Tyler van der Hoeven – Workshop interview


Workshop interview

Tyler’s agency Tiny Anvil

Treehouse story about Tyler

Treehouse profile of Tyler

Transcripty notes from the interview

Build sites just for the heck of it – kinda like a portfolio without clients.
(Marjan: Now, why didn’t I think of that before. I do have a habit of hording domain names. Time to put them to use.)

Has tons of clients who know that he doesn’t know how to do it, but will let him try.

Bid on stuff that you are not a 100% competent in. If you can figure it out, its doable.

Don’t pretend that you are 100% competent in your work (every single project is a different project and has aspects that make it unique) and don’t pitch yourself with competence but with professionality – “I am gonna do a good job at it.”

It is the courage to bid for something that you ar enot 100% competent in, and using Google etc. to figure it out.

If it’s doable, I can figure it out, so why not me?

Farmer’s market: everybody is selling the same tomatoes. So how do you get them to buy yours as opposed to anybody else’s? It’s not about your tomatoes being any better, but I am a better person, I can sell it to you, I am going to have a relationship with you and you’re going to love me, therefore you want my produce.

That’s the way I view any kind of transaction or business relationship, is as an actual relationship. This is a person. No matter how high up they are, how much money they’re offering, it’s a person, it’s a human being. And I’m a human being. And I can be nice and I can be polite, I’m gonna be professional, they’re gonna try and twist my arm, and I’m gonna be like “hey noo”. But it’s gonna be professional. I am understanding their problem and they are understanding I am gonna solve it. And if at any point that is sort of becoming muddy then I’m like “I’m sorry there’s more work out there for me to do.” You don’t ever beg for … “you have to buy my produce.” There are so many people out there looking for someone who is going to be a professional, go pursue that client.

Most of the conversions he gets hinge on the websites he did that are totally useless… It’s not client work, but personal stuff that he had a ton of fun with and that serve no other purpose – other than it gets him a lot of work.

Personal projects are good to let your mind express itself as opposed to being in this cage of client work. It can also get you a lot of work especially when you are pitching design work.

Still doesn’t know how to pitch back end work… Hey look I wrote all this pretty code…

They want their problem solved, so why don’t they write you back? It’s probably that they don’t like your work, or they don’t like your attitude. If you’re doing good work and you are professional and respectful… He’s never had trouble getting responses back.

Iterates on clients. Learned Javascript for one project, find more Javascript work.

Not afraid to lose clients. Raising rates or just saying “No I don’t do that anymore”.

Note: he does have a full time job now, but also did it without that safety net (see below).

Has money and a problem and is willing to pay for that to be solved. Has to be in place: it is a transaction.

Wants clients with stuff that he can get behind and get excited about. Conveys that he really wants them to win / turn around / whatever in direct correlation to the work he is doing for them.

The problem they want to solve: more users, more profit, more … (never “i want a thingie”)

It almost becomes personal.

Showing the investment of “I’m thinking about your problem too” (“I don’t think this is a good business model, have you thought about doing it this way? It will succeed if we do it my way. I want to see it succeed.”)

He refused to do a “port” of an iPhone app for the Navy, did what he thought the Navy really wanted over the weekend, told the agency that actually landed the client send them this, if they are fine with it I’ll bill you for the time I put in, otherwise just go find someone else because I am not going to do a port. Turned into a 4 month 20k project. ONLY because he refused to do work he wasn’t gonna be proud of, that he couldn’t get behind.

==> If there is a better solution and you are able to prove it to them, absolutely refuse to do what is asked.

Money is not the issue really. The issue is a problem being solved.

Put your foot down and say I am only doing good work. People will respect that and come back for more.

It’s my job to pitch why my solutions is the absolute best way to solve their problem. People don’t realize that when they are getting bids on creative stuff that they are not getting different prices for the same product, but that they are actually getting different solutions for their problem (or maybe not a solution at all).

He does not get into “this is how I differentiate, here is what I do better” who cares. what he does: here’s what I bring to the table, here’s why it is better, here’s my experience. Take my product or leave it, it doesn’t matter, but you’re not trying to find the same thing and who is going to do the same thing for the cheapest. They are looking for a product and I think mine is best in that particular situation.

