Recipe for a successful Drupal agency
In March 2019, Gabriele Maira Manifesto’s Lead Drupal Engineer, and I, gave a talk at DrupalCamp London’s CxO day on how to build a successful Drupal agency. It was a highly-calorific meal with plenty to chew over for anyone looking to improve their agency’s ability to win new Drupal work and successfully deliver projects. Here, the meat of the talk is presented in blog format for your dining convenience.
First, an introduction to your chefs
I used to be a recruitment consultant at one of the better known recruitment companies in the Drupal space. For a while they were the only recruitment company partnered with Acquia, so I was in good company. I joined Manifesto in 2015, as the first person dedicated to New Business and Partnerships.
Gabs has over 10 years’ experience as a Drupal developer. He created (and continues to improve) the Chatbot API for Drupal 8 and over the last year has been credited on 28 issues fixed on Drupal.org. He’s an organiser of Drupal London Developers and organised a full-day sprint as part of Drupal Global Contribution Weekend in London in January.
When we joined Manifesto there were 12 of us, and we were just starting our Drupal Journey. Fast forward to 2018:
- We employ 20 Drupal consultants
- We won our first Acquia Engage award
- We registered over 50 inbound Drupal opportunities
- We won 6 major Drupal projects
- Deeson joined the Manifesto family
- We won The Drum’s Development Team Of The Year award
The sales people among you may think the win rates are low. There’s a reason for that which I’ll get to shortly. Let’s look at the ingredients for a successful agency…
Antipasti – Setting the foundations for the meal
Antipasti kicks off the meal and sets the base for culinary success. This may seem like a nice to have for your agency, but at Manifesto we think they’re a key part of our success.
Manifesto is more than just our name. Our co-founders came up with a real Manifesto of values when setting up the company in 2011. These have since been iterated upon by the team and this is what they mean specifically for Drupal:
- For Collaboration
- Internally collaborating on a shared vision for our own organisation goals, overcoming problems together and sharing successes.
- Externally collaborating as an extension of client and partner teams with agility and flexibility, co-owning problems and success.
- For Innovation
- Internally innovating, setting aside 10% time dedicated to non-billable activities like hack days, events, training and communities of practice.
- Externally seeing problems as opportunities, innovating through proactive suggestions and our own internal learnings.
- For Excellence
- Internally targeting excellence, delivering brilliant work that we’re proud to shout about.
- Externally delivering award winning hero projects and supporting clients with continuous improvement.
- For Change
- Internal encouragement and adoption of change, using Agile methodologies to iteratively improve our development processes.
- Externally choosing to work with organisations who create positive change.
Primo – Serving the team…(with projects)
The Primo course (traditionally a pasta dish) is the filler. Keeping a hungry team topped up with work. A solid pipeline of inbound projects means we can focus on the quality and consistency of our work:
Build strong partnerships and relationships
Building strong partnerships has given us a really solid foundation from which to win new work. I talk about partnerships as both “clients” and “product vendors”.
From a product perspective, we’ve been partnered with Acquia for four years now and I can hand on heart say that we get out what we put in. We collaborate on events, marketing and opportunities. When a project is in flight, we also collaborate to get the best product offering for our shared client and ensure that our Drupal implementations are of the highest possible standard.
And this emphasis on quality is proven by our long lasting partnerships with clients. In the time that I’ve been with Manifesto, I’ve seen a 100% retention rate for our Drupal support customers. This high retention rate has enabled us to expand our service offerings and grow consistently across the agency, offering our clients products in acquisition, strategy, motion content etc. We started out as a technical consultancy, we’ve built a range of services based on what we observe is needed with our customers. As a result, our Drupal specific income only accounts for roughly 20% of the agency’s revenue; significantly lower than our Drupal specialist peers.
We also have friends of Manifesto. People who have known us for a long time. We host a regular referrers dinner where we take anyone who refers work to Manifesto for a meal; a great opportunity to network amongst peers.
