Responding to RFPs can suck the life out of any agency. You’re the expert, but the potential client is telling you what needs to be done and for how much, before you’ve even had a chance to really understand the scope.

And because you aren’t getting paid for this work, you have to try to limit the amount of time you invest in the proposal. Since you also want to protect yourself, you end up padding the quote, and in the end, nobody wins.

Tired of responding to RFP's? @saraheartbacon shares her tips on how to streamline the process. Click To Tweet

When was the last time an RFP project actually finished on time and on budget, anyways? I can’t think of a time either.

Luckily, there is a better way: Paid Discovery

Sara Bacon (Twitter), founder of the e-commerce development and optimization shop, Command C, has spent years optimizing her own process, not just for doing the discovery, but selling it as well, and today she shares everything she has learned.

If you’re tired of responding to yet another RFP, then this episode is for you.

Download a full transcript of the interview with Sara: Get it right here.

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Key Takeaways

How to do technical discovery the right way [16:00 – 21:00]

The goal of technical discovery is to create a blueprint for the rest of the project. First, you need to talk to everyone who has a stake in the operations, from the person managing the website day to day, the fulfillment piece of it, to the finance piece of it. You want to ask them questions like “What do you do on a daily basis? What are the must-have pieces of this solution?”

One of Sara’s favorite questions is, “In your ideal world what would this solution do for you? How could this solution make your life easier rather than more complex?”

Then you need to work with each stakeholder to decide what is a must have and what’s nice to have, because when building large systems, there are inevitable compromises that have to be made. Getting a clear picture of what each stakeholder is looking for, lets you make an informed decision about what those compromises should be.

Once you have a really clear understanding of everything, then it is time to prepare the documentation laying your understanding so you can have the client review it to make sure it is right.

Then and only then, can the actual execution of the project begin.

While this is a lot more work than a traditional proposal, it also provides significantly more value. The vast majority of projects miss deadlines or go over budget because there were too many unknowns at the start. With paid technical discovery, you are able to identify as many of those as possible and drastically increase the project’s chance of success.

“Won’t they just take my blueprint to the cheapest bidder?” [21:00 – 24:00]

One of the most common fears I hear from agency owners, whenever I discuss technical discovery or roadmapping, is the idea that once they lay out exactly what needs to be done for a project that the client will simply take that blueprint and find the lowest bidder to execute on it.

That simply isn’t the case. In fact, Sara has said she doesn’t think that has ever happened to her and her team at Command C.

After you’ve completed your discovery, assuming you’ve done a good job, then the client is going to trust you. At that point, they don’t want to just take a flyer on someone else who might be a little cheaper.

This is also what makes paid technical discovery so appealing to your clients. It gives them a low-risk way to test you out before they commit to a bigger project. Most of your clients have been burned by an agency before, so this gives you a way to prove that you are different.

How to handle client push-back [29:00 – 34:00]

While the discovery process is much more involved than a traditional proposal, it is likely to be new to your clients and you may get some pushback. It isn’t uncommon to hear, “Hey, why am I going to pay for this when these dozen other agencies are just going to give me their proposals for free?”

One thing that’s useful to point out is that if the proposal is coming from a reputable agency, the first line item is almost always going to be discovery. So it isn’t that other agencies aren’t charging for this, it’s that they are waiting until the client has already signed the paperwork and is locked in.

By separating out the discovery, you are giving the client a way to test out the relationship without a big commitment.

If the client still doesn’t quite get it after some education, then Sara says there is nothing wrong about simply deciding that isn’t the right client for you.

Transcript:

Andy Baldacci:Sara, thank you for coming on the show today.
Sara Bacon:Nice to be here, thanks for having me.
Andy Baldacci:Of course. You founded Command C, an agency specialized in e-commerce development and optimization 12 years ago. How have you and your agency evolved since then?
Sara Bacon:

[00:00:30]

[00:01:00]

