18: Interview with Geoff & Laura from West Dorset Websites

Today we’ve talked to Geoff and Laura from Westdorsetwebsites.com who offer web design and SEO services. I run across them when I was reading The Guardian.

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What kind of business do you run? When did you start it and where is it based?

I run a web design and SEO (search engine optimisation) company along with my wife, Laura. The company is called West Dorset Websites and we specialise in web design and online marketing for micro, small and medium local businesses in West Dorset. We started working together in August 2015 and are based in West Dorset. We have a house in a small village near Dorchester, Dorset which we run our business from.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

We originally met at Oxford Brookes University in 2002 while we were studying print and online publishing. We had our first child in 2004 and got married in 2005 after completing our degrees. Studying, parenting and wedding planning simultaneously was a bit of a whirlwind! For several years I worked in surgical theatres until 2014 when Laura developed a health condition which required me to leave my job to care for her. During this time I started developing websites for myself, friends and relatives and discovered SEO. Suddenly all my previous studies fell into place and I, like most SEOs out there, “fell into” this line of work. As Laura recovered she helped me with more and more of the work taking on all the administrative roles (as well as being my main editor / proofreader!).

What would be your number one tip to improve search engine rankings?

Great content. I’m definitely a believer in the “content is king” principle.

With machine learning and user experience factors playing a larger part in searching, we’re moving to a digital age where it is less necessary to demonstrate to search engines the relevance of your site. Instead the relevance of a website will be judged by the behaviour of the people who use it.

Really, focusing on content is a win-win. If users like it but search engines don’t, then search engines will pick up on this and adjust accordingly. However, no matter how well executed the back-end technical SEO aspects are, if the content isn’t engaging the search engines will kick you down the rankings.

I would also say analytics is essential. If you can’t see where your site is performing well or poorly, how can you expect to improve? It’s like driving blindfolded.

Do you have a Unique Selling Point?

We pride ourselves on being local as the development of local online marketing picks up pace. Additionally, we offer a competitive price that allows smaller businesses to improve their web presence without it costing a fortune.

Do you think that Social Media such as Twitter or Facebook are good marketing tools?

Up to a point. I think if you are using these tools strategically to accomplish specific tasks they can certainly help you. If you are using a ‘hit and hope’ strategy (or ‘post and pray’) then probably not. The tool is only as good as the person using it.

What inspired you to start this business?

Just reading about SEO really. I’ve always been interested in the internet, marketing and web design. I think stumbling on SEO and the way it provides a scientific way of measuring and adjusting creative efforts is brilliant!

It was also exciting realising that there weren’t a great deal of companies locally offering SEO and web design.

What are the best and worst parts of running your business?

The best part is being able to work flexibly, seeing more of your partner and children and deciding what your priorities are that day instead of having them prescribed to you. The worst part is probably the sheer volume of work that is required and the lack of hours in the day. I wish something could be done about that!

Do you also host the websites of your customers? If not can you recommend a webhost?

We offer web hosting via ipage.com. I currently use them and find them to be exceptionally good value. I would also recommend Siteground as they have fantastic customer support.

What should you take into account when starting a business?

Whether you are really motivated to do it. It can be very difficult sometimes and if you’re not motivated then you’re unlikely to get anywhere.

If you want to test a marriage start a business. Do you agree?

Like any major life transition, starting a business with your spouse can lead to a number of new situations that could cause tension and disputes. We entered this business quite prepared. As students, we’d worked on team assignments together, as well as previously working part time together at the same call centre, so working together in a professional capacity isn’t completely new territory for us. You have to enjoy each other’s company, and respect your spouse’s skills. We carve out some time each week when we don’t work or discuss the business, and it’s been very important to us that we each have our own roles, so we don’t step on each others’ toes!

Thanks for taking the time to talk to us Delpino!

To learn more about their company please visit Westdorsetwebsites.com.

17: Interview with David & Elle from Jumpanzee

 Today’s interview is with David and Elle from Jumpanzee who run a design agency.

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What kind of business do you run? When did you start it and where is it based?

We run a small design agency that is focused on providing affordable web design/development, branding, & explainer video services for small businesses & startups. We started about 6 months ago in Atlanta, and we are currently based in Fort Myers, Florida (although we have a distributed team located around the globe).

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

My co-founder (Elle) & I are married (we were highschool sweethearts) and both originated from Atlanta, Georgia. Elle graduated from the Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD) in Atlanta with a Design degree and freelanced as a web designer/developer & graphic designer for years. I graduated from Georgia Tech in Atlanta with a degree in Project Management and managed projects both domestically & in South Africa. We both always had a desire to combine our talents and start a business together which led to us beginning Jumpanzee.

