By Andrew Neitlich

Why you should stop coding and designing right now

By Andrew Neitlich

Many Sitepoint readers ask how they can build a firm that is worth something, that has employees, that lasts longer than their participation in it — in short, a firm that they can sell.

Here is how to do it:

Stop coding. Stop designing. Stop being an employee and start being a firm builder.


That’s it. Imaging what happens next:

– You have to find low-cost, high-quality resources to serve clients. You become an expert on finding great talent.

– You have to develop a consistent methodology to get results for clients (e.g., clone yourself and what you used to do).

– You spend your time marketing the firm and putting in place processes and systems so that the company runs without you.

– You insert yourself when needed to provide expert guidance, set standards, and build the culture of your business.

Get clients, get talent, and support talent so that they delight clients: That becomes your new job.

It’s not easy, first of all because you may need some financial reserves while you build your firm. When you are not working in the business, you give up revenues. Also, you need to be smart in how you grow — doing it step-by-step instead of investing foolishly in full-time help before you need it.

So, fire yourself today. Go on strike as a coder, developer and/or designer. Start your new job as a firm builder.

  • Vineire


  • Anonymous

    I think this is a little strong – it suggests that the reader become solely interested in biz-building and abandon any actual affinity for the core work. Personally, I enjoy developing software and I still do a fair amoutn of hands-on coding/programming. I doubt I’ll ever give it up. Also, unlike most industries it’s very hard to keep on top of the latest technologies, and if you stop developing for a few years it gets hard to keep up (and thus, hard to manage developers).

    If people don’t like the work, fine. But if you just want to grow your business you dont have to completely give up the work that you supposedly enjoyed enough to start it in the first place. I am glad that I have a good balance between trying to make money (which is essentially the core goal of the above approach) and liking the work that I do. Striving to grow a business without a love for the work is a sad goal.

  • Soooo much easier said than done.

  • Anonymous

    I’m going to be the guy that manages a team of firm builders… and then extrapolate from that, and I’ll be the guy that oversees the guys managing the teams of firm builders, and then extrapolate again. Then I’ll be the guy reading sitepoint sighing at all these firms that arn’t doing it right, while I work on the leanest best LAMP solution ever… and then look for a group of guys that can do that…. that I can manage, and get them building automously.

    And the cycle continues.

    What are your IT success goals? Money or knowledge?

  • leelee39

    Letting go is a very difficult step for most people. Trusting others and delegating tasks that you know have to be done properly takes a lot of effort.

    Clearly, though, it needs to be done.

  • I imagine that part about needing financial reserves would really strike to the heart of the matter for some people.

  • Gator99

    Much easier said than done, and even that’s an understatement. No matter how carefully you screen and such a bad hire, either full time or freelance, can cost more than they are worth. I would recommend hiring personnel as a natural evolution of your business, but not wake up one day and proclaim, I’m going to be a business builder today, time to hire a freelancer. Time to jump out of the frying pan and into the fire.

  • xiblack

    Again, sooo much easier said than done

  • PlayStone

    Absolutely correct, Andrew!
    I’m trying to get the courage to do this myself.
    The business plan is ready and some of the contacts are already in place. I just to let go of the control… of doing it yourself, and believe that others can get the job done as well.
    You also have to be willing to learn the management part of the business and not just the code.

  • I am still working on my portfolio website, with services that we can provide, hope we can follow what you have told and in coming times do well. Planning for the work in almost done, we are trying to implement. Thanks for the inputs

  • fgraph

    You need to pay employees. If you truly want to build a team, you would always need at least 100k-200k that can be dedicated to labor costs. Plus, office space etc., Its a lot of overhead and a big step. Not something that can be motivationally done throgh one blog post.

  • katana07

    Yeah its much easier said than done,

    In a perfect world, one may be able to get a few great client who can pay you on time and then you can hire or sub the job out to a talent person, who you can trust to deliver quality work and meets deadline and will not in turn steal the client away from you with a cheaper cost.

