Founder of FreshySites, Ben Giordiano, Spills the Secret of Running a Successful Web Development Agency
At BlogVault, we’re always looking to talk to people who love WordPress as much as we do.
This week, we caught up with Ben Giordiano, a passionate WordPress developer who’s been in the WordPress industry for close to a decade now. Ben runs FreshySites, a US-based WordPress website development agency that boasts of a diverse clientele of over 1000 clients and 1200 successfully completed projects
Ben built FreshySites to provide quality web-based services at an affordable price to small and medium-sized businesses as well as not-for-profit organizations. With an impressive 1600 projects under his belt and over 10 years of WordPress website experience, Ben’s story is an inspiration for anyone who’s looking to convert their passion into a thriving business. In 2016, he was the winner of the U.S. Small Business Administration Syracuse District Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award for FreshySite’s growth in sales, employees, and community contributions.
We caught up with Ben to talk to him about his thoughts on WordPress, website design, his journey as a WordPress developer, and his learnings along the way.
Read on as he shares the story of how he built FreshySites from a one-man business to a 19-member agency, that now holds the title for the largest website design company on the US east coast.
It’s great to have you with us here today. Can you please tell our readers a little bit about yourself?
I grew up in New York and went to college at Virginia poly tech where I studied business and marketing. I started my WordPress design business in 2011.
When did you first discover WordPress? What got you started with developing websites on WordPress?
It was in 2009 when I was searching around for different ways to build websites and the best way to do it. I was just getting started with building websites for small businesses. I tried WordPress, Joomla, and a couple of other options and WordPress just seemed like the perfect solution.
With your experience, we’d be really interested in knowing your thoughts on website design. What do you look for in a website? What would you say takes a website from good to great?
I think it’s all about simplicity and providing the visitor with a very clear and easy navigation and messaging. I guess, just taking a lot of the thinking out of it, so they know exactly what to do and where to click. I think that makes a website really great.
What does WordPress mean to you? Is there any specific reason why WordPress remains your CMS of choice even after all these years?
I think it has to be the ecosystem and the community around it. It’s really flexible and has a ton of features that make it really easy for clients to edit their own websites. What I like most is the flexibility to do whatever you need to do with it, so it’s not too constraining.
Ten years in the WordPress community is a really long time. Looking back, is there anything that springs to mind when you think about the changes in the WordPress community since the start of your journey?
The community’s gotten much bigger and there are a lot of niche services now. It feels like it’s matured a lot and people are using WordPress for large-scale projects now. 10 years ago, that wasn’t the case. Now, everyone knows that WordPress is a really great platform even if you’re doing a really large project like that of a university.
How did FreshySites happen? Can you tell us more about your business journey so far?
I was working for a company building their website and I realized that other people needed that too. I just started getting clients on the side, and that turned into a full-time job. Then it just snowballed from there on and I was able to get quite a few clients. In 2011, I decided to set up my company and go full-time into it.
In 2013, I hired our first WordPress developer and moved into our own office space. We hired two more people that year and then started to slowly grow over time. The first couple of years – the business was really doubling, we were doing a lot of work. Now, we have 19 full-time people on staff and we’ve worked on 1200 WordPress projects so far.
What kind of business and clients do you cater to?
We work primarily with small businesses – small contracting companies, business owners, to large national non-profits. So we really work with a little bit of everyone. We have a really wide customer base. We have about 1000 clients right now. Most of our clients are from the United States, mainly the east coast, but we also have a few international clients.
Most of our clients come to us by referrals. They hear about us from other clients who really like us.
Can you tell us a little more about your team? What do you look for when you hire someone for your team?
We now have a team of 19 people. We have project managers, website designers, and people working on digital marketing, all focused on WordPress websites.
Culture fit is something I look for when I hire, just making sure they align with our culture – that’s centred around customer service and the willingness to do whatever it takes to make the customer happy.
We’d love it if you could share some of the most exciting and memorable projects you’ve worked on. What were your learnings from them?
Talking about interesting projects, last year, we worked on a website for April, the giraffe. She was the first pregnant giraffe the United States had in a really long time. The website went viral, and the whole pregnancy was live streamed and she was getting billions of views and followers. We had to make sure the website could handle the load and the spikes. That was definitely an interesting project.
