How long have you been doing web design?

Short Answer: Over 20 years.

Long Answer: A lot longer than most people around! I’ve been building websites for over 20 years. I started when the Internet was only a few years old and have been doing it full time for nearly 18 years. That makes me like a great, great grandfather in Internet years!

How did you get into this business?

Short Answer: By accident.

Long Answer: That’s kind-of a funny story. At the time I was in a small church and the pastor designed the church “web page.” I also had a couple of buddies who had started messing around with HTML. I figured it was something I could do, so I bought a used computer and spent $179 for FrontPage ’97 at Wal-Mart, and I was off! I converted the 4’x8’ storage room in the back of my garage into an office and spent hundreds of hours learning the software to build my first website.

Tell me about your first paying client?

Short Answer: $250 for 400 hours!

Long Answer: Actually, I built my first website for a friend at work. At the time I was a trainer for an automotive manufacturing company, and at break one day a friend told me his wife needed a website. I convinced him to pay me $250. The name of the business was Georgia’s Front Porch. It was a bunch of knick-knacks and items related to Georgia. By the time it was finished, I’m sure I didn’t make more than $0.30/hour. I also had a client in the early days that paid me $35/hour – half cash and half merchandise! That was pretty cool. I thought I was really making the money (and everybody got t-shirts and books for Christmas that year!).

What roles have you had during your career as a web designer?

Short Answer: Just about everything.

Long Answer: I started out like most folks as a freelancer. I worked for small businesses that came to me by referral. Later, I worked for Larry Burkett at Christian Financial Concepts. I managed their technical support department, but I also helped out some with their Internet department before becoming the Internet Development Manager for AccessNorthGeorgia.com. That was a pretty cool job. When I started they had the idea of building a regional news portal, but at the time it was nothing but a flow chart on a piece of paper. I was able to hire the team and oversee the development of a major online news outlet in Georgia. After that, I left with two of my co-workers to start our first web design agency, Red Clay Interactive. They’re still around after 17 years doing amazing work! I was their first Creative Director and later served as VP Client Strategy where I oversaw the visual strategy, usability, messaging and overall online marketing of every project. I left Red Clay nearly ten years ago to start Bright Tribe. I’m not too hung up on titles. I’m the founder, President…whatever. Most folks don’t ask. But I’m extremely hands on in the day-to-day development of websites.

Why do you use WordPress?

Short Answer: WordPress is awesome!

Long Answer: That’s easy! WordPress is awesome. Seriously. For years everything we did was custom, enterprise-level development that took a team of Georgia Tech computer science guys to complete. Projects were expensive, took a long time complete and were a nightmare to manage over time. With WordPress, however, we’re able to get sites finished in a fraction of the time – weeks instead of months – and do it very affordably. Instead of paying for a lot of custom programming, our clients pay for us to think. We’re problem solvers and help our clients grow their revenue and brand awareness online. WordPress is just a tool, but it’s a dang good one. It also helps to have everyone on the same page so we don’t have to support a bunch of different kinds of websites.

How much does it cost to build a website?

Short Answer: How much does it cost to build a house?

Long Answer: I get this question a lot, especially when I mention that I do web design. And I always give the same answer: how much does it cost to build a house? I mean, I can bring one in for you and take the wheels off, put it up on blocks, and you have a house! Or I can buy the land with the perfect view, pay an architect to draw up plans, buy the nicest finishes and fixtures and spend a fortune.

Seriously, though, in the past our average web design project would be between $30-50K.  We did much bigger projects and they were all custom. Today, however, about half of our projects are in the $5-10K range, some are in the $20K range, and the rest can go as high as $35K or so. There’s a lot that goes into the price of a project – from the size, functionality, photography, writing, search engine optimization, etc. There’s no “one-size-fits-all” when it comes to web design.

What do you think about buying WordPress themes?

Short Answer: Be careful, but they can be great!

Long Answer: I hear folks all the time who talk negatively about buying a WordPress theme. That kind of talk usually comes from “purists” who think you have to code every line of your website or it’s just “bad.” The reality is, however, that every WordPress website is built on a theme.  Most companies that say build “custom” WordPress sites often start from their own internal theme framework. They don’t really start from scratch. At Bright Tribe we do a lot of “theme customization” where we work with premium, high quality themes that we purchase. We make sure they are highly supported, kept up-to-date, are not bloated with a lot of junk you don’t need and can be highly customized to fit our clients’ needs. It helps us keep our costs competitive, provide outstanding work that gets results and get sites done quickly. At the end of the day it’s a win-win.

