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Industry news: Small Java Development Company.. How to find work?

  1. I have a friend (really!) who has a small few person development company with web development and Java development experience. They have some clients under their belts, and are able to show a record of work for new clients.

    Their problem right now is actually finding these new clients. They have tried for government work, but are too small, too unknown, or don't have enough work to really pass all of the screening. That probably makes sense, since there is certainly more risk when hiring a small company for your work.

    So I said I would post here to see what people do or recommend? There used to be RFP posting sites for small to mid-size jobs, but I don't see any around these days.

    They have a few options that I can think of, offhand..

    1. Get involved in community groups (users groups, conferences) to help get their name out and to demonstrate expertise.

    2. Do pro-bono work if they have totally idle resources. Help out some community organizations and do a win-win for both sides.

    3. Partner with other companies to draw work in. Marketing companies, for example, can occasionally use a technical group for specific details where they don't staff that expertise in house. The drawback here is that a large company will dominate the relationship.. probably keeping it from being fair.. and that large tech supplier/product companies probably don't care about small companies to much extent. Graphics/Design companies are another reasonable match with this, since you can jointly pursue proposals that you otherwise would not be able to compete on. It helps avoid trying to staff extra positions (Design) if you are working to be a technology company.

    4. Do some cold calling for work. This could possibly hit something.. but not usually. Without a contact in place in the company already, I doubt it would go far.

    5. Have a contact in a company.. use your friends and their friends to get a foot in the door. Probably works much better, but of course, you have to have the contacts in the first place.

    6. Stand by the road with a sign that says "Will answer RFPs for food."

    I haven't had these sorts of issues myself, given that I'm not a small development company, but I think its an interesting problem. So, any other recommendations or ideas I could pass back?

    As a note, they do have a business development person of some sort.. I've never met the person.. but historically I've not seen lots of good business development people in these small companies. They don't necessarily understand technology well, or have the contacts to really get the work in the door.

    Thanks!

    Threaded Messages (12)

  2. Hi Paul,
    this seems to be a problem for all of us. I am an owner of one of these kind of companies. We've been in this market now since 16 years but it was never harder than the last two years to get new projects.
    I guess that the problem sits in the decision area of the "customers" or possible prospects. As soon as somebody realizes that this is one of the smaller companies, they even do not try to see if there is some sort of qualification behind that.
    Also the media is somewhat ignorant to this kind of business. Only Pressreleases from major companies are released, smaller are simply ignored.
    This is not an issue of business development, even if the size of a company automatically implies a lack in this area, it is more the thinking on the other side of the table that makes life difficult. Try to imagine that a manager who makes decisions has to report any success or failure to his manager will go for the small company, every issue that will be raised in the project automatically will be reflected to his decisions. This will not happen if a large consultant or development company is selected because they always exceed the deadline with a lot of arguments.
    So the manager finally will make a decision for the large one even if he knows that the smaller might be the better one.
    I started from a large organization and learned that lesson that doors that were open during my previous engagement are closed with my own company. I am still the same person with the same knowledge. So why?
    See, we just released a huge tool that will make life for data-integration easier, more cost-effective and less painfull. I thought that this will at least raise some interest. Reactions so far... nearly zero.
    So we build a Basic Version and give it away for free! Reaction: nearly zero.
    Send out Pressreleases (the common way) ... Reaction: None
    Try to contact all the major analysts who tell their clients in their reports that there will be a tool in the future that can implement Mainframe, LDAP, SQL and all the ERP Systems of the world in one Access Mechanism, that we not only talk about this tool, WE HAVE IT. Reaction so far: NONE.

    Coming to an end, I must conclude that this is the dilemma of the IT Business. After the DOT-COM People left only burned bridges, we (the smaller and trustfull, reliable, and seriously customer oriented companies) are either on the way to die (cross fingers that this will not happen) or get a lucky shot and an order to survive the next month or two.

    Sorry to be not more optimistic than this, but that's my life since 16 years, sooner or later you learn that lesson.

    Let's hope the best for your friend and all the other small companies doing the best to survive.