    Well it maybe just me with too many worries.

  • Designer Dude

    Easy 2 say hard 2 do…

  • anonymous

    I’ve heard this type of rat trap before, and have had IT managers who genuinely believe this kind of marketing B.S. It ends up being a know nothing 120 miles an hour mouth moving, empty skulled techno ignoramus. Talks a lot, knows nothing of the tech behind her/his people. I would prefer to be and work with intelligent people who want to be involved in the process. And when the process fails, have the manager or “builder” be able to clean up the mess. Do you think that’s possible when someone stops coding and thinks only of “team building”? Hello, Enron

  • That’s exactly what I’ve been working on this week Andrew, so we must be thinking alike by now. That can’t be a bad thing ^^

  • well almost exactly, since I’m keeping myself as first coder for now.

  • mpdesigns

    I believe that andrew is on to something. He is right in almost every aspect, but those of you in disagreement are also correct. I guess its really a matter of willingness and your own situation and goals. For me this is nothing short of a dream. I understand the importance of quality and that which my clients and prospects deserve and require. But the only pitfall is that I don’t have the resources to provide that quality at a decent volume to make a living. I’m one person with only a small subset of abilities. For me this is the perfect way to go. I understand the web development process and would know more closely what is require to get the job done. Again, just gotta work your way up to that point.

  • Andrew’s absolutely correct, but of course you need the financial capability to do it first. You can start by stepping back from doing all the work and hire subcontractors. Check out Dave Hecker’s article on SP: [url=http://www.sitepoint.com/article/working-contractors-made]Working with Contractors Made Easy[/url].

    Also, a lot of people say, “But I love to code!” – get a job. Or stay small. Seriously. I’m sure there are a lot of successful CEO’s that loved to do the work, but they stepped aside because the bigger priority is building a business.

    It’s okay if you don’t want to build a business. Just know that if you don’t do it, it won’t get done. So if you’re content staying small forever, okay. If not, step aside and start building your business while others do the coding and designing.

  • It cracks me up of all the ‘unwillingness’ in the responses to Andrew’s post. If you don’t want to build a business keep coding and designing yourself.

    Andrew makes a very valid point and while it really can’t happen overnight, unless you have the cash reserves, which he points out, it can happen over time.

    For instance, the next project you get DON’T plan on programming or designing yourself. Just don’t do it. Build in your profit after figuring cost to get the work done, with quality of course.

    I have been working at this now for 6 months. Do I still do some coding myself? Not much at all. Maybe 8 hours per week which is typically maintenance/time-materials work. I still don’t have any part-time or full-time coders or designers. However once I get to X number of hours per week of billable maintenance hours it will be prudent to hire a part-timer and then have them do project work as it comes in as well.

    Stop complaining and decide for yourself what you want to be doing in 5 years.

  • No one is going to treat your business as they would if it were their own, so simply stepping aside won’t do the job.

    The statement “I love to code.” is really saying “I love to innovate.” which you will have a very hard time outsourcing.

    This methodology can obviously be employed successfully if you want to grow your business into something much larger. The question is, “Do you?”. For some it’s a perfect fit. Others will have delusions of grandeur that overstep their personal strengths. Yet others will continue to prosper as individual freelancers.

    It’s kind of like assuming that everyone who frequents a Gym wants to be like Arnold Schwarzenegger
    or Lou Ferrigno. It depends on what you want out of your time and how you want to spend your life. I’ve been living comfortably as a freelancer for over six years and have never outsourced or felt the need to.

    For me, there are so many other sources of income at my disposal, as an experienced webmaster, that the thought of managing employees to increase my revenue gives me a headache… but that’s just me. If you’re a talented manager (or want to learn that skill) then, by all means, go for it. Just don’t forget to innovate.

  • btw this reminds me of an article of Brendon:


    really nice article.

  • Fenrir2

    Not really the only way. Lots of programmers have built companies around a piece of software. So their main job was coding. Paul Graham is a good example. He coded a online store builder. Yahoo! bought his company for several millions.

