"There's been a strong uptake of people looking to have a wider reach and stay in touch with existing customers more effectively."
AN online web design and marketing company in Bristol is celebrating its 20th anniversary – with nearly a 50 per cent increase of turnover in the last quarter.
GWS Media, in Lilymead Avenue, has credited the upturn to a greater desire for a strong online presence since the coronavirus outbreak.
But founder David Graves said they have experienced challenges and setbacks along the way.
The former Cambridge University graduate said: “We had been expecting business to grind to a halt.
“But there’s been a strong uptake of people looking to have a wider reach and stay in touch with existing customers more effectively.
“With people now spending more time online – be it work, social activities or shopping - it’s important to provide an effective online business model.”
He said firms were increasingly keen to have a global reach and multilingual sites, as location becomes less relevant.
David, who began work as a programmer over 20 years ago, said: “People are now looking further afield for customers, but are also aware of potential issues with a global supply chain.
“Work can often be carried out remotely, which allows greater flexibility in terms of where you source your workforce and where your customers are based.”
GWS Media was set up in 2000 by David and he was joined by his father, Richard, who now works as the financial director.
David’s brother, Philip, joined the team four years ago, as a copywriter and marketer. Philip, who is himself multilingual, had previously run his own e-commerce business and a community website.
The trio worked on computer programming and compiled a series of users’ guides for early home computers over 30 years ago.
Today the firm specialise in multilingual sites and also heads GWS Robotics, which customises humanoid robots to be part of a company’s marketing and customer service.
They are supported by a skilled team, with expertise in areas such as design, coding and marketing.
Philip, a published author who studied mathematics and economics in Sweden, said: “Multilingual sites help you reach overseas markets and allow you to connect more readily with native speakers of other languages.”
Home improvement and memberships
GWS Media has also seen a strong increase in demand from the home improvement sector as people look to improve their homes after lockdown.
David, the creative director at the firm, said: “Since COVID-19, people want to make their homes more compatible with homeworking as well as nicer places to live.
“They may also have to adapt their home space to accommodate the different needs of working and family life.”
Organisations that rely on membership have also been keen to promote value online to customers.
David, who once worked as a journalist for Extel Financial in London, said: “Membership businesses want to make sure there is an obvious value to being a member so people continue to renew their subscription even in these challenging times.
“This involves a website with exciting and interactive features, such as the ability to connect and communicate with other members and advertise their services to fellow professionals.”
GWS Media has grown despite the Dotcom bubble bursting in 2000, the credit crunch of 2009, and now the coronavirus crisis.
David said they had learned lessons, such as keeping costs down and managing cashflow.
He said: “We probably tried to run before we could walk when we first started out. We moved into office premises, took on staff and borrowed from our personal savings as many people do when they set up a new business.
“We now take a more cautious approach. It pays to be optimistic but you also have to prepare for hard times, and diversify so you don’t end up being too dependent on one client or on one sector.
“It’s crucial to keep costs down during a recession and see where cuts can be made without harming the business.”
He said one cut which could be damaging, but was often the first to be made, was in marketing. He said: “This can have a major negative impact on a company’s prospects when it emerges from a recession.”
David said adapting, seeking opportunities and looking after existing clients are key to surviving during difficult times.
He said: “It helps to look at where there is demand for your products and services, and see how existing offers can be adapted to make it easier to buy from you.”
“For example, if you run a restaurant or hairdresser salon, can you make the booking and payment more straight-forward with a simple online system, and take deposits to help to avoid cancellations?
“Most people are uncomfortable with change. But it’s important to recognise opportunities and threats, and to be ready to change tack quickly.”
While the lack of face-to-face contact is a challenge, David believes it is important to embrace technology and maintain contact with staff, clients and a business network.
He said: “While it’s nice to take on new clients and make new contacts, it’s vital to maintain your current network and retain your client base.
“Regular communication and high standards of service help you to avoid a revolving door, where you lose as many existing customers as you gain new ones. We have found that our network and loyal customers have brought in business during trying times.
“It’s also important to keep in touch with your team and to help them adapt to the new ways of working forced on us by COVID-19, and make sure they are not cut off from the expertise and knowledge of others in the company.”
Choose your clients
David believes selecting clients and team members who fit your values helps business to run more smoothly.
He said: “You create the environment you want to work in. In my experience, people tend to start as they mean to go on, and it helps to be on the same page from the start.
“Younger or struggling businesses may not think they have the luxury to choose, but too much time spent with clients whose values are incompatible with yours, or with individuals who don’t fit into your team, can sap your energy, erode your enthusiasm for the business and lead to missed opportunities elsewhere.
“Relationships where there is mutual trust and respect are better for everyone. So, if you feel you are not being treated well, it’s better to do something about it than simply hope things will change.”