    Jochen Grotepass
    http://www.sagadc.com
    http://www.sagadc.org
  3. Welcome to running a small business!

    I have worked at the largest software company in the world (Microsoft) and now am at a small systems integrator/development shop so I have a pretty unique view of this.

    First off.... We are very busy and growing. Our problem isnt finding work. We have quite a backlog of that. Our problem is in finding good employees! That's a good problem to have. Small Java integrators and development shops can and should be making money and growing.

    The root problem small companies have is this. They fall into the very eronious belief that if they are smart and deliver good technology they will be successful. The painful reality is that plenty of dumb people with poor technology have been 10X as successful. Why? Because your job is all about sales, and most technologists know NOTHING about sales or marketing.

    Lets use some of the examples here.

    1) My PR got no news. Hey look, putting a PR on your website does ZILCH. Putting a PR on the wire does ZILCH. You know if MSFT were to issue a PR, shove it on the PR or AP wire, they would get NO coverage! When a major company issues a PR they do whats called a "calldown". They literall pick up the phone, call the magazines, and "pitch" their PR to the reporters. Hey these reporters get thousands or PR's a day. What makes yours cool? I worked at another very small Java company. We issued a product launch PR, and phoned our asses off. Guess what? We got coverage from JavaPro, JavaWorld and JDJ. If we hadnt done the calldowns, we would have been ignored. We got that success without even putting the PR onto the AP wire. (which BTW costs thousands of dollars)

    2) I had great technology but no one bought it. Hey look, everyone has great technology. If no one bought it, there is only one reason.... You never explained the VALUE of your product or offering. People do NOT make purchasing decisions based on cost. They buy based on value. Once value exceeds cost, they buy. What most small businesses fail to grasp is this reality. So they never can show any real value. They never can show how their value solves a customers pain. Better yet, they never got the customer to realize they have a pain that needs solving! Now, instead of figuring out how to INCREASE value and expose pain in a customer, they instead drop the price. Usually to free. And boom, guess what? NO ONE buys it. You know what that proves? It proves that unless you explaian the value of your solution, even if the price is zero it still does not exceed the perceived value, and still never sells. 0!>0. Dropping the price is nearly NEVER the answer. Increasing the perceived value is. The problem is that most folks are technologists and not sales people. They feature the customer to death, and in the end the customer has no idea why they give a crap enough to buy the technology.

    3) Bigger companies get the work. Small companies cant survive. Guess what? Bigger companies dont win because they are bigger. Bigger companies win because they know how to sell and they know how to market. If they didnt, they wouldnt be a big company. Thats how they got that way!!!!


    My suggestions

    1) PARTNER. Establish relationships with other complimentary companies. These are a fast way to leverage their sales and marketing teams so you can generate enough revenue and cash to

    2) HIRE A SALES PERSON. A good and well compensated salesperson will sell lead weights to a drowning man arguing it will ease his pain. Trust me. Now, you are golden when you find a technologist who can generate real revenue while also being a salesmen.

    3) LEARN HOW TO MARKET. Its second only to sales.

    4) WORK YOUR ASS OFF. :)

    Dave Wolf
    Cynergy Systems
  4. Hello David,

    some nice points made. Some of your arguments were necessary to wake up. However there seems to be some points that I cannot agree upon.

    First you say that you work for a "small systems integrator/development shop". Interesting to see where this small shop has office locations. Also the close relationship between Sysbase and the company you work for cannot be ignored if someone make some minor researches on this topic.

    2) You mentioned that dropping the price or even give it away for free isn't a solution. Well just your company did it in the past. Here an extract from a sybase Article I found:
    One of the tools Hager brought to the solution was a component layer called Enterprise Application Framework (EAF) from Cynergy Systems that Hager had co-authored. EAF is the product of years of experience designing distributed frameworks with both PowerBuilder and EAServer. In addition to being sharp, the folks at Cynergy Systems are altruistic; EAF is available as “community source” meaning that it is completely free and any compiled applications are freely distributable.
    So what does that mean? You might argue that this is no longer the case today but why did your organization give something away for free if it had a great value?
    This is a marketing reason: Try to get as much users using your tool to a) adapt your product to the market, because software that is free is more supported by their users (especially if you enter a new terrain) and b) see the reactions of this market.
    Differencing products between a free version with limited functionality and a commercial version with the full featureset is not wrong (at least my view).

