Posts Tagged ‘web design business’
Posted on February 18, 2009 - by Khaled
Success... A word that might carry many different meanings! It can range from riding a bike without falling for a young boy, to making billions of dollars and be as famous as Bill Gates. Just remember Brendon Sinclair’s quote: “Success is whatever you want it to be!”. But here we are talking about a specific field which is the web design and the web development business. In my opinion, being successful as a web design agency is measured by the quality and the prestige of your clients that were attracted by the quality of your services (You have to provide outstanding Web development services and have excellent technical skills along with an excellent capability of selling those skills). The number of clients is important too but if you are working for ten small unknown companies you won’t be as exposed as someone working for just one big well known company. This is going to be translated, of course, into dollars language. I started being involved in Web Design since 1999. I worked as a freelancer, started few LLCs here and there that were more or less successful and earned/lost random amounts of money. The real first success was when I started a Web Agency that was based in Paris, France back in late 2005. Since then I’ve sold the company 16 months after its launch as I had to move out of France and I was offered a nice amount of money to sell it to a communication agency that merged it to be an in-house web department.
A handy guide about creating a successful Web Design Agency!
After merely one year, the company grossed more than 5 million dollars. Here are few tips that truly helped me achieve this. I am posting this for educating and informing sakes, so I won’t include any names/brands etc… Of course 5 million dollars are not a huge amount of money for many people but I think it is a really good start for a new web agency.
1. Planning, researching, setting goals and benchmarking
First of all you must identify the reasons that might help you succeed if you start your own company. Clearly set your goals and define the meaning of success for you: When/Why will you consider that your Web Design company is successful or a failure? How are you going to grow? What staff do you need? How much should you pay them?
Plan for everything, consider wisely your investments and keep them minimal, have your own specific marketing plan, think about how are you going to create a positive aura around your company? Ask professionals and business acquaintances for good free advice and make your research to validate their recommendations. Don’t just get their thoughts for granted. You should also avoid asking close friends and family members as they will tend to be subjective, but if you have a ‘successful’ relative/friend just ask them how did they achieve that? And learn! You must be confident when you take your decisions.
Do some market research; are you choosing the right region or area for your company? Is there enough business for you? What clients can you possibly target to get started? Are there any well established competitors? If yes then you must benchmark against your competitors, get to know their clients, the number and the qualifications of their staffers, their prices, how do they market their business, which ones are the leaders? Try to find out why? etc…. Now that you know a lot about them (While they know nothing about you yet) try to establish the methodology that will help you be competitive and to enable you to surpass them. Focus on their weaknesses and try to match their strong points.
Do all the previous by yourself and take the time to do it correctly this is really important as you’re going to save money (you won’t hire someone to do this for you) and you’re going to learn a lot of useful things that will help you to start, to survive and then to fully thrive.
This first point is the basis of all the upcoming points as you will notice! If you don’t elaborate it the right way then all the next points will not help you a lot as you won’t do them correctly. This phase took me a little bit more than three months (40 hours per week) and all I needed is computer, an internet connection, a phone, a library access and a means of transportation (you don’t even have to own a car, public transportation is just fine!)
2. Create a remarkable, recognizable brand to build your business around
Unlike what you may think, this is a something tough to achieve. It has to both translate how you perceive yourself and how people must perceive you. Both impressions should be almost identical. Otherwise your branding is not working properly! You should set your goals, decide what will you do and what kind of specialty are you going to offer to which niche and start from there.
After clearly setting your goals, knowing your targeted audience, deciding how you want to be perceived (that’s how you perceive yourself too) convert the whole thing into material. Choose your company name (keep the domain name issue in your mind: preferably .com, easy to remember, easy to spell, avoid dashes, avoid words that may be written with different spellings such as color/colour etc…) Create a logo (if you are not good with logos hire someone), a professional looking one! Take your time, long session of brainstorming and sketching on a paper are inevitable. Choose carefully the colors (Royal and Marine blues are good colors to have in a logo by the way!) A logo should be created in a vector format and remember… A logo should be able to look good on a golf ball!
