Client Management

Building Long-Term Relationships as a Core Strategy with Rob Howard

One of Rob’s core values is building relationships—and not just ANY relationships. To him, long term relationships with both his clients and with his team are essential to business. He treats clients as friends—folks he’s going to be working with for 5 or 10 years, at least.

Susan Boles
December 8, 2020
Quote: "I've found that everybody likes a long-term partnership. When you lead with that, it creates higher-quality relationships. It brings in higher quality clients. And it's financially beneficial for everybody." - Rob Howard

When you think about the relationships you build with your clients, what does that look like?

Are you setting it up from the very first touchpoint to be a long-term relationship? Or do you approach it as a one-and-done kind of thing?

Neither is better than the other—but your business values influence your business model, rippling out into how you build relationships, do your work, and create your legacy.

Last week, I talked with Kate Strathmann about using pricing strategies to move towards creating more equitable businesses. We talked about making sure that you’re using strategies that make sense for YOUR business and how the pricing strategies you choose are one way to build your values into the DNA of your business.

Your values SHOULD be a part of your pricing and business model choices from day one and my guest today has really taken that idea to heart.

Meet Rob Howard, the founder and CEO of Howard Development & Consulting, the web development firm that creative agencies trust when every pixel matters.

One of Rob’s core values is building relationships—and not just ANY relationships.

To him, long term relationships with both his clients and with his team are essential to business. He treats clients as friends—folks he’s going to be working with for 5 or 10 years, at least. And several of his team members have been with him for a decade.

Rob’s created some pretty unique offerings that reflect that value and we’re going to talk all about it today on the podcast.

Listen to the full episode to hear:

  • Why Rob has something that he calls an Assurance Plan which is a hybrid retainer that allows him to continue to work with his web design clients long term
  • Why Rob offers a 30-day satisfaction guarantee on his work
  • The logistics behind Rob’s offerings and how these are just a few of the ways that he infuses relationship-building into every aspect of his agency
  • How to create offerings that embody your company values
  • Details on crafting ALL your services around a long-term recurring relationship model

Episode Transcript

Rob Howard (00:00):

There's also a huge morale component to this, right? I have a team of eight developers now, and I don't want to force them to work in bad environments. So part of my job as somebody who is managing eight developers is actually to make sure that they never have that experience. Because one thing that I sell to my team is I'm in charge of making your work life enjoyable. And I'm not going to accept money from people who basically behave in toxic ways and then dump it on you guys. This all plays into an overarching philosophy of we're supposed to be doing this for a long time and enjoying it and making money from it, but it's not supposed to be painful. And that works on all sides. So that works for me as the owner, that works for the clients, that works for my team members. So we want to apply that to everybody and hopefully create as close as we can to a win-win-win relationship.

Susan Boles (00:57):

When you think about the relationships you build with your clients, what does that look? Are you setting it up from the very first touch point to be a long-term relationship, or do you approach it as a one and done thing? I'm Susan Boles and you're listening to Break the Ceiling. The show where we break down unconventional strategies you can use to save time, boost your profit, and increase your operational capacity. Last week, I talked to Kate Strathmann about using pricing strategies to move towards creating more equitable businesses. We talked about making sure that you're using strategies that make sense for your business, and also about how these pricing strategies are one way to build your values into the DNA of your business. And that your values should be a part of your pricing and business model choices. My guest today has really taken that to heart. Meet Rob Howard, the founder and CEO of Howard Development & Consulting.

Susan Boles (01:53):

It's a web development firm that creative agencies trust when every pixel matters. One of Rob's core values is building relationships and not just any relationships, long-term relationships with his clients and with his team. He treats his clients as friends, folks he's going to be working with for five or 10 years at least. Some of his team members have been with him for a decade and he's created some pretty unique offerings that reflect that value. We're going to talk about two of those offerings specifically in our conversation today. First, something that Rob calls an assurance plan, which is a hybrid retainer that allows him to continue to work with his web design clients long-term on a recurring basis. And Rob offers a 30 day satisfaction guarantee on his work. So we'll talk about the logistics of both of these offerings, the impact to Rob's business and how these are just a few of the ways that he infuses relationship building into every aspect of his agency. Hey, Rob, thanks for coming back to the show again.

