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Web Design in a COVID-19 World

There’s no denying a lot’s changed in the past few months. From face masks and social distancing to panic buying and lockdown, the world looks very different. But what effect has COVID-19 had on the world wide web, in particular, our little corner of it – web design? We caught up with Chaptr MD, Joe Perkins, to find out.

In a nutshell, what effect has COVID-19 had on Web Design at Chaptr?

Like most businesses, it’s been a bit of a headache (to put it kindly) – financially, logistically and emotionally; clients pausing and cancelling projects overnight, everyone working from home and the anxiety about what the future holds for us, I found myself thinking in dark moments, “I’ve been building Chaptr for eight years, will this be the end of us?”.

But it hasn’t all been doom and gloom at Chaptr. The team has adapted remarkably well to working from home, some clients have needed us more than ever and I’m part of a community of agency owners who have really clubbed together to support each other through this difficult time. 

Creating web design during COVID-19 has forced us to think outside the box and push harder than ever before and, thankfully, all that effort is starting to pay off for us with a huge upstream in new enquiries over the last two weeks. 

And clients?

Thankfully Chaptr works with clients from multiple different industries – this alone has been a lifesaver for us. That doesn’t mean it hasn’t hit some of our clients hard – those that depend on airlines, for example, have felt the crushing impact of COVID-19 in all its force. As have those in the travel industry. 

But there are two sides to every coin, and the businesses less effected are doing everything they can to get their website up to snuff and employ as many digital marketing tactics as they can to attract as much business as possible, for many they simply have to do this if they want to survive. 

What has Chaptr done to support clients during COVID-19?

We’re still the same old Chaptr, we’re making Zoom or Google Hangouts commonplace to continue to build those valuable connections whilst protecting the safety of all involved. We’ve been working with clients who have smaller budgets if we believe in their cause and they are passionate about working with us.

We’ve been in contact with all our clients to offer a caring voice on the end of the phone or to see if there are ways we can support them. We’ve also been shouting about our SEO offering to help them generate more business through their website and get more customers! 

What about payment terms?

We don’t want cash flow issues to be a barrier to working with us, so if the clients have the budget but need extended terms to pay us to balance their risk then we’re on board with that. We’re being flexible where we can. Let’s be honest, we need them too. 

How long will this flexibility last? 

It’s not a marketing offer so there are no hard rules around this, we’ll be considering each case as it comes and we don’t plan to benefit from this approach. This is a genuine measure to help our clients out if they need it. We think the world needs a bit more kindness in a time like this. 

What impact has remote working had?

The beauty of the work we do means that everything is online anyway. Creating web design during COVID-19, the biggest challenge for us is not having the opportunity to meet with prospective clients first because nothing beats that face-to-face interaction, but Zoom and Google Hangouts present a viable replacement. 

Is remote working the ‘new normal’?

I don’t think it’s going anywhere. And why should it? People have proved that they can do it and if it gives them a better work-life balance, with more time spent with their family and friends and less time spent travelling for hours via one of the many dysfunctional transport systems in our country, then it can only be a positive thing?

But then again, I’m a millennial, I see the best of both worlds which is why Chaptr will be more relaxed about working location going forward. I’m sure there will be some old hats who don’t subscribe to this model and that’s their prerogative I guess…

Have you had more or less communication with clients since lockdown?

This is an interesting one, and it’s definitely more. There is a risk that the clients who are more used to micro-managing will be on our case a bit more and wanting to jump on a call every few hours to ‘monitor progress’ but we’ll probably nip this in the bud because it’s not a productive way of working. Generally speaking though, we’ve had more contact and that’s only a positive thing. 

Have client relationships grown stronger since lockdown?

Yes actually, we had an incident where the project was going terribly but most of the communication was being conducted by email. Things came to a head. But after an honest chat on a call, we developed empathy for each other which has strengthened our relationship for the better. There has mostly been a feeling of ‘we’re in this together’ which has humanised our relationships and, as a result, strengthened them too. 

