Given that we include “all ongoing development” in our platform as part of our monthly licence structure, our clients often ask us where do we draw the line? What qualifies as free development, and where does chargeable, development start?
The plain truth of the matter is that it is a bit of a grey area. If we didn’t include any development in our base offering it would be crystal clear, as it is for all our competitors. If you so much as breathe, you get charged. Simples. The normal result of that approach is that developments get passed upon, and the site starts to become uncompetitive as the environment evolves (which of course becomes even more expensive than buying their upgrades, but that’s subject for another story).
However, it’s not that simple, as our monthly licence model does include some development. We do this, as we fundamentally believe that a website is an ever changing / constantly evolving platform. Don’t build a brittle site, investing thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, then quickly let it go out of date. Get into a programme of ongoing development to keep you abreast of the changes.
All maintenance changes to out platform are obviously included (believe it or not, this is not always the case with our competitors). So if My SQL (the base database) gets an upgraded version, we upgrade you. If you need a higher capacity firewall, we upgrade you. If cookie legislation changes, we upgrade you (others charged, can you believe it!). Lettings fees legislation (likewise, others charged whilst we were free, or we should say included).
And more importantly, ALL ongoing enhancements to our base platform, go to ALL clients, free of charge. Of course the difficulty here, is that we don’t know what the future holds, or what is coming up. So the only real way of valuing this is to look retrospectively. We introduce staff profiles, all clients get the option of them included. We introduce location area guides, contextually aware of their search results, you get them. We introduce best in class sketch-a-map, tens of thousands of pounds of engineering, free of charge to you sir! Or clean URLs, not a penny. Or call recording, gratis (apart from the actual line costs, which we get levied). The list goes on and on, we release improvements at a rate of several a week.
There is one small wrinkle here, that is to say you do have to pay for the skin, the surface embodiment, of features which change the front of your website. Many ongoing improvements (automatic lead ingestion into Reapit, real time feeds with Vebra, changes to the email engines or profile systems) don’t require new skin. And they’re completely free. But others require minor changes to the skin, and those cases you just have to pay for the new HTML or graphic design, not the programming, that’s free, just the skin to cover it (which is a tiny fraction of the cost). If you are on one of our theme designs you won’t even have to do that.
Think of it like this: Your Porsche dealer comes to you and says, madam, we have a new 5 litre engine, upgraded from the 3 litre version you bought (licenced actually) a couple of years ago… “great news we can put it in your two year old car free of charge, you will need to buy a new bonnet to incorporate the slightly bigger bump on the top of the engine, however that’s only £300, not £13,000”.
Lovely. Get in the flow!
Bespoke development basically.
If you come to us, and say I’ve got a great idea, I’d like to build a new 7 speed gearbox, and it has substantial engineering implications, then clearly we have to charge. It’s not an infinite licence to develop anything, forever. We do however have two prices: The “completely exclusive, for you and you only sir”, price. And the, “what’s the absolute minimum you could possibly build this for, I’m happy for you to put this into the base platform for everyone else”, price. Clearly the two are very different. If you are buying the latter, then you are essentially buying, bespoke development exactly around your individual needs, and acceleration of the roadmap, or bending our roadmap to get what you want, faster, when you want it.
Then there’s a wrinkle on this one too. However this time it’s good news. If you send us a small development it might still be free. Sometimes they are so small (read; less than an hour or two), that it is easier, arguably cheaper than discussing, invoicing, and administrating it, for us simply to do the development directly. And we do this a lot, just ask our clients. Or sometimes a development idea is so damn good that we just have to have it, then we’ll do that for free too. And there’s a third category of “good but not urgent” ideas, (often popular between a few clients). With those we offer the option to put them in the ideas fridge. We count up the votes, and keep you posted. If you want to trigger it at any time it can be done as a heavily discounted bit of development, or if you are happy to wait, we keep you informed and sooner or later it just pops out for free anyway. (Results serving on https: springs to mind as a current live example we are working on for a few clients who brought it up, and there will be no charge there).
Now, of course that’s horribly grey – there are no two ways around that really. And ultimately it’s us who makes the call. So the only real way to test it, is to ask our clients. Don’t take our word for it, call them and ask them how they enjoy it. Give us a call and we can send you the phone number list of current clients, as we encourage you to reference widely (indeed we ask clients, you included if you choose to come on board with us, if they don’t mind going on that list for that very reason).
Or, if it’s all too uncertain for your liking, and if it makes you feel better, just pretend the benefit doesn’t exist in the first place. Imagine everything is charged for. That just makes us level with our competition (at about the same price point) and everything you do get will just be a bonus.
Our over-riding culture can be summed up as follows: We’re building a licencing business. A SaaS business. Charging for bespoke development is counter to our culture. Indeed charging for building sites is counter to our culture in truth, hence our ridiculous Template Website prices relative to our competition. We want to just say yes. Clearly we aren’t able to do anything and everything for nothing. But when we price dev work for a client request, what goes through our head in cases where we can’t do it for free, is this: “how little can we possibly get away with charging, so we don’t lose our shirt, so we can delight this client (or more realistically, avoid them worry too much about the cost), and so we can fold this into our base engine, so our IP gets ever, crushingly, stronger, for all our clients. Straight from the heart. Come and join the party.