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What is the process if somebody wants a website design from Jumpanzee?

The first step would be to get in touch with us, which we try and make as easy as possible (our website, live chat, social media, email, phone, etc.). Once someone reaches out and lets us know what they are looking for (landing page, multi-page website, e-commerce, custom platform, etc.), we will have them complete a short branding questionnaire and possibly have a short phone call which will let us know their design preferences and what content/functionalities need to be included in their website. After that is established, we will create a wireframe and develop a mockup of what their site will look like. The client will give us their feedback which we will incorporate into a finalized mockup. After that, development of the site will begin. Once we are finished, we will submit the website to the client for review/feedback and use those comments to finalize their website. We can also help with migrating the site to their own hosting or they can host it with us. The website will then be live, and they will be open for business!

I’ve seen you have a live chat program (tawk.to) on the site. Has this increased sales?

We cannot say enough good things about Tawk.to. It is free and an absolutely amazing tool for communicating with visitors to our site. We can immediately answer any questions they have about our services/prices/etc. rather than them sending us an email and waiting for a response (which we still try to respond to as fast as possible – usually less than 24 hours). We believe that this has definitely increased sales with visitors having the opportunity to chat with us rather than just leaving our site. Also, it has a mobile app, so we can respond even if we are not near our computers. Sometimes, we just have conversations about the visitor’s business, country they are visiting from, or just what they like about our website. We definitely recommend anyone who has an online business check Tawk.to out.

I like the idea of the explainer videos. Tell us more about them. How much would a customer have to pay for one on average?

Essentially, explainer videos are exactly what the name implies. They are a tool to quickly and effectively explain your company, service, and/or product(s) to your target audience. With the average person having an attention span equivalent to that of a goldfish and hating to read a long block of text, they are perfect for getting the point across in an interesting way. They have been proven to increase conversions by up to 20% and are a wonderful marketing tool. There are a few different formats, but we mostly focus on animated motion graphics which are aesthetically amazing. On average, a customer should expect to pay around $500 for a 30 second video from Jumpanzee (although we can certainly create longer ones and develop scripts for our clients as well).

Do you provide after sales support? From my own and other people’s experience it often happens that a designer or programmer will go AWOL.

We absolutely provide after sales support. We never leave our clients hanging even after completing their project and seek to differentiate ourselves from the numerous “fly by night” companies out there. If someone is having any issues or just needs advice, we strive to be their go-to resource and genuinely want to see their business succeed.

Do you ever reject a project because it doesn’t fit well with your company?

Yes, we sometimes reject projects that don’t fit well with what our company provides. We believe it is in our best interest as well as the potential client’s best interests to do so. If it is not something we 100% believe that we are the best resource to deliver, we let them know. We never pretend to be able to handle every project that is presented to us as we believe in only taking work that we are confident in delivering amazing results for.

Are there any blogs, podcasts or Facebook Groups about entrepreneurship you follow closely?

Our free time is certainly limited, so we try and select a few media sources that we believe provide excellent content, advice, etc. and stick to those. Our favorite podcasts that we regularly listen to are the Tim Ferriss Show (which has some amazing interviews), the Tropical MBA & Startup. For fun, we also listen to Serial. The only Facebook Group we follow religiously & try to participate in is Groove Learning which is an absolutely fantastic group of helpful entrepreneurs.

Do you read any discussion forums about business?

I don’t know if it’s considered a “discussion forum, but we do spend a decent amount of time on Reddit. The subreddits that have been the most helpful for us (both in providing useful case studies, advice, etc. as well as leading to actual clients) are r/entrepreneurs, r/smallbusiness, & r/startups. These are great for seeing what issues others are dealing with in their own businesses/startups and how they are solving them.

Any books about entrepreneurship you can recommend?

There are a lot of great books out there, but here are my top four right now.

i. The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss – This book is singlehandedly responsible for opening up our eyes to the possibility of a location independent lifestyle business. With our love of travel, this book really hit home and inspired us to finally start having serious conversations about starting a business.

ii. The $100 Startup by Chris Guillebeau – I actually just finished this a few days ago. It had some excellent examples of people starting businesses on a budget. While it does not necessarily have a ton of detailed & concrete instructions on building your own business, it is still a great (and quick) read.

iii. The Lean Startup by Eric Ries – I am currently in the process of reading this. This is probably the #1 book recommended to me and really focuses on the lean process of testing for startups & businesses. It has already given us some great ideas & processes for Jumpanzee.

iv. From Zero to One by Peter Thiel – I am also in the process of reading this one. It’s always a great idea to hear what Peter Thiel has to say, and this book really challenges the way to approach innovation, technology, & the future for startups (or really any business).