Rob Howard (02:56):

Hey, thanks for having me.

Susan Boles (02:57):

So you run a web development consulting agency and for most people, they think that means one and done projects. So I have you build my website, you hand it over to me, and then maybe I come back to you in a couple of years to get updates or to change a few things. But you've actually intentionally built your business to be structured around retainers and this recurring revenue model. So you really focus on building those long-term relationships with clients. So talk to me a little bit about why that's so important for your business.

Rob Howard (03:30):

Sure. So yeah, so there's really two ways that I approach that same idea. One is the traditional retainer, which I'll talk about in a second, but the other is that even when I'm selecting clients or reaching out to clients, I'm really looking for people who have the potential to be long-term and have multiple projects. So my web development firm specializes in working with creative agencies. So anybody who's a designer, branding agency, marketing agency. And I stumbled into that 10, 15 years ago, because I came from a background in design and advertising and journalism, and it just clicked that I could do the tech side of things alongside those designers who had that similar background to me. But what really works about it is there's a combination of a single client who's going to bring multiple projects in over the course of a year or many years, right?

Rob Howard (04:21):

And each one of those individual projects has a potential to become a maintenance retainer. So when you combine those two things, repeat clients and recurring revenue after the completion of the project, what happens is your business starts to shift from, well, I'm always hustling. Used to be on January 1st, if I didn't do any work, I wouldn't make any money. But now I have significant number of ongoing contracts that if all else remains equal, those are still going to be there next year and the year after. So it's a huge shift both in terms of the actual financial outcome, right? Obviously, it's better to have more recurring revenue than less. But also in the mindset, I actually tell people when I'm starting those relationships, I'm not really interested in doing $2,000 worth of work and then never talking to each other again.

Rob Howard (05:21):

That's really not how I want to operate as a business or as a freelance or now a small agency. And there are some people who do want that, right? Who are on the Fiverrs and the Upworks and stuff that as clients, but usually that's very refreshing for people to hear because they've usually had people who they wanted to work with, but couldn't or got lost in the shuffle after the first project. So what I've found is everybody's that longevity and that long-term partnership. And when you lead with that and you're, "Hey, we don't really do one off stuff. We do long-term partnerships, right? That's the right thing to say to get the right types of clients into your world.

Rob Howard (06:06):

And I found that it just creates higher quality relationships, brings in a higher quality clients, and also obviously it is financially beneficial for everybody because we're earning more money as an agency over the longterm, and the clients have somebody to rely on over the longterm, which saves them money and allows them to earn more money as well.

Susan Boles (06:27):

So one of the ways that you've baked this relationship structure into the DNA of your business is through something that you call assurance plans. Can you tell me a little bit about those?

Rob Howard (06:40):

Yes. So the assurance plan, for example, we call it WordPress Assurance when we built a WordPress site is I call it a type of hybrid retainer, right? So the big challenge with retainers is when you hear that word, you think of a law firm who's just holding your money for no obvious reason and there's a negative connotation around the word retainer in a lot of cases. So we do is we merge three different ideas into something that then doesn't feel the same old give me a bunch of money for hours in advance type of deal. Right? The other thing I'll say, because it's the first question people ask is I present the idea of the retainer literally in the first conversation that I have with everybody who could potentially work with me because I want to set that frame.

Rob Howard (07:36):

I want to say, "Hey we charge four to $10,000 for typical WordPress site, and then there's going to be an opportunity for you to do a WordPress Assurance plan afterwards. And here's what that might look." And I presented it as optional, but I'm framing it as even in our first minutes of conversation, this is not a one-off thing. This is something where we're going to actually be working together for a long time if all goes well, and you want to continue the relationship. A lot of people tell me that. They say, "I pitched a retainer after I finished the project and I thought it went really well, but the client said, no."

Rob Howard (08:14):

And it's because in a lot of cases, they're just not expecting that. They're not in that mindset of, "Oh, this is going to be a thing that continues." So they haven't budgeted for it and they haven't set aside the mental space for that thing to be something that they want. But if you started at the beginning, you're basically going in saying every project has this optional ongoing assurance plan associated with it, you get a much better response to the retainer concept.

