We are here are with Dan Ellis, founder and director of Ellis Creative. I would like the audience to know that Dan is no stranger to the Clearwater team, Dan and his team at Ellis Creative have been providing stunning web design and development for Clearwater clients as our web partner. We know that in the digital space, there are no shortage of providers for web design and development, including cheaper overseas options. We sat down with Dan to get his take and advice on what you need to consider when looking for a web design and development team for your business.
Good day Dan, thanks for taking the time to have a conversation today. Tell us a little about yourself Dan and Ellis Creative?
Hey Dim, thanks for having me! I’ve been loving Clearwater’s foray into some interview style content, and super excited to be included – hopefully it can add some value to your series!
I have personally been a graphic designer for over 20 years, which is a bit confronting when you look at that number on paper, doesn’t feel like that long at all. Luckily for
me the creative field is ever evolving, continually challenging, and most of all, always interesting, which seems to make time fly!
Like many businesses do, mine started as a side hustle around 18 years ago, as I freelanced around full time agency and high end corporate work in Melbourne. I’d love to say it was an immediate success, but in reality, it was a lot of hard work, several failures, and a ton of learning that turned me from an individual freelancer, into the small team at EC today.
During the early days of my career, I went solo 3 times, with visions of being my own boss, earning a decent salary, and working from a cafe somewhere by the beach! Needless to say reality was very different, and my lack of a plan, administrative skills (which are still in question), and steady traditional design work caused me to fail miserably, and slink back into full time work.
However it’s only a failure if you don’t learn something, and in the end, I did get to a version of where I wanted to be, which is back in rural Victoria where I grew up, still working on awesome projects, and with an awesome team that make up for my shortcomings (like admin and coding) and I can focus on all the fun stuff, like designing great content and taking credit for their hard work!
What core services does Ellis Creative offer?
That’s a good question! There is a huge variety of work that comes through the door here, but our core services revolve around visual design and branding, web & digital design, and strategic marketing services. Each of those areas are incredibly broad, and we’ve tried our hands at lots of things not traditionally in these spheres, like interior design, shop fit-outs, vintage neon signage, and we have even designed a guitar for
a charity event. We also surround ourselves with other awesome people such as yourselves who help us with things like SEO, SEM and social, creative content writing, and photography and video. We don’t do everything well, so we surround ourselves with people who do!
How has the industry changed over the past decade? Highlights, lowlights and surprises.
That’s another good one – and probably not something I can answer fully here, as we cover a lot of bases, so I will focus on how web design has evolved specifically, just to keep it short and simple.
For me, there have been 3 key changes over the last decade, that have effected web design, and design in general over the last 10 years.
The first isn’t going to surprise anyone -Technology.
It’s easier than ever for small businesses that do not have a lot of capital to set up an on-line business. All you really need is time. Hardware and software costs have reduced significantly over the past decade and as a result website design has become less expensive for the average business.
A major reason for this is the rise of open source software such as Word Press, Wix, and Shopify. These systems enable anyone to build websites for a fraction of the cost, and there are a range of already awesome templates to choose from to get you started. Web applications are required to be built from scratch.
When you use WordPress in particular, there are lots of freely available components serving the majority of web site requirements. The majority of our time is now spent on design and integration not complex programming tasks.
Website design has changed as devices used to access the internet have changed. People access sites using their devices more than they do desktops now, so websites need to be able to adapt to multiple viewpoints so users get a great experience across all devices.
Design trends have also changed. Websites used to be viewed on slow internet connections, and if you wanted a site that loaded quickly, you could forget about using large imagery and integrating video, as it would take forever to load. Internet speed has increased hugely, and now we are able to serve up large graphics, and stream media easily, through platforms such as Youtube and Vimeo. It’s really opened the door for designers to build the sites they wanted to rather than be constrained by dial up modem speeds.
It’s a global Market.
And it probably was 10 years ago as well, but not to this extent. These days you can jump on sites like freelancer, and Upwork, and find designers anywhere, at a price that suits you. You aren’t constrained by having to use a designer or agency in your area, a quick job post will get you a flurry of offers, and you can choose a designer that you feel fits your price vs quality point. This does have some risks, but the platforms themselves do aim to protect the buyer.
There is now a huge marketplace for beautiful web templates and add-ons created by designers all over the world at a fraction of the cost of developing them yourself.
Sellers who invest in an eCommerce site (or shops on Amazon and eBay) also have access to this global market, and can sell their physical or digital goods to a huge audience. In her spare time my wife sells PDF printable diaries through her blog on Wix (boooo) and her main customers are in America and the UK. It’s a low cost item, but sells in high numbers. It’s a great time to have a side hustle, and I recommend it to everyone.
My experience with web and running web development teams in the past is that scope creep and requirement changes in-production can often lead to blown out production costs, project delays and unhappy clients. What advice would you give both development agencies and prospective clients to ensure projects are managed, executed and delivered on time and within budget?
Your experience is correct – it’s difficult, there is a lot that goes into even a simple build. The best way to avoid budget blowouts, delays and unhappy clients (and agencies)
is actually quite easy in theory. It is planning and communication.
