Wow, 12 years. That’s almost a generation ago. We’re old! Back then getting Corona meant grabbing a six-pack of beers, and face masks were for dentists. Now, we’re wondering how in just one year the world got so crazy. Oh yeah, COVID-19. That was it.

So, let’s kick things off with recent events. Bear with us, it’s not all doom and gloom, we’re not the BBC. 2020 – the start of a new decade, the year we celebrated turning 12, and one we’ll ever forget.

Sh*t hits the fan

Towards the end of March, we watched as other agencies closed their doors and sent staff home and we wondered when we’d be making the same call. Some made it pretty early on, but collectively we were all happy to carry on in the studio for as long as possible, fully aware of the developing situation and the escalating responsibility we had for the team.

We’d also been watching the news closely in the build-up to March 23rd and in the week before we began to put plans into place. We looked at how we’d communicate, who would take home what, and how we’d be able to help clients in the same boat. In the end, prepared, and by chance, we called it a day before and sent everyone packing.

What we hadn’t planned for was the immediate impact lockdown would have on the economy.

A once in a generation challenge

Now, running a business is fun. It can be super rewarding. You can choose who to work for and who you work with – which is hopefully a team of people who will add a sprinkle of joy to the journey.

What they don’t tell you in the ‘business-owner manual’ is that you’ll have the occasional sleepless night worrying about money or if everyone is happy. But all of those anxieties (plus some) pale in comparison when faced with a global pandemic while running a business.

As lockdown hit, the very healthy pipeline we’d established over months of hard work dried up almost overnight. Budgets were slashed, and businesses retreated. We couldn’t blame them, but that didn’t stop our worst fears from spiralling. We spent a few weeks in a mild state of panic, wondering if we’d even make it to the end of the year or if this was going to be the new norm?

With a drop in work, we had to make some tough calls – from furloughing staff to hitting the pause button on hiring new folk and fitting out the new studio. This wasn’t how we planned on spending our twelfth year.

In a situation like this, it’s great to have a business partner. It helps when one or the other is struggling as it’s never too long before spirits are lifted. We snapped ourselves out of panic mode and decided the best approach was to take it week by week. We set more realistic short-term goals and focused on the smaller issues, like how to keep a monthly knees-up going? Well, there’s Amazon beer deliveries for that!

Today, we’re on the up again. New leads are coming in, they’re harder to convert but on the rise. Budgets are tighter, but we’re winning new projects. So thankfully we’re moving in the right direction.

Fhoke Team
Who doesn’t love a Nandos?

Silver linings

We’ve always been lucky to have worked alongside some very clever, switched-on people and the best thing to come out of this has been watching how that team grabbed the situation by the balls and kicked into a different gear. They’ve definitely stopped us growing a few more grey hairs, and we’ll be celebrating that with a night out soon. There won’t be a budget, that’s for sure!

Our clients have also been treating us to acts of kindness. From financial advice and recommending us to new customers, to blowing the cobwebs off old projects, there’s been a real sense of comradery between everyone.

Like the rest of the world, the way we work has been accelerated. Its obvious remote working is the way forward. The office will stay. We’re committed to it for six years, plus nothing beats the interaction and collaboration that it offers. Still, we’ll be putting a remote/office split in place, so we all get a better work-life balance. No one enjoys sitting in a car for hours on end.

Hopefully, our trips to London that wipe out a day will be replaced with Zoom calls, now that we can all cope. We’ll miss the burger and pint at the end of the day though, that’s for sure.

Ultimately, everyone is and has been in the same boat in our industry, some people have bigger boats for sure, but from talking with various agencies during the lockdown, we all seem to be doing OK as a whole. Our industry is resilient, it can pivot quickly, and there is a huge amount of support on offer, so we’ll take those positives any day.

Fhoke Instagram
Adding a splash of colour to our new studio.

New digs

While our heads are still spinning from a crazy few months, there’s still a lot to celebrate this year. Our new studio is top of that list.

Over twelve years we’ve moved around a bit – from a small spare bedroom to a roof space, and then on to a converted cowshed. Our newest studio is hands down the best location yet. A place where everything is shiny and new, where we can see out of the windows, our lights don’t flicker when it’s cold, and we have heating that works.

Now we have a space that can accommodate our growing team and house their talents. We have a breakout room for refuelling and playing games, a quieter area for meetings, and a separate, more comfortable workshop for the studio. We’re starting to look pretty grown-up.

We’ve even been cosying up to grazing farm animals (well not that close, that’s just weird), although we’re not sure where all the sheep went since lockdown… maybe it had something to do with Easter?