Susan Boles (08:45):

Yeah. I mean, you're really building this in from the very beginning. You're filtering clients who want a long-term relationship and then you are preparing them from the beginning to say, "We're going to have a relationship. Here's what it looks like."

Rob Howard (09:00):

And the way I think about it is, I don't want to work with somebody who I don't think I could be working with two years from now. Even if they're going to pay me a few thousand dollars this year. Not to say that you should be turning down work if that's something that helps your cashflow at the moment, but you really want to shift as quickly as possible to that mindset of this is something where I really need to be creating long-term relationships, because that's where we talk a lot about the difficulty of scaling an agency or scaling life as a freelancer. But this relationship building in a lot of ways is scaling. Because you get to a place where you have so many retainers that are so many referrals from people who you've known for many years. That outreach to new clients almost becomes a moot point, right? Or is just icing on the cake.

Rob Howard (09:47):

So that's really, the goal is to build longterm relationships and to think about, "I'm going to be in this for 10 or 20 years, right? Like wanting to make a career out of delivering a great service to people. And that's very different than the feed the beast mindset that I hear from a lot of agency owners where they're saying, "I really would love to do a startup, but I'm just doing this for money for now and that's why I'm doing client work." I really don't look at it that way at all. I really enjoy the client work. It's fun. It's profitable. It's a win-win for everybody. I'm putting food on the table of my team members. I'm doing great stuff for the people that I work with and I enjoy it.

Rob Howard (10:29):

So, I'm not trying to use the service work as a launchpad to some totally different career like this is the thing and when you think about it that way, you think about these 20 year relationships that you're building and everything just becomes, I think, rapidly more valuable and also it becomes more clear, like what you should do. What approach you should take to pricing to the way you handle difficult ethical decisions, the way you handle hiring. All those things start to, I think become much clearer and simpler in the context of like, "Yeah, this is the thing that I want to do for a long time and I want to build the relationships to make that possible."

Susan Boles (11:12):

So talk to me a little bit about the actual structure of the assurance plan. How did you develop it? [crosstalk 00:11:19] What's in it? What is it?

Rob Howard (11:22):

So, first thing is I failed to sell retainers for several years and it was just continuously making new stuff up basically until I hit on what I call the hybrid retainer. So it's a combination of three things. One is a fixed set of tasks that you're essentially going to do as a monthly fixed project fee. So for WordPress, this is software updates and that thing that just needs to happen continuously. They basically can happen on my time, right? In my schedule, but they have to happen weekly or monthly or something that. But it doesn't matter if you do them on Monday morning or Friday night. So that's a fixed fee project every month. That's item one. And then the next item is a fixed set of reserved hours. So we call this basically support time or maintenance time, and the client can use that for whatever they want, but they're basically booking you in advance.

Rob Howard (12:20):

So we do as small as three hours per quarter for this. You know, we have clients who are on hundreds of hours per month as well. It depends on what they need. But basically they're saying we're booking you for this amount of time, whether we need it or not, over the course of every three months, you're going to give us three hours or 10 hours of your time. So that's item two. Item three is an intangible, and it's all about priority and skipping the line and getting first dibs on access to us. And this is what ups the ante for the assurance product. We're basically saying, "If you subscribe to this, we're going to make you first in line on every request ahead of all of our other clients who are not subscribed to it and thus you get the assurance that you're always going to be... Like, we're always going to be here for you. You're going to get that response in the same business day or whatever it is."

Rob Howard (13:19):

So the combination of those three things, a fixed fee monthly recurring project, plus open hours, plus priority, and skip the line support creates something that is obviously similar in a lot of ways and parallel, in a lot of ways to what you would consider a typical retainer, but it is very different in terms of the client's mindset and the anchors they have to the fees associated with it, stuff that. So that's what we've found is really the sweet spot. And it actually allows these to sell and it was a light bulb moment for me. Like when the first one of these sold and then the second one and the third one within then a couple of months.

Rob Howard (13:58):

And I was like, well, normally people just ignore me when I talk about retainers, but now three people giving you money means you have something. That's a general rule of thumb. So that happened very quickly when I really stumbled upon this after a lot of experimentation. And now it's been almost 10 years that I've been selling these and I have clients who have literally been on these plans for 10 years and continue to appreciate them. So it's been a pretty, pretty cool discovery and something that I've also helped other freelancers apply to their own businesses and their own agencies. So it's very versatile and really works well, I think because of that combination of those three different factors, that it doesn't feel the typical thing. And thus is a lot more attractive to the typical client.