Once you have a nice, recognizable, unique, remarkable, professional logo you need to create your business card (make it stand out from the crowd, don’t just have a plain white business card with some black or blue text!) and the rest of your stationery (Cover letters, letterheads, envelopes, Fax covers, brochures…) and make them also unique and clearly inspired from your logo.
The next step is your website with your online portfolio and references. Don’t stuff it with tons and tons of data! Make it nice, appealing, unique, usable, accessible, Standards compliant, simple and a tiny bit sophisticated.
You may also create an offline Portfolio presentation to show during meetings with clients and that can include more content and details. Also create a PowerPoint / Keynote template for your presentation.
Make your email account look professional and avoid using nicknames and/or lots of numbers! Such sweetieses87799(at)website.com! john(at)website.com or john.doe(at)website.com or even j(at)website.com are a lot better.
Start using social networks proficiently and create professional Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Stumble Upon etc… accounts. If you are just starting use the same profile image/logo in all of them. Also create a professional IM accounts (don’t use your own) and customize them adding your company logo and so on…. All these components constitute your personal brand! So they must be unique, professional and share the same design/feeling/spirit.
Try to create an aura around your brand! Start an educational blog, write articles, write columns for a newspaper, attend conferences and speak during them, launch training cycles, meetings, events and educate people, write books, participate in radio programs or in podcasts, Join and help people in some web related communities ( i.e. SitePoint.com)… Make yourself visible!
3. Brand yourself as a specialist/expert in something and pick a good niche
You should present yourself and your staff as being specialists in some given fields. You are not handy or the ‘jack of all the trades’! You are THE Company that can do this specific kind of work as you are, by default, the expert team that specializes in resolving these particular issues. When I started my “former” company in late 2005, Web standards were not widely used by the Parisian Web companies. Semantics, Accessibility, Usability and full-DIV CSS designs were not popular. That was a good starting point! Let’s just brand the company to be the one that fully respects Web standards and creates semantic, usable and accessible web sites totally relying on CSS tableless designs! But wait! This plan lacks something! Why would a client be interested in such web sites? There was a real need to educate the clients so we created a buzz around web standards by preparing documents, brochures and flyers to some potential clients, we carefully chose (point #1). We targeted fairly important companies that had old, outdated and clunky web sites. We sent them the prepared documents about the benefits of Web standards and we asked if we can visit them in their offices to make a presentation/speech about web standards and to point out problems about old-fashioned sites etc… We were not selling anything we were just educating. ~70% answered our correspondence and most of them were OK to ‘hear’ us. After the presentation, they were able to see the problems with their own sites and more than 50% of them immediately hired us to redesign their sites. That was the real starting point! We also started the same process about PHP Vs ASP (not that ASP is bad, but we used PHP and we had to sell that!). Soon we were regarded as the PHP specialist company of the moment. We were passionate and committed about Web Standards and open source so we were able to convince and to educate our prospects.
Another opening for us was the choice of a specific niche of clients to target. In addition tom y web studies, I have a Biology Ph.D. (was preparing it at the time I started the company) and this helped me a lot. When we contacted (or were contacted by) Biotechnology firms, food industries, research laboratories, pharmacology industries to have a proposal about the development (or re-development) of a web site or a web application I was able to discuss their needs and propose a solution that was by far superior to our competitors as I was able to understand the slightest details about what they were doing and what kind of solution they actually needed! And that was a huge advantage! Rapidly we were recognized as specialists of the Biology/Biotechnology/pharmacology field and we were even contacted by clients from outside France and Europe. I, then, dedicated all my efforts to pitch and make presentation for companies involved with this sector. I hired another person to do the same for the other types of companies and clients. Do the same pick up a fairly big niche about something you quite know! Are a sports fan? Target clubs and teams web sites! Are you into Music? You know what you should target and so on!
If you are specializing in solving some unique issues you will have less competition, you will provide better quality of services and you will be able to charge higher rates. A good example of a unique service is Webnotes.
