About a year ago I created a resources list for adhoc Squarespace support in my BizBox course. Michael was one of the designers who responded to my respective call-out in a couple of Facebook groups and that’s how we first met. Since then he has also taken a few of my classes and I have come to know him as not only a super nice guy but also very competent designer and developer. Together with his partner Rachel they created Collett Creative, a full-service creative marketing company for individuals & businesses. I especially love Michael’s Top Tip #2 – that’s pretty much how I started, by building ‘real life’ relationships with people in my local community. Thanks for a great interview, Michael!
With a passion for Identity Design, Website Design & Product Photography, I partnered with Rachel in 2017 and founded Collett Creative. We wanted to do something a little different and offer a design and product photography service that would save time and money for our clients. We felt that rather than have customers running around to various agencies and businesses we could offer a unified service covering design, print, websites and photography so that clients would have a one-stop-shop solution.
1) What is your professional background and how did you get into Squarespace web design?
I studied graphic design at Norwich University of the Arts and graduated in 1998 before going on to work at a London based design and marketing company.
In 2003 I decided to go freelance. It was also at this time that I built my first ever website. It was for a local band I was playing in at the time. I used Dreamweaver, hand-coded the HTML in tables and created the graphics in Photoshop. I was delighted with the results, and it was from this experience that I became hooked on website design. As time passed and technologies changed, I began to code my websites with CSS and ran into all the horrible Internet Explorer issues we had to deal with back then. I worked with a few server-side developers to create dynamic websites for my clients but always wanted more control over this aspect of what I did. At the time I felt a bit torn between being a website designer and being a website developer. I dabbled with a little PHP coding, but my interest was mainly with design, and in all honesty, I did not enjoy server-side work. WordPress was beginning to appear on the scene, but I was more interested in another CMS (Content Management System), ExpressionEngine, which I discovered through another website designer and frontend developer whom I admired and followed at the time.
So to cut a rather long story short after a few more years of working with ExpressionEngine, WordPress and building a few custom-made CMS's with some colleagues I eventually ended up discovering Squarespace. I immediately fell in love with Squarespace as I could instantly see how I could work with the platform to create better website experiences for my clients.
2) What was your safety net (e.g. a partner, another job, savings etc.) when you first started out and how did that help you?
I was living at home when I started as a freelancer so I would have to say, rather embarrassingly, Mum and Dad. I got off to a good start with my business freelancing for other agencies and was able to make enough money to invest in more equipment and move my business forward. Eventually, I stopped freelancing and focused on private client work.
When I started working with Squarespace some many years later in the latter part of 2016, I was already building websites on other platforms and doing brand identity design and product photography work. The identity and photography work kept me going while I was learning Squarespace and looking around for my first Squarespace clients.
3) How many websites did you design during your first year and how did your clients find you? Please share three sites you designed during that time.
Well, not that many to be honest. My site was probably my first website. Then I built an online store for a local food business followed by two small and simple websites for a local cafe and one of a local artist.
Those clients found me mainly by an introduction. I discovered the local food business while walking the markets in Bury St Edmunds and just got chatting to the stall owner. We started off doing product photography work for them but then when the time came for them to need a new website they approached us. A lot of the work we did for them was educational. Introducing them to Squarespace and teaching them how to use the platform. I would say that is a big part of what we do. We nurture and educate our clients as much as we can so they can get the most out of their website as a marketing tool.
Check out our portfolio for examples of our work.
4) Do you have a niche market, or a speciality, or are you more of a generalist?
I would have to say I am more of a generalist really although I have done a fair bit of work in the food sector designing labels for packaging that has then often lead onto product photography and website work.
5) What are your five top tips for starting your own business?
1. Keep educating yourself. I am always on the W3C Schools website or watching training videos and courses. I think you have to push your skills and improve the work you do to allow you to be in a position to offer more value to clients and of course, to earn more money within your business.
2. Get out there and network in the real world. Facebook and social media platforms have their place, but sometimes you find negativity there. I find getting out and meeting people in the real world is much better and gives you a more first-hand experience of dealing with people face to face. I am a member of a local business networking group close to where I live, and it has done wonders for my business and my confidence.
3. Be yourself and try not to be too influenced by what others are doing (even though that is easier said than done). Just because it's working for them does not mean it will work for you, so stay true to yourself, your beliefs and ideas and keep going in that direction.
4. Collaborate as much as you can with copywriters, photographers, graphic designers and other website designers/developers, especially if you work alone. It is challenging to produce everything needed for a website and reaching out to others with skills you don't have can be helpful and beneficial as you can learn a great deal from others when you work together. You may even discover talents you didn't realise you had.
5. Be open-minded and be prepared to adapt the services you offer. Squarespace is fantastic and I love it, but the one thing I know from my many years of working in this sector is that things change. Empires rise and fall. Something better might come along that is a better fit for your customers so be prepared to adapt and change. It is for that reason that I don't exclusively create websites on Squarespace. I have not built a site on ExpressionEngine for a while, it is still an option for me as I know the platform well. I would not completely rule out using WordPress either if it is a better solution for my client's needs.
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