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How to Use Accountability to Break Bad Habits and Build Business Success as a Web Developer

Jul 25, 2018

In the world of web development, it’s common for agency owners to feel like they’ve reached a plateau.

It can happen at any time – right after completing your first successful projects as a web developer, mid-way into your career, or even later.

In either case, the feeling is the same: it just seems like there aren’t many opportunities to grow your business.

You may feel like you’re stuck working the same jobs for clients who are pigeonholing you into something you don’t find exciting anymore. This creates the impression you’re working a dead-end job when what you really want is to be your own boss and enjoy an exciting, dynamic career.

So what happened?

Of the many factors that combine to create this environment, the most common is that instead of proactively build business success as a web developer, you’re passively waiting for opportunities to arise.

This can sound surprising, because you may not feel like you’re waiting for opportunities to arise. You’re reaching out to new clients and winning them over every day. But unless your business activities advance an overall strategy for success, you’ll only ever end up where the market happens to take you – as if you’re lost at sea and letting the currents take you along.

The key to addressing this problem is breaking bad business habits and setting a clear path to success. And since you’re the boss, addressing it successfully requires establishing a system of accountability.

Identify Bad Business Habits and Break Them

First, it’s important to establish some examples of bad business habits for web developers. If any of these describe the way your agency works, take note:

1. Scope Creep

Scope creep is a major frustration for web developers, web designers, and technological creatives in general. It’s often hard to catch because it starts very innocently, like a client asking for a very small addition to a home page, and then while you’re at it you update some other small website element.

You value your client and don’t see the point of charging them for a 15-minute job. Next thing you know, you have another two 15-minute jobs to do for the same client. Then they call you with an urgent change that looks like a 15-minute job but is really a two-hour one that would have been a 15-minute job if you knew about it when you started coding…

You can easily address this by establishing strict rules and a transparent workflow from the very beginning of your project. But if you miss that first chance, scope creep becomes more and more likely as time goes on.

2. Billing Only at Project Completion

This is a common issue that is easy to fix but that doesn’t always get done – a classic bad habit in the sense that you know you should be doing things differently, but don’t.

Imagine: you spend months working for the IT manager of your client’s company, building the biggest and best web application you can. Your team is happy with the results and you’re excited to enjoy your big payday as you send the final deliverable out.

Then the bad news comes in – your client’s IT manager got fired and his boss says they won’t use the application you built. Christmas is canceled. If you break your projects up into small manageable milestones, cash flow will improve enormously.

3. Not Measuring Things

As a web agency owner, what should you measure? The short answer is everything!

Measure how much time it takes to complete projects. Measure the value of your employees’ work. Measure how often you put more effort into development than you expected, and measure how much it costs you.

The problem is that people tend to enjoy activities less once they start measuring them. Measuring things actually makes them seem less rewarding. But in reality, measuring things is hugely rewarding.

This psychological effect can explain why many people have trouble losing weight, and it can explain why you haven’t been gathering performance metrics on your web agency business.

4. Taking Any Work That Comes Your Way

In the beginning, there are many good reasons why you should take just about any project you can get as a web developer. But as time goes on, it gets more and more important to specialize and to serve your niche with greater expertise.

If you keep taking every single project that comes your way, you will stretch your resources too thin and gain no specialized expertise. In the long run, you won’t be able to build business success as a web developer, but as a jack-of-all-trades catering to a shrinking customer base.

How Accountability Actually Works

None of the four problems listed above are difficult to solve. Making a smart decision at the right time is usually all it takes to fix them.

However, habit and routine have a way of keeping your brain from catching the mistakes it makes until it’s too late. This is why bad habits persist in the first place. In many ways, your brain is on autopilot when it makes these mistakes and perpetuates bad habits.

You know that scope creep will ruin your project, but while you’re in the middle of your contract negotiation with a big client, you just don’t think about it. You don’t have a system in place for reminding yourself to bring up rules for extra work, systems of transparency, and so on.

But if you make yourself accountable to someone – a friend, a mentor, a coach, or even a fellow web agency owner – you can gradually change these deeply entrenched habits and become a better and more successful person.

According to the American Society of Training and Development, holding yourself accountable to someone for completing a goal makes you 65 percent more likely to achieve it. Holding yourself accountable and setting appointments to show your progress boosts that figure to 95 percent.

Accountability systems are the secret keys to success in growth and development. The feeling of social pressure you get from your weekly accountability appointment is a powerful motivator. As human beings, we’ve been hardwired this way since forming our first tribes and clans in the Stone Age. Letting someone else down feels much worse than letting yourself down.

Establish Systems of Accountability in Your Workplace

For a salaried web developer for a large corporation, the system of accountability is pretty clear. You get a brief, maybe talk to the client to go over the project’s details, and get to work. When you finish your part of the process, you hand it off to the next member of the team.

In this example, you are accountable to your supervisor, the company you work for, to the client, and to whoever takes the project off your hands when you’re finished with it. It’s an efficient system and it works. You probably treat your employees in a similar way.

When you run your own business, who are you accountable to?

You can say you are accountable to your clients, but that accountability vanishes with the termination of each project. There is no system in place unless you build it, and in order to build it, you need the right environment to build it in.

Creating this environment is up to you. As the lead decision-maker in your enterprise, you do this with every decision you make – whether you know it or not. Accountability is little more than accepting this fact and taking action to control it.

All it really takes to be accountable is to set a clear goal, communicate that goal to others, and be willing to let those people help you achieve it. This can be an unexpectedly powerful tool for pushing your web agency out of its comfort zone and build business success as a web developer.

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ronik patel

After building my web agency JD Softtech in both Boston and Ahmedabad, India, I wanted to find a way to help other agencies.

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