So much. Let’s see, I came out of grad school with this super broad skill set from graphic design to photography and a little bit of web development, so when I started Command C my vision was actually to open a copy shop, hence the name Command C, which has now transformed into a command center. That’s a little bit more of our identity. 12 years ago the landscape looked super different. We were doing a lot of graphic design work. I remember the first e-commerce site we built was on Miva Merchant. The first site I built was back in the day when you took a Photoshop file and cut it up into slice and the whole thing was images.
[00:01:30][00:02:00]I’d say we’ve come a long way since then. We evolved into a bit of a custom design and development studio. We’re doing a lot of [Samus 00:01:34], portfolio sites, mostly on WordPress, but we always did ecommerce sites. At a certain point we realized, we’re really good at e-commerce, it’s something that we can really niche out into and really get to this place where we’re claiming expertise on specifically the e-commerce because it is different. It’s different than building a portfolio site.
[00:02:30]At this juncture we’ve evolved into a very focused e-commerce shop. We’re a bit more development heavy. I’d say more than a creative agency we’re a development agency, although we do have some creative resources in-house. We do a lot of consults and some optimization work from the development side of things as well.
Andy Baldacci:Interesting, because I was looking over your LinkedIn and I think it said that in the 12 years you have worked with something like 500 different clients. Is that right?
Sara Bacon:Yeah. I don’t know off the top of my head what that number is.
Andy Baldacci:I wasn’t trying to quiz you or anything.
Sara Bacon:

[00:03:00]

It’s been a lot. It’s been really cool because we’ve worked with all levels of clients. I think that kind of longevity in this space, it’s like we really started from … I was essentially a freelancer who, I’m not alone in this but worked with very small clients, all the way up to big large corporations in that time. It’s been fun to have that range of experience.
[00:03:30]

Andy Baldacci:

[00:04:00]

What you just said is how you were essentially a freelancer when you started, that’s something that so many of my listeners can relate to. A lot of them we classify as accidental agency. They started out, they had the skills to deliver the work themselves, they slowly started building something up and then they turn around and a few years later they have a couple employees and they’re slowly working their way up. It’s crazy how things can change very quickly from just working with those small mom and pop shops to working with, looking at the logos on your website, working with Starbucks or Comcast, things like that. It’s interesting. But one thing … Yeah?
Sara Bacon:

[00:04:30]

To respond to that quickly, this is actually something that I talk about a lot and have done a lot of my own business coaching around, because there’s a real issue with you start something because you’re passionate about it and you’re good at it, and then you’re like, “Holy crap, I’m actually doing something really different. I’m running a business.” Fortunately for me I really like running a business as well but it’s been a really interesting process. The mindsets of those different roles are very, very different. Yeah, that’s maybe for podcast number 2.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:05:00]

Yeah, exactly. I think that ties in exactly with what I want to talk about because one of those things that really changes from when you’re a freelancer, to when you’re running a real agency, to when you become more of a consultant, is that you’re no longer just construction work, you’re not longer just executing on these-
Sara Bacon:Yeah, the technician.
Andy Baldacci:Exactly, but a lot of times that’s what clients expect from you. You actually recently wrote a post on the Shopify blog titled, “Why you should stop responding to RFPs and do this instead.” Can you talk about what made you decide to write that?
Sara Bacon:

[00:05:30]

[00:06:00]

[00:06:30]

Yeah. It’s really reflective of our own experience. I have seen every kind of RFP you could possibly see in 12 years of business. I don’t think there’s been one time that I’ve responded to an RFP and in my gut been like, “This is a good idea. This is the right way to handle this process.” Listening to that, my team and I have had this discussion so many times about what would be the right way to handle this. Out of those discussions came a framework for a process and out of that framework came trying it out on certain clients in a baby steps kind of way. To the point where we’ve evolved a process that really works and a way of talking to clients about this process that I believe in wholeheartedly. It’s really been my experience is how it came about.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:07:00]

Yeah, reading over the post it’s clear how much work has gone into developing that process and how much thought you’ve put into that over the years of iterating and improving and all the feedback you’ve gotten. I want to get into that but before though I want to talk more about what’s wrong with the RFP process, because I get it, a lot of my listeners get it, but it seems like there’s little that you can do. It’s just the way a lot of clients want to work. What is it specifically about the RFP process that repulses you?
Sara Bacon:

[00:07:30]

[00:08:00]