Susan Boles (14:53):

Yeah, and it really continues to prioritize the relationship. You're saying, you are my first priority. I care about this relationship and I think that that positioning really just emphasizes that the relationship is beneficial on both sides and that both sides actually care. Because I think a lot of times as providers, sometimes we forget that we're supposed to care too. I think both sides care.

Rob Howard (15:24):

Yeah. And I like to look to brick and mortar businesses for inspiration on these types of things, because I think they just do a much better job and have much more experience than the people who are only in the digital world. Extending the digital world, you lose some of that personal touch, right? But one of my favorite companies is the company that does my plumbing and heating and cooling services at my house. And they just do such a nice job of creating this customer service experience, creating this, "We're going to be here for you." They sell stuff that's similar or along the same lines as what I'm selling even though it's a physical service as opposed to a digital service. And when you take it a little bit beyond just the digital world, I think you find a lot more examples of this type of relationship building. So I find a lot of inspiration in that and directly borrow a lot of those ideas for my online business.

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Susan Boles (18:54):

So you have something else that you've built into the business that's I think pretty unusual, but also really emphasizes that relationship and you offer a 30 day unconditional money back guarantee, which I think is... I've never seen another service provider offering it besides you. So can you tell me a little bit about it? How does it actually work?

Rob Howard (19:18):

Sure. So one of the reasons that it works is because no one else does it. But I think more people should do it because I think there's there's dozens of benefits to it that I'll run through as best I can. But basically the way it works is we provide web development services. So we'll ask for a deposit right at the beginning of your project, you'll sign a contract, right? All the usual stuff. But within that contract that says if for any reason you're dissatisfied with anything, you can have all your money back in the first 30 days and you can keep all the work we've done for you. We'll transfer ownership to you, right? So literally, on day 29, you could get a free project if we're almost done with it or something that.

Rob Howard (20:04):

So obviously it's very different from the way other web developers and really most freelancers and agencies in general present things. And as you said, it's intentionally a relationship building tool, right? because it's me putting my money where my mouth is and saying, "If this is not going to work out, let's not work together. I'll take all the risk here." If we're not going to work together for years and we know that after 15 days, we shouldn't bother each other anymore. And we see this a lot in physical products, as well as in online courses and stuff that where there's a risk reversal, money back guarantee, "Let's try it for 30 days. If you don't like it, send it back and keep the free gift as our gift to you."

Rob Howard (20:53):

That's a very common sales practice elsewhere. And it works because it takes all the risk off of the buyer and puts all the risk on the seller. So I want to do basically the same exact thing with my service business, because everybody has this built-in concern especially in the world of web development, there's just a lot of sketchy providers out there which is unfortunate, but also good for me because it allows me to be really good at something that a lot of people are really sketchy at. So I think if it wasn't for the fact that everybody who works with me comes in with a bad experience from the previous developer, sales would probably be a lot harder for me, but because I'm able to do this trust building experience and I'm like, "We do this all the time. We have a guarantee. We don't mess around." It instantly builds trust in a way that most of my competitors are not doing.

Rob Howard (21:53):

So, I'll dig in a little bit to the course or the components of the guarantee. One is basically it takes all the risk away from the buyer. There's still risking their time technically, but the worst case scenario is they get their money back and they get some amount of work done for free. So that really changes the experience, the buying experience dramatically. It doesn't take away the risk that they might waste a month if the project doesn't go well. But a lot of people have actually lost a lot of money from bad web developers who never finished the project, but build them anyway. So it speaks to a specific pain point that most of the people have or have had in the past, and it takes away as much risk as possible from that.

Rob Howard (22:39):

The other thing that it does is it forces me as the seller, to only engage with people who I trust as a buyer. So this is especially problematic for a lot of early career freelancers and agency owners where they're basically just taking any random, horrible project that comes in. And they'll even say, "I know this is going to be a horrible project, but I'm taking it anyway because I want that cashflow for this month." I mean, I've heard dozens of people say those exact words. Basically, like, "I know I shouldn't do this but it's $2,000, so I'm just going to do it." And what ends up happening is six months later, everybody's miserable. But with the guarantee, it actually puts a much more specific, tangible risk on you as the consultant or the freelancer, right?

