Sometimes, you are so busy and engrossed in your work that you never get a chance to sit back and reflect. Sometimes, you get imposter syndrome and don’t think you’re good enough. Sometimes, you need to appreciate what you’ve worked so hard for.
This is an appreciation post. A reminder that we are amazing at what we do. 2021 was our best year to date, but we won't stop - and 2022 will be even better.
Sometimes, you get told you're amazing. Sometimes, you get asked for advice on how to run a business. Sometimes, people look up to you. But most of the time, it doesn't sink in. Most of the time, you get caught up in running a business that you don't have time to sit down, have a beer and just give yourself a pat on the back.
I want to cover some aspects of the business Myself and Jason have strived to achieve since starting MadeByShape in 2010. And appreciate that those small tweaks and changes throughout the years have really come into effect, building a solid business that not only functions but thrives in the industry as a service provider, but also a fantastic place to work.
This probably seems like an end of year review for 2021, but it's a combination of tweaks over the years that have helped us get to this point.
I mean, these stats are mind blowing to be honest 🤯
When we first started the web design agency all those years ago, we had a vision, and we knew we were good at what we did - but looking at where we are today, and how far we've come is just crazy.
Here are some stand out statistics for the MadeByShape Website in 2021.
From Day One, we've always been conscious of creating an environment that people love to work. If you're happy in yourself, you will produce better work. This involves considering many factors like Traffic, Working Hours, Project Volume, Project Difficulty, Holidays, Finances, Personalities, Clients, Location, Office Environment, 'What's going on at home/personal life', and many more. And as a boss, it's difficult. It's difficult managing multiple people, multiple clients, time and personalities. But the key here is to listen. Listen to yourself when you make mistakes, and learn from them. And listen to staff when they have issues. Small tweaks over the years have put us in the position we are in now. We are financially sound, so we can make decisions that effect our staff directly. And if our staff are happy, everyone is happy.
There's a few key points I'd like to discuss in this article about specifics that are going to improve our stress free environment in 2022, and I'm going to highlight some of the positives and negatives from 2021 so we can take those points and improve in the future.
"Your place of work should be somewhere that’s a home away from home, a place where you want to be, and enjoy it, and that’s what Shape have (very, may I add) successfully created." Ella, Designer at MadeByShape
When we first started the digital agency in 2010, we accepted every project. We had no visibility, no brand reputation. We had to create an impression in the industry so people knew who we were. And you can't create a portfolio or run a business without clients paying you. (self initiated projects are fine in snippets, but it's not sustainable financially and people can spot a fake brief off a mile away). So every enquiry we got, we accepted. We made good money on some, and we lost money on others. We thought this was normal as a young agency. Some clients were a dream to work with, some were awful. Some never paid us. Some just expected the earth for hardly any money, and some wanted things doing straight away - any time of day.
Fast forward to now, we're moving into 2022 and our position is completely different. Our exposure is huge. We rank for over 7,500 keywords in google, we are well known in the industry, and we win awards regularly. We get an absolute tonne of enquiries every month. So we can pick and choose who we want to work with.
The key piece of information here, is that we have a solid base to work from. If we didn't have cash in the bank, we wouldn't be able to work like this. It means we're not desperate to work on projects. It means we can take our time to find the right partnerships. The days are gone where clients just think they are paying for a service and it's not a 2 way street. Every project is a collaboration and a process to get the best result for BOTH parties. If that relationship doesn't suit, the process will crumble at some stage - leaving one side of the party, or both, unhappy.
Working with the right type of client has a huge knock on effect for our staff. They aren't working with arseholes. They are working with like-minded people who strive to be the best in their field, and they are willing to listen to expert advice and opinion.
Money isn't everything. Ask yourself this question - would you want to be paid a lot of money to hate going to work every day? Or would you want to be paid a good salary to love going to work every day?
The above point about working with the right clients has a major impact on mental health too. We don't want to work with clients who scream and shout. If the staff are working with nice clients, and nice people - 100% this will improve mental state.
But it's not just clients that effect this, it's the colleagues you work with - the amount of work you have on and so on. This year I think we've done exceptionally well at handling staff issues and providing support where needed. I care about my staff, and nothing is more important than health.
Business isn't easy. And there will be struggles along the way. There is an obvious flaw in our model at present, and we hold our hands up. Basically, my role is to oversee everything and because we have been so busy this year - it's just impossible to complete all my tasks. So we have just hired a new Account Manager who's role will be to first and foremost make sure all staff are hitting their deadlines, and on track, and chase clients for stuff we need.
A scenario of what happened a few times in 2021 was this... We finished a project, and handed over to the client to complete content or check for sign off. Because we were so busy, we chased a couple of times - but then gave up and concentrated on other projects. 7 months later, the client gets back in touch and we have to fit that project back in the diary. This scenario is not good for anybody. We need an Account Manager who is constantly chasing the client and seeing where they can help to get things over the line.
I'm very excited to introduce this person into our family in January 2022, and welcome with open arms.... change. Change in project management, change in software, change in approach to deadlines. I genuinely think this is a big step for us in our growth, and if you're reading this article.... please don't let me down hahaha.
We've always been a big believer in personal development. It not only improves the offering the agency can handle, but it keeps individuals on their toes. Pushing boundaries keeps life exciting. If you just did the same thing every day, you'd get bored.
