Looking forward to 2016: Lessons learned being a digital agency in 2015

Lessons from 2015.

In the digital world, every year is different. A combination of challenges, rushes, highs and lows … and when it’s all over there are lessons to be learned, wisdom to distill.

In the last 20 years, if there is one thing that we have learned it is that the world moves pretty fast – and you’re ahead of the game or lost in the mire of mediocrity and commodity.

We are lucky, 2015 was a fabulously good year – we have a great team, entertaining clients and some awesome projects. And we learned a lot along the way.

Focus on our strengths: Client Service

Rather than obsessively correcting our weaknesses, we grew in stature by focussing on where we’re magnificent. Client service is our bag, it’s what defines us, and it’s what we’re exquisite at – and it took an external agency to reveal this to us, btw.

For so long, management approach was to discuss and resolve deficiencies and overcome weaknesses. In 2016, we will continue to play to people’s strengths and avoid that difficult “personal improvement plan” approach that plagues traditional businesses.

Client service is the undiscovered future of business, especially as we see the reduction in the impact of traditional marketing. Organisations typically spend 50 times as much on marketing as we do on client service, despite the fact that we know that customer retention is the quickest way to profit growth. In 2016, we will split our marketing and customer service spend down the middle.

Using services to broaden the value we offer.

We all know the basic ability to deliver a service is old-hat, or at the very least part of a commodity-based race to the bottom. It’s always going to get easier and cheaper to deliver basic web services, and this erodes margin that in turn lowers the quality.

We have continued to add increasing value to our clients businesses, and that has been rewarded by increased margins – and, in turn, we can spend more quality time working with our particular client base. 2016 will see us continue to improve the quality of our services and client service – if we offer the best service, then we continue to have a peerless service record – in 2015 our record is 100% client satisfaction for every month, better than 95% of all service organisations across the globe.

Making connections, sharing our learning and our worth

The connected world is the future; no one company tries to control the entire supply chain anymore so it’s now all about how fast you can make (and break) connections across teams, clients, technologies, continents, projects and methodologies.

We openly share our working practices, content and technologies – everything we do is released under Open Source (Creative Commons, specifically). We all need to share more; that’s delivered online as a couple of hundred original articles written to be insightful and useful. We curate an active Twitter (and now a revitalised Google+) feed, sharing our and others thinking almost continuously.

A supercharged content plan is core to how we share our learning, technology and thinking in 2016. We continue to make strong connections across the industry by attending and supporting WordPress events, working with WordPress industry leaders and forging relationships with VIP partners, key WordPress suppliers and Automattic.


When we started in 1996, we were two founders separated by 250 miles. It was a little tricky with the technology of the day, but it’s now very easy – in fact much easier than running the complexity and cost of office space.

Our team is spread across three continents, and work using an “on demand” model that releases folks from the nine to five drudgery of commuting and 30 days paid holiday per year. Our team is encouraged to work when and where they want, and to make that possible we pay top rate and expect no one to work more than 25hrs a week.

The technology we use is getting better and better, and the big improvements in 2015 revolve around integration. Our core cloud applications are Slack, Basecamp (now on version 3), Zendesk, Google Apps and, of course, WordPress, and there have been major steps to integrate this together and with our lesser-used apps such as Toggl.

Great to be small.

We are purposely staying small – it’s part of our plan. Small is the new great, and it allows us to be ultra-agile and also ultra attentive. As a result, we adopted a voluntary cap at 35 clients and maintained that during 2015, despite being approached by nearly 200 organisation across the year. It’s vital we keep the quality of service, and that required adding four new staffers this year and we need time to let them bed-in.

The 35 client cap will continue to be maintained into 2016, ensuring the highest quality of service and the avoiding the distraction of trying to manage hundreds of projects over the year. “Keep it simple, stupid” is our motto here and unregulated, uncontrolled growth is not our game.

WordPress is changing

WordPress has gone through a code consolidation year and much of the core development has been to secure the long-term stability and success of the platform. It does, however, mean some key changes to technology including the REST API and Calypso code framework.

Calypso moves WordPress.com away from dependence on MySQL and PHP as it’s built entirely in JavaScript, and communicates with WordPress using the REST API. This doesn’t mean the end of PHP and MySQL (yet) but offers a lighter, faster, and more flexible for a mobile-focused world. We’re already broadening our skills in Javascript to deal with the coming changes and during 2016 will start to migrate some clients to the new Calypso/REST environment.