Rob Howard (23:33):

And it forces you to say, "What are the chances that this person's going to refund 20 days from now?" And for a lot of these people who we know are going to be bad clients, the chances are actually super high and you can see that before you even sign that contract. I've had that same experience when I was younger earlier in my career as well and with the guarantee, it actually forces me to be more selective and I'm setting myself up in a good way to change my psychology as the seller to say, "I can't just sell to anybody because I can't take this risk that they're going to ask for their money back in a month." So in other words, it does good things on both sides of the equation.

Rob Howard (24:18):

And it's just, I think the right thing to do from a ethical and kindness standpoint, right? I want to take my clients and treat them as I would treat a friend. So if I told my friend I was going to help him move or paint his house or something, and I just didn't show up or did a super job on it, I wouldn't ask him for a bunch of money at the end of that process. I'd say, "I'm really sorry. I'll make it right or I won't charge you for it," or whatever that is. So I want to treat my clients in a similar way and I want them to know that that's the way that I'm intentionally engaging with them. And again, it all plays into the long-term relationship. It all plays into the idea of like, "If I'm going to be doing this for 10 or 20 years, I want to do it right and I want people to be out there vouching for me that I'm doing it." Right?

Susan Boles (25:11):

Yeah, and I think there's obviously a lot of really positive impacts because it's another filter forcing you to filter for the right clients. Ones that are looking for that long-term relationship and it's a great sales tool. Have you seen any downsides to offering this? I think one of the big hesitations for folks to offer a guarantee this on their work is that they're afraid everyone's going to take advantage of them. There'll be out a bunch of money or a bunch of work. So have you seen that actually happen?

Rob Howard (25:39):

So I've been doing this for, I think more than five years with the guarantee as it's written today and I've never had anybody act maliciously as a result of the guarantee being there. That's partially because I'm filtering people. But I've never had anybody be like, "Yeah, I'm going to take out of your guarantee and take your work and not pay for it." Because in doing that, they're basically torpedoing the long-term relationship. Because obviously if you do that, I'm not working with you again in the future. So that's never happened and that's across hundreds of projects. So I feel that's a pretty good record. What I will say is that I have refunded people, but it's in situations where we agree that it's not working mutually and we're both okay with that.

Rob Howard (26:31):

And I want it to be on me because I want to be a better than average business owner, if that makes sense. So I had a recent experience where we had a client who just wasn't super tech savvy, and they bit off more than they could chew and I think for some weird reasons, they had a higher budget than what I think they really were ready to handle because of some outside funding. So they were, "Yeah, let's do this thing for this $5,000 project." And quickly within a few weeks, we realized that they weren't really fully aware of what the scope needed to be.

Rob Howard (27:13):

They weren't asking questions that indicated that they really understood the product that they were asking us to build and we really worked through it as well as we could and I think delivered something that was 95% of the way there, but they just were never really expressing any satisfaction or positivity about the results even though I thought my team did a pretty good job under the circumstances. So they actually didn't want a refund, but I canceled the project and gave him a full refund unilaterally because I felt that there was not really a path to success and to a good long-term partnership there. So I ended up losing some money because I had paid my team on that project. But the flip side of it is that because that guarantee was there, I was able to use that as a justification and legitimacy for canceling what I felt was going to be a bad project if we tried to keep pushing on it. So I spent a couple thousand dollars in costs, but what happened was everybody walked away from that experience happy, right?

Rob Howard (28:15):

Even the client, they got 95% of what they wanted for free. I spent a little money to ensure that they have the best experience possible and rather than it being this long contentious thing, they were like, "You know what, this sucks but we understand, and we appreciate what you did here." So if you think about that compared to going to small claims court over four or $5,000, which is what a lot of people do. And I've seen a lot of people, not just waste time and money, but just drain their energy for no reason over relatively minor problems where they just felt they had to fight. Avoiding that type of fight experience and that type of just wasteful energy and bad vibes, right? Is worth some money to me and I feel that's an example of where the guarantee indirectly allowed me to actually have already walk away from what could have been a very bad situation with a pretty good experience overall.

