Last month I reviewed the Web Design Business Kit in detail on this blog, and just this last week I had the distinct pleasure of being able to interview the author himself - Brendon Sinclair. I have to say this has been the best interview I've ever done purely for the reason that Brendon didn't just type up all his answers, he actually recorded a full and extensive set of video answers too, providing some amazingly interesting insights into his business and strategies.

In addition to the interview Brendon has very kindly offered competition prizes to the readers of this blog in the form of a whole HOST of free SitePoint books! Scroll to the bottom of this post for all the juicy details.

The Video(s)

I think Brendon expected me to edit this video down a bit as it's 15 minutes long - but the content is way too good for you to miss any of it, so here's the whole thing in all its glory! - Turns out the video was too long for YouTube so I've had to split it into two parts, which are below. Enjoy!



The Interview

Hi Brendon, I think that most people on this blog already know who you are from my extensive posting about, and review of, the Web Design Business Kit - so instead of the standard introduction, could you tell us a bit about how you got into the web design business, and how your own business has grown from where you started to where you are today?
Thanks for asking.

I trained and worked as a nursing sister for some 12 years or so working in ICUs, emergency rooms, general hospital wards and palliative care.  I loved it.  Caring for the sick and dying is very rewarding.

I ended up running the Graduate Nurse program at the hospital I was in - one day I was asked to do a marketing project for the hospital.

That went well and a couple of years later I was the Marketing Manager at the companies biggest hospital.

Then we got sold, things were 'restructured', which is a nice way of saying I got the boot (!), and I decided to start my own marketing business.

That went okay for a couple of years and then everyone started asking for web sites.  I had no idea what they were and just had a friend design a couple for me for clients.  Then more and more people started asking for them and I got a little more serious about them.

Then, as in now, I had no idea how to design a site or program anything, so I focused on getting the work.  Coming from the marketing background I could see that web sites were a fantastic marketing tool and set out understanding how they could be a great business asset - that's when I got more and more into search engine optimisation and general web site marketing.

I teamed up with a talented designer and 75% of the business was web site design.  I'd get the work, the other guy would design them, I'd add content and we'd split it 50/50.

I lasted about a year with this other guy before I figured out that the hard part of business was getting the client and making the sale.

That the business has grown over the years and got to where it has is a source of great pride to me.
In a nutshell the reason it's been successful is down to a couple of things:

  1. My wife.  With a supportive partner who encourages you and believes in you, business is approximately 1 million times easier than without.
  2. My entire philosophy in business has always been to find the best solution I can for a client's problem - that's all any business is really.
Nowdays we generate our income from a multitude of sources from web development to hosting to domain name registration to our own e-commerce sites and more.  That's been a very deliberate stratgey based on not wanting to starve to death and not wanting to rely upon just 1 thing for income.

Our other key strategy these days is getting rid of and not taking on any of what we call "Dickhead clients".  They're clients we just don't like or who don't pay our bills or who drain our energy in some way.  We have so many wonderful clients who have been amazingly supportive, that if you're a client who doesn't value us or what we do, then we get rid of you.

It's almost impossible to not take on every client you can get when you're growing the business, but avoid idiot clients if you can.  Our biggest growth has been when we've been very choosy about who we work with

Make no mistake about it, it's bloody hard building a business and keeping it going.  I've always been about reducing risk to maximise the potential for success.

As I'm sure you already know from my review, I thoroughly enjoyed the kit and I'm sure that it will be useful for several years to come. What was it like putting such a huge resource together and can you describe the process (and any problems) of becoming an author as well as running your business?

The kit wasn't really meant to be a kit.  It was meant to be just a normal book.

But, as you can tell from that first answer, I go on. And on.  And on!  The kit just grew and grew and grew as I went and related what I'd been through and what I found worked in growing the business - I put everything I had, every bit of knowledge, into the kit to make it the best it could be.

At the risk of sounding like a complete tosser, which we both know I am, I'll flick through it today and do 2 things:

  1. Think "This is actually bloody good!
  2. Get ideas from it as I've forgotten a ton of the things I talk about in the kit
The thing about the stuff in the kit - it all works.  When you apply the things I talk about, they all work.
The kit is now in its second edition, and as I mentioned in my review my only criticisms were that a couple of sections felt like they contained slightly dated information, terms, and statistics - have your processes changed much since the second edition of the kit? In particular how closely do your marketing efforts still revolve around traditional media, and what (if any) changes have you noticed in their effectiveness over the last few years?
Yes, I read those criticisms and I'm afraid you're now off my Christmas card list!

Our processes have changed a little since the second edition of the kit in that we have 99% of our work coming in from existing clients and referrals from those existing clients.I have noticed a significant decline in the effective off traditional media over the years, but I think this has more to do with increased competition than anything else.  Having said that, we were sometimes surprised at the clients we would get more traditional media.

One that springs to mind is a client who contacted us a year or 2 after we ran a once of tiny ad in a local free suburban newspaper.  He was hugely profitable and we wended up doing mutlipe large sites for this client.

We find that whilst traditional media will generate enquiries, not many of those enquiries will convert.  We're much beter off allocating our resources (money) into areas that generate enquiries that always convert - and here I'm talking about developing the relationship with our clients so they're incredibly happy with our service and tell their mates.

Is there a third edition of the kit in the pipeline, and if so - when can we expect it?

Nope, no plans for a 3rd edition but the kit has exceeded my wildest expectations in terms of sales and effectiveness. If it keeps on selling like it has - like hotcakes (!) - then it would make sense to do a 3rd edition: but not for a few years.
Some of the techniques which you mention in the kit include sending thank you letters to clients, conducting surveys which are posted to clients, and sending regular mail-out newsletters. One of the things which I wondered whilst reading these tips in particular was; have you found these "hard copy" methods to be more effective than their online alternatives? For example email thank you letters, polldaddy based surveys, and campaignmonitor based newsletters? Do the benefits (if any) outweigh the time and cost savings provided by the online alternatives?
Excellent question John.

Hard copy methods are slower, more expensive and much harder to measure the effective of........but I have no doubt (no evidence, but no doubt!) that hard copy contacts are way more effective at building awareness, positive perception about you and your brand.

People love a thank you note.  I've had thank you notes for my thank you notes.
You would not believe the number of times I've visited clients and for them to have a copy of an old newsletter from me in their reception area on on their desk.

It seems almost quaint and old fashioned for them to receive a letter.  Everyone loves a letter.  It's that moment of oepning something and not knowing what's inside, but knowing it's for you, that is the key.

Send them a hard copy newsletter and they will always keep it around for a while.  They'll pick it up when they're bored.  They'll read it in quiet times.

These things make you stand out.  Getting noticed is half the battle.

There's a higher perceived value in a hard copy of something.
Send an email newsletter (we do this too) and people can delete it in 0.1 of a second.

One of the most interesting parts of the kit for me was where you talk about your 100% money-back guarantee. This is something that I'm keen to try out based on your advice, but I'm unsure how you effectively include this clause in your contract without leaving yourself open should any disputes arrive. The sample contract provided with the kit doesn't include any information on this, could you shed some light on how it works?

A 100% guarantee is simple.  If the client has a dispute with you, you don't want him to be unhappy. So fix it. If the client is unhappy he'll tell tons of people.  If they're delighted they'll tell people too.

All the client needs to do is tell 1 person how good you are and your business could be set for life.

The guarantee is better for you than the client.  That's because it changes your mindset - now you're finding solutions and making sure the client gets the best possible deal.

I mention a little story in the kit of how I asked a client to rate how we did on a scale of 1-10.  I think I said he gave us a 9 and then we went on and did what we had to do until he gave us a 10.
I spoke with that client yesterday and our conversation wne tlike this:

"Hey Brendon, can you make a few changes to the web site.  Anything else we should do?"

"Me: "Yeh mate, you need a new site. Let's redo it, give it a freshen up.  It's cost you about $6,000 to do what we need to do."

"Okay then. Do that.  You still keeping fit?"

