I talk with Michael about differentiating their web agency in a crowded marketplace, the benefits of having large organisation experience, and the importance of enduring client relationships.
Like this Episode? Subscribe FREE on NZ iTunes here and receive new episodes directly to your phone.
The Ryan Marketing Show
Michael Reaney – MRD Web
Voice over: Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, fire.
Ryan Jennings: This is The Ryan Marketing Show and you’re listening to episode seven of one hundred. I’ve got with me today Michael Reaney from Michael Reaney Designs, MRD. How’re you doing, Mike?
Michael Reaney: I’m good, thanks mate. How are you?
RJ: Very good, indeed. So, I’m going to ask you a question, because I know you do web stuff, because I do web stuff as well, but the question everyone else will be thinking is what kind of web stuff do you do?
MR: Well, I think like a lot of other companies, we do the smaller business websites, but as well as those, we also do the kind of more functional, technical sites. So, rather than just building a brochure-type website, we can actually integrate third party tools, we can build functionality that really helps businesses kind of grow. So, what we normally say is not just pretty websites – things that actually work as a tool for businesses to actually gain more growth.
RJ: So, for those that are thinking, “I don’t need a website,” or, “I do need a website,” there’s more to it than just the pretty pictures of what you see?
MR: Oh, totally. And one example that we’ve just done recently is a big My Livestock kind of trading site, and what it is is it’s like a Trade Me: they still use agents for selling their stock, but what they’ve done is they’ve realized that technology’s the way to go; they can’t just rely on having agents going and talking to their farmers and selling stock that way. So, they realized that they needed to have a big online presence, they needed to advertise there, they needed to have the whole offer and buy functionality to really get in there and be the market leaders, so traditionally what was really a complete offline industry is now hugely online, and I’ve realized that that’s where everything’s going.
RJ: And is this X Stock? Is that what it’s called?
MR: No, this is not Stock X, this is My Livestock, so it’s part of the NZ Federated Farmers, so they’re like a nationwide company, and I’ve got about a hundred and something-odd agents. So, I think the way they do it is they have their own agents, whereas I think the Stock X business is more of an independent, kind of just an online thing only; there’s no agents involved, or none of their own agents, from what I understand.
RJ: So, one of the things that’s, I think, difficult for businesses approaching an agency is knowing which ones are good versus which ones are great, and most importantly which one is right for them, because tech and web, a lot of the magic actually happens with things you can’t see. So, how do you articulate your message that you can do more than just the pretty picture, which they’re 99% of– that’s like your ante to be in the web game; it’s just your basics – how do you articulate that to the market?
MR: Well, we always use the analogy in-house that there’s always your cousins, sisters, dog, or good friend that could build your website. I mean, often a lot of the work we get is from people and businesses that have gone down the track of building a website themselves or having a really cheap solution built, and it doesn’t work and then they realize this is really important to them, important to their business, so they have to do something about it. So, a lot of the time when we actually get that call or get that inquiry, the client already knows that they need something better.
RJ: So, something’s either broken or they’ve made a decision that web is strategic to their business?
MR: Totally. And I think one of the biggest things and one of our points of difference is the whole support side of things, so we don’t just build a website and then hand over the key, so to speak, and go, “That’s yours, just do whatever you want with it,” we basically– it’s a long-term view for us. We’ve been in the Bay fulltime for nearly seven years now, our family’s been in business here for over a hundred years, probably, and we’re all about support. Whenever anybody has an issue with a site, they ring up; we take care of it straightaway. We provide a managed hosting service, so we monitor websites, we make sure they’re always running, so I guess it’s that support side of things that we kind of pride ourselves on, because so often in this industry, it’s generally the opposite of what goes on.
RJ: So, you’re not actually looking for build it, let them go, move on to the next one – you’re looking for customers who want an enduring relationship where there’s reasons for multiple changes or updates or tweaks to the sites?
MR: I mean, we don’t think the business model of whenever you need a change to your site, it’s going to cost you $300; we provide training with every site that we do, because we like to put the power back in the clients’ hands. Often we provide a training manual that’s specific to their website, because we like to say, hey, if you need to go and update a photo or add a new product, you should be able to do it yourself, because it’s no different than Trade Me or Facebook. But with the likes of the bigger, more technical sites like that My Livestock site, we have a service level agreement with them and we undertake certain things every month, and they’re always in contact about things that need to be tweaked or new functionality that needs to be added. So, we like to– from that point of view, you have that enduring relationship that helps them grow what they’re doing online.
RJ: So, empower your customers where there are things that are going to speed up their cycle of business, being able to update the sites themselves, and where there are infrastructural or technical requirements to keep that site humming, that’s something you continue to manage on their behalf.
MR: Exactly, yeah. So, we have those managed hosting agreements where every month or every day of the month we are monitoring sites, we know what they’re doing, if they’re up, if they’re down, and if there are any issues, basically, we’re proactive and we know about it before they do, and sometimes, or most of the time, they will not even know something’s happened, because we’ve proactively made sure nothing bad happened.
RJ: And stepping back a little bit in time, you said your family’s been here for a hundred years – the web hasn’t been around a hundred years, so how did you get into it?
MR: Well, long story short, went to Dunedin in 1999, studied tourism and marketing, had all these visions of working on cruise ships and driving tour buses, but that never happened. I came back here in 2001 and my father has an accounting business; he said, “Come and work for me, get some experience.” I thought, okay, that’s great – why not? Never understood accounting. He always said, “Whenever the penny drops, you’ll get it” – never dropped. Started working for them, realized it was kind of the dawn of internet, the dawn of websites, thought, oh, I’ll build him a website. It was terrible, but it was the starting point. I found that I really enjoyed that and basically kind of self-taught myself. Not long after that, I moved away to a local tech company and looked after their web and print divisions and then decided I need to get out of Hawke’s Bay and do something different. Went down to Wellington for six years, and my first step was with the government; I was the senior web developer for the Ministry of Justice. So, there I think I built family court websites, youth court, and at that time, there was a real, I guess, importance to web standards and making sure that every website that they built worked in all the different browsers, so that was quite cool to learn all the different tricks of the trade to make sure that everything was compatible – frustrating at times, but good. And then after that, I decided I had enough of the public sector and wanted to do something different, and went to Contact Energy and looked after their SharePoint intranet for about two years.
RJ: Oh, that would’ve been tough.
MR: Yeah, that was pretty serious tough; I think we had about 1200 users and a couple of front-end servers, a couple of back-end databases. So, yeah, it was good to do something that was a bit different than what I was used to, bit out of my comfort zone. And I’d always kind of had the MRD, the design thing, on the side; helping out friends where there was a need, and then after six years, we decided that we’d come back to the Bay. Always keen to come back to the Bay – we love it here, all our friends are here. We’d often come back in the weekends and just go wild [? 0:09:34.7] down in Wellington – that was just amazing – and then we kind of obviously thought like most people do when they decide to come back: what do we do? We saw a bit of a gap in the market for the whole web side of things and just thought, why not? Let’s come back and give it a crack. At the time, we were pregnant with our first child, so we thought we’d rather have children in Hawke’s Bay than in Wellington, and, yeah, I guess the rest is history.
RJ: Fair enough. So, you’ve really sharpened your teeth on the public sector and the corporate sector. How much of that do you fall back on when you’re working with clients now? Does that help you, or has the web moved on and that stuff’s almost irrelevant now?
MR: I think– I mean, it’s definitely been a huge help having both the public and the private experience, particularly with– I think the Ministry of Justice is one of the biggest public sectors, and I think Contact Energy at any one time can be the biggest company in New Zealand, and I think to work for them for a good number of years and being relatively high up in the chain, it was– yeah, experience-wise, it was just fantastic. And a lot of the stuff I do now, I always kind of think, how do I handle this? And having that experience– and again, I’ll look back and think about those years, and how I dealt with situations then definitely makes it a lot easier and more strategic in terms of what I’m doing now. And I guess back when I was working for the Ministry of Justice, there wasn’t responsive web, there was just web, but doing the compatible Internet Explorer and other browser things really helped from the point of view now of having the cross-browser, the cross-device web, so a lot of times I would take those skills that I’d learned there and quite quickly move those across to the responsive side of things.
RJ: And now looking forward, there’s been massive changes in the last few years, particularly with the mobilization and socialization of the web. How do you work out where your boundaries are for your agency? A lot of people in web decide to do everything; others focus on one particular area. What contributes to that decision-making for you?
MR: As I mentioned before, a lot of the work that we have got is from where it’s gone wrong for people, and often that might’ve been from a one-man band or from a marketing company that doesn’t do web, but sometimes say they do, and so from that, we saw quite quickly that it’s kind of quite good to stick to [interneting? 0:12:27.8]. Our points of difference are the design and development in-house and the support. We don’t pretend to be marketing strategists; it’s not what we do, and we like to, when asked about a service that we might offer, go, hey, look, nope – we don’t do that, but please go and see this person, because they’re experts. So yeah, we don’t like to put our hand up and say that we do everything, because I don’t think that anyone can do everything, and it’s generally best to…
RJ: So, your strategy’s like an ecosystem one: play very strongly in the area you’re the best at and then have the right people to contact in that ecosystem to compliment what you do.
MR: Yeah. I think we’re not insular in what we do and we like to kind of get out there and create relationships with other marketers and graphic designers, and we don’t want to think that we can do everything and we’re best; we understand that there are lots of businesses and people out there that are really great at what they do, so it makes sense to involve everybody to get the best solution for the client.
RJ: Now, we’re sitting here at your new offices on Monroe Street. This looks like a pretty big operation that you can grow into. Are there plans to grow quite significantly?
MR: There are definitely plans to grow. We’re not, I guess, looking at having 300 people on staff or anything like that; we like to focus more on the quality of work that we do, attract the right clients, have clients that really want to work with us, and not just kind of go and churn out work for the sake of it, so I guess it’s quality over quantity is where we want to be. We have a lot of relationships with contractors that we bring in from time to time to fulfill work that we need to do. We probably will, at some point this year, take on maybe another one or two staff members for more the– maybe the development side, but at the moment, we’re quite happy with where we are, and we’re doing a few things strategically just to kind of work out what the best direction is.
RJ: Nice. Do you have a particular location regional focus? Are you just Hawke’s Bay or New Zealand businesses, or international? Do you have a preference as far as that goes?
MR: Not really, no. A lot of the work that we do is Hawke’s Bay based, but we have clients over in the Cayman Islands and Australia and America that we do work with regularly. And of course, being online, there’s no limitation to where the work can be done, and I think one of the things we might look at further is trying to get more work at the bigger centers. We’re actually beginning to get more quite high-profile work out of the bigger centers, and we do often kind of think why have these bigger organizations gone and stayed in the big cities to have their work done when the quality of work in the provinces is just as good? But they might not know about it, so we kind of think, let’s do some more marketing and research and advertising up in these places and see if we can get involved.
RJ: Now, a couple of– I’m going to ask you for some free advice here for people listening, because you’re at the epicenter of the web. What trends are you seeing now that customers have got to at least be aware of, if not taking advantage of? What things are out there that may have passed someone by, because this web isn’t what they do?
MR: We do a lot of ecommerce stuff, but we do a lot of ecommerce with proper payment gateways that allow deposits to go into the client’s bank account that day, rather than traditional PayPal side of things. But not just that, we also look at things like Vend and other third-party tools that actually integrate well with your website and can produce the whole administration time internally. We did a website recently where the client was already using Vend, and we were able to integrate her website with Vend in order to allow her just to simply every day manage one thing, and that one thing was Vend. So, we’ve set it up to sync every, I think, five minutes. So, how that works is she can jump into her Vend system, edit products, add new products – any sales are replicated to the website every five minutes, so it keeps the stock levels under control, so basically it reduces her admin time and she can focus on doing other things in terms of building her business.
RJ: So, that Vend is a point of sale, integrates with the web so you’ve got a single source of inventory or stock management, rather than having ecommerce as a bolt on to your core business?
MR: Yeah. That used to be the case of you had your point of sale, your inventory system, and your bricks-and-mortar shop, and then you had a website, and a lot of people were reluctant to have an online store, because there were two things they had to manage. Now, with what we’ve been doing, particularly with Vend and the websites that we build, that’s no longer the case, so you can quite heavily have an online store and your point of sale inventory system in your bricks-and-mortar store that work together, and hopefully that’ll allow more businesses to have more time to actually focus on the growth side of things.
RJ: Great. Is there anything else you want to cover in terms of where you’re heading next?
MR: Where we’re heading next – oh, I don’t know if we want to give too much away. We do have–
RJ: No one listens to these. This is just you and me.
MR: We do have a few things in the pipeline that we’re considering, which are ventures unrelated in some way to online, and we just think that there are lots of things that we can do out there that don’t involve websites, but are still businesses that can help bring everything together. So, at the moment we’re working on something that will hopefully make us more of a destination.
RJ: Great. One of the things I’ve liked about how you operate is – we’ve met on and off for the last four or five years, and you’re not one to go out there and thump your chest, but just quietly in the background, you’re producing some pretty good work consistently over a long period of time, and that’s tough to do in web, because these standards are always changing, the web’s always changing, so well done for keeping up with those and building a team. You’ve got some great people working for you with Jeff Vandelaar, and of course your wife, Carrie.
MR: Yeah, thanks mate. Yeah, we do, I guess, sometimes pride– or not sometimes, but always pride ourselves on delivering the best to the client, and if that means we have to spend a few extra hours just to get it perfect how we see it, then that’s what we do. In the long run, it’s all about getting it right for the client, and we’re here for the long run.
RJ: Good to have you here.
MR: Thanks, mate.
RJ: Thanks, Mike.