I touched on some of it in my post but I think that there’s even more to it than I got into there. On the most basic level what I find … Let me take a step back and say that RFPs come to us in a number of different states. One of the things that we do often is we partner with other agencies as well. Not only do we get RFPs that are from clients themselves that are from a freelance consultant who the client has hired to put together the RFP and to help the right fit agency, but we also find ourselves in positions where we’re working with or already have a preexisting relationship with a digital marketing agency per se, and they’ve helped this client put together this RFP.
[00:08:30][00:09:00]

[00:09:30]

They come to us. On the highest, there’s 3 different user groups who are putting together and delivering the RFP, and then the state that comes in from each of those groups is its own thing. There’s a myriad of different formats that these things can take. One of the most dangerous things about an RFP is self prescription. I’m going to lump together, because there are these 3 different user groups, self prescription would be coming from the client but then there’s also preconceived notions. This consultant or the agency says to the client, “This is the best platform for you to use and this is how you should do it,” and the client gets this in their head and they usually have a trusting relationship with this consultant or agency that they’re working with. Trying to, from our perspective, come in and say, “What really is the right platform for your project,” is something threatening to the other relationships that have been built.
[00:10:00]

[00:10:30]

It’s very complicated why it’s a problem. Prescription, because the example that I gave in the blog post that I write is, it’s like I go to the dentist and I have a toothache and I say to the dentist, “I have a cavity,” and he says, “You might have a cavity,” or she. She says, “But you might also have a cracked tooth, you might need a root canal. We don’t really know until we get in there and we do some digging.” I say, “I don’t want to invest in that. It’s going to take too much time. I really just want this pain to go away, please just fill the tooth.” They’re like, “Okay. You’re the client, I’ll do what you want me to do and are paying for me to do.” I get the tooth filled and a month later I’m in the same amount of pain. It’s the exact same example.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:11:00]

I think when you put in those terms, and it’s funny because my girlfriend actually is a dentist so she has people who try to go in and tell her exactly what’s wrong. One of the main differences between in the medical fields and in creative services is that they have a legal obligation to not just do that, but still in the services field if you just do exactly what your client says, you’re not doing them a favor. You’re not actually helping them out [crosstalk 00:11:06] you can do a lot of harm.
Sara Bacon:
[00:11:30][00:12:00]
Yeah, I think we have a moral obligation, which I would say is maybe the code there isn’t as commonly obliged but I do think that we have a moral obligation to step back and explain it to the client. Why this is important, what the value of discovery is and what we find time and time again is that it’s a process of discovery for the client just as much as it is a process of discovery for us. I can’t tell you the number of times that … One of the first steps in this process is to say, “What are the goals here? What’s the most important thing to you in undertaking this project?” We come up with a list of 3 to 5 goals and once we get into the project a bit, all of a sudden those goals change.
[00:12:30]It’s not that the goals necessarily went away, it’s just that in the ecommerce space there’s so much that’s important, and so additional goals get added on. Sometimes they are, when you’re trying to select the right platform or platforms or apps or whatever, sometimes you have to make compromises in there. That discovery process is incredibly valuable to a client who doesn’t know what they don’t know. In my experience that starts to become clear once they buy into this as the right approach.
[00:13:00]

Andy Baldacci:

[00:13:30]

No absolutely, because in my opinion there’s 2 sides, at least 2. There’s one where it’s you’ve spent over a decade building up this expertise, building up this knowledge and it’s not necessarily fair for you to give that away for free. I think that’s a valid statement, but I think beyond that thought is it’s not just about trying to capture as much value as you can from the client, a lot of it is really just this is necessary for us to have any idea of what is really needed to do the project the way that will get the results you want.
Sara Bacon:

[00:14:00]

[00:14:30]

Yeah. We could go down a million different rabbit holes with this, but to bring it back to your initial question of what is the problem with RFPs, there’s also the plain fact that yes we don’t want to give our experience away for free, but the nature of the RFP itself, being that it’s an unpaid process that requires a lot of time, this icky position that we kept finding ourselves then as a team while we’re quoting out these big projects, because it’s never one person who’s doing that, we do that as a team, is that we’re like, “How do we speed through this, because we’re not getting paid for it, while giving ourselves the best possible chance of winning the job, while protecting ourselves amidst the unbelievable number of unknowns in this project?”
[00:15:00]We have to inflate this price or take the risk of putting ourselves in a incredibly precarious position because we’ve seen so many times that you get into the project and the project changes course because that technical discovery didn’t happen upfront. The agency is then expected to be responsible for that change in course. The client doesn’t like when you’re like, “Okay, you’re changing, here’s this unknown that nobody even knew to ask a question about and we can’t take the hit for that.” That doesn’t go very well most of the time.
Andy Baldacci:
[00:15:30]
Right. It would be like buying a house without doing an inspection and getting mad at the plumber when he finds out that the plumbing has rotted out and it needs to be all replaced. There’s a lot of expectations on the agency to know things that we can actually [crosstalk 00:15:35]
Sara Bacon:To be the expert. That’s the other piece of it, is that inevitably if we commit to doing something and we don’t have all the information about it, it doesn’t look good on us when the unknown pops up mid-project. Our reputation is too important to us at this point in time to be messing around with that.
[00:16:00]

Andy Baldacci:

To be honest I think you were right when you said we could go down a million different rat holes with this because this is something that I can love ranting about and talking about. To try to reign it in, to try to reign myself in really, you mentioned this earlier. You mentioned how you have developed this process for paid discovery. Can you talk about what that process is like?
Sara Bacon:

[00:16:30]

[00:17:00]

Yeah. It’s essentially the equivalent of building out the architectural blueprints for a house. The first stage is to talk to everyone who has a stake in the operations. From the person managing the website day to day, the fulfillment piece of it, the finance piece of it, we want to talk to each of the different stakeholders in the project and ask them, “What do you do on a daily basis? What are the must-have pieces of this solution?” A question we ask a lot is, “In your ideal world what would this solution do for you? How could this solution make your life easier rather than more complex?”
[00:17:30]

[00:18:00]

We work with each stakeholder to decide what is a must have, what has to be there in order for you to get your job, and what’s nice to have. Because I mentioned earlier there are inevitable … These are large systems and there are inevitable compromises that have to be made somewhere. Getting a clear picture of that from each stakeholder is phase 1 of the project. Really understand what are the top goals here from each department.
Andy Baldacci:Okay. Yeah, because that’s something that if you don’t understand the motivations, if you don’t understand the why’s, it’s really hard to build a solution. You’re almost guessing at that point what they really want.
Sara Bacon:

[00:18:30]

[00:19:00]

[00:19:30]

Yeah. Once we have a really clear understanding we actually prepare documentation confirming what our understanding was and what we’ve learned. We send it back to the client and we make sure that we get that right. At that point we start researching and consulting with third party providers. Obviously each project has the need to integrate with different numbers of third party providers but we’re looking at the core ones first and foremost. The e-commerce platform, inventory management if there’s a required POS system. Then we trickle down into the lighter app functionality, but we start with the core software that we’re considering and we set up a demo for the client to actually get some hands on feeling of the tool and have them really buy into and ensure that it will work for them. This process narrows down the potential right fit quite a bit.
[00:20:00]

[00:20:30]

[00:21:00]

