Loughborough-based Graphicweb was set up by Leslie Jones after a critical chapter in his career. "I was made redundant at 50 and my life came to a standstill," he told ManageIT. "I decided I wanted a change of career. It was not easy learning new skills but two months later, after spending many hours struggling with Macromedia products, I wrote my first website. Two years later I am still writing sites for SMEs [small to medium sized enterprises]."
Jones used to be in the sales department of a furniture and interior design business and said that his background knowledge of colour, form and space has stood him in good stead for the graphic design skills needed for websites. Ironically, he said, he wrote himself out of his last job by setting up a website and email system, which the company preferred to use to contact customers.
His extensive contacts in the furniture industry helped get the business off the ground. He started by specialising in office furniture, mainly with business-to-business catalogue sites. One of the more unusual sites that Graphicweb has designed is overwrought.co.uk, a company that produces furniture and shop fittings in wrought iron. It also produced an unusual 'lottery chair' that featured on the National Lottery programme, and earned a place on the site.
"Steve Park presented us with a business card which has himself juggling his products," said Jones. He then used that visual for Park's website to capture the unique character of the business.
Graphicweb is promoted mostly by word of mouth. "SMEs are brilliant at that: the smaller the company the more appreciative. Usually, their level of technical knowledge is very low. You tend to have to hold their hand and this endears you to them," he explained.
But Jones is now seeking to move away from this intensive hand-holding role. "The market is changing, and our target audience are looking to move on from just having a catalogue site," he said. "Our technical expertise is more advanced and we can offer a database-driven suite integrated with the back office. We program using Active Server Pages technology and also work with Access 2000 and SQL 7 Server [NT or Windows 2000 platforms] for database-driven applications." He also uses Macromedia Dreamweaver and UltraDev.
Jones has also progressed into setting up extranets for clients with password access, so that businesses can create private access to databases. These contain prices and discounts aimed at a particular client, and allow for the payment of bills.
The company now finds that its role extends beyond the technical and design aspects of a site. It often has to enlighten small businesses about the latest consumer laws, for example. Jones explained that few companies are aware of distance selling legislation that came into force at the end of 2000. "The legislation does not apply if you are doing business-to-business sales. Not many people know this, but equally they should be aware that it will apply to the odd consumer sale that they may make," he said.
Jones has circumvented potential problems in getting paid by allowing small businesses to spread payments over a number of months. "I always get my money," he said. "Small companies always have cash flow problems. This way they make their first payment upfront, which can be as little as £30, and then make 10 monthly payments."
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