It’s official, Heart Internet is now ten years old! Birthdays are a great opportunity to reflect on how far you’ve come and the support you’ve had from others along the way. This is why we wanted to talk to some of our customers who’ve been with us since day one, like Phil Hitchman of W3 Applications Ltd. We caught up with Phil to talk about how his business has changed over the years, some great moments along the way, advice for people starting their own sites and more.
Can you give us some background information about yourself, your business and where you were ten years ago?
We first started our business in 2001 – myself, my son and my daughter-in-law. My son and I have been building websites since the mid-‘90s. At that time we were dealing in all aspects of IT but specialising in business websites for SMEs. We soon discovered that websites were the way to go and now deal exclusively in websites and web applications.
In 2001 we started to build our own content management systems. We’ve been developing this for 12 years and now have a highly-functional, commercial-grade CMS that enables our customers to have full control over everything from e-commerce to blogs, events, forms, training systems, membership systems… you name it!
It also comes with an inbuilt developer platform, enabling web designers to build highly functional websites very easily through the CMS control panel. We sell this system to numerous other web design companies.
Our CMS also has “Express” functionality, enabling template sites with full CMS functionality to be rolled out quickly and following the customers’ branding.
We came across Heart Internet in 2004 and at that time we had around 150 websites hosted. We now have nearer 1,000, all built by us.
What browser were you using with your site(s) ten years ago?
We were using IE, but I believe Firefox V1 was released around that time and we quickly moved onto that. I still use Firefox today.
What computer did you use in 2004?
A hand-built monster, running on Windows ME I think. I couldn’t possibly recall the spec!
What’s been your favourite moment/s you’ve had with your website(s)?
Releasing our e-commerce system and winning an accolade for it from the Essex Chambers of Commerce.
What do you think are the biggest ways in which your business(es) have changed over the last ten years?
I think the general improvements in broadband and hosting speed/reliability have enabled us to do so much more that we have been able to improve our systems enormously.
We probably build more e-commerce sites than anything else nowadays. I remember our first e-commerce customers were all struggling to find a company that could even build an online shop!
If you could go back ten years what would you do differently with your website(s)?
I would not have wasted time following the old trend for Flash! Our first website in 2001 was built totally in Flash. We also wasted some time building the first prototype of our CMS in ASP. I think that was a mistake.
What have you done with your current site to differentiate yourself from others online?
We’ve built a number of websites each targeting different clientele – end businesses, web designers, web developers etc. and we are also developing some other websites to target specific industries, such as estate agents, training providers, recruitment companies etc. I have found that individual targeted websites can often be more effective than generic ones.
What advice would you give to someone who’s just starting with their first website?
It’s all about image, ease of navigation and unique selling points. You’ve got a tiny few seconds to catch the customer’s imagination, show them what you can do for them, and entice them in. Any website should be simple, clean, yet attractive and easy to find what they are looking for.
Why have you chosen to host your websites with Heart Internet since 2004?
We have been with Heart Internet pretty much since your inception. At the time we were very small as a company and the offer of unlimited accounts for a fixed monthly cost attracted us. Apart from a few early teething problems with overloaded servers, I have always been extremely pleased with the quality of service and value for money offered, and in particular the excellent support services provided.
Since migrating the reseller accounts to Cloud systems I have noticed a big improvement in speed and stability. I now have a number of dedicated and VPS servers with you, and we no longer host anything elsewhere (other than for customers who insist on using their own hosting). In fact we have often recommended your hosting to other web design companies.
What do you want to achieve with your site in the future?
We hope to soon be promoting the CMS developer systems much more over the coming months and years. The focus should gradually shift away from building websites for end customers, towards building functional websites for web designers and supplying content management systems to other web developers. Part of that will involve online demos and videos, which we will be running from our dedicated server,
The “in thing” at the moment appears to be fully responsive websites and single-page dynamic websites. We are of course keeping up with that trend!