Scratch your own niche
I'm sometimes asked about how newcomers should integrate themselves into the Drupal ecosystem. Here's my current answer, published for the world.
Unless you have venture capital sized dreams, your best bet is to focus on a Drupal niche. The good news is that plenty of niches are still wide open for the filling. Contact Moshe if you seriously pursue one of these. I'd like to participate.
Wide open niches
- Drupal load testing. Generic load testing firms have little insight into typical failure modes and weak points for Drupal sites. This domain specific knowledge is huge when developing load test plans. After a while, your reusable test plan library saves a lot of cost. Drupal performance firms like Tag1, 2Bits and Four Kitchens touch on this but I think a focused firm would do well here.
- Drupal User Experience (UX). Drupal UX experts who understand Drupalisms such as local tasks, page regions, and pathauto rules are far more likely to produce a sustainable, cost effective design. It would be so nice to have a One Page Redesign or 37 Signals Express that's focused on Drupal.
- Drupal Customer Relationship Management (CRM). Drupal is really well suited to apps like this that need lots of standard and custom fields and relationships between entities. CiviCRM plays here but there is lots of room still.
- Drupal Quality Assurance (QA). Once you have developed test plans for Drupal Commons, Open Atrium, or Open Publish, you can pretty quickly deliver plans to subsequent clients. Since the plans are the real company treasure, you might consider delegating test running to 3rd parties like Sauce Labs.
- Drupal Analytics. Again, knowledge about Drupal URLs and form submissions and user Fields is critical to mining user behavior on your site. The same knowledge is key when setting up and evaluating advertising campaigns with Adwords and similar ad networks.
- Drupal Workflow. Editorial workflows for media companies can be cumbersome to design and implement. Reusable expertise here is a big win. Implementing workflows in Drupal requires knowledge of some special modules (Views Bulk Operations, Rules, Workflow, ...).
Niche providers - great examples
- Cyrve. Cyrve offers just one service: data migration into Drupal from another system. We don't build web sites, or deliver training. We do perform a dozen large migrations a year which is much more than anyone else in the world. Many Drupal shops partner with Cyrve for the migration part of their engagements.
- Drupal Scout. Security review for your site or security training for your development team. Greg Knaddison and Ben Jeavons have established expertise here, and are now reaping the rewards.
- Emma Jane Hogbin. She's a goddess of Drupal training. Emma entertains as she enlightens. Emma is also a master of the Drupal niche. My jaw fell to the floor when she announced her innovative Site Building Extravaganza course. Emma announced that the course will run if 100 people sign up at a cost of $500/person. They signed up, and Emmajane is $50,000 richer. Thats a lot of Tim Hortons.
- More niche rock stars: Mollom, Top Notch Themes, Commerce Guys, and Volacci (Drupal SEO).
Notice that these are tiny companies (less than 3 employees). You can build a company that size.
From Zero to Niche
Your goal for the first year is to build your contribution to the community while growing and showing your expertise. You need to Establish Expertise.
- Start posting. Write on your own blog and/or on groups.drupal.org. Just narrate your journey toward expert. Pretty soon, your posts will generate interest among others in the field. Welcome them. Help them, and ask them to refer their friends.
- Increase readership. Once the blog is humming (5 substantial posts), ask to get your blog added to Drupal Planet. That RSS feed (and Twitter feed) has a large readership.
- Market yourself. Your writings do most of your marketing. But it does help to reach out to media folks like Lullabot Podcast and Drupal Watchdog. They need material, so don't be shy.
- Start speaking. Raise your profile by speaking at your local meetup and/or at a DrupalCamp near you. Eventually try to lead a BoF session or a lecture session at Drupalcon.
- Share code or tools. Share your data migration methodology, or load test plans, or QA plans. Share your templates and style guides. One of the most awesome parts of Drupal is the reputation boost you get by sharing. It can be counter-intuitive to share your treasures. But its been proven to work in this community. We reward people who get it.
- Be a good partner. Consulting firms like Acquia, Phase2, Lullabot, etc. are constantly negotiating on new engagments. They are also consistently understaffed or lacking expertise in niche areas. Make sure they know about your business. When they ask you to join their deal, provide a quick quote and delight the customer.