Growing the venture
In an area as fast moving as web design, keeping afloat requires you to grow. Not necessarily in terms of staff numbers or turnover – these are just general business indicators. Particular to the web design industry is the imperative to grow your knowledge base. You will put yourself at a serious disadvantage if you do not keep abreast of new trends in design and technology.
Luckily enough, as Andy Budd of Clearleft has it, generally people in the web design field are creative people who are willing to relinquish some of their earning potential in exchange for doing work they really love. And because of that, you find people are constantly wanting to learn more and expand their abilities. Fine tuning your expertise is part of growing and developing your business. So buy books on a regular basis; subscribe to regular magazines, like .Net, or Wired magazine. Consume a wealth of websites in your field. Browse agency blogs and industry online articles and magazines – read all the information. Go to workshops and to conferences and learn about new technologies. This will give you the edge over your competition. “Your ability to learn is directly related to your knowledge and your skill,” Andy explains. “So if you want to earn more money, you just need to be better!” Conferences and workshops are more than interesting and relevant: they are an investment in your business.
We should note here, that Andy has declared an interest: he runs a conference called ‘d.Construct’ in Brighton every year for web design professionals. But he makes a convincing argument: “It’s a really good way of learning about how to get into the industry, learning about what hot topics are coming up, getting your information about what way you might want to go. It’s also a really good way of meeting other designers, and sharing tips and sharing tricks. A lot of conferences involve workshops, where you can learn new skills.”
Looking at continuing education and development from a business perspective, if you’re running a business, it’s not a bad idea to offer your staff that kind of activity. It gives staff something above and beyond a salary to motivate them. One of the things Clearleft do, is to give everyone in the company a £1,000 training budget to spend it however they want. “It might be going to workshops to pick up new skills they want to learn, or it might be to go to conferences,” Andy says. “But giving people a motivation to learn is really important, particularly if you want to be one of the best practitioners -- you can only do that if you have the best people. And you can only keep the best people by constantly keeping them motivated and learning.”
Christian Stanley of Crumpled Dog agrees that new ideas and approaches are key: “Employ young, enthusiastic people with passion, they will bring ideas and technologies. And use the core team to monetise that enthusiasm!”
Of course, like any business, when you’re starting out in web design, the best and most effective way to establish and promote your company is by word-of-mouth. “A good recommendation will secure you more business than any advertisement,” advises Ross Williams of Rawnet. “Focus on delivering high quality work within agreed timelines and your customers will do your advertising for you.” Networking, or, as Christian Stanley of Crumpled Dog puts it, “tarting at network events” can work wonders, too. LinkedIn Groups are a great way to make connections along with networking events and collaborative working spaces such as TechHub and Lemon Studios.
Just don’t grow too fast. “We always wanted to be a successful business,” says Andy Budd of Clearleft, “but we’ve never wanted to be huge.” A lot of web design agencies grow too quickly. If you get popular, you may end up turning down a lot of work. Take it on the chin. It’s best to grow at a manageable pace. Learn from others’ experience: “Back in the dot com years, I saw a lot of agencies grow too quickly,” warns Andy. “They were adding extra staff on in preparation for this massive rush of people.... But when the downturn came, they had to lay off half of their staff. And that can be very costly.” It’s fair to say, he’s talking reputation as much as anything else. As your web agency establishes itself, just make sure to keep your ambition in check – for the sake of your business.