It's incredible how time flies. 13 years ago we had an idea, to create an agency based around our beliefs, and what we didn't like about large agencies and our previous experiences.
And at our 10 year anniversary, we created a short poem to take a look back at the digital agency we're so proud of.
Myself (Andy) and Jason went to the same high school, same college, and lived 5 minutes from each other. But we didn't know of each other, we moved in different circles. I played football and Jason built websites. We met years later, when I asked my university lecturer, Mark Scargill, if he knew of any web developers that were actively working with clients. I was producing regular freelance work for clients directly, and also working freelance at 3 agencies in the North West. So I wanted help from a developer, so that I could go out and win the work, produce the pitches, project manage, manage clients, design the websites and then pass this onto a web developer to build. When Mark introduced me to Jason - we started working together immediately. We were very similar in our approach, but different in our roles - and this worked very well for us (and still does). Jason is the more 'laid back, quiet, sit in front of his computer and be a technical genius' whereas I'm the 'guy who isn't shy to go out, meet new people to network and win work'. This grew quickly and we were very busy, which made us think about creating our own studio.
Back in 2010, it was a different world. Here's some of the key aspects we wanted to achieve from setting up our own studio... some of them sound very simple now, times have changed.
Look after team members in all aspects. Create a home from home.
Create a team that are specialists. NOT an agency that offer everything and specialise in nothing.
Give honest feedback, advice and aim to achieve the best solution for the brand.
You can eat and drink when you want too. No set lunch times.
Offer benefits to team members that are useful, not just for PR.
Always push boundaries and improve standards. Even when you think you're doing great.
Do not limit client requests.
Produce great work.
Have a working environment that is comfortable to everyone. Create a home from home. And a studio that clients walk into and feel welcomed.
Listen to clients, even when they are angry. If you understand their frustrations, it's easier to offer support.
You can listen to music if you want too.
As close to a stress free working day as possible. Starting with traffic getting to and from work.
A team that are friends.
Use technology that improves workflow.
Personal development and improvement.
Coming up with the name was difficult, but we had a plan. We bought a load of pies, and agreed that the agency name had to be chosen by the time we'd finished all the food.
At this stage, remember, we had nothing. We were 2 freelancers working together from our bedrooms in our parents houses. We started to list ideas.... I remember suggesting to call it Loft or Attic, because a studio space in a loft would have been cool.
We wanted a short, snappy brand name that rolls off the tongue. We liked the idea that Shape had various meanings. We could shape our client brands was the main reason we liked it. And it was short.
We also wanted to create a phrase that was useful to us. We are a web design studio, we wanted to create a hyperlink at the bottom of every website that showcased that we built the website. This is common now, but back in 2010 is was a fresh idea. MadeByShape, BuiltByShape, WeAreShape, DesignByShape were all options and we felt MadeByShape was most fitting. You can see our very early sketches of the brand below.
Now, let's go down memory lane and look at some old pics - gosh, bit emotional looking at all this old stuff.
Well, we had no money at the start. Through a friend, we managed to arrange a deal with Salford University to use a unit in Manchester. The arrangement was that it was an art gallery, but we could setup our studio inside - so if visitors came in, there was somebody in as 'security'. This meant we could have our own space to work.
It didn't take long for us to realise that this space wasn't right for us. We live 20 minutes from Manchester, but the traffic getting in and out was very stressful and time consuming - sometimes it would take 2 hours. I won't go into detail about this because I've already wrote an article on it. You can read why our studio just outside of Manchester works for us.
So after we moved out of the city centre, it was less stressful for commuting. But we had a small studio that didn't look great. This has taken us years to improve and adapt to our way of working. We're very proud of the studio now and how it makes everybody feel as soon as you walk in.
At the very start, we quickly got 2 lads in, Gareth and Matt, to work alongside myself and Jason and our work was varied. We worked on anything and everything. Obviously that's not the right thing to do, but we wanted to impress everyone, we didn't have a regular influx of enquiries - so the jobs we got asked to do, we just did.
We can't mention every team member specifically as we are proud of them all and how they have helped us shape our brand and client offering. But back in the early days we had Jamie Leung as a Web Designer and Developer - he came from Salford University. Tom Pickering actually did 1 year with us as a freelancer before making it official. Adam Ascroft was a local lad who joined as a Web Developer. Michael Ashurst joined us after a very successful trial period, and he's now our lead designer. Jo Edwards left her senior development role to join our team. You can see our current team and where we sit today.
Over the years, we've employed for the benefit of the business, to offer a better service and to manage workflows. So if we needed a web developer, we'd have specific requirements and employed the correct candidate. If we needed help specifically with SEO, we'd do the same. Which has given us now a great range of talent that we can offer to clients.
It's become easier to spot talent straight away, and to notice aspects that you're looking for in an individual. In 2018, I wrote an article on how we recruit individuals here at MadeByShape. Talent isn't everything, it's just part of the process. You need to talk in a certain way, be motivated, be passionate, be a nice human, and have the same goals as us. If you have all this and be good at what you do, we can help you be great. Working at MadeByShape isn't a job, it's a lifestyle.
Even though the agency has grown, the culture has always been the same. I see many businesses just giving their new employees a free iPad, notebook and branded pen and then they plaster this all over social media. This is not culture in my eyes. Culture is about looking at team members, making them feel comfortable, creating a working environment were they enjoy being together. Giving them compelling work to progress individually and as a team. Offering benefits that are actually useful like going above and beyond the holiday pay limits that are standard in the UK, 2 weeks off at Christmas to be with your family. And modern day benefits like a mobile phone, a bonus on your birthday, and a subscription to Spotify.
It's also about being friends, being compassionate and making them feel comfortable at all times. It's sad to hear stories about brands that bang on about culture in the press and then when COVID-19 comes along, they sack staff members and treat them like shit. We want all our team members to be part of the team, to be valued, to progress and develop further and to feel like they are achieving something great. I personally never felt this working at other agencies, I just felt part of the cog and my opinion never really counted for anything.
Our client list has grown over the years but our beliefs have always been the same. If you have a good relationship with a client, and offer them everything they need and more, they will come back to you for more work or recommend you to others. We have worked with start up brands through to large global organisations. Our approach is the same, even if the budgets are different. And that will never change. Craft CMS allows us to build anything, with no restrictions - and that is great from a client point of view.
If you own your own business reading this... how many clients can you call friends?
Yes. 13 years on. We are very proud of what we've created, but it wasn't easy and it wasn't fast. We've never borrowed any money - we've done it our own way and it has taken time to develop into the studio we are today. Our first studio was awful looking back, but at that stage it wasn't the right business decision to pay for a fancy studio. We concentrated on our work, our team and improving our service. And by doing that, we have organically grown as a design studio. Year on year growth has been exceptional and I look forward to the next 10 years developing the digital agency and our offering to clients. But now, it's time to celebrate with a beer.