Jan 05, 2024 / Leadership
webdna: 2023 in review
2023 has been a great year for webdna. Here are some of our highlights and, more importantly, what we have learned.
Wow, what a year. After a very strong 2022 that saw Webdna grow rapidly, we set our sights on a year of consolidation. Our focus for 2023 was on delivering great work for our clients, continuing to develop our suite of plugins, telling our own story better and developing the strengths of our team. As we close a year that has seen us grow revenue even more than in 2022 and add three new webdna’ers to the team we take a look back on 2023 and share what has happened and what we have learned.
Like any service business, we are all about the people, and we have worked very hard to have a really excellent team. But even with an excellent team and a great culture, sometimes you find yourself missing some critical people. That happened at webdna at the end of 2022 and the beginning of 2023 when two of our very best, Helen and Annabelle were out of the business. Helen was on maternity leave after the arrival of her daughter Zoey, and Annabelle on sabbatical in South East Asia and Australia. We managed, but it was a huge relief when they each returned; and of course to see the impact that their experience, whether supporting clients or the team, has had on boosting the quality of our project and account management.
This year, we also grew the team by three. Jack joined us at the beginning of the year as our first Junior Marketing Executive Apprentice. In his previous life he was an actor but immediately discovered his inner geek, quickly getting to grips with the intricacies of marketing data and helping our clients understand the efficacy of the work that we do.
Then, in the summer, Georgia joined the team as a Junior Developer. She had previously taught programming at a secondary school and wanted to apply her skills rather than teach them. She has learned the ins and outs of Craft CMS and is already making an impact, working alongside the more experienced members of our development team.
The newest webdna’er is Devoran. She joined us in October as SEO Executive, bringing her skills to the SEO team and helping us to continue to stand out as THE Craft CMS SEO experts. Her work, supporting the rest of the marketing team has been brilliant - moving our clients (and us) up the search engine results pages.
This year we have also made two promotions. Lydia, was promoted to Designer and has done some incredible work this year including some work on the webdna brand which will be released into the wild shortly, but more on that later.
Helen, who was previously an Account Manager at webdna, returned from her maternity leave with the desire to pivot and continue her career as a Project Manager. She quickly grew into the role, became Agile Accredited and has now been promoted to Senior Project Manager.
This year has seen us work on over 100 different craft cms websites as well as design, UX, UI, marketing and SEO projects. It has been a busy year with lots of highlights. Some we can talk about, and some that we are quietly proud of as they are covered by our agency partner NDAs.
One of our objectives for this year was to continue to develop our own plugins along with our favourite plugins we have used. This has not always been easy with the volume of client work, but we have kept updating our existing plugins and developing new ones. We also have a new section of our site that brings them all together in the webdna Plugins home. In addition to extending the capabilities of Craft CMS and providing a small amount of revenue, our plugins have also done a great job of helping webdna to become better known in the Craft CMS world. This was brought home to us when the team arrived at the annual Craft conference - Dot All to find that everyone they met already knew about webdna, they use our plugins and were familiar with our work from our almost monthly inclusion in the Craft CMS newsletter.
A definite highlight of the Dot All conference was when our Senior Developer, Charlie, attended a presentation by Ben Croker about Reactive Front-ends with Sprig only to discover that some of his work was being demonstrated as best practice for using Sprig. In his typically self-deprecating way, Charlie was a little disappointed that they had not used a more recent project which he felt was even better!
Dot All was a great opportunity for the team to network with other members of the Craft Community. One of the things that really stood out for us was that the techniques highlighted as best-practice have already been in place at webdna for some time. It was a great confidence booster for the team to see that, not only are we doing the right things, but we’re also ahead of the curve! And it goes some way to illustrating why our agency partners trust us above all others when it comes to the Craft ecosystem.
It wasn’t just our developers who were busy at Dot All; Gemma, our Content Manager, was furiously writing up the team’s experiences in almost real-time, which allowed us to lead the way in publishing an overview of both the first and second days of talks at Dot All as well as the things that excited us most about Craft CMS 5, providing some really useful content to the rest of the Craft community who could not be in Barcelona.
Craft 4 Upgrades
With Craft CMS 5 coming in 2024, it is funny to talk about our work bringing multiple sites onto Craft 4 this year. Of course, our own clients are already on an upgrade path to ensure that their sites always benefit from the latest functionality and security offered by Craft CMS. This year, we have won a surprising number of new clients who have existing Craft CMS websites that have not been upgraded for months or even years. Our team must be amongst the best in the world at managing this process now!
This year has also seen us deliver more Craft Commerce sites than ever, turning around projects for our own clients as well as our agency partners. We have produced sites that combine excellent functionality with SEO ready sites that are fast to load and provide excellent UX.
Design, UX and accessibility
Another area of the business that has really grown this year has been design and UX. We have delivered UX reviews, developed new brands and designed new websites for both our own clients and for our agency partners.
Two projects that particularly stand out are both in the world of rugby. One utilised our development and UX capabilities for Vodafone and the Welsh Rugby Union - Vodafone PLAYER.Connect. We used Craft CMS to develop an athlete monitoring system for the Welsh Rugby Union Women’s team to help the coaching and medical teams support the players. This combined our expertise in data analytics and UX to ensure that the system was easy to use and provided real actionable insight for the coaches and medical staff. The other, which will be launched in the new year, has been to create a set of female health recommendations for World Rugby which will include website and social content as well as printed guides, staff uniforms and posters featuring icon and illustration design. More to come in 2024.
