How to Start a Web Design Company

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Firstly, let me welcome you to the MyWork Blog. As any good web company should, we thought it would be a good idea to start sharing our thoughts and start web logging (aka blogging). For the skeptical technical few of you reading this, and thinking, “Oh look, another SEO driven content rich blog designed purely to boost the website’s rank on Google,” I must disagree… sure this blog might be full of keywords such as web design, shopping cart websites, and mobile web design, but trust me, you’ll be getting more than just a series of back links from the blogs that follow. Myself, and the team here at MyWork, will be using this blog to share our thoughts, experiences and opinions about not only web design, but anything remotely related to the digital space. A big thanks to our talented design/dev team, namely Jo Burrows, who designed the blog.

For my very first blog, I thought it would only be appropriate to tell the story of MyWork, share a few of my personal experiences with you, and hopefully give you a bit of an insight into what it takes to start a web design company.

MyWork started in January 2009. I had recently returned home to Brisbane after having spent the past four years working for Electronic Arts in Vancouver, Canada. Through my background in running a series of soccer video games related websites (see the still active soccergaming.com) I was lucky enough to score a role on the production team working on the FIFA series of video games. When I returned home I knew I wanted to use the knowledge and experience I’d gained at EA and use it to start my own company.

The inspiration for MyWork, like most business ideas, came through sheer coincidence. Having returned home to a house that has unfortunately been run-down by some far from ideal tenants my wife and I decided a renovation was in order. During the process of trying to find tradies to carry out the various jobs it occurred to me just how many of them simply had little to no web presence. I’d often ask for some photos of previous jobs and instead of directing me to a website as any good business owner should, I’d be presented with a dusty old photo album from the back of their ute. I asked why they weren’t on the net, and the response was most commonly a combination of lack of understanding and lack of funds to pay for what they considered would be a very costly exercise.

It dawned on me that all these guys needed was a simple, yet professional website presence. They didn’t want to have to go to one place for design, another for hosting, another for domains, another for emails etc. What they needed was a company that could provide them with a simple website at an affordable price who took care of every aspect of the website. I figured I could provide this.

So why call the company MyWork?

Originally, instead of offering a complete website to my clients, I thought that for a very affordable fee the clients may be happy with a simple one-pager that would showcase their work. This was at a time when MySpace (remember them?) was still cool. So naturally, if someone was going to be showcasing their work, then MyWork made sense. If you ran a company called “Bob’s Landscaping” well you’d be found at mywork.com.au/bobslandscaping/. For an extra cost, we’d give you your domain name. Guess what? Everyone hated the folder idea, but loved the domain name. So I quickly scrapped that and began offering actual individual websites at a simple $150/year. The MyWork name stuck.

I built the first few sites out of my office at home. I ran an ad in the local newspaper and with the assistance of my parents, set up a stand at some trade shows, primarily targeting tradesmen. The response was great. The tradies loved the fact that for just $150/year we’d build them a website and take care of all the technical stuff they didn’t understand or care about.

Expanding the business

In May of 2009 I took the big step of bringing on our first staff member, Sam. Sam played a big part in helping get MyWork off the ground, with the very first CMS being developed jointly by Sam and I (yeah, at some point in time I actually coded and designed… yikes!) in an office space kindly provided at an insanely cheap price by Rob and the team at RGM Electrical.

Keeping it in the family

Someone wise once told me (ok, maybe I just read it on techcrunch) that it is best to explore funding from family and friends first before looking at external sources. These are the people who believe in you the most, and on the other side of the coin you’re personally driven to deliver upon your promises to these people. At the time MyWork was starting to grow, I was lucky that my parents also decided it was time to build upon their success in residential real estate and start their own office. Sam and I shared a small space in the family real estate office and through the heavily subsidised rent was able to expand the business with little overheads. We hired Bjorn, our eventual Senior Technical Lead, in early 2010, Martin our first Senior Designer shortly after. In May 2010 Dan, my brother-in-law, joined as a partner and Business Development Director. From there MyWork really started to grow. I feel any good company needs a co-founder. Dan and I work well together. We have similar business mind-sets, but in many aspects contrasting, yet realistic and justifiable, opinions on certain matters. A company will never succeed if it is just the personal opinions of one individual. You have to have the co-founder available to bounce ideas off of. You need someone to tell you bluntly that your idea is stupid without feeling like they’ll lose their job if they speak up.

Expanding

We moved out of the “shoebox” office space with quite literally no more room to spare. We had 10 people jammed into a 60 sqm space (surely that breaks some kind of work place health and safety regulation) with our HR manager working out of the kitchen (seriously). Our new premises in Springwood provide us plenty of space to continue growing, with a bit of breathing room to have private meetings and consult with clients away from the main work area.

Over time, as the company has grown, we’ve been able to harness the knowledge of the talented individuals who have joined us and greatly expand the services we offer. Internally, we sometimes cringe at some of the designs we put together “back in the day”. However, it often grounds us to see where we have come from and gives us all the drive we need to continue taking the company to the next level. At present we have fifteen team members. We have built 3200 websites. I look forward to revisiting this blog in four years’ time and seeing how far we’ve come again.

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