We're coming to the end of another year, which inevitably brings about the notion of planning for next year and beyond. Every new year is a turning point, and this new year maybe even more, as a new decade is upon us. It's around this time that we start to hear from people who are planning or beginning to prepare for a new digital project.
But – is there one time or another that is better when it comes to undertaking a development or creative project? This week, I wanted to explore if there truly is a better time to begin a project and, if so, when it may be. To begin, we should analyze why projects typically are planned in the first place and then look at any seasonality in the digital agency space. By tying together project timelines with the seasonal trends we agency owners see, we can determine the best time to begin your project and progress through the development cycle.
Why Digital Projects Happen
Truth be told, the timing of a project can differ for each client, and frequently that is due to the reasons a project is being undertaken in the first place. For the most part, many projects begin because of the following circumstances:
- "It's Time" – This type of project is somewhat arbitrary in nature. Often it's an executive or owner who simply determines they are ready to undertake a new design or development initiative. Also falling into this category are start-up founders or others with no particular timetable in mind, but just eager to get started. The benefits of this reasoning are that time is often on your side, as no specific timeframe is required.
- Optimization – An optimization project is something that originated in response to analytics and data. It has a clear goal of taking specific metrics from A to Z, such as improving conversions, decreasing bounce rates, or improving time on site. These types of projects often are agile, ongoing, and don't fall into any particular timeline.
- Rebranding or Reorganization – Frequently, these projects occur either after a rebranding exercise or in tandem. This is often coined "digital transformation" in that it can happen simultaneously with changes to a marketing suite or other software re-platforming. Whether or not these projects have a tight timeline depends on how well they were planned internally. More often than not, they are low-stress and given generous timeframes.
- New Company, Upcoming Events, or Product Launches – These types of projects are often time-sensitive, meaning there is a defined end-date that must be achieved. In these cases, the best bet is to plan early and give yourself time to get things done right. However, absolute, must-meet deadlines can put pressure on these projects, and those deadlines often may be out of your control.
- Emergency / Unexpected – This happens more often than you would think. If a company's website partner goes out of business, if they need to rebuild because of infiltration or any number of other unknowns occurs, then a design or development project could be required in short order, meaning it could be a stressful undertaking.
For the most part, the agency business sees a particular trend in terms of seasonality. The cycle of business development tends to circle around two things: first, the timing of the realization that a client wants to undertake a project, and secondly, the desired end date.
I've often said to customers that our business development cycle follows three general milestone dates. This isn't overly scientific, but I have spoken to my fair share of other agency owners who can report a similar trend. Being a US-based agency, these events are somewhat determined by our calendar, and tend to determine our lead flow:
Mid-January: The time after new years, though not immediately after, is our most popular time for collecting new potential clients. Much like a gym membership, people have it ingrained in their minds that the new year is a great time to begin looking into transformative types of projects. The desired end-dates vary – leads that we receive in the new year aren't usually emergency driven, but focus on the hope to optimize or improve where they currently are. As such, there is a level of flexibility.
After Memorial Day: For those who haven't pursued a project at the beginning of the year, Memorial Day frequently serves as a checkpoint and motivates some to kick-start projects they may have put on hold earlier in the new year. For those outside the United States, Memorial Day is a bank holiday that occurs on a Monday near the end of May, and for many marks the official beginning of the summer season. The lead flow at this time of year is not as busy as the beginning of the year, but it is enough of a noticeable bump.
After Labor Day: Labor Day is another Monday bank holiday that unofficially marks the conclusion of the summer. It comes after immediately after August, a time where pretty much nothing is happening. Labor day is another one of those calendar-driven motivators, though, by the time these leads come in, they often haven't enough time to realize a project before the end of the year.
How does this all matter to you? Well, simply put, so much of the agency business is based on the availability of teams. An agency that can close a couple of deals out of each of the above seasons is going to stay busy more or less all year. But, there will always be slow periods, and times where you'll be more likely to work out better terms, get more attention or consideration from the senior staff. Leads that come into us in the middle of the summer or in the fourth quarter always garner more attention. There are fewer of them floating around, and the business development folks have less to do. If I were to try to time the industry, I'd focus on looking to hire agencies in these windows: March to April, July to August, and November. As an agency owner, I find that leads gathered in this window get my full attention and are competing with fewer other opportunities in the pipeline. Since much of the agency business is run by boutiques, where there may be a single sales guy or perhaps the principal doing business development, there is only so much that they can focus on at once. And yes, in the busy times, it's a seller's market. In fact, the more specialized a development firm, it's more or less always a seller's market.
Remember the Process
I had written a comprehensive blog post in the past detailing the best way to plan a custom web design or development project. In this post, I refer to the idea of the golden rule of project planning, which is to work backward from your proposed or preferred completion date. This rule still, and probably always, will hold true. What you want to do, however, to ensure you have the highest chance of success and satisfaction is to figure out how you can work agency seasonality into your planning and desired end date. So, as an example, if you want to build mobile apps for your real estate business, you may want to target the desired end date somewhere in the early spring, before the home buying season picks up. In this case, knowing that agencies are busy in the first part of the year, the beginning of summer and after summer, it makes sense to start reaching out to agencies in late March or April. In this way, you'll have plenty of time and also have the attention of the team on your side.
Now, I understand it's hard to determine how long your project will take if you are not a developer or designer. And that's a fair point. Hopefully, research via avenues like this blog will help you determine, at least at a high level, what timing would make sense given the complexity of your project.
In wrapping up this post, I think it's important to remember that digital projects rely on intuition and strategic implementation of skills - there are little parts or labor involved. As such, you always want to have a best-in-class agency looking at your project. But, as we reviewed, there are better times to start the conversation versus others. As I had indicated above, the best agencies are busy at certain times, making the competition for you as the buyer a factor in getting a quality team to work on your project. As the saying goes, timing is everything, and knowing when to reach out and begin the agency hiring process can move the odds in your favor that the team you want to work with will be available and focused on your specific initiative.