The unwinnable war: quick, cheap, and good

If you do all 3

  • Your employees don't get paid what they deserve - their quality of life never improves
  • Quality of life actually worsens due to burning out
  • Managing employees becomes difficult as you continuously try to draw out the best without fair compensation or allotment of time.

I don't really like having customers in the driver's seat of my business. Telling your customer "pick two" puts them in the driver's seat. You need to make this distinction for your business yourself. Which two are you going to pick?

Maybe your answer varies over time. Perhaps it varies per offering. I know this answer has changed over my many years of programming.

I used to be quick and cheap but wasn't that good. There's a market for this work, believe it or not.

As my skills refined, I was cheap and good, but my competing full-time job caused longer timelines. I helped a lot of other agencies solve problems at this time.

Once I could dedicate myself full time to programming being my business, I moved into quick and good.

Another Level

But I think there's another level that's not mentioned here. That level is 'great' instead of 'good'. As you perfect a craft and are uniquely serving a market, you start becoming overqualified for good - you start verging on great. What then?

Two things can happen. The first is you price yourself out of your current market and need to set your sights on a more premier level of clientele. This is an excellent option if you want to continue doing what you love. Growing into new responsibilities doesn't interest you. This is risky if you don't want a handful of clients to determine your fate.

Another option is that great can manage good. Start putting more green hires under your great people and allow the great to move into a leadership role. Maybe you're a one-person operation that needs to hire a junior associate to start teaching the craft to. Great can help grow good in spades. This is an attractive option if you would like to maintain the business you've built so far and not rebuild your clientele. It's also great if you want to expand to support more clients. This is not so wonderful if you are a purest to your craft and don't want to branch into something different.

Owning your own agency has similarities to working for someone else. You may find yourself capping your potential revenue if you aren't willing to grow when it is right. Raise prices -> find that new market. Maintain rates -> find that new hire. Do nothing -> be precisely where you are a year from now.

My Personal Stance

I don't want a business where we are the middle option between something cheap and something great. I want to build something great; the best, where people look at our company and wonder how they could ever achieve the same greatness.

I wrote the above in my journal many months ago when I was battling the idea of if we should level up or accept our plateau. Inside me, I found I wanted greatness for my entire team. I didn't want to be held captive by a cheap price tag. My team and myself were prepared for that next level, and it's painful sometimes to get there. You have to say goodbye to clients you consider friends. You can no longer help that smaller business that you could have in the past. You grow up a little.

At the start of 2020, we made a move from good to great. We have some ways to go before we achieve the best, but it's a noble mark to strive towards.

Braden Keith