What inspires you?

Short Answer: Learning something new and getting paid to do what I love.

Long Answer: I have the best job in the world! It’s absolutely amazing to me that I get paid to do what I do. I love the feeling of working with business owners or smaller businesses where what I do has a direct impact on their business, sales, etc. I also love learning something new every day. You’d think after nearly 20 years, there wouldn’t be too much to learn, but because of the exponential growth of web-based technology, it’s hard to keep up. Whether a new social media platform in beta or some new plugin or tool I get to test out on a site, I typically do something different every day.

What kind of education do you have?

Short Answer: 1 semester of college.

Long Answer: It really surprises folks to learn that I didn’t finish college. In fact, I didn’t even finish my first year! Because of the success of both of my companies – with clients literally all over the globe – folks just assume I have some kind of fancy degree. In realty, when we started our first web design company there was not a single college degree in web design – and hardly any courses – offered at any university in the United States. It was a brand new thing. I learned by spending thousands (and thousands!) of hours reading, in the code and working with other people. The whole marketing and branding side of things comes very intuitively for me. And I’d be amiss not to mention that we also had a fantastic mentor. For the first couple years at Red Clay we meet every couple of weeks with a guy named Gordon Sawyer, the founder of Sawyer, Riley, Compton advertising agency. He poured into three young guys who were really talented but didn’t know anything about running an agency. You couldn’t pay for that kind of education!

What’s some of the best advice you received in business?

Short Answer: Hire smart people and pay them well. Learn from other successful people.

Long Answer: There are two things that really stand out to me: 1) Hire people better, smarter and with more experience than you – and pay them well. 2) Learn from other successful business people – even outside of your industry. We took both of these to heart. When we started our first company, I did all of the creative work and that was fine. But as we grew, and our clients grew, I really didn’t have the experience or talent to provide what our clients needed, so we hired another Creative Director. And I was fine with that. The company was bigger than my ego, and it really made a difference. As for the second piece of advice, I remember that we met with one of our clients, an oral surgeon, in our early days who gave us some great advice about how to structure incentives and handle insurance. He was well-known and had a successful practice, and his insight really helped us.

What advice would you give somebody who wanted to get into web design or online marketing?

Short Answer: Realize you don’t have to do it all yourself. Intern to see what you like.

Long Answer: First, figure out what you love doing – how you’re wired. At nearly agency you have folks with a broad diversity of backgrounds and skills – from journalism majors who write content and blog posts, to computer science folks who program and write code to graphic designers and project managers, information architects and social media specialists, etc. It takes a team. Very rarely do you find one guy who does it all – or even most of these things. Secondly, start now. Whatever your interest, start now by working on your own website, helping a friend or doing small projects for free to get some experience. Third, learn from the best. Get on YouTube, Twitter and join email newsletters that provide quality information to keep you informed about the industry. Next, see about an internship with an agency or web design company. If they don’t have something available, call them up and ask if you can go to lunch or come by a couple days and watch and learn. It’s a great way to see what people really do. Finally, get an education. It’s really difficult today to get into this field without some kind of college education. But if you do the things above, you’ll have a much better idea the kinds of classes and major you need to pursue.

How do you like working with your wife?

Short Answer: I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Long Answer: I don’t know what I’d do without Holly. She’s my right arm in the business. She does all the invoicing, keeps the books, helps with a lot of the “grunt” tasks and makes sure things don’t fall through the cracks. She’s the one who reminds me to call or email folks and keep things moving forward. She’s awesome.

On a personal note, what do you do for fun?

Short Answer: Watch basketball, read books, fish and work on my truck.

Long Answer: Well, I’ve been married for over 25 years, and I love spending time with my wife. And we have four kids that are currently 20, 19, 18 and 16. So that keeps us pretty busy! We have 2 in college and one more next year. We go to a lot of basketball games because all of my kids play. And I love to read. I have a pretty large library – several thousand volumes. So I always have a couple of books on my desk that I’m reading. And when it’s warmer, I like to fish. I’ll sit out nearly all night long on the banks of Lake Lanier fishing for catfish, but I’m not a pro by any stretch. It’s just relaxing. Finally, I just bought a new truck – well, it’s new to me. It’s an ’06 Toyota Tacoma crew cab. I’ve spent a little bit (ok, a good bit) of money fixing it up. That’s fun.

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If you have any questions for Brian, be sure to drop us a note or leave a comment below.