Paul Smith talks about his experiences; from retail, to founding Multi Web Marketing.
Multi Web Marketing was first born out of our own online experiences. We have owned different online e-commerce businesses, using different operators.
It came to a head at one point, where we were employing an SEO agency, a web-design agency that updated the website, a guy that used to write content for us, and then a hosting company. We also used to engage with an EPOS, an electronic point of sale, for our retail businesses, and an AdWords agency as well, who used to do Google AdWords for us.
At this point we were spending around £150,000 to £160,000 a year - it was quite a big website.
We were at a point where we were trying to pull everything together. So, if you sold online, you either had to have a separate inventory, or you could use the inventory you'd already bought for your physical shop. The problem is, of course, if you've got it listed online and it's in your shop - and you've only got one - once you sell it, somebody has to physically take it off stock online. If you've then got multiple shops online, or you use different trading platforms, this can soon start to become a problem.
We got to a position where we were trading in more than a dozen platforms in around 46 countries. So I commissioned some software to be written. This software, theoretically, would interface all of that activity, and then connect back to an EPOS system. Meaning if I only had one item to sell, whether it was sold in Australia, Brazil, or from the shop floor, the stock system reflected that, and updated all of that technology simultaneously. Which, I thought, was quite a smart thing to do.
So I invested about £20,000 on this bit of software. And we couldn't get it to work.
The EPOS guys were blaming the IT guys, and the IT guys were blaming somebody else. It was just a nightmare. It wouldn't work.
I called them all into the office for a meeting, and I said, "I'm sick of it. And this is how it's going to be. I'm going for lunch; you guys can either work together. Come up with a plan. Then tell me the plan when I get back. And if you can't agree, you're all fired."
And when I came back, they were still arguing. So I stood my ground, and fired the lot.
What I then had to do was take on these roles myself; some personally, and some I had to recruit new people. I decided that my best avenue would not be the interactivity of the website - in other words, the coding side. How it looked was pretty much as I'd engineered, and hired somebody else to press the buttons to make it look how I wanted it to look, and how I wanted it to interact.
Getting the site noticed in search engines seemed to me like the most obvious thing which would, in turn, reduce the amount of money you spend on AdWords. There's a critical mass where one can take over the other; the organic traffic is sufficient to making the business viable. You can then make a decision, if you wish, to reduce your AdWord spend and invest the money elsewhere - or do whatever suits the business at the time.
I went on my first SEO course between 10 and 14 years ago. And it completely blew my brains.
We came away with a book. I must have this book somewhere, because if I read it now I'd probably see how ridiculous it was back then. But this is in the early formation of search engines. So Google wouldn't have been very old at that time.
That's when the journey started. I've continued to follow the SEO path, and my knowledge has improved. And it has to be updated frequently, as google changes its rules and reasons on why one website should be preferred over another.
So after everybody was fired, I recruited a small team. That team then started to manage our website; everything from content, we had an internal designer, we rewrote our own Magento website, which is an open-source e-commerce platform. We couldn't get the multi-shop interfacing piece of kit to work, but we did manage to work with another company, and we did get something else to work.
We would've been one of the first in the UK to pilot this new sort of technology, which was called multi-shop retailing, at the time. That then presented opportunities to me to increase the number of items I sold online. We were able to buy smaller quantities, and it would be live over many, many platforms.
We started to go to exhibitions, presenting our business, getting our brand out there. We were getting asked at those exhibitions if we could provide our online services for different brands. For about two years I said, "No, that isn't what we do. My little team is for my brand, and that's what it's all about."
And then, of course, I would be asked if I can recommend a company to do it for them.
And I'd reply, "Unfortunately I can't. I fired all of ours, which is why we're doing it all in-house."
Then, after a while, the penny dropped. I realised there was a big commercial opportunity for one agency to take responsibility for all of it. For the research of any given industry, then the targeting of the website, - in terms of pointing it in a favourable way as far as Google and other search engines are concerned - the construction of the website, the interactivity of a website. And then the search engine management thereafter which falls into a few categories; search engine optimisation, social media management and AdWords. All of which we wanted to offer our customers as a one-stop shop.
We started offering this multi-shop service, which is where the brand Multi Web Services came from. We later changed it, probably two or three years down the line, as we expanded our services into a total marketing solutions company. Hence, Multi Web Marketing.
That takes us up to about a year, or maybe 18 months ago. We made the decision at that time, as the business was starting to grow, to move from our fairly humble offices on an industrial park, to some purpose offices. We wanted our own building, that would allow a little bit more concentration. A more professional presentation for when clients came to see us, where we were able to illustrate that we were a real business; not just a one-man band operating from a dodgy desk at the end of a bedroom.
And that's where we are now. From our clients' point of view, the vast majority absolutely loves us. We don't contract any of them and, from my point of view, we have quite an open and honest attitude. We're proud to say that we retain, without contracts, over 80% of all the clients we've ever worked with. If we get results for clients, why would they leave us? If we don't get results, why would they stay?