In today's market, every business needs a clean and easy to navigate web site. Learn how Rick Whittington Consulting is making this a reality for their clients!
Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?
Rick Whittington Consulting is an internet consulting firm specializing in web site design and web site effectiveness consulting. We help business and companies of all sizes create an effective web presence or help companies with existing web sites maximize their revenue, profits and leads by optimizing their web sites.
We also do "usability consulting," which is when we help companies identify frustrations that real customers and visitors have with their web sites. Frustrations are a leading cause of people leaving web sites, so we help companies identify and fix these annoyances through exhaustive research.
What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?
This is my first business. Before starting the firm, I spent six years as the web site design manager for Circuit City, and also spent time at Crutchfield Corporation in the same job role. Just prior to starting the firm, I was a web project design lead for the United Network for Organ Sharing, a non-profit that manages the country's organ transplant database.
Where did you get the startup money?
Everything was self-funded. It was important to me to start and operate the company without debt. Of course, a firm like ours doesn't cost much to start -- I needed a couple of computers, software and some office equipment and I ran the company out of my home. It wasn't until January of 2008 that we moved into an office outside of my home. I continue to operate the company without debt, which I consider to be an important factor in our success.
Who are your main competitors? How do you compete against them?
We compete with a number of both small and large design and consulting firms across the country. Our projects vary, so we may compete with small shops on one project and larger firms on other projects. Most of our clients have hired us because they have read our web site or because a past client has told them about us and our work. We're careful not to compete on price -- we're not the most inexpensive firm, but our approach to effective web strategy and design, separate us from many of our competitors.
How has your experience in running the business been different from what you expected?
I spend about 30 - 40% of my day on administrative and business development activities. These tasks take up more time than I expected, but I can say that the business development is best left to me since I'm very passionate about what we do. Customers sense the passion and excitement so it's an easier sell. Plus, I'm not in it for the commission like a salesman might be, and I know the business and past projects inside and out.
There's also a sense of ownership and freedom like none I've experienced. I imagined that operating the firm full-time would be stressful -- and it is -- but the freedom outweighs it.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
Occasionally, I think that we should have turned down certain projects. In some cases, we accepted projects with a low profit margin that we ended up making nothing on, while in other cases we worked with a few clients that expected us to be their full-time (and then some) support staff, which simply isn't possible.
1What have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business?
I've put a lot of emphasis on our web site. I've tested it with prospective clients and we're very careful with wording, design, and our blog. Writing the blog has been the single most important factor in online lead generation.
Also, I'm careful to treat clients as co-workers, fostering relationships and showing them that I'm looking out for their best interests. We also measure the real impact of the work we do so our clients can see the value. A great side effect of this is wonderfully positive word-of-mouth. We get a lot of business from referrals because we can show results and people like to work with someone who's passionate about their business.
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
For starters, networking is important because you can find your first few projects that way. At the end of the day, though, you have to show clients real business results, so you have to figure out an approach to do that.
This is great advice for entrepreneurs, Rick. Thank you for taking the time to talk with us.