“In this world, you’re either growing or you’re dying so get in motion and grow.”
– Lou Holtz
A (Very) Little History
A few years after college, I landed my first job within the technology sector. For a lifelong geek during the dawning of the Internet age, I couldn’t have been happier. I spent almost a decade with that firm and, along the way, I watched as the owners made careful, calculated decisions in an effort to move the company ahead. The company did well when the technology sector boomed, and floundered when competition became fierce. The owners’ conservative approach seemed brilliant when times were good, but were a death knell when the going got rough. I was baffled by their approach to growing their company. After all, these guys left solid jobs to start a company!
Making the Entrepreneurial Leap
For most people, that leap is the biggest risk they will take in their lifetimes. Since that experience, I’ve witnessed the same thing many times – people take the giant leap to start their own company, then become conservative and unwilling to take any kind of risk at all.
Hence why Lou’s quote has always meant so much to me. The first time I heard it, I didn’t really understand it to the depth that I do now. I figured it was all bottom-line related; you’re either increasing revenue or losing money. I have a whole new appreciation for Lou’s words and interpret it more in regard to risk, faith and a bold approach to business.
ForeFront Web: The Bob Ross Painting of Website Design?
True confession: ForeFront Web started as a happy accident. As I mentioned, I’m a geek at heart and started doing small coding projects for friends. This led to a “side job” that quickly became 40+ hours per week, and soon I became the guy that quit my cushy day job in exchange for 90 hour workweeks and a stressed out wife. It’s been almost two decades now and I can’t even recall the number of competing firms that have come and gone (and that’s just in the Central Ohio area). And the whole time, I could hear Lou talking to me.
Where It All Began – And Where It All Begins, Again
ForeFront started out providing full service marketing – logos, print material, websites, etc. Lou shouted at me, and ForeFront streamlined things and became web-centric (I couldn’t wait to shed print projects). A few years later, while I was looking at my frantically busy three-man operation, Lou grumbled at me once again. A year after, we had more than doubled in size, expanded our services (social media campaigns, next-level SEO, content writing and more) and picked up a frightening monthly rent.
Complacency? Not when you have voices in your head (dammit, Lou). We traded the big monthly rent bill for a big monthly mortgage, doubled in size again and bought a collection of Nerf guns.
Soon enough, we knew that the latest version of our website was in need of an update and our approach warranted a revision. We took this as an opportunity to look at everything we were doing through the growing/dying lens.
We noted several key things:
Our Longtime Branding Approach No Longer Fit Us
We had an underdog mentality for a long time. After all, we were the little guy that was small but mighty, and we “worked harder than the big guys.” Our website content was snarky, a bit edgy and was a jab in the face to all the agencies that took themselves too seriously (synergistic thought leader, anyone?).
We still have our scrappy mentality and work ethic, we still have snark, but we’re nobody’s underdog anymore. We needed a new look that would help project this. Nothing was sacred. Branding colors, messaging, imagery – even the logo was fair game. Sadly, even Punchy McPunchface was deemed to be passe.
Somewhere, Lou smiled.
Website Design & Development Was a Tactic, Not Our Core
This is the one that really got me. We’ve spent the better part of two decades cementing our reputation as a web design firm. Every additional service we have taken on was vetted using just one criteria: it had to be website related. We proclaimed boldly, “we are a web development firm!”
And we are, but we’re also MUCH more than that. In fact, when we sat down and actually looked at our services, where we shine and where our clients need us the most, we realized that we were misrepresenting what’s so powerful about the juggernaut we had created.
Marketing & Conversion: Much More Than Just a Pretty Website
Yes, websites are important – critical, even – to our efforts. But it’s what we DO with those websites that is exponentially more significant.
We have the ability to increase conversions 350%. We can take a business segment from a mature company and increase awareness by 235%. We can help a local company launch their new business, compete immediately in a crowded market and have to expand within 6 months.
As much as we abhor buzzwords, we needed to embrace the Digital Marketing moniker. It does a much better job explaining who we are and what we do, rather than simply crowing about building websites. Internally, it’s reminded us of just how important ALL the services we offer are, and no more calling them “peripheral services.”
Where Do We Go From Here?
Rest assured, we still build websites. It’s integral to what we do and, after all, gaining national attention to a dog of a site is an exercise in futility. It’s really that we’ve realigned websites as part of an overall digital marketing strategy that could incorporate blog writing, paid advertising, social media campaigns, SEO, conversion optimization and more.
True To Ourselves, True to Our Clients
We’ve stayed true to our core fundamentals: We don’t automate our work and we do our work in-house. In order to accomplish that, ForeFront had to staff up. We’ve taken over our entire building, brought in world-class talent, rolled out new branding with a new mentality and are ready to keep growing. The entire ForeFront crew worked very hard to make this happen – and I couldn’t be more proud of what we’ve created.
I’ll close with another quote that has been as much of a guidepost as Lou’s advice. While they aren’t his words, I’m sure he’d agree.
Fortune favors the bold!
Here’s to the new ForeFront Web, at least until we create the next new one.