If you have met Stephen - which if you are reading this blog then you probably have, there’s a fair chance you will know a few things about him from fairly early on.
Stephen is a straight shooter- he’ll tell you how it is and will do so with a desire for transparency, honesty and clarity - he believes clear communication is key!
Stephen deeply cares - he is deeply passionate about people and cares for them and wants the best for them. His no-nonsense deadpan demeanor may not always portray this, but he’s a big softy and will always do what he can to help.
Stephen will go above and beyond - he is a big believer in the power of reputation and knows that going the extra mile is rarely a wasted journey - going above and beyond helps him sleep easy at night (or at least until the kids wake him up)
These are the bricks and mortar of Stephen McKechnie, but we thought we’d take some time to ask some deeper questions and help you get to know a bit more about Stephen, how SMK came about (including the cryptic name) and what his vision is for the future.
Q. Stephen, tell us a little about how SMK began, was it something you had always planned to do? We hear the story of the name is a thing of legend!
A. Legend? More of a myth!
Yes, I had always planned to start SMK, but it was never planned in such a rush. I was made redundant from a web design company during the recession in 2010. To keep the pennies coming in I decided (during my lunch break) to set up SMK Creations to enable me to do a little freelance work. 13 years later here we are and the future has never looked more exciting! If i could do things again i would probably have taken longer than 2 minutes to think up a business name!
Q. So starting the business was out of necessity, has it always been plain sailing?
A. Definitely not. The first few years were very tough with not that many clients coming onboard. Thankfully though, my (now) wife had a steady job so was able to pay the mortgage to take the pressure off me. If it hadn’t been for this, there is no way SMK would have survived. However, after the first few years - through word of mouth and a little cold calling (not my favourite thing to do), things grew gradually and got better.
Q. So over the last few years, the business has taken on a bit of a transformation - was this part of an aggressive intentional growth strategy or more organic? How has COVID impacted the business?
A. You are right, our business has kicked on over the last 2 years. But it was out of necessity rather than choice. Around two years ago I realised that my clients were not getting the best from me because I was too busy. I was turning into that person who only contacted clients when their hosting bill was due and projects were taking too long to get completed. That was the last thing I wanted to happen. However, just when I was about to hire someone to work with me in the office, Covid arrived! I still needed someone to help with the work, but as Covid was forcing everyone to work remotely, it didn't matter if my new employee was based in Lisburn, New York or the Philippines. So I chose the Philippines! Now we have a team of 5 based in the Philippines and Emma (our Project Manager) and I, here locally in Lisburn. It makes for a great dynamic and enables us to deliver the service our clients deserve.
Q. What are the benefits of having a remote team of developers and designers situated across the globe?
A. One of the biggest positives is the time difference. Our team work lots of weird and wonderful days and hours which means that we are almost available 24/7. This is really important when making important updates or pushing sites live, knowing we can do this while our clients are sleeping and their websites are quieter.
Also, being able to employ experts at competitive rates allows us to keep the cost for our clients lower while delivering them an excellent product and service.
Q. What are the challenges and how do you cope with them?
A. We don’t have any serious challenges with the team working remotely as we have a really good group who understand what we are trying to achieve and can be trusted. The challenge for me right now is adjusting to my new role within the company and finding ways to grow the company further.
Q. What do the next 3-5 years look like for SMK (crystal ball time)?
A. I would like to think that over the next few years we will kick on again with one or two more designers and developers coming onboard remotely along with possibly a business development person to take the pressure off me. A massive goal of mine is to take a family holiday without having to take a single phonecall or answer an email - it might seem reasonable but has been hard to accomplish in practice.
Q. What is your key to success?
A. Even though it’s difficult, we try our best to treat all our clients like they are our only client. I also just keep my head down and keep working as hard as I can.
Q. What is the biggest lesson you have learned over the last 10 years running a business?
A. Oh that’s a toughie. Maybe to try not to worry about the things out of your control? Or not to sweat over the small things? I’m not sure, I'm not very good at either of these things!
Q. Finally, the most important and deepest question of all… we hear you’re a big Disney fan, but if you could only watch one Disney movie on repeat for the rest of your life, what would it be?
A. Lion King. Fantastic tunes! You should see me sing Hakuna Matata - I even know all the dance moves. Ask me to do it next time you see me.
We hope this has given you a better insight into Stephen, SMK’s story and the exciting future and vision for the company. We hope you are encouraged, inspired and interested by Stephen’s journey and the next chapter of SMK which is still to be written.
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