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.
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.
You maybe didn’t know it but the team at SMK has been expanding rapidly over the last 2 years, now employing 5 members of staff globally - I know, look at us- world domination here we come!
Our newest recruit, Emma, started working with us at the beginning of September, so we thought it was about time we grilled her and gave you the opportunity to get to know her a little bit better and put a face to the name... and of course find out all her weird and wonderfully embarrassing secrets!
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself
I’m Emma, I recently started here at SMK Creations. I’m a Spanish-culture enthusiast (I lived there for 3 years while studying) and my background is in marketing & sales.
2. How have your first few weeks at SMK been?
They’ve been great – the time has flown in. I’ve been working closely with Stephen, who is a great boss and mentor to learn from. I’m enjoying being involved in more projects and meeting more clients.
3. What were you doing before SMK?
Before SMK, I was the all-around marketing, admin and operations department of OHO… Thai Food To Go, a new fast food delivery start-up based in NI.
4. What made you want to work for SMK?
I was excited by both the scope and variability of the role, not to mention how the web design industry has been experiencing fantastic growth year-on-year.
5. What kind of things do you like to do in your spare time?
Socialising with my nearest & dearest, reading & Paint By Numbers (yes, I’m one of those people).
6. Did you learn any new skills over lockdown?
Hula-hooping (I can keep it up for over 30 minutes!) and, of course, I mastered my banana bread recipe.
7. What’s your guilty pleasure?
Watching terrible movies that are so bad they’re actually good. The Room has to be one of my favourites.
8. If you could only watch one movie for the rest of your life, what would it be?
The Sound Of Music – which I watch every Christmas with my mother.
9. What is one fact about you that most people don’t know?
I once worked as a Beer Pong Referee (yes, really…) back in my student days in sunny Spain.
10. If a movie was made about your life, who would you get to play you in it?
Rebel Wilson, because she’s just amazing in every way.
If you haven't already, you'll no doubt be hearing from Emma over the coming weeks and months and we are excited about her role in our fast growing team and getting a chance to taste some of that yummy banana bread she has mastered!
Now’s the time to invest in a professional lead-generating website and grow your business online. You might be surprised at how affordable a new website is, and you definitely won’t be disappointed with the finished result.