jesse petersen -olWhat’s your goal with your business? To deliver the best possible customer experience? To work with the cutting-edge technology? To build the most scalable websites on the planet? To be known for the beautiful design of the websites you produce?

Talk with successful entrepreneurs, and you’ll eventually come upon their personal mission statement that clearly articulates air sense of purpose that gets them up in the morning and also drives their companies. Mission statements define everything from the products or services the company will offer, to the level of service, and also covers the “right” customers for the business.

A good mission statement helps an entrepreneur differentiate themselves in a competitive market by defining what to say yes to, as well as what to say no to.

Differentiation is crucial in the growing market of WordPress agencies so that potential customers can sort through service providers and find the ideal one for their project. As the WordPress market continues to mature, agencies and developers who have clearly defined their missions, their ideal customers, and the types of projects they want to work on will ride the wave of growth along with the CMS itself.

Recently, I sat down with Jesse Petersen, a WordPress developer luminary, known for the quality of his code and the quality of the service he delivers on customer sites to chat about how he differentiates himself as a WordPress developer, and how he has designed his business to attract a particular type of customer.

Jesse explained how his mission statement is to focus on developing a long-term relationship with his clients – a relationship that is similar in many ways to the relationship he chooses to build with his family and friends.

“When faced with a situation where I can either make the most money, or gain someone’s loyalty by taking the long view and sacrificing for the sake of the client relationship, I always choose to make the sacrifice that will build the relationship.”

Jesse has built his business model to attract customers that he can work with for years at a time, rather than short-term, one-off projects. His goal is to create business relationships with his clients that will grow alongside their companies and websites for years to come.

Of course, this means that Jesse has to have a specific sales funnel to make sure he’s getting the right sorts of clients to work with. If he’s going to over-deliver for every single client, he needs to work with the sorts of companies and people who understand the type of service he offers, and bring him repeat work as their client-service provider relationship grows.

This funnel means that Jesse turns down a decent percentage of the leads that come in through his website because he knows they won’t be a good fit for his business, or that they will be best-suited with a different developer. The clients who make it through his funnel stand a good chance of becoming a dream client that works with Jesse over the long term.

One of Jesse’s first “dream” clients was also one of his earliest ones. He successfully completed a series of re-designs, migrations, and smaller mini-projects for the client, and they had developed a friendly rapport in their dealings.

After a long sprint to get a new e-commerce and video project of hers out the door, there was a dilemma. The project had a number of unexpected development challenges that dramatically increased the hours required to finish it. When Jesse tallied up the hours, they were much several times higher than the project estimates. The technical challenges of the project, in addition to the ambitious scope meant that Jesse’s normal rate would be well outside of the client’s ability to pay.

The choice on how to bill the project was simple, because Jesse knew what his long-term goal would be: to build a client relationship that would last by over-delivering on his service, and leaving a huge smile on his client’s face.

Jesse took a temporary hit on the single project for the sake of the longer-term relationship with the client. They’re still working together several years later.

Breaking this down for all the WordPress agencies and solopreneurs out there. Ask yourself what sorts of clients you’d like to have? Is the goal to have a list of long-term clients who bring many repeat projects over and over again, and for whom you’ll perform a variety of different services for, from migrations, to re-designs, to small bug fixes. Or are you only looking for a specific type of project that happens less often for clients, so you’ll need more clients, since you’ll get less work from each one.

What about the budget for each client? What communication queues are you listening for to uncover the client’s preferred way of communicating with you? Do they give you more information about budget and timeline than, “call me for more details” or “my website sucks and I need help.”

In the early conversations, are you paying attention to how well the client articulates their wishes and goals, and meets you in the middle to engage in a conversation about best practices, letting you be the expert? Are they open to doing something new that will get them results, even if it’s something they aren’t familiar with. That’s why you’re there – to educate and fill in missing pieces and lead them on a path to success. After all, that’s what your mission really comes down to.

If you’ve got other ways you qualify your clients, we’d love to read about them in the comments.