Susan Boles (29:22):

Yeah. I love that perspective because I think even if you aren't necessarily the right fit for them, or they're not quite at the point where they are ready to work with you, you still both walk away with a really positive view of the relationship and your work. And they could still be a potential referral for you, even if they weren't a good client and really emphasize, I love the idea that it is a potential off-ramp for you as the provider. Because a lot of times we may not see the red flags during the sales conversation. I mean, I think the more conversations you have, the easier it is for you to start to identify red flags. But even those of us who have been doing it for a really long time, sometimes people sneak through and you just will be surprised.

Rob Howard (30:08):

Yeah, I got tripped up on this one. In retrospect, I was like, "Wow, I should've seen this." But they came in through a referral from a referral. So I felt there was a little bit more legitimacy there than in retrospect, there really was or a little bit more validation or qualification I should say. So yeah, so I've been doing this for 20 years and I still get tripped up sometimes. So it's nice to have this backstop or this off-ramp to say, "Well, if it doesn't work out, yeah it may cost me a couple thousand dollars." But in the scheme of things, it's so much better for me to have my sanity and my mental energy. My technology director and I were both like, "Yeah, I would pay $2,000 to not deal with this anymore."

Rob Howard (30:54):

And we're like, "And so we can and that's okay." It goes back to the idea of setting that expectation upfront. I talked about what the retainer is like the guarantee sets the expectation up front that if this doesn't work out, there's an out for everybody. It includes us giving you a lot of money back and that's okay. There's no hard feelings. And this was a good example of it working out I think without hard feelings or with the bare minimum amount of hard feelings. And I've seen the exact opposite happen in a lot of other cases. Like I've talked to a lot of people who are like, "Yeah, I'm suing this client for $2,000." And I'm just like, "Why go get another client with that time. That's actually going to be that 10 or 20 year partnership."

Rob Howard (31:42):

So I think the guarantee is a documented way of putting that into practice. And like I said, it's worked extraordinarily well. A lot of people react very positively to it. I know people read it and take it seriously because occasionally they'll ask me questions about it and clarify stuff. And they're like it's a real thing for people on it and they trust it. So for the good clients, it really takes a lot of the friction out of the sales process, right? And it also gives you that out, you said, for projects that don't work out well.

Susan Boles (32:20):

Well, and given that your business model is essentially, you want to build very long-term relationships. So you're working with clients for a long time, theoretically there's unlimited capacity, but in reality that's not actually. You could keep scaling and scaling and scaling, but that's not really true especially if you want to really invest in this relationship with your client and treat them as friends. And if you think about it as you only have so many slots in your stable and you want that stable to be full of the best horses, you don't have space in your business for relationships that aren't going to be long-term and aren't going to be your favorite people to work with.

Rob Howard (33:06):

Yeah, and there's also a huge morale component to this. I talked a little bit about mental energy and that plays into that but I also have a team of eight developers now, and I don't want to force them to work in bad environments. And there are definitely toxic clients out there who make everyone's life miserable. So part of my job now, as somebody who's managing eight developers is actually to make sure that they never have that experience. And if they do that, I put an end to it essentially immediately. Because one thing that I sell to my team is I'm in charge of making your work life enjoyable and I'm not going to accept money from people who basically behave in toxic ways and then dump it on you guys, right?

Rob Howard (34:00):

This all plays into an overarching philosophy of we're supposed to be doing this for a long time and enjoying it and making money from it, but it's not supposed to be painful and that works on all sides. So that works for me as the owner, that works for the clients, that works for my team members who are my contractors or people who are working on these projects. So we want to apply that to everybody and hopefully create as close as we can to a win-win-win relationship for everybody.

Susan Boles (34:34):

Yeah, and you've really done a spectacular job in my opinion of building that value into every aspect of your business in a way that I think most people don't manage to do. It's in your sales process, it's in your packages and the way you've decided to design your services. It's in this guarantee and ability to off board and I think it's something that runs through all the thread of everything you're doing, which is unusual.

