Five key lessons I have learnt running a web design business for 16 years

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The start of 2022 saw Five by Five celebrate its 16th year in business.

From humble beginnings of me, Jon Hollenberg working in a spare bedroom of my Burleigh Heads apartment alone as the founder of a web design business, to leading a team of almost 40 – it has been one heck of a ride!

And it feels like we are just warming up.

In this time I have managed to build a world class, award winning digital agency that continues to grow and thrive. None of this came easy and I wanted to give up a bunch of times.

I am now at a point where the business continues to grow, and largely works without me. 

My role now is more of a “coach” or “problem solver”, working on special operations or troubleshooting key issues.

I still get a tremendous amount of satisfaction from this and I am committed to further growing and scaling the business. I now realise the true potential of what we have started.

Reflecting on the journey so far, here are five key lessons I learned from being in the web design and digital business over the past 16 years.

Jon Hollenberg Home Office Gold Coast

Five by Five’s first home office at Miami, Gold Coast in 2007

1. Replace My Time With Team

The biggest leverage point that any business owner has is their team.

For almost 7 years, I was a “one man” show.

I did the sales, web design, web development, customer service, and accounts, all while working in my boardshorts alone in my spare bedroom.

The tipping point was getting married and having kids. Before this I used to work 60+ hour weeks. I was making decent money but didn’t have much of a life! My wife used to leave to go to her job in the morning with me working away in my PJs and then return in the evening and I was still in my PJs… Work life balance was non-existent. 

As a one man show, I had plenty of work but reached a ceiling very quickly and maxed out the revenue generation potential for the business. If I got sick or went on holiday, the money would stop flowing.

My wife encouraged me to employ my first team member.

I was scared and ultimately self sabotaged it. They left after one year to pursue other opportunities. But I learnt some important lessons and then tried again.

Five By Five Office Miami

Five by Five’s next office in Miami, Gold Coast 2011

2. Productise Your Offerings

In the beginning, we would do “everything” for “everyone”.

If someone wanted something outside of the box, we would always say yes!

In the early stages of Five by Five this worked, but it was hard to get any efficiency or build a standardised system for delivery.

As a web design company, we needed to become more like a McDonalds with a standard menu of items we offer to our customers. This allowed us to productise and build a team that follows a standard process for delivery.

While we still customise digital solutions, we work from a standard list of ingredients which gets a predictable set of outcomes for our clients.

We now no longer offer all things to everyone, instead we have a very targeted audience we service with a standard list of ingredients. 

Our sales process is more of an elimination process saying “no” to all but a handful of our ideal customers we are fully aligned with. We have found this has made for a more satisfied client, better project delivery, and a happier team.

2. Become a Sales & Marketing Organisation

For many years, I was the only person doing sales at Five by Five.

I thoroughly enjoyed doing the new client engagements, digging deep into their business and proposing a digital marketing solution that was going to help grow and scale their business.

This was one of the last functions of the business I personally let go of (and trust me, it was tough!).

Without a sales team, we would be forever limited by the volume of work I could win.

Instead, I invested the time to unpack my brain and build a “sales suitcase” and now have two full time sales people who do all of the selling.

This has built redundancy into the business and allowed us to reach many more prospective clients en masse, and turbo charged the growth of Five by Five.

Services Pv Gallery 04@2x

Five by Five Sales Team Meeting

4. Get Out of the Way As Quickly As Possible

Tony Robbins talks about the “Six Human Needs” in which each and every one of us use to drive the decisions we make.

One of these is “significance”, which is all about feeling unique, important, special or needed.

As the founder and owner of the business, for many years I was responsible for getting clients amazing results.

When you build a team around you who are responsible for selling and delivering your product, it means you, as the business owner, need to take a backseat and let others have all the glory.

This was a bit of a mind twister for me and took many years for me to eventually “get out of the way” and let other people shine and flourish.

By hanging on, I was actually a blockage in the business inhibiting its growth.

Now all my satisfaction comes from seeing the team kick goals and succeed without me.*  A byproduct of this is the speed of implementation and growth has dramatically increased with me getting out of the way!

*edit from Carla, our CEO: we still rely on Jon to play a vital part in the company, his experience and mentorship is highly sought after by multiple team members.

Five By Five Team Burleigh Heads

Five by Five team in 2022 which is now a team of 36

5. Have a Marathon Mindset

I did a lot of distance running in my twenties running marathons and ultramarathons. When you are standing on the start line of a 100km race the task ahead seems insurmountable. 

Instead, to be a good distance runner you need to chunk it down into small incremental phases, say 5 kms at a time.  Each small milestone is another step forward to the goal. By focusing on each small section, it is much easier to get through the pain and discomfort. Before you know it you have run 100 kms and upon reflection, the path trodden isn’t that bad!

Growing a business is no different. 

Small things done consistently over time result in big outcomes. No one in their right mind would go and start a business knowing what issues and problems would need to be solved.

But small, consistent, incremental tweaks and improvements compound and momentum really kicks in.

Having the mindset that there will be dark times ahead, but having comfort in the fact that you trust yourself enough to keep putting one step in front of the other, is the key.

Keep chipping away and if you do this for long enough, success will eventually follow!

Jon Hollenberg Marathon

Jon Hollenberg running the Gold Coast Marathon in 2012

So, What’s Ahead for Five by Five?

It feels like we are just getting warmed up. We have some ambitious goals and growth plans over the next 5 years, with opportunities everywhere.

As a founder of a web design business, I still have plenty of gas left in the tank and jump out of bed each morning feeling excited about the day ahead. I can attribute this to letting go early on and taking a back seat while my amazing team take the wheel.

My satisfaction comes from solving problems and growing people, and as a result, adding value to our clients’ lives. 

We will continue to hold each other to a higher standard and not settle for mediocrity, leading by example, and being a shining beacon for what a world class organisation looks like.

I will continue to work hard to build Five by Five as a force for good that brings out the best in people adding value to this world.

About the author
Jon Hollenberg
With over 20 years experience within the web industry, Jon is an expert in online marketing and online growth strategies. Over the last ten years he has worked with iconic brands such as Qantas, Jeep and the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary plus hundreds of other businesses Australia wide. Jon is a published author of "Love at first site - How to build the website of your dreams".
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