about support from Drupal core developers, module maintainers and the community in general here.

If you encounter an issue that occurs in Drupal on Windows and is down to some low level difference in the way that Windows or IIS works, and it cannot be solved without Drupal core or a module being modified then you may find it difficult to get the help you need.

This could be because the relevant people (e.g. the maintainer of the module in question) don't…

Have the relevant experience in the differences that are causing the issue to identify or resolve it

Have the facilities readily available and set up to replicate it

Regard it as a priority… This may seem churlish but in reality if they have an issue queue with 20 open issues which could all effect 99% of users then how much priority do you think they will give to issues that only effect 1%?

Summary

Whilst Drupal can run on Windows, it may not be possible to run your particular project as efficiently on Windows over a Drupal tuned hosting stack or cloud instance such as Acquia.

If you can’t, then less efficiency means more development and maintenance cost, less reliability in certain instances, and a potential increase in friction between everyone involved in making the project a success.

Just to be clear, we don't have any kind of anti-Windows agenda here. There’s no suggestion that Windows is in any way inferior as a hosting environment, you just need a very unique combination of expertise to match what’s possible with a Drupal specific environment that’s been designed to make workflow, performance and security as good as it can be.

Resources

Acquia Drupal HostingAcquia
Cloud based Drupal hosting with network support and a suite of performance and security optimization tools. Acquia was founded by Dries Buyert, the inventor of Drupal, and is a specifically optimized product than runs on the AWS Cloud (Amazon Web Services).

 

 

Pantheon Drupal HostingPantheon
Pantheon is a logical alternative to Acquia. It’s also a Drupal tuned environment that uses Rackspace at its core. It’s a different configuration but a real alternative. Unfortunately, at the time of writing there are no Pantheon servers in the EU.

 

 

Rackspace Drupal HostingRackspace
If you want to lease a dedicated server, or even investigate Hybrid Cloud hosting, then Rackspace is an alternative. They also offer ‘Fanatical Support’ and have plenty of advocacy to back this up.

 

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