Rob Howard (35:10):

The funny paradox to all that stuff is as my business has grown, it has become a more and more of a conscious philosophy whereas I think 10 or 15 years ago was almost an unconscious or accidental philosophy. But there are so many little things in the way that I've structured the business that on their face, or if you take them alone, they seem they would actually the business to make less money. Right? Like the guarantee is an example of something where you're, "Ooh, that seems risky. I might make less money as a result of that." But when you aggregate all these things together and you create this experience where everyone has good morale and feels great and wants to work together forever, they actually multiply the business's income dramatically, even though they seem they should be negative to the business in some ways. Like it's a very strange feedback loop in some ways.

Rob Howard (36:08):

But it's that just doing good things for people actually causes you to make a lot more money over time. So it's a strange way of slicing it because it's not always super obvious that that's how it's going to play out and I think that's why you hear that feedback of, "Well, what if somebody takes me up on the guarantee and then I lose some money." There's all sorts of little things that along the way. Or, "What if I turned down this project and I don't get another project this month, right? But in the long-term aggregate, it actually ends up creating a much more robust and valuable experience for everybody involved.

Susan Boles (36:51):

Yeah, and I think you're right. I think if you grabbed one piece of what we've talked about and implemented it in isolation, it probably wouldn't work as well as it being just part of your DNA. Part of this overall structure and value that's been built in.

Rob Howard (37:11):

Yeah. Now that I'm hiring more, I'm starting to do that with employee compensation and the way that we do revenue sharing and stuff that. And I'm having that same experience where I'm like, "Oh, this is actually a cost, but it's really not a cost. It's actually a investment in growth and in morale and in a honestly win-win experience for everybody." And I think we're not really trained to do that in a lot of cases, right? And a lot of business owners are instinctively averse to those types of ideas, right? Giving your team members a share of your revenue, for example, on a regular basis on some fixed schedule and fixed formula. But it's a huge benefit in the long-term when it's done within that overarching business philosophy. So those are all things that have evolved over 20 years for me. But you know, I found that there's a lot of that paradoxical benefit where it's like, "Yeah, I'm spending money, but it's actually an investment in a much more successful business and happier people over the long-term."

Susan Boles (38:27):

Yeah. I think that's a good place to start to wrap it up on. Is there anything that you think we should talk about that we haven't touched on yet?

Rob Howard (38:35):

Not off the top of my head, unless you want to dig deeper into any of our topics so far.

Susan Boles (38:40):

No, I think we're good. So where can our listeners find you if they want to connect or learn?

Rob Howard (38:45):

Sure. So check out or if you want the shorter, easier for the podcast domain name. That's Howard Development & Consulting. And I have a free 56 page guide for hiring web developers that talks about all the stuff that I've learned over 20 years and hiring dozens of web developers. So it's framed for agency owners who may be trying to augment their team, or hire a developer for the first time. And it basically talks about exactly where to find people, what job listings to post and my whole philosophy on that process and that's free if you go to or you can grab that there.

Susan Boles (39:29):

Awesome. Well, thank you for being here today, Rob. I really appreciate it.

Rob Howard (39:33):

My pleasure. It was fun.

Susan Boles (39:36):

Rob's assurance plan hybrid retainers are a great way to build recurring revenue into his business to make sure that it's healthy and sustainable. And that in turn means he can pay his team well and create a great environment for them to work in. But it's also designed to build a long-term relationship with his clients. Rob wants to work with people for years. So he designed an offering, his assurance plans, that really allows him to emphasize to the people that he's working with, that they are his priority. His unconditional guarantee works both as a filter to make sure he's working with clients who want to build that long-term relationship. And it can also serve as an easy off ramp if he accidentally ends up working with folks who aren't a good fit or who don't have that as a value too.

Susan Boles (40:24):

But the guarantee works with the assurance plan and with Rob's sales and delivery process to make sure that his value of building strong relationships is emphasized at every step of the way. Next week, I'm talking to Hunter Welling, an outsourced CMO about how she works with clients in a recurring intensive model. So if you're someone me who loves working with clients intensively, but also wants to make sure that you've got that recurring revenue in your business, make sure you hit subscribe in your favorite podcast player so you don't miss it. Break The Ceiling is produced by Yellow House Media. Our executive producer is Sean McMillan. Our production coordinator is Lou Blaser. This episode was edited by Marty Seefeldt, with production assistance by Kristen Runvik.


Client Management