5 Ways To Grow Your Dev Shop

Image: Universal

You have a dev shop. You build products and software for hire. You slang code. Likely, once you were a great freelancer who got more work than you could handle. So you hired one friend, then three friends, and now 5–10 years later, you have a $2M — $10M business you’re not sure what to do with.

Growth solves problems. And it’s much easier to get big projects from big clients when your business is bigger. Likely, F1000 companies want to work with your talent and your process, marrying open-source to the enterprise. But nobody gives a $2M project to a $2M AR business — too risky.

So in order to become even more self-sustaining, you need growth: to create predictable revenue, to keep your best people, and to maintain your sanity. Growth brings its own challenges, but it’s better than running in place.

Here are the five ways to grow your dev shop.

RAISE PRICES

You’re the team doing whiz-bang stuff. Always out front of early-adopters, you set the tone for technology/tech-stacks/frameworks/techniques/design coming down the pipeline. You inspire innovation and new revenue creating departments to reach out to you by continually demonstrating what’s possible with technology.

Developers love this company; you’ll be true “thought leaders.”

CONSULTING — YOU’RE CONSULTANTS

The C-word! Some people hate it. But you can embrace it. Stop building products. Stop selling people technology. Stop talking about what. Instead talk about why. Talk ONLY about how investments in your consulting service lead to either new profits or new revenues for your clients.

You’re not just an implementation shop (tons of those), you START with a seat at the business table, working on business problems that eventually lead to software. Technology is an abstraction, your software prowess a given. Primarily, you’re an agent of change.

OLD-SCHOOL IT, MODERNIZED

Managed services, systems administration, partner customizations, installations, and customization of (mostly), some other company’s core technology. These companies are called integrators, and you know what they look like. Here you hitch your wagon to someone else’s ecosystem: Oracle, Salesforce, Microsoft (endless product lines), AWS, Heroku, Hadoop, IBM, etc.

You might get deep into payment gateways…or security. You’re a middleware player, and once you start killing it on your own, THEN (and only then) does the product provider start bringing leads to you.

CUSTOM SOFTWARE, BUT SPECIFIC

Right now, you likely can conjure up any kind of software solution for anyone waving money at you. That’s fine when business development just operates from luck and “word of mouth,” but it’s a lousy way to grow predictable revenue.

So, get specific. Look through your best clients/most profitable projects: what’s the common industry or execution? Are those lanes evergreen? More companies in those spaces with similar problems?

“50% of a Saas.” That’s a misnomer, but the idea will open doors. Instead of selling all things to everyone, say, “We fix all things for INDUSTRY XYZ.” Or, we build HR software for any industry.” Better, “We’re the best at tech stack A, for industry B, for specific purpose C.”

Everyone in your sales and marketing department will thank you. Now they have real targets.

HOMEGROWN SAAS

Every dev shop (i.e. you sell programming services for hire) pretends they will magically just one day get around to finding the right SaaS idea, that they don’t really need to commit to funding it, that they can have developers work on it “in their free time,” and that revenue will just magically come once they spin up an easy website where signups are “automatic.”

All of that is fantasy. So get real. Don’t invent a homegrown SaaS from scratch, but perhaps a current solve for a custom client will, with a little grease (and making sure you have the right IP sharing contract or taking care to avoid conflicts in code), could be turned into a product that you white-label and sell to other people in that industry.

Then you can market your solve in clever ways, play against SaaS competitors even if you only want to break into that account with your service line, cross-sell your SaaS and service options, and up-sell to remain sticky.

HOW TO GO INSANE

Keep selling anything to everyone.

Keep lying to yourself about the investment needed to create, market, and continually sell a real SaaS product.

Keep saying you don’t need to make an active decision on one of the above directions.

Everything is hard! But your decisions — how to market, how to sell, and the processes for both — get much easier after you pick your growth path.

Right now, you’re making it up as you go. When you’re building any type of software for any type of business for any type of business department or problem, you’re always making up the next step of growth.

But by picking one of the five ways to grow your development studio into something…more, you help ensure you’ll do just that.