The Importance of Building an Exceptional Online Experience in The Digital World

For this article, we sat down with Pete Heslop, Managing Director of Steadfast Collective, to chat about the importance of building a memorable online experience and how companies of all sizes can digitise their business for today's audiences.

Emily: If people head over to your social media channels or website, they will see that you use the term 'smart creative' a lot. What do you mean be a 'smart creative'?

Pete: A smart creative is a term coined by Google's Eric Schmidt and he defined a smart creative as someone who doesn't chase compensation and they want to a do a lot more than what they are already doing. So a smart creative could be someone in marketing, it could be a developer, or it could be a designer, it could be anyone, even if they are not in the creative field. There are 3 elements to it.

1. They have the technical ability and they understand what they are doing.

2. They are really driven, they really care about the results and they trust the data over everything else.

 3. They care about the business as a whole. They don't operate in a departmental silo and think about how their work will affect the company. They have the foresight to think about how their work is going to allow the company to reach their goals and have the ability to challenge decisions.

Emily: Why do you think it is so important for businesses to have a digital strategy in 2019 and beyond? 

Pete: There's two things there for me. The first thing is, do you have a goal? If you don't have a goal you are basically guessing and it's then hard to benchmark if that campaign or activity has been successful or not. As a small business, you only have a limited amount of time, resources and money, so you need to know what is converting. Especially working in a product world, you need to know if social media traffic converting higher than organic for example, so it is important to have goals around that strategy.

I think it's also important when setting those goals to be really realistic. It's really easy when you pick up something new and throw yourself into it. For example, setting a goal to do three LinkedIn posts a day. That might not be a realistic goal for you, you may just burn yourself out. What you often find is you'll have three weeks worth of consistent content, and then nothing for the rest of the month and this can look even worse. I often check out the companies Twitter feed, and if they haven't tweeted anything since 2017, I think they probably haven't done any development since 2017, so I'm instantly put off.

So there is two things, you need to set benchmarks otherwise you are just guessing, and then you need to be able to set realistic goals, otherwise it's unmaintainable.

Emily: I think it also comes down to not just running campaigns on a social media, just because it's trendy. By all means, try it out, test the water, but don't invest in a platform just because everyone else is doing so well on there. If it isn't working for your business, don't waste time doing it.

Pete: Yes, we learnt that Instagram probably doesn't help us win anymore work, but it makes us look more appealing when it comes to things like hiring and running events. The sort of people that follow and engage with us on our Instagram, they aren't companies that are likely to buy from us. With LinkedIn on the other hand, I am able to engage with Accountants, Lawyers, whoever may actually need our services. Another thing that I have noticed recently is that my posts convert higher than the company's posts on LinkedIn. So if we doing a big announcement, I will post it on the company account, and then share it on my personal one.

Emily: You help companies digitise areas of their business through the products that you create at Steadfast Collective. Why do you think it is so important to build an incredible online experience, especially in today's markets?

Pete: Because if you don't, then there will be another company that will do it.

For instance, I just moved house and we needed house insurance. I really hate using comparison sites, I just find the whole thing really stressful and before I know it I have three people calling me trying to sell me things. At a StartUp Grind event I went to recently, I met up with a company called Wrisk, and they have a really simple mobile app where you get your risk score with ultimate clarity, then within 5 minutes I had house insurance set up. I knew exactly what I was and wasn't covered for, and I now just have a real trust and affinity with them straight away because, in my head, if they put the effort into making a great onboarding, they probably put the effort into their customer support and into their development.

Emily: How can small businesses create these 'big brand' online experiences?

Pete: So if you do have the budget, go to someone who is good and focus on the one or two things that you do well. For example, Wrisk, at the moment they only do house insurance, they are looking to do car insurance in the future. When Monzo started, they only did pre-paid cards for personal customers, now they do joint accounts, business accounts and so on. So start small and do that really well, rather than starting big and doing that really terribly.

If you really are a startup, with little budget, go use Squarespace. We have business come to us who just don't have the budget, so we direct them over to Squarespace and within a day or two they have a really great website set up.

Emily: I think it also comes back to when we were chatting about social media channels and spreading yourself a bit too thin. Especially when you don't have the time when you first start out, don't try to go for every single platform. Pick the channels where you know your customers are and are actively engaging with content. Don't try and reinvent the wheel on another platform to get potential users to engage there.

Pete: Exactly, and for example when you first start a website, just a home page is often enough. People also seem to have this mentality that when they make a website go live, they are going to have a bunch of traffic. We get this all the time, they will say to us, "I don't want to go live until this is done", and we will reply, "we can go live today, no one knows who you are."

So at the end of the day, start small and don't stress too much about it. As long as you do a couple of things, and you do them really well and you drive traffic to that, you'll be fine.

Emily: I always see you lot over at Steadfast Collective out and about at events and on the road. I feel networking is really coming into its own, especially in this digital world. You lot have even set up your own networking event called Creative X Business. Tell us a bit more about that. 

Pete: So this all came out from the fact that Southampton used to really great, thriving creative community and this seems to have died out over the past few years. We just felt that Southampton is a great place where too much of our talent leave to go to London, Bristol, Bournemouth and Brighton, and that's not OK because we are a great city. The other reason was because we had done a lot of research into SCA (Strong Customer Authentication) that is coming up and we wanted to put on an event for that for our customers. If you don't know what SCA is, it's new EU legislation that comes into place in September. Essentially it is two factor authentication for payments, similar to when you pay for something really expensive online and Visa pops up and you have to enter your password, but that will be default for everything.

We thought doing a standalone event would be a bit dull, so we decided to make this series. Our plan is to have alternating creative speaker and then a business owner speaker. So I would love our next speaker to be a coffee shop owner, or a lawyer, as I believe there is so much that each can learn from each other.

Keep your eyes peeled on the Steadfast Collective social media accounts for upcoming events. 

Emily: Now before you go Pete, you set up Steadfast just over four years ago and before that you ran a couple of agencies. With everything that you have learnt during your time as an entrepreneur, if you could go back and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?

Pete: Trust your gut - especially when hiring.

Hiring is one of the hardest things you will ever do. If you are a team of four and you add in one more person, that is a huge percentage of your team that is changing. On top of that, you have to pay them, deal with their pension etc. and there is a massive amount more in outgoing and expenditure, so you need to be hiring the right people.

If you are starting small, it is important that you are hiring generalists that can deal with it. For example, you work in a small team, you are able to pick up video, podcasting etc. it's not just you going 'I only do this one thing'. It is vital in a small company that you hire really good generalists who are happy to jump onto what needs to be done. Then, as you grow bigger, you'll need people who specialise in just that one thing.

What does your digital strategy look like? Are you building memorable customer experiences that should be recognised and celebrated? Tweet us your thoughts @fortificloud 


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