Elevating Your Agency, Part Four: Building a WebOps Practice

Josh Koenig, Co-Founder & Chief Strategy Officer Reading estimate: 5 minutes

In this series so far, I’ve talked about three distinct but not mutually exclusive paths to growing up from a tech shop to a next-level digital agency. We all know there’s a dwindling future in the “launch ‘em and leave ‘em” or “big build, meager maintenance” models, but what’s next? We looked at focusing on a niche where you can offer strategic advice to customerslean into developing turnkey solutions, and/or pick some “CMS-plus” martech players to bring into your practice. Today I’ll focus on a change that pairs well with the first and third posts, and offer some more specific advice on how to adjust the way you operate and position your services to clients to build a true WebOps practice.

The Acid Test: Launch With Half Your Budget Left to Burn


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A good website operation is one where non-developers can run the CMS themselves, posting new content and composing rich experiences in real time. It’s one where development resources are focused on optimizing and/or innovating on the tool itself, not “web production.” Your technical staff’s focus should be improving the building blocks that content creators on the client side have to work with, optimizing key bespoke experiences like a home page or pricing page, or creating innovation through new integrations or interactive experiences.

That’s a world where the site itself is an underlying foundation for a potentially endless stream of ongoing creativity, informed by data, focused on driving towards the organization’s mission. In this world, launching a new site is just the beginning. That’s the moment when you can start to get real-world telemetry and feedback, so you can start figuring out what works and what doesn’t.

This is what makes WebOps such a quantum leap from the legacy standard in our industry: instead of coming up with the perfect idea in a conference room, maybe with some market research or focus groups, you prioritize getting the thing out there with a strong capacity to quickly evolve and improve, and let reality prove your concept. That’s a radical departure from what many marketing professionals are used to, and it can be hard to make it real for clients.

But one way I’ve seen people stick to the landing on the change is by restructuring their proposals. Ultimately you sell what you price, so that’s where you make it real. Whatever scope they set up, they build a project timeline that has the initial public launch when there’s still 50% or more of the resourcing runway left to go.

This is a clear brass-tacks way to reset expectations with your prospective clients, to sell based on the pursuit of their success rather than the completion of a specification. It has the potential to alienate some, but will clearly mark you out as a different kind of agency partner.

What’s Their North Star?

One key thing to this approach when you and a mutual client are in the early discovery stages of your process is figuring out what their “North star” is. This means the most important metric by which they measure the success of the website. This will help you understand what job their website is here to do, and that’s the basis on which you can craft your proposal.


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If they’re unclear on the North Star, you might need to talk to someone higher up in the organization. If it’s still fuzzy, you might need to offer them some consulting (free or paid, up to you) to help them figure it out. This ties into my first post about the value of having an opinion for your clients about what they should do, not what you should build. At this point, you’re also doing them a huge service — going into a significant web project without a clear definition of success is a recipe for frustration and waste. 

And no, “we got the spec built on time and under budget” is not a definition of success. You need something measurable on an ongoing basis. It doesn’t have to be just one; there could be more than one key metric that your client cares about for good reason, but it’s vital to know which one is the most important because then you can make rational decisions about your priorities.

When you can latch on to what the client is trying to achieve and how they’ll evaluate progress towards that goal, you can work with them to develop a scope that gives them a path to go live with a real improvement much quicker, and then optimize or bring along the other pieces over subsequent sprints. This satisfies what a lot of people are looking for in lower-cost starter proposals, but gives you a clear way to win the after-work by proving the business value of your services.

Clients know if they go with you, they’ll start feeling the win sooner. It also gives you the time and budget to really lean into improving the website’s performance, not just from a page speed standpoint (though that’s certainly important), but from the perspective of driving that North Star or other website key performance indicators (KPIs).

And what happens if you have a three or six-month track record of driving improvement with your ongoing work? Clients will want to re-up. Your value is now in their success, not a work product deliverable. You will be much stickier and can command a price that will not only keep you profitable but can give you the resources to invest in new capabilities or scale what you’ve created.

Again, we’re arriving at the same end goal of refactoring your practice so that its economics are based on something other than commodified implementation hours, this time by re-shaping the way you position and deliver your services. I’ve seen some ultra-confident shops go so far as to propose revenue-sharing with their clients as a form of payment, but you don’t have to take it that far. Solid retainers, long-term contracts or even just rates that can’t be pushed down by commodified labor. That’s what you can set up with a true WebOps practice.



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