Are online meetings friend or foe?

It’s worked well and means projects can progress more quickly without the often tedious admin of trying to find a mutually agreeable date to meet; online we can say “shall we just jump on a quick call to discuss?”

Have you had any funny Zoom call moments?

Yes, my dog barks like mad whenever someone comes to the door, which has been quite entertaining, I’ve had my little boy pulling at my leg trying to climb on my lap. But as long as it’s not too much of a distraction to the content of the call, I think it actually gives people a laugh which in turn reduces any tension and makes us all feel more relaxed. 

Have any unexpected positives come out of the COVID-19 experience so far? 

Yes, there is a greater sense of togetherness with our clients, employees and even our competitors. We’re all people living through a very difficult time and, sharing that, a lot of the stuff that seemed important before, suddenly feels less important. We’re also in a fortunate industry being a web design agency, businesses are going to need us more than ever to recover from this pandemic which is a bitter-sweet outcome from all this for us. 

Have any businesses flourished during lockdown?

On a micro level, one example I’ve seen is coffee shops taking the initiative to start a takeaway service where their customers can text them and order snacks and coffee; that’s taking personalisation to the next level and will likely build further loyalty. I love it. 

As for our clients, we had a video production agency that worked mainly with schools that are obviously an industry hit hardest by all this. They wanted to start working with an SEO agency to capitalise and provide greater exposure to the other clients they work with. 

What did they do right?

The coffee shop adapted quickly to the new landscape whilst still meeting the needs of consumers. They found a way to survive and still make their customers happy. I admire that tenacity. 

Our client took the initiative to try and promote their case studies from other vertical markets using SEO, they knew that schools were out of the picture for now so they had to promote other clients that they work with, and fast. 

How did Chaptr help them?

We conducted a full SEO audit of their site, made some recommendations and wasted little time getting to work to improve search rankings for key terms. We have seen positive results and they are now working with us on an ongoing basis to help them further recover from the crisis. 

Should clients include an ‘open for business’ COVID-19 message on their website?

Yes, it’s important to consider the context but a big flag which says ‘We’re still here’ certainly makes you feel more comfortable about spending money online. We’ve helped a number of clients to add this to their website in the past few months. If you’re producing lots of content and your website is up-to-date then you may not need to be explicit with a banner. 

Should clients green-light or postpone their web projects at the moment?

I’d need to know more about the specific project and the variables affecting the client. If they have a budget but are worried about the risk of spending money to commission a project at the moment, I’d urge them to consider the risk of not going ahead with the project – which has greater implications? I don’t think anyone should make reckless decisions at the moment, but when things pick back up the competition is going to be stronger than ever – it’s likely your competitors will be pushing ahead to capitalise on the opportunities presented by the new landscape – and you don’t want to ‘miss the boat’ for want of a better term. 

Is now the perfect time for a business to kick start their website project?

I think this is the most important business lesson to come from all this, certainly from a ‘web design in COVID-19’ perspective, the ability to trade and be discoverable online is no longer a choice if you want to survive in times when people are prevented from leaving their house. This applies to B2B and B2C companies. If you’re selling a service then you need to find a way to do that virtually, your service offering has to allow for that. If you’re selling products then people need to be able to buy them online. Every business strategy should highlight the importance of a solid online presence.

But a web presence alone isn’t enough, it needs to do all the things you can do in person; tell a story, show your personality, be engaging, be memorable, sell. And people need to be able to find that website too, so businesses need to invest in digital marketing or learn the basics themselves so their website is actually working for them and not just an expensive ornament sitting on a crowded shelf in a place where nobody can see it. Can you tell I’m quite passionate about this point? 

It’s certainly a tricky time for everyone at the moment – but we’re excited to be back in the studio with a winning mix of new team members, new signage, and new plants. Whatever your need for web design needs or COVID-19 bounce-back plans may be, we’d love to help, so please get in touch. After all, we love a good Zoom call.