I just finished reading “Built to Sell”, which one of my clients graciously sent to me. What a great book. It gave me some good ideas and validated a few things that I’m already doing.

My goal isn’t really to sell Zing, but one thing I’ve wanted to do for a long time is put myself in a position where the company sort of “runs itself” and gives me a lot more flexibility with my schedule, and the freedom to work just a couple of days a week or take long vacations with my family. The book addresses that idea really well, so I feel like as I move toward the goal I’ll not only be able to do what I want but also position myself for a sale if I decide sometime in the future that it’s a smart move.

Another concept that really struck a chord with me was the idea of focusing the business on a single thing. Don’t be too broad and hope to cover everything a client might need; do one thing and do it well. Over the years I’ve toyed with the idea of hiring a graphic designer so we have some in-house capabilities with graphics (many clients ask for them), or hiring a marketing person who could address some of the things our clients need. But I’ve always resisted, feeling instead that I’d rather be a really stellar web programming company and leave those other things to people and agencies who specialize in them. This book reassured me that it’s the right approach, and that I shouldn’t worry too much about design or marketing or search engine optimization or whatever.

A big action item I’m taking away from the book is sitting down and really thinking about how my business is structured, and which sorts of projects are the ones we should pursue. In other words, are we really good at certain things? Do we enjoy doing those things? Are we profitable when we do them? It’s no surprise that some projects are just black holes that suck us in and leave everyone (my team as well as the client) feeling drained. They’re no fun, they don’t turn out very well, and they end up costing us money in the end. I need to look hard at those kinds of projects and be prepared to just turn them down. I’ve done that a few times in the past few months, and it was a good feeling. I hate to pass on projects and the potential revenue, but at the same time I don’t want my team feeling unhappy about working on them and I certainly don’t want to lose money or have a company badmouthing Zing because things didn’t go well.

Along those lines, I need to study the past few years of invoicing to figure out what types of work really bring in the money. Because the nature of our work is so highly specialized, it’s often difficult to nail down a fixed price for a project because I know things will evolve as we work on it. As a result, it’s typically better for everyone if we bill on a time-and-materials basis so we can deliver exactly what’s needed and not feel like we need to cut corners to meet some artificial deadline.

I think the biggest challenge for me is taking the steps necessary to extract myself from the day-to-day operation of the company. Although I enjoy the technical work and I need to do the sales and business development stuff with potential clients as well as existing ones, I think it makes Zing rely very heavily on me. I want to continue being involved, of course, but some processes need to be shifted around so I’m not the only person who can do these things. I have a great team of programmers, but none of them really want to take on these management responsibilities. So the hurdle is figuring out how to accomplish this.

All in all, it was an enjoyable book and certainly thought-provoking. Hopefully I’ll be able to make some changes with Zing and position myself for that retirement I’ve been thinking about since I was twenty-seven.