What tools do you use to run your business?

While some of these change on a week-to-week basis (as we test to see which best fit our needs), our current list comprises of: Slack, Google Hangouts, Google Drive, Adobe Creative Cloud, Google Analytics, Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, & LinkedIn mostly), Skype, Tawk.to, Grasshopper, Trello, & WordPress (although I’m sure we are forgetting some).

Do you have a Unique Selling Point?

Our USP is our ability to deliver extremely high-quality work for affordable prices in a very personable manner. We work closely with our clients to put them at ease as the process of design & development is usually foreign and stressful for them to deal with when they would rather focus on the day-to-day aspects of running their business. In line with this, we have positioned ourselves as a one-stop shop for their creative needs with bundled services as our clients usually have multiple requirements.

How many people are involved in your business?

In the last week, we have actually added 2 additional members to our team which brings us up to 13. Our team includes graphic designers, web designers, web developers, video producers, a social media manager, a sales manager, and Elle & I. Currently, our team is located in the US, Canada, South Africa, Romania, Portugal, & the Philippines.

How do you stay productive and not get distracted?

The number one tool/process we use for remaining productive is time blocking. At the end of the day, we plan out what specific tasks need to be accomplished the next day. We then take those tasks and divide them into short time blocks (one task per block). Each block is purposely set to be shorter than we believe we can complete the task in, so we remain driven & focuses. We also have short breaks in between blocks to “recharge”. Overall, this has been a very success process for us.

Do you use WordPress? Any plugins you can recommend?

Yes, we often build websites for our clients on the WordPress platform. There are plenty of plugins that we use depending on the build and our clients’ needs, but we definitely have some favorite go-to plugins that we always install. The first is the iThemes Security plugin which is a quick and effective way to secure your WordPress site. We also use the Yoast SEO plugin to help with on-page optimization. The red-light/green-light guide and real time analysis tools are user-friendly and make optimizing content much easier. Finally, we cannot say enough good things about the Duplicator plugin by Life in the Grid. This has become an essential plugin for our build process and makes migrating WordPress websites from the testing server to the client’s server a breeze.

If you are interested to learn more about David and Elle’s company please visit Jumpanzee.com.

11: Interview with Heath Snoek from NetScope

Today we talk to Internet specialist Heath Snoek from NetScope.

What kind of business do you run? When did you start it and where is it based?

I run a business that does Internet & WAN application monitoring and control. It allows you to monitor, guarantee & block any application running across an Internet or WAN link. It is aimed at business. NetScope started development in 2005, but really kicked up a gear in 2014 when version 1.5 was released. NetScope is based in Sydney Australia.

What application would a company want to block? Could you give an example?

A company might want to block bittorrent for example. Bittorrent hides itself by using random ports and is hard to track without using deep packet inspection (which is how NetScope detects it). Skype also uses random ports and a company might want to protect that application so that it doesn’t have delays when other traffic hogs are using the network (such as Windows update, iTunes update for large file transfers).

Do you sell software or a service?

NetScope is sold as both a VMware virtual appliance (software) or a hardware appliance (a tower server or rack mountable server). We also do ‘Network Health Checks’ which we do as a service.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

At the time of this writing. I’m a 36-year-old family man with three young boys. I have been in IT my a large part of my working career, with the exception of four years spent as an emergency department registered nurse. I have particular passion for networking and Linux.

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What inspired you to start this business?

I believe the only true way to be creative and free is to start your own business. As long as it is something you already enjoy, why not turn it into something that could make you a living?

What is your daily routine of running your business?

At the start of the day it usually involves answering emails. I then usually spend the first couple of hours on marketing (unless we have a big marketing drive on and then I spend a few more hours each day on that). I will then move on to sales calls, following up on leads. I used to do a lot more research and development on NetScope but the team is big enough that I don’t need to be involved in that as much.

What are the best and worst parts of running your business?

The best part is easily the freedom and creativity to run things how you like (control freak at heart). The worst is when starting out not knowing if my product will be a hit with people.

Does your business generate enough money to support you?

Yes. I am very lucky in this regard. It not only supports me but a development team, accounting and money for marketing.

Are there any blogs, podcasts or Facebook Groups about entrepreneurship you follow closely?

https://www.reddit.com/r/Entrepreneur/
https://www.reddit.com/r/startups/

I used to follow blogs over at HubSpot but I have found that information becomes repetitive. Also, once you have learned quite a bit it becomes hard to find useful information.