    There are some arguments in your post that hit the point. On the other side you seem to have the lucky position that the company you worked for (I mean the smaller ones and not Sybase or Microsoft) had some financial background that would allow them to invest not only in you but also in the period of time until the revenue stream get's started after all the marketing activities has been initiated. Also I am a strong believer of the fact that there are cultural differences for organizations in Europe and the U.S. for new technology.

    Maybe it's true that I'm not a salesperson (well that was my first life, than I was a technologist). But how can a company survive 16 years? So there seems to be some changes somewhere. And my experience is that after the Dot-Com bubble bursts, most IT organizations are looking for the "larger" ones. Even if you (or in this case I) get in touch with somebody, showing the value of the product, why do they like to work with other that are more expensive and provide less service? I have no idea.

    Anyhow, I got your point and it might be the mood of these days looking back into a not very successful year that let my post sounds more depressing than it is.

    Just as a sidenote: your Item 4 really made me smile. How can a day be longer than 24 hours? No vacation since 4 years?
    Also "hire a salesman". Well did that, result: None. Perhaps the wrong one. Next one, and now... discussions with lawyers and judges about the reason of firing him.. Welcome to the German working law.

    Have a nice and successful day...

    Jochen Grotepass
    SAGA D.C. GmbH
  5. Sales is a dirty word for engineers.

    There's some simple things you can do straight away that will deliver some results:

    -work out your key marketing message

    Produce a one page PDF brochure with some simple text explaining what you do

    -ask for referrals

    Call all your previous customers and ask them if they will recommend you to people they know. It's also a good way to let them know that you're interested in more work.


    -make a contact list and use it

    You probably know more people than you think. For example, most of your staff probably went to university - and know maybe a few dozen people. Be happy of you get a 2-4% response rate.

    -make a target list

    Start local by making a list of all the major companies in your area. Then assign some to pick up the phone....

    -make your engineers part of the sales team

    Offer generous commissions for the bringing in a new customer.



    PJ Murray
    CodeFutures - Java Code Generation
    http://www.codefutures.com
  6. one other thing...[ Go to top ]

    As a small company, you need to overcome the credibility gap...

    My suggestion is to ask customers for testimonials.

    Look here for some examples:

    http://www.codefutures.com/customers/codefutures_customer_testimonials/


    PJ Murray
    CodeFutures - Java Code Generation
    www.codefutures.com
  7. Focus on sales, do the simple things first[ Go to top ]

    -make your engineers part of the sales team. Offer generous commissions for the bringing in a new customer.

    This is awesome advice. Realize EVERYONE has to be a salesperson. Then compensate them richcly for it.

    Dave Wolf
    Cynergy Systems
  8. You're so right. From my point of view, the post of Dave really woke me up in my frustration and had me got back to focussing back on what is really necessary.
    Your whole points are what we "normally" do and what drops under the desk in the daily work.
    I must admit that I personally be sometimes somewhat lazy with my focus and if there are several calls that ends in the mentioned direction, I lose (or is it loose?) the interest in getting more arrogant answers.

    Well I am back in the fight and start focussing on all your good advices.
    Let's see how that ends.
    -make your engineers part of the sales team

    Offer generous commissions for the bringing in a new customer.
    Guess what, that was my plan about 2 years ago to have the engineers and developer focussed on the fact that they can generate business just in opening their ears and eyes.
    What should I say, they denied because being a salesperson is bad. No really that was their view. Meanwhile we change nearly the whole team and I guess that this will change when I try it again. Thanks for the advice.
    About 20 years ago I told the people in Support of the company I worked for that they should never give the customer the impression that they are stupid or even more worse. They pay finally their salary and therefore they should be extremely customer oriented. Everybody in an organization is in sales! If they like it or not. That's a fact.

    Thanks again for your real great "wakeup posts".

