A real-world pivot. How we became a WordPress Agency.

Being a WordPress Agency.

Everyone seems to be “pivoting”, or least trying to, so I thought I’d share our pivot. And it’s titled, “How we accidentally became a WordPress Agency.”

We’ve been a digital agency since before it was termed that way. If fact, in 1996 we started a plain-old company that had the technical skills to build web-sites and the sales/marketing knowledge to acquire and manage good clients.

It was the early days of the Internet so we entirely ploughed our own furrow. It was tough, and fun.

But we did well, surviving the big crash, we grew to become a sizeable agency using home-brewed tools and even an early CMS (built using Excel, would you believe!).

In about 2003 we realised the limitation of our original home-brewed web-platform but understood the benefits of dynamic and powerful web platform so shifted slightly on our axis became, for the next 5 years, a software vendor. By invested in people (programmers), tools and design to create a whole new digital platform called VITES.

It was very powerful, required lots of servers, was hard to manage and maintain and due to differing client needs it was endlessly forked into different versions. Support became a headache and, in hindsight, the choice of language (Perl) and web-platform was flawed. It still performed brilliantly and gave clients a sizeable business advantage over their competitors.

But the platform was flawed, both from a coding point of view and from a marketing philosophy. It did create a flagship product and introduced testing, dynamic delivery and great PPC management – none of which was available at the time commercially.

At the time we had started to share our working methodology and philosophy via a simple blog using Six Apart’s Moveable Type blogging platform called TypePad. At the time it was the world’s biggest player in the blog space. If you want to read a story about how a pivot went wrong then read the history of TypePad – hero to zero in less than a year.

When Typepad changed it’s model in 2005 we, and lots of other bloggers, were outraged and in looking we stumbled cross WordPress. It was open source, forkable (so you could change it), powerful and lightweight (so it ran fast on cheap hardware).

The rise of WordPress

But it was still a blogging platform so where we used it as an agency for client sites we had to hack it to make it fit our corporate platform. WordPress was soon doing more and more of the heavy lifting functions so we started writing a fair amount of WordPress code until we realised, in 2010 that there wasn’t any point in developing our VITES platform anymore and spent the time developing WordPress solutions.

This started a fairly major staff shakeup and by the end of 2011 we were no longer a software house. We had accidentally migrated in a full-blown WordPress agency. And that’s where we are now. Since 2012 we’ve only developed using WordPress and by the start of 2013 all of our clients had migrated over.

So we became a WordPress Agency by accident. Maybe that’s being a little unfair on the internal brains and planning but what is true is our ability to recognise an up-and-coming digital platform and leverage it’s value very quickly. It was timely for other reasons, we were moving to a cloud-based, service-delivered business model and WordPress fitted that particularly well.

Pivot lessons, part 1

There’s a few notable ones:

  • It takes longer than you think. Much.
  • You must be prepared to throw away, or lose, old client relationships that no longer fit your new model.
  • It can be scary, it may be expensive and largely it’s a step into the unknown so you need to be comfortable outside your comfort zone.
  • You measure how “right” the decision is and your progress by the number of competitors who copy your model and approach.
  • Everything you did before is up for change. Changing a core web platform mean’t new billing systems, improved client support infrastructure, massive planning changes and a new brand.
  • It’s a lot of fun and very rewarding.

I guess we’ll pivot again and certainly the more often we re-invent ourselves (it’s our third pivot in real terms) the easier it gets. Happy pivoting

By Martin Dower