Qualify hard to concentrate on the right opportunities
With only two people in the agency focused on new business, we need to qualify hard. To give an example, we recently spent over 100 collective hours on a recent pitch. At our average day rate, that works out at around £12,000, and that doesn’t even account for the time and resources spent putting together an initial proposal. You’ll notice we had around 50 Drupal leads last year and only won six major Drupal opportunities. This is because we;re selective on the types and size of work we want to take on. Some of the key things we look for when qualifying opportunities include:
- Is the organisational sector complementary to our values?
- Is the project something we can get behind?
- Do we think we can deliver value (we won’t usually pitch if there is not a known budget)?
- Are the timelines realistic?
- Is the brief open to being challenged?
Use marketing and events to create a network
We have a huge events series covering a broad range of topics. This creates a support network – friends of Manifesto – and keeps us engaged with trends in the community
I’ll be speaking at an upcoming Manifesto event about how to put together a brief to get the best out of your agency. If you’d like to secure your place, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Secondo – Complete your serving
The secondo course always complements and completes the main. It’s not common to have it during a single meal (unless you’re in italy!) – but the experience won’t be the same without it.
If delivering works based on an Open Source product is the primo, becoming well known within that product’s community is the secondo.
Make friendships through events
The first and easiest step is to attend local events that are already taking place. If there aren’t any, create new ones.
These might include Sprints (at Manifesto, we have been running sprints for the past two years because we couldn’t find any in the London area), Meetups, Local Groups, Camps and Conferences (NWDUG Unconference, Drupalcon Amsterdam).
And of course, Drupal Dev Days, which links to…
Contribution makes your team stronger
The second step is slightly more challenging but still approachable. You can contribute in a number of ways:
- Community tools.
Don’t hire developers but build MENTORS
Mentors in a team are like seeds: keep the soil moist and the seed will grow itself, and generate more seeds. It’s the same for mentors: as they grow stronger they will be able to train your developers to become mentors themselves.
You will gain improvements in both the quality and efficiency of the work you produce. You’ll also become more popular in the community (due to the strength of your contributions) and pitches will get easier. How?
- Code quality: the “Fix it upstream” method – solve the problems for yourself AND the community by pushing your fixing to Drupal (core or contribs);
- Better Practices: follow established best practices;
- Credits and high Marketplace ranks – Manifesto has always been a great drupal agency, but only when we embraced the community did we start getting known for our Drupal work (page 1 of UK D.org market place);
- Speeds up the process to become a mentor;
- Mentors generate more mentors.
This process will soon take on a life of its own, as people strive to gain mastery over their craft, so it comes at pretty much no cost. All you need to invest in is releasing employee time for contribution.
Dessert – Coronation of the meal
The dessert is the coronation of a meal. When guests feel they are already full up with your amazing servings, this is the extraordinary fireworks at the end of the party. And trust us: it doesn’t matter how full you are… there is always room for a good dessert.
Innovation and technology
Open source and share your results! In the last 12 months at Manifesto we’ve worked on a bunch of exciting innovation projects.
- Chatbot API
- Impossible Software + FB Messenger
- Encrypt RSA
- ShortHand integration (a successful dessert made by Manifesto + CFAB + Shorthand)
- BackstopJS + PatternLab
Invest and share your innovation
Allow time for exploring and curiosity (R&D). Because who knows where it might lead? Plus, “If you build it, they will come”: if you invest in innovation programme, the innovation will come. There’s also R&D tax relief to consider. Encourage your team to go beyond their comfort zones.
Adopt less of a ‘Not Invented Here’ (NIH) approach and more of a ‘Proudly Found Elsewhere’ (PFE) one. As both producer and consumer. Why waste time reinventing the wheel when you can instead help advance technological frontiers for everyone?
It’s not just the right thing to do, it’ll pay dividends through an enhanced reputation which will return many times more than your investment.
“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” – S. Jobs
“Leave this world a little better than you found it.” – R. Baden-Powell
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