He doesn’t ever want the tone of his emails to be “please take us”. Instead it is: here is the best product you are ever going to get, it’s your choice if you want to leave that. It’s no skin of my back if you don’t want to pick the best thing.

Really short first emails.
Here is what I do. Here is what I’ve done. Here is why it is the best for you. Take it or leave it.

He typically doesn’t follow up when clients don’t respond. He wants clients to have ownership in picking him. If they have made positive contact with him, then go silent, he does follow up with them because then they’re only busy. If they start to dance: yes, I’m busy too. Meet with me at …/… or move on.

RfP: are disqualifiers. feels he then no longer is a professional solving a problem, but just a tool.

First couple of mails. Short, concise, direct. Until he knows he’s got the job. After that: very cordial.

You are going to screw up. You just gotta take that one little bit that a client did like and take it to the next. And continue to do that and build your “voice” (for emails and your work alike) one bit at a time. There are no shortcuts.

You’re talking with people. You wouldn’t propose to your girlfriend using a script of how someone else did it. Why would you do that in business. Be yourself. Be authentic. (Professional and respectful and authentic).

If they don’t like you. Don’t change yourself. Go find somebody else who does like you.

Quality subcontractors: friends and twitter. websites he likes and contact the guy who built it. Once you connect with 2-3 people, they are connected, so when the word goes out… it doesn’t take that long.

Important: separate personal relationships and business relationships. And you cannot be afraid to fire someone. Or be willing to make the call to fire a friend. (When you like someone, but they are simply not delivering the work). “Hope you enjoyed your last project with us.”

Developer is a sea of designers at a conference is a good way to start to connect with other people.

Money is not the most important thing to me. Relationships is.

Being aware of what goes on in and goes into the parts that you don’t do yourself is what enables you to weed out the crappy work from the good. (Another good reason to learn about fields related to your own and/or doing full stack work.)

When you get request for something you cannot do yourself, but know someone who does — builds relationships two ways (client and the person you send the work to). Even when you don’t get part of the money (or perhaps especially) you get tons of goodwill.

People are totally willing to pay more money to an agency than to a person.

Agency (LLC in his case) also lends credibility to your level of professionalism.

Increased level of commitment from his clients hugely. Not necessarily increased responses, but certainly commitment.

Tons easier to start grabbing bigger clients.

I’m not trying to squeeze out as much money as I can, I am trying to really enjoy the project as much as I can.

He’s only been at it for like a year and a half?!

Chunks projects: how the project is going to be layed out. In Markdown or whatever. here’s the problems, here’s how we are gonna solve it (charges half up front, half at delivery); one piece of the budget. Is the IA. Project can end after that. Next is design: sketch drawing up what the pages are going to look like, no interaction just static pages. Then the code. back end. make the website or app work. Every phase: half up front half at delivery. Client is free to end the project at every transition. If they are not happy with it, or they found someone else who can do it cheaper. And he has protected himself from getting into a relationship with a client that sucks and that he can’t get out of. He can end it at every transition too. “Well this design is not going well, I’m out at the end of this phase.”

Usually pitches an hourly rate, but project is taken on in chunks like above, based on how many hours he thinks its gonna take.

More worried about presenting it to the client.
Yeah, that’s what I don’t understand about this. Most of the conversations that revolve around you trying to get as much money as you can instead of helping your client understand what they are paying for.

This is how much it is going to cost, you can take it or leave it. Can you imagine talking about milk subscription fees in a grocery store?

Client gets to decide “this is what I am getting, this is how much it costs, is it worth it”

He is actually kicking out his subcontractors to start their own agencies because he’s taking most of the money and it’s not fair. Sort of treating his work with subcontractors as internships. Coaching them to independence.

The problem isn’t that there isn’t enough work (there’s tons), the problem is that I want to do good work and a lot of the work out there is not good work, it’s work like “let’s get this done as quickly as we can, MVP, get rich quick – are you sure you want to do this, coz it’s not gonna work.”

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