Get Smart About the Interwebs: Custom Fit Online Shares Their Best Advice
Custom Fit Online is perhaps Pemberton’s biggest, and yet least known entrepreneurial success story. Almost 20 years old, the local web design and strategy shop was recently named amongst Canada’s top 10 integrated search companies, web design companies and Internet marketing businesses.
Locally, they’ve worked with Tourism Pemberton, Village of Pemberton, Pemberton Valley Lodge, the Log House Inn, Pemberton Soaring, Pemberton Valley Supermarket, and the Pemberton Chamber of Commerce, but the boundary-less world of the web means they also do work for companies in Whistler & the Lower Mainland, Ontario and the United States of America. We asked founder and principal, Roy McClean, to give us a tour behind the scenes of his virtual brain-factory.
By way of professional bio, what are some of the committees you have served/volunteered on? Where would Pemberton people know you from?
- I was a founding member of Tourism Pemberton and have been on board for many years,
- was a Pemberton Chamber board member for several years but took last 4 years off; back on the Chamber board for 2013,
- coached hockey with Whistler Minor Hockey Association for about 12 years,
- but my own volunteering is dwarfed by what my wife, Arlene, has been involved with; she had two full-time jobs for over a decade – her paid job at SLRD and her unpaid volunteer ‘job’.
In plain English, what do you do?
We help businesses succeed by having a strong online presence.
We work with our 4 pillars of online success:
- BUILD – build stuff like websites, Intranets, mobile apps;
- ATTRACT – apply search engine optimization (SEO), socia media, blogging, content marketing & search engine marketing (e.g. Google AdWords) to attract the right people to our clients’ online channels;
- CONVERT – work at converting online traffic into business and relationships with landing page development, conversion optimization, online testing, email marketing, etc. and
- OPTMIZATION – using analytics to drive everything; we’re a data-driven company; we use digital analytics to help guide and improve our clients’ online business and profits
What would you say your specialty or expertise is?
I need to be well-rounded and know a lot of stuff but the most significant thing I bring to the table is probably my total commitment to our clients’ success, no matter what it takes (as long as it’s sustainable, legal and morally sound).
And I’m a pretty good (and certified) digital analyst. I graduated among the top of the class during the first session of UBC’s Web Analytics program, plus I have taken numerous certifications to stay up-to-date with this.
What is the problem that your clients typically come to you to solve?
Making the crazy constantly changing online world work for their business.
So many people are intimidated by the continuous change in this area.
Earning people’s trust provides us with the freedom to act appropriately on their behalf.
Your clients aren’t geographically limited. How do they discover you?
Virtually all of our clients come from word-of-mouth. This is augmented by our various marketing activities such as social media, blogging, etc but it’s our (hopefully positive) reputation that creates a lot of new business for us.
What is the size of your business? Who are you competing against?
We refer to ourselves as a boutique business. We’re relatively small compared to many ‘big city’ web consultancies, but we have enough well-rounded resources to do almost all of our work in-house, plus we’re connected enough so that we can pull in people that we need for special projects.
Mostly, we’re competing against people expectations. Too many people don’t understand the value and the investment required to create a really successful online presence that returns a positive ROI.
Lots of people think everything online is or should be ‘free’ (e.g. “I can build my own WordPress site or hire a teenager to do this for a case of beer”… FYI, I have nothing against WordPress or teenagers who can build them).
The reality? There ain’t no free lunch and you, more often than not, get what you pay for or don’t pay for. If you invest in working with talented, skilled professionals you can get a great ROI (and that’s not meant to be a sales pitch – that’s just what I see from being in the business for decades).
Being successful at anything typically involves a lot of hard work and earned experience. Achieving business success online is no different.
Your website shows a team of 8. How many of your staff are Pemberton -based? How important is it to have the right people at the table? Where do you all operate out of? And what kind of secret web Ninja tools do you use that help you manage projects with staff across different locations?
We’re a virtual company. Most of us are local. Our webmaster lived locally for years but had to move to Ontario for family reasons and he still works with us. One of our associate programmers is based in Portland, Oregon.
We use web-based applications like Skype, 37 Signals’ Basecamp and Highrise, Freshbooks financial software, Dropbox, Intranets, etc to stay connected and organized.
We always have Skype open and we often communicate more with each other more than at places I worked where people worked in cubicles or offices in the same building.
Why does Pemberton work as the headquarters for your operation?
Because we have grown roots here. My wife and kids didn’t want to move anywhere else. Our kids have grown up and left Pemberton but still love coming back often.
What are some of the challenges involved in being based in Pemberton?
Working in an ‘outlier’ community does have its challenges – we just aren’t close to lots of big businesses that require significant investments in the online presence. But we manage based upon word-of-mouth and some good, targeted marketing.
Is it a lonely place for technology/strategy/creative professionals to operate from?
Pemberton is awesome but it’s not a major hub of the online world 🙂
It would be nice to go to lots of real-world meet ups and get face-to-face with other leading web consultancies and agencies. But I attend a lot of webinars and online sessions to stay up-to-date and I read a lot, watch a lot of videos, and am a member of some excellent online ‘mastermind’ groups pertaining to digital analytics, SEO, web development, etc. Being members of quality online communities is very important to us.
Pemby does boast quite a few satellite workers and indie contractors. What advice would you offer them about building their business from a remote location? How important is it to get some face-to-face networking in, given how easy it is to connect with people through social media these days?
Setting up business is so much about connections and relationships. Some can be developed online but face-to-face relationships still mean a lot. Online can be an excellent way of maintaining relationship but establishing them usually requires a face-to-face real world meeting and/or referrals from respected people. Having said that, we have some long-time clients that we have never met in person!
You need to be CONNECTED in some way to maintain the pipeline that brings in new business… the lifeblood of any business. BUT keeping your existing clients happy is easily the best and most sustainable way to stay in business.
Your website is really the virtual home for your operation. Can you tell us what your website reveals about you?
Our website is constantly changing – we’re tweaking it all the time, adding new content on the blog, optimizing and constantly tweaking page layout, content, etc. So I think this is consistent with how we operate – our business and life is a working in our online ‘petri dish’ or ‘laboratory’. It’s always evolving.
That’s what it reveals about me: in some things I am very conservative, but I’m also willing to constantly adapt, change and reinvent myself in many ways to stay in business.
You’ve been operating since 1995… What have been the most exciting changes in the web landscape over that time?
Better, faster online access. Faster, better technology available at lower costs. As a result, better access to online resources necessary to grow and improve.
People ‘getting’ the online world and its impact on business, and life in general (for better or worse).
And personally, I am getting a little wiser and hopefully a little more humble and better at the same time as I get greyer.
Social media, done right, works. Social media, not done right, is a waste of time.
You need to define what you want from social media – is it just a ‘listening’ tool? (which can be worthwhile), or is it a business generator? How you work in this space is driven by your business needs and goals.
You noted us on Twitter and LinkedIn but we’re trying to be a lot more active on Facebook too. We think we got Facebook figured out a lot better than we did even 4 months ago – it’s proving to be very effective for us lately.
What one piece of advice about using social media would you offer to local businesses and groups?
Social media is a marathon, not a sprint. You must stay committed to it and constantly adjust to be effective.
Beyond just social media, what would be your advice to local businesses in 2013, to get ahead? Is there one single thing they can do to improve their bottom lines? So many of Pemberton’s business folk are doing their own marketing off the sides of their desk. Any particular trends they should be watching? Is there an easy thing they should incorporate into their operation – that wouldn’t require a lot of budget/resources – ie at the very least, have a Facebook page?
- Not matter how good you are, the BUSINESS MODEL has be well thought out – what value can you bring to your market?
- If you can’t bring value, you shouldn’t be in business. Once you bring value, you often need to make your clients aware of this (e.g. for us, showing and explaining how online revenues have increased year over year).
- The tools or channels you use are based upon your business model and your customers / potential customers.
- Whatever you use, be it Facebook, blogging or something else, it needs to be done right and you need to stay committed to it to really start seeing results.
- Lastly, my favourite phase is “You Treasure What You Measure.” When you track key metrics for your business and act accordingly with your business, typically your chances of success increase. Often significantly.
As a little bit of personal background, Roy, can you tell us how you and Arlene ended up in Pemberton?
That’s a long story! But here’s the Reader Digest version:
We met when I was teaching skiing in Banff at Sunshine Village and Arlene was working at the hotel. For me, it was love at first sight. We both figured we were going to get married not too long after we first started ‘courting’. We moved from Banff to Ontario where my family lived and I ended up working in marketing management in the tourism sector. It didn’t take long for us to decide we wanted to get married soon and set up house for ourselves; and we did. Our son, Jason, and daughter, Emma, were born and we thought we were set up to live in Barrie Ontario for the rest of our lives but THEN, Arlene’s parents bought The Hitching Post Motel in Mt Currie. Her parents made a success of it with LOTS of hard work.
Arlene’s parents got into a car accident and they asked if we would come out and help them for a year while they recovered. Arlene’s parents recovered and 22 years later, we’re still here.
How did you make the professional transition from the ski and hospitality industry into web and strategy?
We morphed into web and strategy over many years.
When I left Whistler Blackcomb many years ago, I decided to set up my own business. I first developed business and marketing plans. Then I started working with clients with their branding and brand identity. As the Internet developed, I felt it was my calling, as it combined my marketing experience with technology – I was born part-geek and studied computer science during my undergrad work. When doing business planning and branding work I often found it very frustrating ‘proving’ to clients that our work helped them. The online world was different – suddenly this new field of digital analytics was born and I could see and ‘prove’ to clients that our work was making a positive impact on their business. I was sold on the idea and that’s why Custom Fit Online exists today.
What has been your biggest learning over the last 18 years?
Do your best, be diligent, take pride in successes.
Acknowledge and learn from mistakes, then put them behind you. (Uh, I’m still working on this.)
It’s not just what you do, it’s how you do it.
Time flies, so stop and smell the roses while you can. (This is way more relevant to me very recently than it was even a few years ago.)
My great family is, by far, my greatest success.
What are your favourite professional development resources? Do you choose to attend conferences, seminars, do courses online, or stay up to speed basically through online reading?
Being located in Pemberton, the vast majority of my resources are accessed online, but I cherish the opportunity to attend real-world events on occasion to meet the actual people I follow and interact with online.
If you follow my Twitter account, our Facebook page, or our blog I try to share my favourite resources, but HootSuite (the social media dashboard) and Google (RSS) reader are two of my favourite tools for keeping up-to-date. I follow the best thought-leaders in each online ‘space’ and learn from their teachings. I also try to interact with those thought leaders and have had some success with this.
What are the 3 blogs/websites/publications you couldn’t live without?
Do you ever log off?
Well, yes, but maybe not often enough.
I use tools that help schedule social media posts throughout the day so it sometimes seems like I am never offline but I am.
What do you do, to unwind and get away from the busyness of business?
I love to walk/hike around Pemberton and area, soak in the views and get some exercise; enjoy my family; read; floss my teeth; watch a little hockey, NFL, premiership soccer and college basketball on TV; drink good coffee; tease my wife (constantly); volunteer.
What goals have you set for 2013?
Kick butt and grow the business so that I can walk away from it one day and see it continue to thrive.
Are there any questions you wish I’d asked?
Why do people always confuse me for George Clooney? (Haha… just kidding!… really!)