Invest in the time to scope out the project, and map the deliverables when supplying the initial estimate. Make it clear in your discussions and documentation what is and isn’t included, as well as what your rates are for additional design work. Set realistic expectations early.
It’s natural for things to come up in production, as the client gets a clearer view of what they are after, and you might even make some suggestions about options that would improve their site along the way, but you can eliminate a lot of the extra requests
if you ask the right questions at the start of the project, and manage expectations throughout.
If in doubt, pick up the phone, have a chat, and bring your client along with you. Clear communication and good relationship management is the best way of delivering your client the project on time, and on budget.
Growth within disruption
Recent months has seen what could be described as an explosion in eCommerce websites as a result of restrictions to trading and shutdowns, what has this looked like for your business?
To be honest, we were caught on the hop a little bit, as nobody really knew what to expect, and weren’t prepared for the influx of request we ended up receiving. We are based in rural Victoria, and there aren’t a lot of online stores yet, as businesses are predominately bricks and mortar.
The State and Federal Governments, as well as local Councils were actually really good (I know, who would have thought…) in putting in a range of Grants for struggling small businesses to get an online store. As a result of these grants, we had a huge uptick in requests for eCommerce sites, as people applied for, and quickly received their grant funds.
At the moment we are flat out delivering projects as quickly as possible, and myself and the team are very grateful that we are in an industry at the moment that hasn’t suffered as much as some others. We have a lot of clients running restaurants, pubs, and gyms for example that aren’t in great shape, and we are doing what we can to help them get by.
We know timing can be everything in business, in particular project and service launches. We know it can often be a way on conversation in regards to achieving project milestones, what are the common pitfalls, limitations and pain points that impede this from occurring from both the web team and client?
Once again, I will point to planning and clear communication as the predominant factor in achieving successful project and service launches. There is usually always a bit of pain and a few pitfalls, as things do get missed, or overlooked in scope, but by setting targets (for both client and designer), communicating regularly, and getting stakeholders to own their area of the project should see it delivered as smoothly as possible.
The right fit
What should business owners looking for web design & development services look for before hiring a team?
Probably similar qualities they would look for when hiring staff, or looking to engage other professional services. Obviously look at the designers website and work examples, and ask if they have worked on something in similar fields. Check references.
There is no shortage of agencies and designers out there to suit all price points, so find a team that you think would gel the best with your team. You are all going to be potentially working together for some time, so make sure you have a good rapport. You get the most out of your designers when they essentially become an extended part of your team!
What are some of the most overlooked factors by business owners when it comes to web development?
Definitely the scope of work. Most business owners reach out to a designer or agency with a general idea of what they want, and what they want to pay for it, but haven’t gone into any details. They want quotes based on general ideas, and sometimes (always) get a bit of a shock when they see their estimate change once a proper scope of work has been undertaken and their wish-list has all been budgeted for.
The other thing would be hosting. There is tons of cheap hosting available, but in most cases you get what you pay for. Your hosting plays a huge part in how well your website performs, and not all hosts are created equal. On a lot of shared hosting plans, your
site will be effected by the behaviour and traffic of all the other sites on your shared platform. An extra $100 or $200 per year spent in upgraded hosting will have a huge impact on your site speed and performance if it is set up correctly.
Clients & projects
Tells us about some of the clients you work and have worked with in the past. What kind of clients do you work with? Micros to larger organisations?
We have actually worked with an awesome range of clients, both large and small. KFC Australia are one of our bigger clients, we have been working with them for over 10 years. They are such an amazing group, and it has been an amazing journey so far. Check out our web page to see what we did for them on the KFC Rally for Youth!
We also look after Choices Flooring Australia and some of their sub brands, and have been for a long time. We are all super close, and socialise regularly (when allowed), and we have an annual camping event where I bring them up to my neck of the woods to get some country air for 5 days!
What are the secrets of running and successful and thriving creative business? I hear you are currently on track to have your best year?
We are having a great year, for which I am eternally grateful. There isn’t really a secret, just work hard, develop and work with good people, and employ good systems. Keeping organised and on top of things, and communicating clearly all help. My little team are amazing, and EC wouldn’t be anything without them!
What’s on the horizon
Are there any new platforms, technology or areas of innovation that you are excited by and ones that keep an eye on.
Technology develops so fast, and there are new and amazing things announced daily, it’s hard to not get excited by all of it. But if I was to pick one thing, it is the proliferation of platforms that allow your average person to build their own website at little cost. WordPress continues to be amazing, there are some awesome addons available already that completely change how we design on mobile and desktop, and the developer community is awash with fantastic ideas, concepts and solutions to cater for nearly anything you can throw at it.
What would your clients say about you Dan and your team?
I am sure they would say lots of things (hopefully nice), but they give us their biggest vote of confidence in the amount of referrals we get. We don’t advertise at all (other than some SEO on our site – thanks guys) and all our work that doesn’t come through our site is based off referrals and word of mouth!
How can our audience get in touch with Ellis Creative?
We’d love to have a chat, just reach out to us via phone or through the contact section of our website at https://elliscreative.com.au