We also developed a WooCommerce store for the US volleyball team. So, any US volleyball apparel and equipment was available on it. We also recently worked on a WooCommerce store that did 30000 SKUs. That was a really big project for us as well.
Looking at your experience with over 1000 clients and 1200 projects, what would you say most clients struggle the most with?
A lot of business owners don’t have basic search engine optimization done on their sites. The other issue is that sometimes we inherit WordPress sites, they are often not built with best practices in mind. So, people might have edited the theme files and plugin files without putting it on a trial theme. It makes the site really hard to maintain. That’s something we come across a lot. Right now, we’re rebuilding 2 sites for a client because the previous company built everything the custom way, and the client can’t update the site now.
How do you approach the whole process of building websites for your clients? Can you walk us through your process?
We have a very defined process that we use. We go through various briefings with each client to understand the project. We have a project briefing at our kickoff meeting. We have a 15-page document that we go through with our clients where we fully understand their requirements, goals and vision for the project.
Then we do a design phase with clients to understand the look and feel they want to go after. Then we go ahead with the development phase where we actually develop the site. Here, we focus on the functionality, responsive design, testing, and finally, we have a revision phase with the client.
Even though it’s the same process, it works differently for some clients, based on the nature of the project. So some clients might spend a lot of time in the design phase, and some others in the revision phase. So, our process is really strong and lasts anywhere between 3 to 5 weeks.
Another thing that we do differently is that we do mockups for the home page first instead of all the pages, and share them with our clients. It’s one of the ways we save our clients a lot of money and time. We build the interior pages based on the design direction we get at this stage.
What would you say is your secret sauce to creating products and services that clients love?
Besides the strong process that I mentioned, we do a lot of volume in terms of the number of projects, I think that makes us a little different – just keeping quality really high even with large volumes.
But the number one reason is that we’re really focused on customer service. We’re responsive and make sure we’re there when our clients need us. We answer the phone and emails whenever they need us.
Which part of your job do you find most rewarding? What would you say are the challenges of running a web development agency?
I love working with my team members and building our team. It’s really fun.
I also really love working with my clients. I enjoy talking with them on the phone and helping them with their problems, and that’s the most rewarding aspect of the job for me.
I think managing growth has been challenging. I mean it’s hard to know how much we’re going to grow and what the company is going to look like in 6 months.
How has BlogVault helped you in your business?
With BlogVaullt, we no longer have to worry about security and backups, so we can focus on building websites for our clients.
Looking back at the start of your business journey almost 8 years ago, were there any goals you had for FreshySites? How have your goals evolved over the years?
When I started FreshySites, my goal was to get 500 clients, and we have 1000 now. My next goal is 2500.
Looking back at your 8 years in the business, is there a challenging period that transformed your business? How did you handle it?
I think the beginning – the first year or two were challenging because it was just difficult to know how to grow a small business. I’d never been in business before. It was also because I was on my own and working almost 80 hours a week. But it’s been pretty smooth sailing the last few years.
What should website owners keep in mind before selecting a web development agency?
Website owners need to think about who’s going to maintain and manage the site long term, so they know exactly how to design the website.
I think it’s important to use the expertise that’s available. There are experts who’ve been there a long time, so it makes sense to lean on their expertise and use the tools they’ve developed.
We would definitely recommend our readers to check you out. But what kind of customers do you love to work with? Can you tell us a little more about your offerings and services?
We work with all sorts of clients really. I definitely enjoy working with business owners because I’m a business owner myself. So it seems like there is a lot of synergy between us, so it is really fun working with them.
As for our services, we do website design and development, website maintenance, website hosting, and SEO. We have standard packages on our website but we also have custom offerings based on the client’s specific requirement.
Do you have any advice for someone just starting out with WordPress?
Just get started! Just google around and started learning. There’s so much information there to help. You can learn so much about WordPress, the ecosystem, what tools are the right ones to use, and how to build with best practices to keep in mind. So, if you just spend the time learning, you’ll be in a really good shape. I’d encourage anyone to just get online and start reading and learning.
What do you think of the future of WordPress?
I think it’ll keep growing, as it has, and become more mainstream to become the dominant force in website design. I think it’s almost there and will keep moving in that direction.
Before we wrap this interview up, just a couple of quick questions for you. If you had to describe each of the following in one word, what would it be?
- A great website: