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Dec 27 2012

Referrals and Beyond: Marketing a Development Firm

Referrals Got Us Where We Are Today

Since starting MojoTech I’ve had to invest very little time in marketing. Our first clients were people I already knew from the startup community. As an early employee of two venture-backed startups, I’d built enough of a reputation for building products that clients were coming in as fast as I could find talented engineers. These new clients came to us based primarily on my, and then my teammates, personal reputations.

As the company grew, it gained its own reputation. There was a shift from people wanting to hire me or specific people, to wanting to hire MojoTech. This was an exciting transition and the first time I realized I was building a brand, one that was stronger than the sum of its parts.

As MojoTech completed more projects and had more happy clients, the firehose of referrals opened. To this day referrals remain the primary source of new clients for us at MojoTech. The more happy clients, the more referrals, and so we’ve grown the team to over 20 without sacrificing the quality and passion that got us to where we are today.

My sense is that referrals will be our primary source of new clients forever. Generally, potential clients that contact us via referral know how we work, have seen what we’re capable of, and are already inclined to go with us since someone they trust has recommended us. Plus, the only thing we have to do to attract them is do a great job for an existing client, which is what we’d do anyway. What could be better than that?

The Challenge of Relying Solely On Referrals

There are a couple of challenges with relying solely on referrals for new clients. The first is that referral clients will often propose projects of a similar type / scope to the work you did for the person that referred them. That’s a good thing, because you can be confident you’ll knock that project out of the park, but stepping outside your comfort zone promotes growth. As engineers and entrepreneurs, we’re constantly striving for better solutions, and in this industry, complacency quickly becomes obsolescence. At MojoTech we mitigate this concern by choosing new projects judiciously, and by working on our internal projects, but the best-case-scenario is when a client’s real-world problems push the boundaries of what’s possible. By stretching our team’s limits, we grow as engineers and we are better prepared to meet the challenges of our clients.

Pacing can also be a challenge with referrals, you can’t control when they come in. You might get 5 in one month, then none for 2 months. That lack of control and high variance means even with 20+ people we still need to turn down work frequently. Turning down work is painful, but it’s better than spreading the team too thin and sacrificing quality. Other times we’ve got our fingers crossed as we wind down a project that another referral will be coming soon. Fortunately, they have always been there when we’ve needed them, but like our clients, we like to reduce risk and so diversifying our stream of potential new clients sounds like a worthwhile endeavor.

Getting The Word Out (AKA Marketing)

Recently I’ve been putting effort into marketing to see how it changes the projects we’re able to pick from. Marketing is pretty far from my comfort zone of engineering, but if you run a company, you need to get used to stepping outside your comfort zone.

So far, I’m pleased with the results of our engineer-lead marketing plan. Collectively our level of effort has been fairly low, it includes writing more blog posts, releasing some more experiments into the wild, publishing open source projects, sponsoring meet-ups, and generally making a bit more noise.

With more thoughtful marketing perhaps we could reliably reach an audience beyond one or two degrees of separation from our existing networks. We might be able to focus in on clients with especially hard problems to solve, or that require expertise in our areas of strength (real-time, big-data, geospatial). Perhaps we’d even be in a position to dial up and down our marketing initiatives and time them based on our availability.

We’re grateful for all the referrals we receive and there is no sign of them stopping which makes it OK that I’m leading the marketing charge, even though it’s not my strong suit. I’d encourage anyone on the fence about making some more noise to do it. Even if you’re not a marketer-at-heart it might be easier than you think. It will at least give you an appreciation and understanding of what marketing-done-right looks like, which puts you in a better position to hire someone to help. Speaking of which…

Want To Help?

If you think you’re uniquely qualified to help us market and grow MojoTech and are in New York, Providence, or Boston we’d love to hear from you.

—Nick Kishfy (@kishfy)

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If you’re building a web or mobile app, MojoTech might be able to help. We turn ideas into products, build full-featured applications, mentor and accelerate development teams, rescue stray projects, and help our clients make smart decisions that pay off. Let’s build something you’ll love.

Nick Kishfy