    Jochen Grotepass
    http://www.sagadc.com
    http://www.sagadc.org
  9. One point of clarification[ Go to top ]

    You are right. EAF is free. But here is the difference. Its ALWAYS been free. My argument was to say that it is a mistake to take for-pay software that is strugglign to sell, and to believe that dropping the price will make it sell better. This just about never works.


    Another suggestion I do have is a book my Michael Bosworth called Solution Selling. It is simply fabulous.

    Yes we have partnerships with folks like Sybase. Heck, I made that one of my big proving points. You HAVE to do this. You are the little guy. They have the marketing dollars. Make partnerships. Usually the larget vendor you partner with has better rates and margins then you could do on your own. Use this to generate cash, and then invest that cash into your own growth.

    I was trying to pick on you Jochen. I was using some pretty common points I hear and see everyday in this market. The best advantage I have has been working for some pretty large and successful software firms, and seeing how they work, then replicating it.

    Dave Wolf
    Cynergy Systems
  10. One point of clarification[ Go to top ]

    David,
    I need to thank you again for your clear and (from the first sight) arrogant (maybe a bit of a strong word but I missed the better word in English) post. After thinking about it and sleep the night over it, it opens the eyes and re-focus to what is necessary. Even if the people might be arrogant, I sometimes tend to be as they are.

    Free Products:
    See here is my point. We have just finished a huge development with a clear strategy and approach. There will be a basic version of the Product that is free but has limited functionality in terms of a) only a limited number of connectors (a performance factor for large organizations), less audit options (only for large organizations useful), only a standard performance optimizing logic (not the full featured and very elegant performance optimization for Mainframe communication) etc. So we clearly differentiate between the "Free of Charge" version and the commercial version for people who really want to use the full blown functionality. So this is a clear defined strategy that might help in spreading the product.

    Partnership:
    You're right, we are also IBM Business Partner and Development Partner and we did not use it (from the current perspective) as good as we should have done it (my fault).

    I took some sales and marketing lessons last night and will take a look into your mentioned book (I guess that I have seen it already and at least took a short read into it).

    Thanks again.
    Jochen Grotepass
    http://www.sagadc.com
    http://www.sagadc.org
  11. Few advices[ Go to top ]

    Except the marketing i think you should consider that too:

    - Web site look and feel
    Your website needs to look more professional looking. Improve the design. No need to add 10 banners in flash keep the usability in mind.

    - Navigation and content
    Try to add more structure for navigation
     + change the web site hierarchy and categorize it in terms of Products, services, etc...
     + a sitemap would not heart
     + a search engine like lucene would be useful

    - Web site content
    Try improving the design.
    The graphic in the frontpage is too big(home_pic.jpg). Try to put do something more useful with the space, display something like "The most useful product to blabla)

    - Localization
    The English-German buttons are located at the bottom of the page. I think it might be better to put them at the top.

    - Documentation
    If the documentation is inexistant or not enough consistant, people won't bother about your product. Even if you are not done with writing it, put something at least and add "Section not completed" or something like that.

    - Promotion
    Try to promote your website more and evaluate your ranking.
  12. Thanks![ Go to top ]

    Thanks for the feedback in here.. it was interesting to see the different points of view. I'll pass back this information to him, and I hope it helps him out.

    I do agree on many of the points in here.. especially things like partnering and calling. In a small company, everbody has to be sales.. but also a small company shouldn't try to do all things for all people. For example, don't hire a design staff if you are pure technical.. especially when you can partner for that talent. And with partnering, getting the Sun/Oracle/Microsoft/etc partnerships in place do help to bring that credibility to your company. (Assuming the companies you partner with have that credability.. if you are a Linux-oriented company, perhaps you should skip on the SCO partnership..)

    So thanks for the pointers!
  13. Hard time[ Go to top ]

    Hi all, I just wanted to underline the same concept. It is difficult to develop a company. What I understand less, is why is so different to have credibility if you do a job as employee or as private. If you send your cv to a company, they want you immediately, if you contact a company as a private development company, then your possibilities are so low... Good luck to everybody, Cristiano Bellucci FeroPluris cristiano dot bellucci at feropluris dot com