We’re there as an unbiased supportive role, helping to communicate our understanding of the project in ways that maybe the client’s having a hard time communicating, or doesn’t know to communicate. We really all come together as a team. We are just an arm of their team who can speak to what they need and cut through technical jargon and that sort of stuff. Then once the client makes the right decision we’re then in a position to really put together a clear scope of work and we can confidently assess costs. Either we put together a light version of, here’s the overarching framework and a ballpark cost for them to then bid that out, get some other agencies to weigh in on what that would look like. We always advocate for clients to get multiple opinions. This is something that’s very informed, that they can then take to another agency and say, “This is what I’m looking to do.” It’s informed. [inaudible 00:20:54] or we can get into a real detailed scope of work.
Andy Baldacci:When you do that, when you advocate … I have a few questions. The first one is, when you advocate for them to shop around once you have that blueprint ready, how often do they end up going with another agency?
Sara Bacon:I don’t think it’s ever happened.
Andy Baldacci:
[00:21:30]
That’s one of the things that it seems like whenever I talk to people who do, whether they call it road mapping, technical discovery, [anything like 00:21:27] that, that’s one of the things, “I’m basically giving away everything they need to do to do this project.” But at that point the client trusts you. They don’t want to just take a flyer on someone else who might be a little cheaper.
Sara Bacon:
[00:22:00][00:22:30]
Yeah definitely. Honestly for us the other part of … We vet our clients just as much as our clients are vetting us. One of unspoken company values is quality of life. Nothing drains company morale more than a difficult client relationship and these are really big projects. Once you’re in you’re in. The other thing I really love about the technical discovery process is it’s a really low risk way to test out the relationship, for both parties. Not that anyone is good or bad or anything like that, it’s just that you want a good fit and not all relationships are a good fit. If that ever happens the client hasn’t lost anything, but what we both stand to gain is huge. Yeah, that foundation of the relationship is awesome.
Andy Baldacci:
[00:23:00]
Right, and it gives them an easier way, like you said it’s almost like a trial run to see if it’s a good fit, the relationship between the client and the agency, but also does that at a lower price point than doing it with the big full project. You’re going to have a higher uptake on the paid technical discovery to get them in the door, and then once they say, “Hey, this agency actually has their crap together, they know what they’re doing. Let’s stick with them.” They’re going to be more likely to stay with you for the big project.
Sara Bacon:Precisely.
Andy Baldacci:I’m curious, how long typically would a technical discovery project like this take?
[00:23:30]

Sara Bacon:

The minimum is 3 to 4 week, I’m going to say 4 weeks, the minimum. Because anything that takes less than that probably doesn’t require a technical discovery. The minimum is 4 weeks, 3, 4 weeks. We’ve gone up to 8 weeks for really large projects. I’d say 4 to 8 weeks typically.
Andy Baldacci:Because that was actually my follow up question, was that, are there projects where they’re small enough that this doesn’t make sense.
[00:24:00]

Sara Bacon:

[00:24:30]

[00:25:00]

Yeah totally. The platforms that we mostly specialize in and focus on are Magento and Shopify. We have a couple of different tools. We have a website planner. We also have conversations with prospects. Between those 2 things, if they’re just looking to build an ecommerce site with a few different extensions, we can get to what the right solution is for them within a few phone calls or gathering data. Of course that’s a part of our normal sales process. I’m talking about a solution where there really are multiple stakeholders in different departments, sometimes with conflicting desires and needs and more complex integrations. We really need to have a clear understanding of the inner workings of the business in order to find the best solution for the client.
[00:25:30]There have also been instances where it’s not that the project is so technical com- I’m thinking of this one RFP that we received where it’s not that the project was so technically complex, it’s that the RFP have every single possible e-commerce feature you could ever have on an ecommerce site listed on it. That was a conundrum, right? Because they had a clear sense of what they wanted, I just knew it was a really bad idea.
Andy Baldacci:Exactly.
Sara Bacon:

[00:26:00]

This is going to be a learning curve for you, period, so do it in phases. In those situations I try to have a conversation with the client and ask them to dig a little deeper as to why.
Andy Baldacci:Right, you can’t just throw in the whole kitchen sink and everything else. A lot of times it seems like clients will almost want to cover their bases. When you have so many stakeholders involved everyone has their own little laundry list of things that they want involved in but 80% of those plus don’t actually matter to the ultimate goals.
[00:26:30]

Sara Bacon:

[00:27:00]

[00:27:30]

You know, yeah there’s that. I think that there’s also an education piece. Clients, it’s not their job to know what comes out of the box with the Magento platform. That’s our job to help them understand. A client might not know that, yes the shopping cart is built in but this complex newsletter subscription whatever service that you want automatically feeding from [inaudible 00:26:59] That’s not built in necessarily. I view it as our role to help them understand what’s baked into the platform and might need a little frontend theming but we don’t have to write a custom plugin, and what we actually have to write a custom plugin for, and that each of those items is a line item, each box you tick is adding to the scope of work. I’m happy to do that education. Happy to give that part away for free.
Andy Baldacci:I like how you do emphasize the educational side of it, because it really does come to that fundamental difference, that the client comes to you because you’re the expert, they’re not. While they may have preconceived notions of what they want, at the end of the day you’re right it’s your job to make sure that’s what they actually need.
Sara Bacon:

[00:28:00]

Yeah, and I think it’s the same thing as … I think it’s a little harder because there is this known way of doing things but I think it’s the same with getting clients to see where the RFP is flawed and that there’s an alternative to it, and it might not be something that they’re familiar with or that they’ve heard of before. I think if you can articulate the value in it, it makes so much sense and they get that.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:28:30]

I’m curious, how do you typically charge for this technical discovery? Do you have a rack rate for it or do you bill by week? How does this work when there is different scope of what you’re actually getting into?
Sara Bacon:

[00:29:00]

We do break it down by how many weeks does this project need. We have a fairly good idea of range of hours that we’re going to need to put into it each week. Yeah, and then that comes down to the scope of the project, the different integrations that they’re going to need and that sort of thing. Yeah, just like building a website it comes down to the scope of the project.
Andy Baldacci:Right. At that point, when you do bring up the idea of paid technical discovery, because like you said it is different that the standard way of doing things in the agency world, do you ever get pushback from clients saying, “Hey, why am I going to pay for this when these dozen other agencies are just going to give me their proposals for free?”
[00:29:30]

Sara Bacon:

[00:30:00]

Yeah, I do. I do get a little bit, but first of all a lot of proposals that I see have discovery listed as the first line item in the proposal. I think that other agencies are probably billing for that work. That actually works really well in our favor because I get to say, “Yeah, you know they’re charging you for this too. They’re just doing it after you’ve signed the paperwork and have you locked in.” We’re saying, “You get to test out this relationship. You get to make sure this solution feels right to you with a minimal investment,” and then that becomes like I said earlier the blueprints for the project.
[00:30:30][00:31:00]In that instance they get it, but again it comes back to the educational piece. Also a client who doesn’t get it after we’ve stated our case isn’t the right client for us. It’s pretty self selective. There’s a certain amount of push-back that’s again of the educational variety, where once it’s explained to them they’re like, “Okay, I see where you’re coming from. That actually makes a lot of sense.” Then there’s the client who’s never going to pay for something like that and always going to go for the cheapest deal on the block, and that’s not who we are.
Andy Baldacci:Exactly. Where are most of your new clients coming from right now?
Sara Bacon:We are mostly referral based.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:31:30]

Do you think that helps with the uptake in that you already have some legitimacy in their eyes from whoever referred them to you and so they’re not as concerned about any types of issues that could arise from that? Am I thinking too far into it?
Sara Bacon:
[00:32:00]
Yeah. With a referral you always have the inside track. A referral is always going to be the most valuable kind of lead because there’s a certain level of credential behind it, but we’ve closed on technical discovery jobs from clients who found us through a Google search. I don’t know. I don’t know if I can say that concretely.
Andy Baldacci:
[00:32:30]
I think that’s fair, because you’re right at the end of the day this isn’t some process you’re forcing in that doesn’t really make sense, it’s something that fundamentally is a better way of doing things. When you do have the opportunity to educate a client, wherever they come from, if they’re sane and rational and reasonable, which some aren’t, but if they are then usually they can at least understand where you’re coming from by having this paid technical discovery process.
Sara Bacon:Yeah.
Andy Baldacci:
[00:33:00]
My other question though is how does this work? Because I know you mentioned earlier that you do partner with larger agencies, of different sizes, to help them out with a project and this and that, how does this work when doing those partnerships? Because your client isn’t the actual end client at that point.
Sara Bacon:
[00:33:30][00:34:00]
2 things occur to me. One is that it’s even more important for us to advocate for this with our agency partners because our relationship with them is so valuable. We can’t take, or we won’t take the risk on guessing what the right solution is for their client and that reflecting badly on us. Not only jeopardizing our relationship with the agency but jeopardizing the client agency relationship. On that level it’s even more important for us to stick to our guns. The other piece of that is that it can’t really work without transparency about relationship. This is not a service that we can white label. If you have a clear set of design files and functional specifications, sure we’re happy to work behind the scenes, but this is really about communication and building a trusted relationship and lots of technical details. In the instances where we do this through other agency partners there’s a level of transparency involved.
[00:34:30]

Andy Baldacci:

Right, it’s clear. I don’t even need to rephrase that because I think you said that pretty well, there is that level of transparency involved otherwise it really won’t work.
Sara Bacon:Yeah.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:35:00]

This is going a little off topic but [inaudible 00:34:41] curious with me, because I have talked with some agencies who exclusively work with partner agencies. I’ve talked to some who never do it. I’m curious because I know you have a bit of a mix with some clients who are entirely your own and then some through the partner agencies. What led you down that route?
Sara Bacon:

[00:35:30]

[00:36:00]

Similar motivation with the technical discovery, right? The bottom line with the technical discovery is that we’re interested in great relationships. That’s where we get our joy and fulfillment, is in the relationships that we build with our clients. Those relationships are in depth and we put a lot of time and energy into them. This was also a similar motivation for really focusing on e-commerce, is that when we were doing these portfolio projects, it’s like we build this relationship and put all this effort and energy and time into building the relationship, and then when we are done with the project it was over. It was like, “Wow, we just spent a lot of time on that and it’s done.” We started thinking along the lines of, “How can we position ourselves to have ongoing relationships with the businesses that we’re creating that initial relationship with.” E-commerce was an answer to that and agency partnerships was an answer to that.
Andy Baldacci:Interesting, how long have you been working with agency partners for?
[00:36:30]

Sara Bacon:

Maybe 8 years. That came before the ecommerce niche.
Andy Baldacci:Then how long have you been developing your technical discovery process for? When was the turning point where you said, “This is something we’re going to require. This is something we need to take more seriously.”
Sara Bacon:I can’t remember exactly but I want to say 3 to 4 years probably.
[00:37:00]

Andy Baldacci:

Because what I’m curious about, what I’m getting at is, I know this is something that a lot of agency owners, they intuitively get it. We’re almost preaching to the choir at a certain point with some of this, but it’s something they get but they really struggle to get started with. Do you have any advice for how agency owners that do want to implement some paid technical discovery process, how they could get started?
[00:37:30]

Sara Bacon:

[00:38:00]

[00:38:30]

Be creative. I think that for me it goes back to sales 101, don’t be overly emotional about it. It’s okay to lose a prospect, try it out. It’s okay to be honest. I think for a while where I had my own walls with it was that it sort of requires having a really honest, not going along with the crowd, conversation. Which of course is a risk. If I went into every prospect with the attitude of like, “Oh my God, I don’t want to lose this prospect,” we’d be in a really different position than we’re in right now, but if you position yourself as like, “I’m the expert and I, my business and my employees deserve to work with great client relationships and we’re looking for the right fit for us.” It gives you the confidence to say, “Hi, I’m going to try this unconventional thing.” Be real with the client and say, “I don’t think this is in your best interest. Here’s why.”
Andy Baldacci:

[00:39:00]

I like the way you [phrased 00:38:47] it because it’s almost as though you’re saying you need to sell yourself first. Once you’re able to do that, once you have thought about it and can fully accept that no, this is actually better for the client, it becomes a lot easier to hold your ground when talking to the client about this.
Sara Bacon:Totally. It’s much easier to sell something you really believe in than something you don’t.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:39:30]

I think just from talking to you, that was one thing that I got, that from your process it’s clear that you’re not trying to force this road-mapping, this technical discovery process on every project and every single situation. You truly are doing it on the biggest, most complex projects that absolutely require it. Then at the end of the day not doing it would be doing your client a disservice. It really seems like when it fits the solution as well as it does in your case, it’s something that it’s better for them. Then you might have to get over impostor syndrome or anything like that, is a different story but at the end of the day it’s the best solution for your client.
Sara Bacon:Totally.
Andy Baldacci:

[00:40:00]

To wrap up I want to go through a few quick questions, don’t need to think too much about them. The first one is, what do you spend too much time on in your business?
Sara Bacon:I’ve never been asked that question before. You may have stumped me.
Andy Baldacci:Is there anything you hate doing that you find yourself doing regularly?
[00:40:30]

Sara Bacon:

[00:41:00]

