Following a set process means that we can work quicker and smarter and is something I strongly recommend to any business that goes through the same steps for every project they have.
Ross Davies is co-founder and Managing Director of Strafe Creative, an award-winning creative design agency based in Nottingham, UK. Specialists in web conversion, Ross and Strafe Creative use a unique emphasis on user behaviour data to design and build powerful websites that help businesses develop and grow.
After graduating from Nottingham Trent University, Ross and fellow design graduate Patrick Dolan set up Strafe Creative and their agency has grown from strength to strength ever since.
Alongside his work at Strafe Creative, Ross is a Council Member of the Nottingham City Business Club and a former Board Member of Young Enterprise Nottingham, as well as a member of multiple Nottingham networking groups. In the past he has spoken at events such as Market.Ed Live, REACH Business and The Game Changers Live.
Where did the idea for Strafe Creative come from?
Strafe Creative was born from a desire to create designs and websites that weren’t made just to look good; we wanted to integrate our creative skills with our knowledge of user behaviour and web conversion to create something amazing. By integrating user behaviour data and an understanding of ROI, we create designs that don’t just look impressive, but also work well in terms of engaging users and customers with the content. We wanted to assure our clients that their new website would do better from an economic standpoint and that’s why we guarantee that any website we design will convert better than its predecessor, or we’ll work on it for free until it does.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Entrepreneurs and business owners often have to jump between different roles in order to keep their business afloat – from account manager, to marketing expert, to customer service. This can lead to busy days spent jumping between tasks and mindsets, which can cause a massive haemorrhage in terms of productivity, as well as being incredibly stressful. I’ve found that dedicating particular days to certain areas of business is the most efficient approach to running my company – my Mondays are dedicated to finance and business planning, Tuesdays and Thursdays are for project work and Wednesdays and Fridays are dedicated to sales. By structuring my time this way – and ensuring that my team follow the same structure when filling my diary! – I can devote entire days to particular “types” of tasks – no more swapping between business hats! This means that I don’t have to keep alternating between different mindsets, which allows me to focus better and utilise my time more efficiently.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Generally, I will focus on creating an MVP (minimum viable product) first, then spend some time testing it. If I get friction – either from the client, or with the product itself – I flesh it out further and move forwards from there. This means that I don’t waste time doing unnecessary work that doesn’t make it to the final cut. It also means anything we create is tailored to the client’s individual needs, with nothing superfluous.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I’m really intrigued by the trend of bringing multisensory experience into the online buying decision – the sound of a car engine, the smell of a fragrance, the feel of a material. When I’m purchasing something in the real world, I consider more than just what the product looks like and what other people say – it’s interesting to see how that is working its way into the digital world as well. I’m intrigued to see where it will go – perhaps smell-evision will become a reality sooner than we think!
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Delegation. I’ve built my team around my own strengths and weaknesses, meaning that we now are stronger as an agency. I’m not the best at planning projects, so I have other team members dedicated to planning out our projects and ensuring they run smoothly.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Trust the process, don’t just go for “quick wins,” and charge way more!
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I’m a big believer in Parkinson’s Law – the belief that a project will always expand to fill the time allotted to it, no matter how much of an over-estimation it might initially seem. This means that even if a project seems like it should take a few days, there will always be problems that crop up that mean it takes far longer – if you over-estimate the timeline at the beginning of the project then this won’t be a problem, but you’ll be struggling if you only scheduled in the few days you initially expected. My team initially disagreed and wondered why multiple days had been assigned to tasks that would take a matter of hours, but they’re steadily realising that things are rarely as they seem and are slowly coming round to my way of thinking!
I think something else that no-one else agrees with me on is that time pressures are a good thing – they mean we work harder and smarter and encourage us to be more productive. Time pressure is the mother of efficiency – if we didn’t have that constant pressure of deadlines, we’d have no reason to streamline our processes and improve our approach.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Process, process, process! Following a set process means that every member of the Strafe team knows what they should be doing at each stage of a project and means that we can easily accommodate for previous mistakes. If someone makes a mistake, or there’s an unforeseen problem in a project, we just add a step to the project template that helps us avoid the same thing happening next time. Following a set process means that we can work quicker and smarter and is something I strongly recommend to any business that goes through the same steps for every project they have.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
We have a constant focus on a solution-based approach to our projects – rather than simply selling our clients a particular service, we instead like to learn as much about them and their users/clients as possible before moving forwards. This means that we can provide a tailored solution to their problems, creating a personalised, high-quality end product that they will love. This personalised, solution-based approach is what makes us stand out from other design agencies and it’s the reason we have so many happy clients, who go on to recommend our services to their peers.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur and how did you overcome it?
Like any young business, we’ve had loads. The big one, though, was not appreciating our own worth. We weren’t charging enough for our projects, which meant that we had to take on more work to cover costs, which in turn lowered the overall quality of our work. We recently tripled our fees, so we have less work volume-wise, but can now focus on making each project amazing. This has been a really good approach for us so far and we’re already seeing the benefits.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
One thing I wish I had more time in my day for is personalised follow-up letters; they always convert better than generic responses but are hugely time-consuming to write. It would be great to have an agency that could do this for us in bulk at a good cost.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I recently invested in Soapbox, which is a Google Chrome extension made by Wistia that allows you to easily record, edit and send videos without needing any fancy technical knowledge. I use it to send personal follow-up videos to all of our projects proposals and have already noticed that clients respond so much better to the videos than they ever did before we used them. It’s a really cool extension and I’d recommend it to anyone looking to have more personalised contact with their clients.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
HubSpot – I love it! It enables me to keep all my deals and client interactions tracked so that my whole team can see what’s going on. Hubspot integrates with our email, so that any member of the team can see any communication, regardless of who sent the original email. It’s a great service and allows us to keep on top of project progress, whether or not we’re directly involved.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The E-myth by Michael Gerber is a book that I find myself coming back to again and again – Gerber walks you through the different stages of a business, explaining how the lessons he has learnt through his years as a small business consultant can impact your own management. Whether you’re managing an entire business or a small team, his advice can be applied in every aspect of management. Gerber’s writing style is easy-to-understand and he takes the time to explain any complicated concepts – I would recommend this book to anyone running a business!
What is your favorite quote?
“Face your fears, live your dreams.” I like to think that this means that giving something a go, even if it’s hard, will make it easier to achieve your dreams in the end – adversity is the mother of success!
• Blame culture doesn’t help anyone. Instead fix the problem ASAP and discuss it as a team to ensure that it doesn’t happen again – mistakes can be a valuable learning opportunity!
• Have a process! It can streamline your work and reduce the risk of making mistakes.
• Know your worth – charge your clients what your work is worth, rather than what you think will attract more business; the end result should justify the cost.
• Know your weaknesses and build your team with them in mind to ensure that your business is as strong as possible.
• Spend your time wisely – you only have 24 hours each day, so make sure you’re spending them as efficiently as possible!
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Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.