Be Your Own Client

Lance talks about how to be your own client after an inspiring article from ALA and Coudal Partners.

I am very intrigued about this business idea: “be your own client.” It sounds simple and logical, but it is easy to say and hard to practice. As part of investigating the idea for myself, I thought I’d flesh out some ideas here about what I’ve found so far.

There seem to be two schools of thought that propose “being your own customer”. One assumes that you are testing and using your products or services in order to be able to meet customer needs. The other is more specific: “fire your clients and become your own customer.” The first is general and a good practice, and the second is more specific and harder to do.

Be your own customer to improve your business

To research this one, all you have to do is perform a “be your own customer” Google search (keeping the quotes intact). When I did this, I found many sources for the “think from your customer’s point of view” idea in the product world. The basic idea is that if you use the products that you sell, your business will benefit. Your product will be thoroughly tested and constantly improved.

This is all good, but I didn’t find too much writing online about taking a more radical approach to “being your own customer.”

Be your own customer and fire your regular clients

This means changing the way you do business, not just getting to know how your business works by getting inside the mind of your average consumer. Instead of just using the philosophy as a guide or usability study, companies that practice this approach have the “be your client” as their main business philosophy.

The idea is quite a drastic one: throw all the clients out the window that you did work for over the years. Instead, create a commodity (service, blog, book, etc) that produces revenue. Essentially you are changing revenue models by consuming the very thing you produce; you are truly your own customer.

Jim and Jason

Two important proponents of this latter business philosophy are Coudal Partners and 37Signals. They talk often about being your own user, client, and customer. Since both of these companies are very successful in the web design and development industry, it’s definitely worth digging deeper to figure out how they found the value in this philosophy.

The way they put the idea into practice was to shift their business strategy from providing a service to producing consumable products that they themselves consume.

I first heard about this take on “being your own customer” at a panel at SXSWi 2005 on “Blogging for Business” where Jim Coudal mentioned that his blog has a business. I remember thinking, “that is so cool, it sounds great.” The questions I have now are: What are the benefits? What are some examples? How does it work?

Background on this radical approach

First, for some background, I recommend reading an excellent A List Apart article by the same Jim Coudal: Be Your Own Client. If you haven’t read it, go now, it’s worth it.

Good tips and testimonials from that article:

  • Your blog should have a business
  • There’s an amazing freedom in building something for yourself
  • If you want to free yourself from the tyranny of clients you have to become one
  • Jason Fried says, “When you are your own target audience you can’t help but make better products.”
  • David Greiner with Campaign Monitor “We focused on the features we needed and it turns out that thousands of other web designers found those features just as useful.”

Some related reading to help illustrate this principle:

  • From Being Predictable
    Lesson: Be predictable. Think like your users. Better yet, be your own user. It’ll be much rarer that you’ll come up a non-solution like this one.
  • From 200 Proof Marketing
    Lesson: Be your own customer… Become a part of a market before you sell to it, so you can better understand what the market wants.
  • Article on Six Sigma. This article’s ideas apply to the first school of thought in how to improve your marketing and business tactics.
  • From Your Site Better Be Your Best Employee
    Lesson: Your site greets more users than any team member in your company. Make sure it’s ready for it! Put more time and energy into it…And make sure it is the most impressive and helpful of all your resources.

Clear signals

It’s not an accident that a lot of the material that I found in researching this topic was from 37signals poignant blog, SVN. They are huge proponents of this philosophy, and they practice what they preach. Recently, Jason Fried pointed out in his blog entry The Tools We Use to Run and Build 37Signals that they in fact use their own software for all their own projects. This shows that they not only believe they product the best product out there, but they also can tie in the other philosophy of improving the products by using them constantly themselves in order to test and improve them. It’s a great combination of both of these principles that I have explored here.

Ask yourself

What would be different about your business or daily grind if you were your own customer?

Author: Lance Willett

My name is Lance, I am a blogger and web craftsman making high-quality, engaging, and user-centered experiences for people that use WordPress. México-born. Product Excellence Manager at Automattic.

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