I think we can all agree that 2020, has most certainly been different, immensely challenging, and for me personally extremely hard - Inside and outside of work.
I'm ordinarily a positive person, who will always try to see that small silver lining or that opportunity when a challenge presents itself, however being completely honest, this year it's been extremely hard to maintain that level of positivity. Chuck into the mix a global pandemic, the separation from my wife, the selling of our home, moving - twice, juggling childcare and seeing my children, all whilst trying to ensure that the team are shielded as best as they can be by decisions made by me alone to navigate the business as best as I can through this awful year - it paints a pretty stressful picture.
This is my sign off to 2020, and my opportunity to mention to everyone about the struggles that we've faced this year, and some of mine personally too - in the hope that someone reading this will gain at least a little bit of comfort knowing that someone else has been through that too, and most importantly if I've made it through, with everything that I just mentioned - you can too.
We struggled to deliver quality.
We're really proud of our reputation of delivering amazing, bespoke, fully functioning websites - that reputation has been gained from years and years of hard work. What you as the customer/website visitor see is the finished result, however, what we have seen this year, are many projects that have gone over resource due to an expanded amount of time being spent in QC (Quality checking).
I see this being for a few reasons:
- A sense of urgency from everyone wanting to turn work around as fast as possible due to the current economic climate. Faster work turnaround normally equates to an increased cash flow. However what we saw was the opposite, more haste resulted in more work, which resulted in a reduced cash flow, and more worryingly - an impact on other scheduled in projects,
- Remote working has most definitely had an impact - not being in close proximity to the designer/developer who is working on the project results in fixed check-in points, where the attention of the meeting and its purpose is overshadowed by other tasks that are front of mind. Being in the office, able to ask a question when it occurs is most certainly of importance. Something I defiantly feel we missed out on this year.
- This year we were far too process led, which brings me onto my next point...
We struggled to think outside of the box.
Over the years we've collectively built many processes - from logo design, to complete websites, quoting for projects, to setting up new retainer clients. Processes are great, and they most certainly have saved us time over the years, they are, however, something that should constantly evolve and adapt as the environment changes, and I feel that in the SME space, processes should act as a guideline, and when there is an opportunity to change - take it.
We followed our processes to the letter this year, which has been good for working structure, however, we were so fixated on the day to day operations, that we failed to look beyond that and seize any opportunities that were available to us. It's the age-old saying that I'm sure any company owner/manager has heard "Too much time in the business, instead of on it".
We were (ok, I was), too trusting.
I've been told by many people that I'm far too personal. It's been said to me as a negative, and until this year, I'd of strongly denied that being personal in business is a bad thing. This year has given me the first glimpse into why being personal in business has a negative impact. Certainly not enough to change my outlook, but cause for treading far more carefully in the future.
A cornerstone of any great relationship (be it in, or out of work) I feel is communication. Very early on in the pandemic, we welcomed any client to talk to us about issues that they may have with payments (we do this anyway, its in all our invoices and T&C's) and if they were having any payment issues to quite simply - talk to us. Many did - and not only did it put their minds at rest, but it also made me feel good knowing that through GEL Studios, I was able to help some people in our own way. That felt really good - and with everything else going on, it was nice to feel that way.
Then there were the few. Calls, emails, invoices all ignored. It was just plain rude. For a few, and due to the amount of monies owed, we had no choice but to turn websites off to force conversation. After the conversation everything was agreed, then the following months for those agreements made out of a place of concern and wanting to help were broken. Clients that we felt we had good relationships with, to only turn around and treat us as ignorable, disposable contacts. I took those feelings to the heart due to the way that I run the business. Quite simply, that hurt. It personally hurt.
Trust inside of GEL Studios is not only extended to clients, but also to our suppliers, and again, this year there have been testing times with many active talks being taken as we speak about our continued partnership with some of them. When I agree to partner with/use a third-party service, I expect nothing less than a complete understanding of not only how we expect their service to perform, but also how their service impacts our clients. It's that extra level of understanding, that ensures that we are able to deliver a personal, and caring approach to all of our customers, regardless of what service(s) they have with us.
When suppliers fall short, and their attitude to it all is complacency - I can't help but feel that I've done something wrong, but ensuring that that all-important level of understanding is upheld.
What we did... right?
It's not all doom and gloom, however, the points above are an honest representation of issues we faced, and things are in place for all of them to resolve/learn from. True, we didn't grow in 2020 as we did in previous years, but we maintained.
Not only has GEL Studios has been a constant place that our clients could depend on this year but also has been an employer that my whole team were able to depend on too. I entered this pandemic with an unchanging view that this pandemic and its repercussions would not impact my team in any way shape or form.
My greatest personal achievement this year, has been that I've been able to stay true to that view. With no member of my team having to worry about employment or loss of wages. It's been business as usual throughout.
A summary of other things that I would like to mention as successes from 2020:
- A warm welcome to Nate who joined our team in September as a full stack developer,
- We overhauled our support desk process to ensure a constant, quick reply to any/all support issues raised,
- Became official Mailchimp partners,
- Welcome many clients into the GEL Studios family supporting their marketing goals for 2020 and beyond,
- Launched many projects including Swindon Food Collective, P&E Board, The Best Ever Brownie Company, Digifreight, HY Filters, and The Jewel In the Crown Swindon,
- Won a substantial retainer for one of the UK's leading charities (more info in the new year!)
2020 will always be a year which I will look back on with very mixed emotions. I wish I could forget most of it, however even after writing that, it's been an opportunity to learn. Truly learn. I've been running GEL Studios for 7 years now, and until this year, its been very much plain sailing. In the past, I've complained to myself and my close friends about many things - looking back on some of those things now clearly shows how immature I can be some times - even more so after the past 9 months. It's clear that I have much to learn about running a business and managing my team.
I will never waver in my belief that you can be personal in business. I truly believe that it's because of this personal approach what allows you to stand the test of time. What I've learnt however is that not everyone will see things the way I do, and my stance now is that "that's OK". Lesson learnt.
I've been (thankfully) very much in the background this year due to personal reasons, and I cannot thank my team enough for continually pushing forwards despite everything that's been chucked at us this year, and our clients old and new, far and wide, for your continual support and business over this trying time.
Please be safe this Christmas and New Years, and try to have the best possible time that you can.
See you all in 2021.