  • You can either build to flip (e.g. sell) or you can build because you love what you do and are passionate about growing your company in a healthy manner. Each have their benefits and drawbacks. Don’t be so quick to judge Andrew’s comments here – this is just a different way of looking at how a business can operate, both now and in the future.

    Some people love coding and want to do it forever. Others prefer business development and sales. Still others like being a project manager. It all comes down to pasion and what keeps you motivated and looking forward to working.

    Think big picture here. Many of you are only considering objectives on a granular level.

  • Geof, there are more options than just the two you mentioned. No one should go into business without an exit strategy. Granted, your exit strategy might consist be to work until you die… that’s still an exit strategy.

    Some options including building the business to leave to your family after you die, selling the business, shutting the business down, etc.

  • Anonymous

    I will keep coding and designing… thank you very much. And when I am done with that… pinky… then we can plan to take over the world.

  • Crue

    Time people… noone mentions time. I know a CEO who did just part of this.
    He was fired by a big firm, who no longer needed his services or the app he supported. He went freelance and continued to support that app for all of the outside firms who still used it. Later, he developes his own version of the application and began to sell it to those clients and others… long story short the very same firm that fired him now uses his app to run their business. But, he would never sell his dream/company.

    My 2 cents.

  • SMH

    Sell your old car. Buy a new one. Go on! Buy a Mercedes or Ferrari. You deserve it! Go. Now! YOu can do it!

  • Some of us still like designing more than managing a business :)
    Even if that means less money – it’s about how you spend the time in your life.

  • Some of us still like designing more than managing a business :)
    Even if that means less money—it’s about how you spend the time in your life.

    That’s an excellent point, and a valid one. I personally love sales, networking, and business building (not that I don’t like designing and coding) so foregoing one task for another to increase my income stream is a no brainer.

    If all you want to do is code, then code. But for every skilled technical worker there is a cap on the feasible income they can make. There are few exceptions.

    But you are very right… if that’s what makes you truly happy, then do it. Being happy and leading a fulfilled life are more important than money.

  • victor

    Very well explained blog…..looking forward to some information about it.

  • I don’t know how to edit or delete blog posts or users, but victor is a spammer.

  • Andrew,

    How do you go about find good outsourced talent? Where are good places to look for consistent quality outsourced designers and coders?

  • nemanja_nq

    Or Victor is making joke :)

  • Anonymous

    I’m working on it… just have to get my methodology developed enough that someone else can pick it up.

  • Lea

    Ugh! Why would I ever want to do that?
    They can pry my keyboard out of my cold, dead fingers!

  • i love amway too


  • DesignOweb

    Those who do not want to give up his work (coding etc) they are not aware about the high priorities for building a firm. I suggest them read this article again after 1 year, you will find Andrew’s each word 100% “correct”. I am saying this, beacause i have gone through it. Rakesh, DesignOweb

  • No Need to completely give up coding. Go along with Basics, spen some minimum amount of your day on updating technologies. Spend remaining time on improving businesss..


    Definetly needs some bucks to start and running


  • mpdesigns

    Its a perspective Andrew presents not commandandments written in stone by the fire blazing hand of God. Let’s give Andrew a break here, he has probably been more successful than most of you. I would take his advice at least into consideration. Compare a one-man shop to developers/designers who outsource. See for yourself instead of drawing drastic conclusions and making people who actually would want to take this advice and run with it feel inadequate and unwise for doing so. Cause depending on your own unique situation it can be wise or unwise to follow through on this concept.

  • Timing is everything.

    In 2005 I paid a lot of designers to do work I previously did myself.

    We got a great product and delivered excellence to our clients, but I ended up paying a lot – a LOT – to those designers and contractors.

    Now I’m purposely going back to designing myself, because at this stage in the business it’s easier from a cash flow perspective.

    I definitely long for the type of structure Andrew outlines..

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