Our marketing team has also continued to grow this year, delivering highly effective marketing campaigns for our clients, our own business and our agency partners. For the first time, we are now delivering marketing and SEO work for our agency partners. In one case we deliver all of the SEO for all of one agency’s customers. Our experience doing this sort of work for years on the development side of the business has meant that we could quickly embed ourselves into their team and start delivering great work.
Our marketing team has also continued to develop its expertise in email marketing, achieving an average open rate of 47% - those who know will know how good that is, those who don’t MailChimp quotes the industry average as 21%!
Finally, one of the things that I am always excited about is our growth in international work. This year has seen that trend continuing with more work than ever coming from North America, Asia and Australia. We delivered a great piece of accessibility work for Jean Hailes, a women’s health charity in Australia, helping them to bring their website up to the highest accessibility standards.
One of the real changes at webdna this year has been our focus on our own marketing, including entering a range of awards. We set out to enter three awards, won two, and were named in the top 20 best agencies to work in the UK (and the top agency in the Midlands). We were named Craft CMS Agency of the Year - Europe, UK Craft CMS Agency of the Year 2023 which goes alongside our status as the only agency in the UK to be both Craft Partner Verified and Craft Partner Verified for Commerce.
We also calculated how many hours of Craft development we have done, which now exceeds 32,000 hours. In terms of Craft expertise this is pretty hard to match, and that does not even include the time spent on Craft for Sam, Mike and Charlie before they joined webdna. No wonder people seek us out from all over the world to build their Craft websites.
Despite our Craft experience, we were most proud of our success in the Campaign Best Places to Work 2023 awards where we were named as the 19th best agency to work for in the UK and the top agency in the Midlands. This was based entirely on what our team said about working at webdna, which is definitely something to be proud of.
Right at the beginning, I mentioned that we had exceeded our 2022 growth, but not by how much. 2022 seemed like a great year, we grew rapidly, but in 2023, against a backdrop of a much tougher economic environment, we managed to grow even more. It has been an epic ride. We had our biggest January of all time, then our biggest February of all time, and it carried on all year, not missing a single month. We set a new monthly revenue record five times, each quarter of the year setting a new record as the biggest quarter on record.
We have delivered that growth by really focussing on our business and how to improve what we are doing. We have grown our staff training budget and really encouraged the team to attend training, networking and conferences. Our senior team has attended peer business groups, we have worked with mentors and really pushed ourselves, often outside of our comfort zone, in what have sometimes been quite uncomfortable ways. Focusing on our business has also seen us make more challenging decisions.
What have we learned
At about this point in an end-of-year review, it would be easy to think that everything had gone right for us this year. That is not the case. In fact, it is far from it. Like everyone, we have made mistakes this year. Including hires that did not work out as we had hoped. These are always difficult as they affect the business and the individual in a very personal way. We have put in place steps to try to stop that from happening again, integrating DISC profiling into our hiring process alongside a test of the specific skills of the job.
Over the years, we have created a set of rules a little like Ray Dalio’s Principles. Any time we break our own rules we regret it. It is always costly to fix financially and in terms of the energy it takes to correct these mistakes. Those rules were a long time in the making, they are there to benefit us and our clients and ensure that our projects run smoothly. We break them at our peril. As with all mistakes, though, we have learned, and we will put in place more processes to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.
On a more positive note, we have learned the value of investing in backing ourselves and investing in telling our own story. Over the last few years, we have focused more of our own time and effort on telling the webdna story, we have entered awards and won them, and we have benefitted from the advantages that the increased awareness has brought. We have been invited to pitch for larger and larger projects, and have been very successful at winning and delivering them. We will continue to tell our story, work hard at our marketing and get out there shouting about our expertise.
As Peter Drucker once said, “culture eats strategy for breakfast”, this year we have focused on both. We have worked hard to continue to understand what the webdna culture is, the right level of irreverence along with the right level of support for each member of the team. We have done more social events, to bring the team closer together and enabled us to get to know each other better. This is especially important for the new, younger members of the team joining a group that has often been together for many years. We have also worked hard on our long-term plan and strategy to deliver that plan. There will be bumps in the road, but for now, that is working well and we are excited about 2024.
There is a lot to be excited about in 2024. It will mark the end of our current lease so we will be moving to a new home. A home that we have been working on for over six months now, ensuring it is the place where we will be able to grow and express the culture and expertise that we have worked so hard for in a physical space. Alongside that, we will be launching a new website and brand refresh which better reflects our strategic direction which will also be reflected in our new office space. Those of you who received our Christmas card or Christmas email will have had a sneak peek of some of the brand assets as well as a lovely little drawing of our new home done by Lydia.
We are also hiring for two new roles, a Craft CMS Developer and a Junior Account and Project Manager. Both roles are exciting in their own way and a sign of continued growth that is extending into the new year. There will also be a third role which we will be advertising for in January or February which we are also quite excited about which will further support the growth of the team.
We also have a handful of exciting new clients to announce, but that will have to wait for now, check back soon.
And that is just Q1, the rest of 2024 is even more exciting. Onwards…