About 12 months ago, the Metal Potato team was feeling restless, caught up in the daily-grind and feeling plateaued, we came together to change the way we were working.

We wanted to change the flavour of our soup. Throughout the year, we not only changed our flavour, we learned how to make it thrive.

In our 2013 Year in Review post, we’re going to take a look back at some of the highlights of the past year, sharing stories from some of our clients—and giving you a glimpse into some of the lessons Metal Potato learned which can, hopefully, help your business succeed.

Take a Look in the Mirror

Even if you’re already successful, it’s important to reevaluate yourself. Last January, Metal Potato decided to take a look in the mirror.

What we saw looking back was a company that had been successful for several years using an aging service plan. You could order any of our services—website design, SEO or logo design—a la carte or combine them all into one plate. That’s something that a vast majority of startup companies do; but we knew the three-fold model couldn’t continue to thrive for much longer. We knew our products and services were great, but they just weren’t generating enough buzz in our marketplace.

It was time to identify one thing we did exceptionally well that could become our signature.

In searching for that signature product, we took an in-depth look at our three services and their markets. We analyzed efficiency using metrics like revenue per product and service, residual revenue for those services, and how well we provided them against market saturation. It was painstaking—like a trip to the doctor.

We got the results, then we decided to trim some weight.

Our least popular service, logo design, was the first to go. In an oversaturated market with minimal profit margins, it just wasn’t producing enough value to warrant a division (which is sad, because it was pretty fun).

Make Your Strengths Your Signature

With logo design out of the way, we were free to focus on our two remaining services— website design and SEO. They were our bread-and-butter, and they were both strengths.

This would be a tough call. We really didn’t want to let one of them go. But again, we needed one signature product. So, what did we do?

Well, we may have cheated a smidge on our diet here, but we found a perfect solution: we combined both services into one. It meant customers could no longer pick an either-or option. It also meant we were selling one single, cohesive unit to all of our clients—the Metal Potato package.

Now we could really focus on improving our single service to make it truly our own. We hired a responsive web design expert and trained our entire design and SEO team on responsive, which we believe is the future of web design.

Give it Away

Now that we had a refined product, we had to get it out to market, so we did what any reasonable, profit-seeking company would do: we gave it away.

It seemed like a crack-pot idea at first. Shiny Apples, an Exeter based iPhone and iPad repair shop was one of our first giveaways. This was their reaction:

I can honestly say that the experience with Metal Potato was a great experience, having experienced other web designers which I felt were too stiff and regimented in the process which can often come across as unfriendly, this was not the case with Metal Potato…I would recommend Metal Potato to potential clients in my network purely because they offer a great service, friendly, professional and I know if I need any future work or help the response is quick.

Within a week of going live, Shiny Apples had recommended us to a half-dozen people.

Lesson learned. Giveaways were instantly validated.

Keep Your Client Involved

Some website design companies operate on vague instructions from their customers; but we’ve found that’s usually a product of poor communication by design firms. It’s no secret that tech terms don’t always translate into the mainstream, and that can lead to a communication breakdown where customers might not get exactly what they imagined.

When we got the chance to work with RAWAN Styling, we talked to company owner, Roxie Nafousi back and forth dozens of times a day via phone and email. That communication enabled us to get RAWAN’s site exactly the way they imagined; and it led to reviews like this:

I didn’t expect them to be so fast! They also took all points on board and were constantly insuring I was happy at every stage of the process. Also I think they are reasonably priced and don’t over charge for small changes like some other web designers do — which means you can trust them to have an ongoing relationship.

Notice a keyword in there? Relationship.

Build Your Relationships

Relationships expand your network, enhance your residuals and make your customers happy. They pay big dividends in the long run.

That’s the lesson we took from Emerge Ltd., a high-powered brand and celebrity PR firm. Building a website for Emerge was about more than code and pixels. It was about managing relationships with their company, as well as their high-profile clients. The Emerge project really asked us to combine all of the lessons we’d learned over the year—specifically involving our client and cultivating that relationship.

But the final product was fantastic: a sleek, responsive website that was tailor-made to Emerge’s brand. We got a glowing review from their Managing Director:

I could not recommend this company more… Not only do they understand how important client vision is, but they have extremely high standards of professionalism. The fees extremely competitive, but the efficiency with which Metal Potato work is also unparalleled by any company I have ever worked with.

We also began to receive spin-off business from their clients. Made in Chelsea star Lucy Watson ordered her own site, and gave us our highest launch numbers of the year, netting over 100,000 unique visits in the first 24-hours and exploding onto Twitter.

We would have never had that opportunity if not for Emerge.

What’s the Takeaway?

2013 was a year of change at Metal Potato, just as we had hoped. Though business was doing well, our team decided to take a risk and change our game up.

The rewards have been huge. We’ve got a larger client base, a better reputation and most importantly, some really happy team members and clients. Some of the lessons we learned along the way took time and experience to grasp, others—such as switching our internal communication from email to a VoIP system—were simple solutions that only took a bit of careful thought to work out.

Most of the website-design market is competing on price. Thankfully, we’ve taken ourselves out of that loser-take-all battle. We’ve now got a signature product that people love and that we can charge a reasonable rate for.

As 2014 rounds the corner, we intend to take the lessons learned in the past 12 months to the bank. At Metal Potato, we’re going to increase the number of giveaways we do (they’ve actually turned out to be essential to our bottom-line), and we’re going to continue expanding our network through happy customers.

We might even pick up a few more team members.

At the end of 2013, the future is bright. The potato continues to thrive.