Coming full circle

Lockdown has also given us the chance to re-focus our offering and understand what we’re known for.

Back in the beginning, our goal was simple; to create stand-out websites for like-minded people. We wanted client interaction and not to be hidden behind a team of project managers. Like all great plans, they change, and we’ve definitely lost our way at times.

Jack of all trades

We’ve tried our hand at becoming a full-service agency relying on freelancers to offer the services we can’t, this was so stressful! We even tried our hand at becoming design partners to development agencies, that was just demoralising.

Luckily for us, we had a lightbulb moment and a little over five years ago, we went back to our roots – designing and building websites, in-house, with a focus on branding. We’ll leave the marketing and SEO lark to those that have the experience and time. We now bill ourselves as an award-winning web design agency, specialising in WordPress sites, eCommerce stores on Shopify, WooCommerce and BigCommerce, bespoke Laravel web apps, and design identities from central London and Salisbury.

Changing who we work for

With our services pretty much perfected, at the start of this year, we looked at who we work for. We’re still the experts in WordPress and Shopify but then, aren’t most agencies? So what sets us apart from everyone else?

From start-ups and growing brands to large corporate companies, we’ve nailed the art of working with these three segments. How? By making sure we only work with the key decision-makers inside these organisations – the founders and people at the top of their tree. Whatever stage they are at we can help them on their journey. We’ll help them build up their brand, sell more products and tell their story, through our creativity.

Levelling up

With a shift in our clients, we’ve also noticed the calibre of websites has stepped up. There’s way more to us than simple brochure sites. We’re still great at that, but also enjoy building complex stores, online apps, and portals.

We’ve had to grow our skill-set, either by learning these crafts in-house or bringing on extra people for a more rounded team. We’re pushing the potential of WordPress and Shopify, creating some very clever tools that are helping people to run their businesses better.

With such a shift in projects, we’ll need to be braver again, grow a pair, and find people who are already experienced enough to help us level up. Once COVID has calmed down, and things are back to normal of course.

Fhoke Logo
Our new logo mark from the 2019 re-brand.

Looking ahead

This year has felt pretty shaky at times. Still, we’ve enjoyed some calmer moments where we’ve had the time to re-group, re-focus, and re-position ourselves for the changes ahead. It’s given us the time to concentrate on where we go next, 12 years is a long time to be performing the same tricks. We’ll play to our strengths, learn from past mistakes, and come out of this a better agency with a clearer idea of what matters most.

New website in the works

With a rebrand last year, we had always planned to launch our new site before the end of it. But you know how it goes, clients come first. And actually, it would have been too soon.

Since our buddy Corona hit we’ve had the chance to pour some time into this project – we’ve honed our message and how we’re almost ready to show it off. A new website as we pass our twelfth year, how fancy.

Proposal system

If you’ve not heard us plugging our proposal system yet, then you’ve probably been concentrating on bigger issues. You won’t want to miss this though, so here’s another slice of it.

It’s a tool that has completely transformed the way we make sales. It’s the first thing new, and potential customers see, and our conversion rates have surged since we began using it.

It would be selfish of us to keep it a secret forever, so we decided to help our clients out by offering it to them as a tool to improve their growth.

Client portal

We’ve also developed a client portal off the back of our awesome proposal system. A platform that any business, from any industry, can manage their client projects from.

Clients get their own personal login and can monitor timelines, get access to files, leave feedback via a commenting system, sign-off key milestones and rate how they felt the team performed at each stage.

Teams can plan out staged projects, send prompts and updates to clients via email, and add private tasks that can be seamlessly dropped into the timelines. The options are unlimited.

Partnerships and long-term clients

We’ll never go back to being a jack of all trades, but as we end 12 years at Fhoke we’re looking at how we can diversify and add further value to our work by building stronger partnerships with other agencies, who’s roles complement ours.

We’re seeing it elsewhere too, working with clients in other sectors pooling talents in the same way, it looks like this is the new norm. Agile groups of companies working together for the client, who knows where we’ll be as we turn 13?

Lockdown has also shown us how valuable 12 years of business has been. We have a huge number of long-term working relationships spanning back to day one across a wide range of industries.

There isn’t a month that goes by where almost half of our work won’t have come from these great people. So, our tip of the day when building an agency:

“Hone your service and offer it to a broad customer base. Spreading yourself across a number of sectors will diversify your skills, and make for a more resilient business.”

So here’s to all of our clients as we celebrate the end of another year in business. 2020 has been a rollercoaster of emotions, but we’re grown-ups now with our eyes firmly set on carrying on with what we do best.