But here at Shape, this has always been a thing - if you want to go to a talk, or buy an online course or learn something. We support that. However, one thing we noticed in 2021 is that everyone was busy and neglected this aspect of personal development. So in 2022, we're going to include specific days in the calendar for personal development. That way, if it's already in the diary - we won't push it to the side.
I'm very proud of the work we are consistently producing here at our digital agency in Manchester. It's so satisfying to see the work we used to create years ago, and what we are doing now. The progression is obvious and I'm very confident going into pitches for new work. I genuinely think we can enter a room up against any other agency in our field, and be proud of our portfolio and what's achievable with the skillset we have in-house.
You may not know this. But we have rebranded, and launched websites for many other design and digital agencies. We love it. We understand the target audience, we understand the brief, what's needed and what tasks need to be done to get the very best result. Other agencies may come to us for different reasons including
We don't see this as competition, even if they are in the same industry. There's a lot of work to go around. We'll be releasing some of these types of projects publicly in 2022 so keep your eyes peeled in our web design portfolio. So if you're another agency and you didn't know that we offer this type of service, feel free to get in touch.
Each year, we do a pay review in April. And we do an end of year improvement review for staff. In the past, this was solely individual - to list the positives and the negatives, and see how we can improve. But in 2021, we changed the approach to not only being individual, but we were also transparent about what worked well as a team, and what can be improved as a team. We highlighted that individual improvement can have a knock on effect for other members of the team and therefore a better result can be achieved for everyone. This was very refreshing to listen to feedback and how everyone agreed with our thoughts. This will continue in 2022 and beyond.
Over the years, we've hired in specific areas to help us evolve. My biggest tip here to other business owners, is 'hire somebody better than than you at that specific job'. If you need to provide illustration services, and you can't draw - hire an expert - don't try to do it yourself. I'd like to give a massive shout out to all our staff, you're all amazing.
"For me, the thing I enjoy the most at Shape is the way we work together as a team and how much that work is appreciated. When we get into a project, everyone's opinion is heard and Andy and Jay always make sure we have the time and resources we need. It's a great working environment that really makes you feel like you're valued and making a difference." Natasia, Content Writer at MadeByShape
This year has been record breaking for us as an agency in terms of projects we've worked on, and 70% of those have been in Craft CMS. It's an absolute dream to work with a content management system that enables us to be flexible from a design and development point of view. And very easy for clients to manage their own sites without stress. If you've never heard of Craft CMS, here's some benefits of using Craft CMS. And a Craft CMS tutorial video to show you how easy the back end is.
We have had the most ever enquiries in 2021 for shopify projects. We saw a rise in young entrepreneurs starting their own online business. Maybe this was a knock on effect from Covid?! Maybe it was an ambition of theirs?! But we certainly saw an increase. And we will continue to offer Shopify websites in 2022 and beyond. Some of my favourite Shopify projects include Riley Studio, ODolls Collection, Idyll Home and Releve Clothing.
Nobody knew COVID was going to hit, and when it did - I think we handled it very well as a team. We were forced to work from home, we had to communicate in different ways, we lost the social aspect of our business that works very well for staff and clients. And it doesn't look like it's going away any time soon, so we will plan for 2022 with COVID. Our staff will be working from home some days, and some from the studio - at their own choice.
There's a few changes I'd like to make that will better myself, and the team.
As a business owner I think it's really easy to put everybody else before yourself. I worry about staff and clients, making sure everybody is happy. But this means I put myself to the bottom of the list. I need to change my diary and dedicate specific time to better myself. I need a set routine to go to the gym, and no meetings can fall in the diary within those times. I need to eat better... consistently. I always fall into the same bracket here each year, I smash the gym for 3 months, eat amazing - and then I miss a few days... and blink, and it's been 2 months. I need to make sure I turn up consistently so that change can be made over time. If I don't feel good in myself, that will have a knock on effect for people around me.
The New Account Manager
This will have a huge change on me personally. Having somebody else to take a load off my shoulders will improve numerous areas of my day to day life.
I've missed out on travelling the world, meeting clients face to face, and spending time with staff on trips away... mainly down to covid. So I'm looking forward to getting life back to some form of normality where we can socialise in person and build relationships like humans have done for years.
We will continue to consider every enquiry, and take on the right type of client we want to work with. We also won't be afraid to stop working with clients who aren't the right fit.
We have very successfully created an in-house Organic SEO team that deliver fantastic results. Over the past couple of years, we have worked with a select number of clients to deliver results. In 2022 and beyond, we will be looking to take on a select number of extra clients.
Craft CMS and Shopify
We love both platforms for different reasons. 70% of our projects in 2021 were built in Craft CMS, and 30% were built in Shopify. In 2022, we will continue to work with both platforms. And we will continue to turn away Wordpress enquiries.
We hired Ella Dawson to head up Brand here at MadeByshape, and she's fantastic. 2022 will be a year were we focus on SEO to acquire more Branding projects for Ella to do her thing. Some examples of projects we've worked on are Releve Clothing, MiChild, iET and Studio25.
Sticking to our plan
In 2020, celebrating 10 years, we created this poem - and it's very much still true. Our process may change, but our belief will always be the same.