Building a modern business - Month 1 - Getting this started

First published: September 11, 2021

Last update: September 12, 2021

I’ve never been one for working for the standard working model. The ‘9 to 5’ working pattern shouldn’t really apply in my line of business, web development. And being in the office is necessary 95% of the time. 

The COVID-19 pandemic opened up the opportunity for many to work from home and I was one of them. I got a taste for it and decided that I wanted to continue with it. For me, that means starting out on my own and developing a thriving business.

It’s as easy as that. 

Yeah, right.

One thing I have said personally among friends and family is the throw-away nature of web development bugs me. Work that I have poured hours into can be easily replaced within a couple of years. I envy architects for that reason. They have the opportunity to create something that can last centuries. It's the purpose I am looking for in my own work.

Those familiar with Mr Robot might remember this scene (possibly my favourite from the entire show)...

Ok, my ambitions won’t be as megalomaniacal as Mr Price’s, but the sentiment remains the same. I want to create something that is lasting. 

So, what is the purpose of this series?

I’ll be candid about my progress in creating a (hopefully) thriving business. I am under no illusions about how big a task this could be. Growing a business from scratch that not only I can live off, but has the potential for others to come along for the journey.

I’ll write about the positives, the negatives. The money spent, the leads generated. The projects completed, and those that may have failed. The journey will probably be quite long with years worth of content, all of which could really help tell the story of the brand. Coincidentally, this is something many companies struggle to do because they may not be able to remember those highs and lows. 

With that out of the way, let's get started…

I watch a lot of Formula 1. As I am writing this Monza FP1 is playing in the background. It’s September 10th 2021 in the capital of the Highlands, Inverness. The sky is typically dreich. 

Hopefully, this sets the scene.

One thing I love about F1 is the attention to detail and use of data. Being able to analyse the results of a test or race, identifying what needs to be changed to perform better the following weekend. 

They love their marginal gains, and quite frankly, so do I.

 Any positive gain, no matter how small, can compound later on to generate much larger results. It’s this approach I am looking to harness in creating my own business. 

As I mentioned before, I’m a web developer by trade working with WordPress for the past 5 or so years. This means I have been able to get one of the key things sorted when launching a modern, online business. The website. 

But, I didn’t use WordPress for this particular site. I used GatsbyJS as it is a framework I have been playing with in my spare time. The main benefit of Gatsby is the out-of-the-box performance they offer compared to traditional PHP driven sites. Generally, Gatsby-powered sites achieve high 90’s Google Lighthouse scores. Particularly on mobile. 

But, If you don’t maintain it and check these scores regularly, they can drop. Like mine.

Currently, my site scores 76 on mobile. Not terrible, but not great and something that I will need to address. The site is hosted with Netlify and takes advantage of a number of CDNs to deliver the content quickly and is by no means slow to use. However, Google takes these scores into account for ranking so I’ll need to address it.

The major thing I did this month started a Google Ads campaign. 

I have zero ideas how to manage one of these. It’s really not part of my remit as a web developer so it may as well not exist. What I do recognise is that I am probably going to need to buy eyeballs to generate leads and page views, in terms of local competitors they have been operating much longer than I have so I will need to buy my way into existence.

Getting started with Google Ads was thankfully quite easy. I was able to generate my first ad, my targeted keywords, and my campaign length in a matter of minutes. Handed over my card details and let the games begin -  ‘Buy the ticket, take the ride’.

And what was the daily budget I hear you ask?

£2.50 a day.

You might laugh, but right now I have no idea how much is going to be the ‘right amount’. I could just throw money at a problem and could still get the same results. Plus, I don’t want to become reliant on Google Ads to get work and would prefer to know how much each lead is going to cost me. Google advised me that competitors were spending around £4 per day, so the difference isn’t too large. 

I targeted quite general keywords - WordPress developer, web designer, web development… I didn’t really spend much time perfecting this as this was really a bit of a fact-finding mission. Ads are tracking the Inverness area, within a 40-mile radius. 

‘George Dawes, what are the final scores?’

223 Impressions

3 clicks

£0.64 in costs

0 leads

Amazing work!

Not really, but this was to be expected. However, there were some valuable takeaways from the campaign.

179 of these impressions were on mobile devices. So if a click has been generated, how geared towards a mobile device is my site? 

92 impressions were served to users aged 55-64. Almost half of the impressions are to people in an age bracket that did not grow up with the web. How easy to use is the site for people in this age bracket? And are these the business owners I am actually looking to target? The decision-makers.

A note on Google Analytics. I do have it set up on the site but as it has not been configured correctly I’m not including the numbers at this time. They won’t be useful as they will contain data from me accessing the site. I’ll look to include this data later when it has been configured correctly.

What next?

For the next review, there are a few areas I am going to address. 

Reduce use of iconography and improve typeface/contrast use

The data indicates that nearly half of the impressions were to people in the age bracket 55-64. I like to use iconography on my sites, with the assumption that people know that elements are clickable. This may not be the case for people in this age bracket. 

To address it I am going to reduce the use of iconography, including clearer calls-to-action, such as an email address (instead of an icon link).  

As well as that, I may address the typeface choice on the site. It is stylistically a good choice, but even for me, it can be quite difficult to read. Coupled with small font sizes and not-ideal contrast there could be difficulties for some users.

Optimise mobile viewports

The site is fully responsive, so there are no problems there. However, it might not be optimised for mobile devices. Vital content that can help the user navigate will need to be addressed. This will require some work in Figma.

New content

I’ve planned some new content too, based on reasons why clients should use either WordPress or Gatsby for their business needs. That will add some keyword-based content and these can be expanded upon to be in-depth landing pages.

Modify Google Ads campaign

I think I’ll ‘sanction’ a slight increase in the daily spend on Google Ads, as well as modify the target keywords for the next campaign. Again, I’ll only run it for a week (Mon - Fri).

Recrawl

Once those changes are complete, I’ll submit the modifications to Google Search Console for crawling.

Now a lot of this probably borders on SEO, but I have tried optimisations with little to no users and to be honest, it all feels pointless. I need to get some eyeballs on the site and the only way to do this early on is by purchasing users. Once I have some real data I will probably use Google Analytics more effectively.

In closing

The journey has started. The task has been set. There was no doubt in my mind that the very beginning would result in nothing but failure in generating leads. However, there may be some vital information gathered in these early days. And in the spirit of marginal gains, if I get a positive result next time around, no matter how small, then a step forward has been made!