I think we've done about 10 web sites for this guy now.  All because we wouldn't stop until he was completely delighted with what we'd done for him.  Now he trusts us 100% and refers us tons of work.

A guarantee sounds scary, particularly if you do crap work and your clients hate you.
If that's the case then you're not going to do well in business, so change it up and try something new.

At what point in your business career did you move from doing a lot of the site development hands-on work, into primarily being the project manager. How did this change affect the business and what were the main challenges and benefits of taking a step back from the "nitty gritty" ?

I've never designed a web site. I don't know how to program a site. I can make stuff bold with that <b></b> thing, but that's about it. The only image editing I can do is resize a photo.

The most I've ever done is putting in the content to a site.

I knew from the start that I was no good at that stuff, so kept away from even trying.
That's been a huge part of us doing well.

I'm great at selling stuff.  (Having said that I don't even see myself selling stuff.  I see what I do as the client giving me a problem and me coming up with the best solution.)
I'm great at search engine work.
I'm great at talking with clients.
I'm rubbish at web design.
I'm worse at programming.

Of all the people in the business and who I've employed over the years I'd be the least skilled.
The only thing I have over everytone else is that I find solutions for problems.  That's it.  I understand that.  No-one else seems to get that (thank goodness!).

If you can step back from your business and take a good hard look at how it's going and whow you can improve, then implement what you need to do, then that's when you'll do better.

Take that day off, play golf with mates (it's better to play golf with client friends or other web developers), have a long, long lunch, whatever - just give yourself some time to think.
Time to develop a strategy.

Don't just lurch from one deadline to the next.

Do you have any new books or business ventures coming up that you could tell us about?

I'm writing a book now about an adventure my 15 yo son and I just did.  We cycled across Australia - 4,500 kms in 30 days (about the size of America) last October for a bit of fun and to raise some money for a charity.  As a dad it was fascinating to see how the ride impacted on my whole family (my wife and 3 children, nieces and nephews) as well as friends.

Business-wise we're doing more and more of our own stuff as tends to happen with web developers over time - I'm trying to write more and more on my own site ( but like an idiot, often don't prioritize my time well enough.

Finally, any advice that you'd like to share for anyone starting up a web design business in today's economic climate? Aside from keeping a close eye on cash flow and keeping spending to a minimum, what tactics do you consider to be essential for success during a recession?

Get noticed. Focus on personal branding.  Become perecived as an expert to your market.

Importantly, understand you have to hustle.  Get out there and sell. Make deals.  Talk with people.
I had a neat example of that the other day - we get a # 1 ranking f to make a few extra $$$.r a sought after search term on a page on our main web site. This term has nothing to do with our business and I'd had some affiliate links on that page.

The company I was an affiliate for stopped their program and there was no-one to replace them.  So I jumped on Google and found 4-5 companies that advertised on the term we got found for at # 1.
I called the first one up and sold an ad on that page for $550 per month.

It did so well for her that she's kept the ad going.  Then we got talking, as you do, about her site and how it was going.  She then asked us to redo her web site.  Another $7,000.

All from 1 phone call - just connecting with people.

Don't stress about rejection.  We all get rejected.  It's all part of the game.

Get rejected, move on and make an offer to someone else.

Thanks so much for taking the time to answer all of these questions Brendon, it's fantastic to be able to gain such a valuable insight from an industry professional.

Tis a pleasure.  Thanks for asking.

The Competition


As mentioned previously, Brendon has very kindly offered to give away not one, not two, but three SitePoint books to the readers of this blog, and winning them couldn't be easier. Here's what's up for grabs:

  1. Html Utopia: Designing Without Tables
  2. Simply Javascript
  3. The Principles of Beautiful Web Design
All you have to do is tweet the message below on Twitter, and then leave a comment on this page with your Twitter username and the number of the book which you'd like to win. Then, winners will be randomly selected and will have their books personally posted to them by Brendon himself. Good luck! I've left the first comment as an example if you're confused about what to do.
RT @JohnONolan: Interview With Web Design Business Kit author Brendon Sinclair + HUGE SitePoint book giveaway!