I don’t love social media. I can’t say that I love social media. I don’t do much of it but there’s a part of me that feels like I should. Maybe this where the impostor syndrome comes up, but there’s a part of me that still feels like to stay current I’ve got to keep that up to date at least, but it’s never been a big revenue driver or traffic driver for my business. It does help me to stay a part of the community, which is probably the reason why I still do it, but I can usually convince, find a way to get curious about most things. Social media, usually [inaudible 00:41:19] for me.
Andy Baldacci:
[00:41:30]
I’m there with you. It’s like, I’m on Twitter, I don’t really know what to do that much with it, but then now there’s like Snapchat and all those [inaudible 00:41:29] company, it’s like I’m not even going to try.
Sara Bacon:

[00:42:00]

No, no. Not to take it back too far but to me this brings up this really interesting of the difference between the technician and the entrepreneur. As a business owner I’ve really had to have a fundamental mindset shift, because what used to fulfill me was checking things off of my list. That’s a very technical attitude. As an entrepreneur I need a lot of down time and I need a lot of space for strategic thinking and I need a lot of open brain space. That has been a really interesting shift. Anyways, different conversation.
Andy Baldacci:No, no, no. For sure. My next question was supposed to be, is there something you don’t think you spend enough time on or where you would want to even spend more time on, not necessarily that you don’t spend much on it now?
[00:42:30]

Sara Bacon:

[00:43:00]

Ask me a different day. I’m at this really … We’re at a sweet spot right now where I don’t know what it is and I apprehend even saying it, but today I feel like I have some semblance of balance in my work/life relationship. That has most certainly not always been the case, but we’re in a sweet spot right now, where I’m working hard but I’m not overworked. I feel like I’ve delegated the things that need to be delegated. What I focus on is really what I should be doing for the size of my business.
Andy Baldacci:I’m impressed. That’s something that I think everyone listening to the show aspires to.
Sara Bacon:Yeah, I probably shouldn’t have said it out loud.
[00:43:30]

Andy Baldacci:

No, but that’s great though, is that when you’re able to really appreciate that and acknowledge that, because so many people get to that point without realizing it and then just keep going and keep going, and it doesn’t actually help.
Sara Bacon:I think it’s really just time. 12 years is a long time to have been grappling with this. Yeah.
Andy Baldacci:
[00:44:00]
No, I mean that’s the thing, is that, especially with someone with your mindset where you are always trying to improve and you are looking for feedback and adjusting, after 12 years of it, it wasn’t easy but you’re going to be in a place where it’s pretty good if you’ve actually been doing those things.
Sara Bacon:I hope so. Again it’s still a roller coaster and tomorrow things might look really different, but you caught me on a good day.
Andy Baldacci:Yeah, nice. I’m glad. Going with that though, what are your plans for the future with Command C?
[00:44:30]

Sara Bacon:

[00:45:00]

In the next 5 years I’d like to double our current size in terms of clients. We do a lot of ongoing support and optimization so we have a nice retainer roster right now. I’d like to double that slowly and organically over the next 5 years and really keep refining our client list. We want to be working with clients that are a joy to work with, that are smart, that have good ideas. The partnership there feels very collaborative. We’re both bringing the best of what we have to offer to the table to make the product that much better. Those are my goals.
Andy Baldacci:
[00:45:30]
Nice. I like how clearly and how well thought out those are, because they’re not just a pie in the sky, let me throw something out there. It’s clear that you have thought about what it’s important to you, refining that client roster, refining those things and getting there is the way to achieve it.
Sara Bacon:Yeah.
Andy Baldacci:Sara, honestly I just want to say thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me today. Before I say goodbye entirely though, where can listeners go to hear more from you and more about Command C.
Sara Bacon:The best place would be to check out our website. It’s Command C.com, we have a blog. That’s where you’ll find the most information.
Andy Baldacci:I’m assuming they could also follow you on Snapchat.
[00:46:00]

Sara Bacon:

No. No, but they can follow me on Twitter. It’s @saraheartbacon, S-A-R-A-H-E-A-R-T-B-A-C-O-N, and Command C also has a Twitter profile.
Andy Baldacci:Awesome, I’ll make sure to get all that linked up in the show notes. Again, thank you so much for chatting with me today.
Sara Bacon:Cool, thanks Andy.

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Thanks for listening!