Which resources to run your business do you use most?

I use Google Apps for work, Insightly as my CRM, Google Adwords, mainly. There are a couple of other tools I use now and again that probably aren’t worth mentioning.

What keeps you motivated to keep working on your business?

I really enjoy it. NetScope is well loved by all who use it, it is a product that has much more growth potential. I believe in NetScope’s usefulness right now and well into the future and I can only see good things to come.

What would you recommend new entrepreneurs? How to get started?

I would not quit the day job until proper due diligence on your product or idea has been done. There are plenty of ways to see if your product has a market, through market testing. Only when you can see a regular income stream would I recommend going full time. That is just me, though, I’m sure there are a lot of entrepreneurs that proves my example wrong.

Who do you think is the most accomplished entrepreneur you’ve met?

My father. He is my mentor, advice line and teacher. He is also an entrepreneur and has owned a software company called Turbosoft since 1985.

How important do you think is talent when starting a business?

Talent is important, but it is a very broad term. You need to be intelligent, hard-working and lucky to do well. I personally have at least one of those characteristics.

How much time do you spend running your business per day?

I generally do a normal 40 hour week, but I am often tinkering with things over the weekend and in the evening. I do have to juggle three kids with my wife who also works, so I don’t have an endless amount of free time.

You know you’re an entrepreneur when …

… you are sick of following silly ideas and orders from someone. You are willing to put your money where your mouth is and start things on your own.

Any books about entrepreneurship you can recommend?

I can’t say that I had read any outstanding books on entrepreneurship. I find that reading books on particular topics can really help increase your capacity in that area. In terms of categories here is a couple I have recently read and loved:

Smart CallingThe Dollarization DisciplineHow to Write Seductive Web Copy, Freakonomics and Think Like a Freak.

What is your single best non-obvious tip for running a business?

I guess it would be make sure you have a toe in the water in every aspect of your business. For example, I got burnt early on by using a freelancer to create artwork for me and to work on my WordPress site. I ended up scrapping everything and learning WordPress, Photoshop & Illustrator and realised I was completely ripped off. So now I know a little too a lot about every aspect of the business, from research and development to marketing and sales.

What should you take into account when starting a business?

You need to make sure that you can commit to making it work. If you fail the lessons you will have learnt are invaluable and moving forward.

What was your experience setting up your company website?

As I mentioned earlier I initially set up a basic WordPress site and commissioned a graphic designer to come up with some artwork and to improve the site. That backfired, I lost time and money and it was all scrapped. I then took it on board myself and learnt that there are some fantastic paid WordPress themes that allow great control over your site look and feel, and that learning Illustrator really isn’t that hard and is incredibly useful for all types of things.

Can you recommend a company or designer who helped you build the website?

No! Especially to begin with. WordPress is so easy to use that it doesn’t make sense to pay someone else to create it for you. Don’t be afraid of paying a small amount for good plug-ins and themes. The professionalism you get from a great looking site will pay you back many times over.

Do you have a Unique Selling Point?

Yes. NetScope has Internet application monitoring and guarantees for business networks that no other competitor can compete with in a side to side comparison. BUT, and it is a big but, we cannot compete with some of the competitors on marketing spend. Our biggest competitor does not have a competing product, yet can outspend us on marketing 1000 to 1 in the same ad-space.

What would you recommend to generate traffic to the website? Have you tried SEO companies?

I have always considered SEO a bit of a black art. There seem to be tried and true methods for pulling traffic to your site, and ranking organically, but they are basically:
1. Having great shareable content that people find useful.
2. Have a lot of referral links from very popular websites.
I don’t know how an SEO company could know your industry intimately. So how could they write meaningful blog posts and drive organic traffic?

Do you think that anybody could start a business?

Of course not. But anybody who wants to start a business, has a useful skill and is willing to constantly learn stands a good chance. Talent, hard work and luck are also important.

Do you think that Social Media such as Twitter or Facebook are good marketing tools?

They haven’t paid off for my business yet. I cover the main social media networks because I think it is important to appear active and communicate with the public. If you are selling consumer goods then I think Facebook would be great (I’ve always wanted to play B2C) but for NetScope it has been a dead end. Of course, this could be because I have not done the marketing correctly.

Do you think making decisions on a gut feeling is a good idea?

Data is always better than gut feeling.

Do you think it is a good idea to start a business with a friend?

Only if you want to lose them as a friend.

Please visit NetScope to learn more about Heath Snoek’s Internet company.