The good, the bad and the ugly : A year in view

Being us
by Martin Dower, CEO.

Lots of new faces. A new WordPress Support service. Retina devices. And the rise of millenials.

2014 has been very kind to us financially with revenue up a quarter, profit up a half – but this tells so little of the real story.

The story really starts in 2012, when we made monumental changes to how our business operated. As part of this we wrote-off £200k of iffy debt, shed our permanent office locations and changed how our people worked. It was a gamble driven by the emerging breed of millennials, changing workplace environments and the need to cast off the old proprietary world.

This took some time and wasn’t completed until the start of 2014. It’s also the primary driver for soaring revenues, productivity doubling and client satisfaction off the scale (99.5% for 2014).

The Good

Wow! What a year, and probably our most successful and happy year since we started out in the late 90’s.

  • Financials are strong. We have a more diverse range of clients and revenue streams and profit is up dramatically. Late payers are a thing of the past and suppliers are usually paid within 14 days.
  • Location agnostic. We’re 100% clouded so the team work wherever they fancy and we provide the tools and glue to make all that work, seamlessly.
  • A happy team. Our team are the best paid in the industry, by quite some margin, and work as many or as few hours as they choose. Gone are the old office politics and secrets that permeate established companies.
  • We share values with all our clients. Working only with clients that fit us and vice versa there is little or no client/supplier conflict so we’re focussed on bringing great value and working together.
  • Investment in technology is through the roof. We use state of the art tools including the latest Apple gear, collaborative tools such as Slack and Basecamp, customer satisfaction is independently monitored and published via our Zendesk platform and we keep a proactive eye on client web-site performance. Nothing we use or buy falls into the “cheap and cheerful” category, from hosting to cloud-based applications are all best-of-breed – regardless of cost.
  • 99.5% Client satisfaction. Driven by the need to be the best in the WordPress industry we strive to respond faster, better and clearer in all our client communication.
  • Farewell to email. Email takes, on average, 200hrs per year just to wade through. We’ve banned internal email and moved 85% of our external communication away from email.
  • Operational self-management. We’re fully agile now so project and resource management is no longer an overhead, liberating the team to do what they do best and spend time doing great stuff – gone is firefighting and painful, reactionary, panic.

The big enabler for this is the cloud. We started our journey to the cloud back in 2008 but, looking back now, it was a little half-assed. During 2014 we bet the shop on cloud-based services and whilst in many ways it seems to be more expensive it offers a level of flexibility and scaleability not available in traditional business tools.

The Bad

We said goodbye to a few long-standing teamies during the year. We also said goodbye to a handful of clients that just didn’t fit in with us. This was mostly mutual but saying farewell to clients and staff who had been with us for years is always hard. We think it was for the best.

The team is more fluid, people come and go a little quicker and that includes clients. The old gravy-train model that most agencies are based on might have flaws but the loss of regular, no-effort, billing has forced our business into being much more proactive.

The only consistently good place to find great, and motivated, WordPress experts was in the world of freelancers. It seems the very best people want (not unsurprisingly) greater control over their workload, jobs and home/work balance. We’ve used freelancers since our formation 2 decades ago, but 2014 saw the shift to being based around this emerging outsource model and adjusting to that internally has required us the trust the team more and be more flexible and open about how we operate.

Winning new clients is expensive. We have to engage, talk, travel and do lots of work to win the trust of a new breed of client who are more demanding, more agile and far more contemporary. Our client base, although predominantly based inside the M25, are spread across the globe. 2015 will see me traveling to the USA, Central America, the Middle East and Europe a great deal more than in previous years. I’m not a huge fan of day-tripping halfway round the globe.

The Ugly

We set our Peerless WordPress Support service back in March of this year. We we got massively wrong was the combination of underestimating the demand and not regulating how clients used the service. We’ve dealt we around 2,500 WordPress support tickets in 2014 and by striving to provide the best service we also burned through a huge amount of resource. Around 30% of our support clients actually cost us money.

We’re reviewing how much we charge and the terms of support in early 2015 to try to redress the balance, but WordPress support in 2014 was a lot like having a financial tiger by the tail. We were the first national agency to provide a dedicated WordPress support service so we had to plough our own furrow and that is expensive.

Our team is comprised of a hardcore of high-end WordPress experts who are freelancers and as we have grown it’s been hard finding good, solid, skilled and motivated people. We made a decision early-on to pay the best rates in the industry expecting that to act as an artificial filter except the opposite happened – we were (and still are to a certain extent) inundated with work requests from all sorts of inappropriately skilled people.

2015 and the “Year of the millennial”

The new breed of Generation Z folks reaching skill and experience maturity is an exciting time, but one full of challenges. This younger breed is more creative, naturally agile and much more demanding in terms of how they work, when and where.

They are also far less materialistic: I was a child of the roaring 80’s when “cash was king” and everyone wanted a white Porsche 911 turbo (or a Ford XR3i) and £100 bottles of champagne. Adjusting to the self-actualisation needs of the younger generation has and continues to be tough.

On the good-side, they are hard-working and more committed than the previous generation and are noticeably more efficient in the areas that matter (delivery) and good deal less politicised. This is a good thing.

by Martin Dower, Founder & CEO