Posted on February 2, 2009 - by Khaled
Matt Mickiewicz is the co-founder (along with Mark Harbottle) of the giant Australian online media company, SitePoint.com. SitePoint is growing quite fast since few years now and doesn’t seem to be affected by the recession. Matt, kindly accepted to accord this interview to talk about the huge success of his company and to reveal key points about how SitePoint has become what it is now. Some really great insights and advice to follow if you want your business to fully thrive! This interview will be really inspiring for most of you! Especially if you learn (and this is not a secret) that Matt started the whole thing in a very young age!
-.Hello Matt, Can you introduce yourself?
I’m Matt Mickiewicz, co-founder of SitePoint and 99designs
-.How did it all start for you? What led the jump from Webmaster-Resources.com to sitepoint.com?
It started as a hobby for me. I started compiling useful links & resources related to web development and online marketing back in 1997 and I put it up as a one-page site on Geocities. It quickly gained traction and popularity.On April 1st, when the price of domain name registration at Network Solutions dropped from $100/2 years to $70/2 years, I decided to purchase the domain name Webmaster-Resources.com.Unfortunately, the choice of domain name came to haunt me, as another website occupied WebmasterResources.com (without the hyphen). When WINDOWS Magazine – with 1 million subscribers – did a write-up about my site, they left out the hyphen, which was a sign that it’s not a name for the long-term. We moved quickly to find a better alternative when Mark joined me in the Fall of 1999.
The name SitePoint was inspired by a billboard for Microsoft’s CarPoint that Mark Harbottle, my business partner, saw while driving in Melbourne. When he hopped online to find out the availability of SitePoint.com, we found ourselves in luck as the domain name had *just* expired. We relaunched as SitePoint in March of 2000 and opened our Melbourne office that summer.
-.Almost ten years after can you give us a brief timeline? And how SitePoint became what it is right now? What worked the best during the start? the forums? the articles?
There’s a great timeline of the company in the right hand sidebar at: http://sitepoint.com/about/
What really worked the best in the very early days was helping as many people as possible. I participated in forums and discussion lists related to online sales, marketing & web development. I critiqued websites for free and offered advice on improvements. I answered every email I got, and tried to help out everyone as much as I could.
-.Surviving and thriving after 10 years including the dot come crash, and without venture capital, is a huge achievement. How did you do it?
In the early days, we never turned down a dollar in revenue. Since we were seen as experts in Web Development, it wasn’t all that shocking when Melbourne companies approached us to do Web Design work for them – and we did.
We’ve also been very moderate in our growth. We only hire people when we have the revenue to support them, and we never took on too many financial obligations before we were ready for them.
In a way, we’ve always been ultra-conservative with expenses & hiring.
For example, we’ve had to move offices 3 times since 2000 as our staff has grown. That’s counter-intuitive for many Silicon Valley based companies which rent 20,000 sq feet on day 1, expecting that they will grow into it eventually.
Likewise, we’ve always been very in touch with what people are doing on our site. When we learned that they were printing our articles through the “print” feature so that they could follow-along with our programming tutorials, we decided to do it for them and as a result published our first every book.
The design contests, which morphed into 99designs, and the buying & selling of Websites forum that turned into a full-featured Marketplace were also all born out of the Community. We didn’t come up with the ideas, just realized their potential and invested manpower and resources into executing upon them.
-.A question I always had in mind: Why did you choose Australia over Canada for the HQ of SitePoint?
Mark was based in Melbourne, Australia as were the first people we hired who came from Sausage Software – makers of the Hotdog HTML editor. As an unexpected bonus, the 2:1 exchange rate between the USD and AUD dollar at the time allowed us to stretch our revenue lot further than we otherwise could have in North America.
-.When you visit the sitepoint forums, where do you go?
I read the SitePoint Feedback & suggestions, Marketplace Feedback and “Forum Help” areas the most.
-.What is your favorite book or kit from the SitePoint collection that you would recommend?
-. What about 99designs?
99designs was spun off as its own separate company in February of 2008. It now has its own brand name and the focus and resources that it deserves.
You can always follow Matt on Twitter.