This is a follow up story for Velstar. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published about 1 year ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
We design, build and optimize Shopify Plus websites that help entrepreneurs achieve success. As well as offering a full suite of design and development services, we deliver marketing strategy consultancy, email marketing, SEO, PPC, paid advertising, social media management, and influencer marketing.
Our clients are direct-to-consumer brands from various retail vertices including fashion and accessories, jewelry, health and wellness, and lifestyle. AVON, Public Desire, Linda Farrow, Cosatto, Santo Remedio, are just a few of the big brands we’ve been working with recently.
When I started Velstar back in 2016, with former co-founder, David Solomon we were a humble team of two building an agency from the ground up. We did $450,000 sales that year. Since then, Velstar has evolved into an industry-leading agency with (if I do say so myself) an excellent creative reputation. Today, our team consists of 21 eCommerce experts and our client base has never been bigger! We’re now doing over $175,000 sales MoM, and we’re on track to do $2m+ this year.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?
Where do I start?
The eCommerce industry is booming right now! When COVID-19 hit, it forced everyone to shop online, which meant more and more brands had to adapt quickly and go digital. And so as an agency, we’ve never been busier.
You have to accept that most days will be a challenge, you’ll even find yourself wondering why you decided to start the business in the first place. But persevere, things do get better!
In fact, we’ve been growing at a yearly rate of 70%. Our in-house team has expanded to 21 people and our client base has expanded across Europe and the U.S.
When I last spoke to you in January 2020, I mentioned that we hadn’t invested time or effort into our own agency marketing efforts. Well, that’s massively changed! We hired an Internal Marketing Manager in July 2020, and she’s been focusing on building brand awareness, strengthening our technology partner relationships, and boosting our marketing collateral. Also, she’s been the driving force behind our new and improved website, and we’re already seeing great results from this.
What’s more, last year, we hired a Senior Growth Strategist who is responsible for business development and growth at Velstar. This was the important next step for us as an agency and has allowed us to keep the momentum going.
We’ve also made new hires across the Development and Digital Marketing team. This was a must for both agency efficiency and client success. And we’ve recently hired an Operations and Finance Director. She manages all things finance, HR, legal, procurement, and compliance here at Velstar. She’s already doing a brilliant job and we’re very lucky to have her.
Last but certainly not least, we have a newly formed international board of directors! Back in October 2020, we announced the acquisition of controlling interest in Velstar’s shares. The new board is a group of experienced business partners and helps create a strategic plan for Velstar’s growth plans. Also, as part of the transition previous co-founder, David Solomon downshifted from Velstar to focus on his own eCommerce consultancy business. But I have remained a major shareholder in Velstar and I’m still very much involved in the day-to-day running of the agency.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
Well, if there’s a year that taught us all important lessons, it’s definitely 2020. With the pandemic, lockdowns, working from home, a looming recession and so much uncertainty, it’s no surprise that we all left 2020 with a very different perspective.
For me, one of the biggest lessons I learned was that no matter what, ‘nothing ever remains the same. Whether it’s because of a pandemic or not, there is always a need to innovate, change and evolve, particularly as a business owner. When the pandemic started to take hold, we had to adapt quickly when it came to how we worked and how we communicated. I’ve always enjoyed face-to-face meetings and conversations, so when we had to rely on Zoom it took some getting used to. This reliance on virtual meetings turned out to be beneficial. It’s meant we can talk to more clients, partners and prospects because we are no longer restricted by location. Also, it means we can form better relationships with our clients far and wide, after all a virtual meeting is more personal than a phone call.
Another important lesson I learned in 2020 was ‘do it now or you never will’.
When you think over things too much, you’re losing a lot of valuable time. Of course, be strategic and have a plan in place (but as 2020 taught us, you can’t plan for everything). It’s so important to just start!
Finally, I’ve learned ‘your team is your most valuable asset’. I always knew this anyway, but 2020 confirmed it. It’s no secret that eCommerce is a highly saturated industry and where many agencies offer the same services, particularly in the Shopify Plus community. I’ve always been a true believer that it’s an agency’s employees that make it stand out. Because of this, I’ve made it my mission to attract and retain the very best people at Velstar. When you hire great people, exceptional things happen: your team works far efficiently and effectively and your clients’ success skyrockets.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
Last year, we had big plans for the agency, and 2021 is no different. We’ll be moving to a bigger office, as we’ve outgrown our current one in Liverpool. And we’re planning to launch an office over in Miami and start recruiting a team based there.
What’s more, we’re looking to double our team across all departments, including development, design, digital marketing, and operations. Also, we’ll finally be launching an eCommerce podcast.
In the next five years, the plan is to keep growing our team and our client base, specifically across Northern America and Europe.
Have you read any good books in the last year?
I’m an avid podcast listener. The last time we spoke, I mentioned that one of my favorites is How I Built This, and still to this day I love it. The man behind the podcast is called Guy Raz. He brilliantly deep dives into the stories behind the world’s best businesses. The stories are honest and get to the nitty-gritty of what it’s like owning a business. As you can imagine, it’s never as easy as it seems.
Another brilliant podcast is Business Wars, hosted by David Brown. It gives listeners an insight into what drives big brands to succeed, or sometimes ruin. You get some juicy details on what’s going on behind the scenes at the likes of Nike, Netflix, and Starbucks. Makes for really interesting listening!
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
Hire and retain the right people
First things first, before you even begin to look at your growth trajectory, you need to ensure you have employees who are committed to helping you achieve your business goals, particularly if you’re a small business.
As I mentioned before, it all comes down to hiring the very best people for your business. You want employees who are talented and hardworking. They need to be the kind of people who are willing to roll up their sleeves if they need to. When you have the right team you’ll be well on your way to success.
Sadly, the issue that many entrepreneurs have is retaining great people in the first place. I don’t have the secret ingredient to retention, but I do have a few simple tips that work well at Velstar:
- A strategic onboarding process
- Invest in individual training
- Promote work-life balance
- Create a positive workplace
- Encourage creativity, always
- Promote individual success
- Keep promises
- Listen, listen and listen some more
In my opinion, a happy and motivated team should be a primary goal for any business - your success depends on it! If members of your team aren’t engaged and driven to work for you, productivity will suffer too.
Focus on the clients you already have
This might seem strange, right? If an entrepreneur is trying to grow their business, why would they focus their attention on clients they already have? Well, no matter what your business model is, returning/loyal customers are incredibly important. This is because they’re likely to spend more and refer your business to others.
Obsess over your customers’ needs
Your success depends on your clients’ success, so you and your team must do everything possible to deliver the best results and maintain a great working relationship at all times.
The key to a strong client relationship is understanding a client’s needs and managing their expectations. All too often, I hear of businesses, particularly agencies who have offered the world and delivered very little. So, from the get-go be transparent about what you can and can’t do. This avoids any disappointment further down the line and the client will value your honesty.
Prepare to make mistakes
Mistakes are an inevitable part of being an entrepreneur. No one starts a business knowing everything there is to know about owning one. You have to accept that most days will be a challenge, you’ll even find yourself wondering why you decided to start the business in the first place. But persevere, things do get better!
When I started Velstar 5 years ago I’m not ashamed to admit I made a lot of mistakes. But the great thing about making mistakes is what you learn from them. They force you to become a better version of yourself.
It doesn't matter how many books you read, how many podcasts you listen to, or how much advice you receive, ultimately it’s the real-life experience that counts. So, embrace the ups and downs, and in a few years, you’ll look back and wonder why you didn’t start your business venture sooner.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are currently on the lookout for an Account Director and a Digital Marketing Manager. So, if any of your readers want to find out more about those roles feel free to drop me a message directly via Twitter @DanSheard or email [email protected].
Where can we go to learn more?
- Velstar Ltd, Leading UK Shopify Plus Agency Announces Change in Control, Global Expansion and Explosive Growth
- Our work
- Shopify Plus Page
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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