On "Fast, Good, Cheap"

December 08, 2006

Posted in Small Business.

I’ve said it to clients. I’ve repeated it in internal meetings. It was the signature text for my account on several community sites. I might as well get a bumper sticker. It’s that important.

Fast, Good, Cheap: Pick any two.

If you’re the customer, you want all three. You demand it. But when you get it, you should be asking yourself how that happened.

As a producer – a web developer, an architect, a chef, a manufacturer, etc. – you know that there are constraints.

The typical response to this line is one of agreement. People generally accept the “you get what you pay for” line, but there are plenty of exceptions to that. But sometimes I get opposition. Let’s take a look…

Fast and Good

When a client comes in and asks for a project done immediately, there’s usually a rush charge. That’s because other work is put on hold, which affects timelines for other projects and clients. And if you have to pay your team overtime (or plan for bonuses because they put in 80 hour weeks), you’re going to pass that on to the customer.

Fast and Cheap

Need a site built in three days and don’t want to spend much money? Don’t expect to get much of a site. That’s because people who can do quality work generally don’t want to do anything but quality work. So you end up finding someone who can commit the time and is desperate enough for the money to take the job. That means finding someone who isn’t really in demand. And there’s usually a good reason for that.

Good and Cheap

Sometimes I take projects on the cheap. Because I care about doing a good job, I keep these projects as a different priority than other projects. We’re talking non-profit, pro bono work. A six week project might be stretched out over six months. I take these because I want to help the client out. The money may not be there, but that’s OK – it’s not always about the budget. The key to remember here is the good – you can’t sacrifice the fast and the good just because it’s on the cheap or free. The quality of your work is evident and will affect your reputation no matter how much money you made on the project.

For your clients

When I tell clients this line, I usually follow it up with “and I’m not interested in doing anything other than good work.” The point isn’t to drive customers into spending more money, it’s to give them a perspective on the business transaction. It lets them know that I’m a professional who values my time and the quality of my work. Even though they are the customer, they have a responsibility to the project.

I don’t throw this out in a sales pitch. If anything, I use this line during an informal conversation when the topic is appropriate. Be careful not to offend the customer, but don’t be steamrolled. One reason I started my company was so I could better adhere to my ideals and principles. And that’s what this is all about for me – being strong and doing good work.