Today on the Stride 2 Freedom podcast, we sat down with Garrett Goldman, managing partner at State Creative, a web design agency that has been helping e-commerce sites maximize their conversion rates and sell more online for over 10 years. The old adage “build it and they will come” doesn’t necessarily apply in the digital age; if people can’t find you, well, they’re never going to arrive. And once they arrive, your e-commerce shop needs to provide an experience that makes it easy to make a purchase and even easier to find the product they’re looking for. Sounds pretty simple, but many digital stores miss the mark on building with a purpose for a purpose.
There’s much more to e-commerce design than a strategic placing of a “buy now” button. When selling products online, the experience as a whole needs to be considered–from placing an order to the ongoing relationship with that customer. You’re probably thinking, “Okay, that sounds great and all…but how?” Well, it’s achieved by doing what State Creative has mastered: increasing online engagement through high impact web design by designing, developing, and maintaining websites that generate leads and sell products. Yep, and dare I say it’s debatably more important than focusing on social media?
When you own an e-commerce business, your key to survival and long term success is in producing sales… and to generate those sales, you need results. The way to gaining results is by following metrics you can measure, like more clicks, more pageviews, or better bounce rates, so you can be data-driven and begin seeing tangible improvements in your business and ROI. If you’re interested in improving website performance and how it impacts the bottom line of your business, you don’t want to miss this episode!
Who should I interview next? Please let me know by clicking here.
In this Freedom Speaker Series episode with Garrett Goldman, you will learn:
- Why website performance and e-commerce sales go hand-in-hand
- The methodology behind strategic e-commerce design to increase your ROI
- Why you should consider an open-source platform over a plug-and-play tool like Shopify
- Why CEO’s should re-evaluate website performance at least quarterly to improve sales strategies
We are fortunate to have Garrett available to spend time with us on this edition of Stride 2 Freedom. If there is a speaker you’d like us to interview, click here and let us know. Stay well. Stay safe. Stay healthy.
Show Notes and Links From Episode:
Russell Benaroya: Hey, everyone. Welcome to the Stride 2 Freedom Podcast. My name is Russell Benaroya, and I’m the co-founder of Stride Services, a virtual back office, bookkeeping, and accounting firm serving hundreds of clients around the United States.
This podcast is designed to help small business owners focus on growth and innovation. In other words, focus on those things that inspired you to start your business in the first place. We call it your genius zone. We do our job on this podcast when business owners feel like they have the trust and confidence to build the right team of partners around them that will help them grow. Thanks for joining. Let’s go.
Hey, everybody, I am really looking forward to this podcast today with Garrett Goldman. Hey, Garrett?
Garrett Goldman: Hi, good afternoon? Thanks for having me.
Russell Benaroya: Great to have you here. I’m excited because I really want to bring our audience more opportunities to drive revenue growth. Garrett is the managing partner at State Creative, a web design agency that does a few things which he’ll share. They have a particular expertise in helping e-commerce sites maximize their conversion and sell more things online. Who doesn’t want to do that if you’re in the e-commerce business?
I’m going to let Garrett introduce himself and share more about State Creative and what they have been doing for the last 10 years. Again, what really piqued my interest is the impact they can have on e-commerce.
I met Garrett through the Entrepreneur’s Organization and found his thirst for personal development, and his desire to want to help business owners grow their revenue through a better website presence really compelling. Let’s jump in and learn what Garrett’s up to. You’re ready to rock and roll, Garrett?
Garrett Goldman: I’m ready.
Russell Benaroya: Awesome. There are so many Small businesses in America that are trying to sell online. What is the greatest problem they face? How do you at State Creative help them?
Garrett Goldman: One of the greatest problems would probably be being found. It’s important that your store gets found. Just because you build it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re going to come, those customers. Finding the store that you’re looking for is really important. Once you get those customers to the store, it’s providing an experience that makes it easy for them to complete their purchase or find the items that they’re looking for.
Russell Benaroya: There are sites today like Shopify, where you can stand up a store, and maybe there are some others. Why would they come and work with State Creative? What do you do differently? How do you approach the problem with the customer in a way that would be superior and they’d be willing to pay for a service like yours?
Garrett Goldman: There’s a big difference between all platforms. The products out there like Shopify are fantastic solutions for certain types of shops. Customers would come to us specifically because they’re looking for, most likely, a little bit more flexibility in their platform.
Oftentimes when design or performance needs to be customized for any reason, whether it’s just to optimize or because it’s a part of their strategic goals, they would come to us because we are a full-service firm that is going to create their website, their e-commerce platform based on a process that is going to unveil what it is that they’re trying to do, versus using a platform that might be a little bit more plug and play, where folks get really focused on populating their products and getting it live, rather than doing it with purpose or for a purpose.
Russell Benaroya: Got it. If you’re selling a product but what you’re really selling is the whole experience around purchasing that product and the ongoing relationship you want to have with that customer, that’s some of the work that State Creative helps develop?
Garrett Goldman: Correct. The experience is really important. Everyone’s talking about user experience or customer experience. It’s more than just what the website looks like. It’s how does it perform and how do you feel while you are placing items in your cart? How easy was the process to check out? Am I going to come back? Will I have really cute or informative reminders in my inbox that my purchase has been completed? Will there be upsells? What is the flow? What is the overall experience?
It’s a lot more than just getting to the site, adding your items to the cart, and then checking out. It’s really from landing there to post-purchase.
Russell Benaroya: Is there an example of a client that you’ve worked with that you really like talking about or feel really proud of the work that you’ve done for them that amplifies or demonstrates what you’re sharing?
Garrett Goldman: Sure. I like all of our clients.
Russell Benaroya: Yes, of course. We’ll single just one out of many.
Garrett Goldman: I’ll single one out of many. One project that I really enjoy talking about, first of all, a really fun brand, and it’s also a world-famous brand. The reason why I like bringing it up in these e-commerce conversations is because of how robust the platform is. They sell all different types of products.
The client is MarsVenus, and they were made famous from the book, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus. John Gray is the author of that book. Their website, marsvenus.com, sells physical products, digital products including premium subscriptions to content and also courses.
So you have a whole different product mix that we’re trying to sell. We had to find a way to make it easy for customers to not only find what they’re looking for but because the brand was such an important part of MarsVenus, we had to not just create an experience that was easy to find these products but do it within their brand tone and their brand guide. The product speaks for itself.
Russell Benaroya: That’s a good one. I think everybody’s probably familiar with Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus or at least every couple that’s out there. Give me the background on Stay Creative. Did you found the company?
Garrett Goldman: I did not. My business partner, Aron Scarinzi, is the founder. He started as a small business that did a lot of different design work; primarily logo design, very simple basic HTML design, and some marketing collateral design. He started it almost 20 years ago, and it was by a different name.
He and I came together about 10 years ago and that’s when State Creative became a different type of agency. We help businesses increase their online engagement through high impact web design. Essentially, we design, develop, and maintain websites that generate leads and sell products. That’s all we do.
Although Aron, the founder started by doing lots of different design work, we really just focus on our core competencies, which are web design, development, and website maintenance.
Russell Benaroya: What got you excited to want to get involved and be part of this business? I know what you were doing before, which really looked like it had very little to do with web design and creative agency work. Why the deep dive?
Garrett Goldman: Well, you must be referring to my previous real estate career.
Russell Benaroya: Yeah, what looked like a very accomplished real estate background.
Garrett Goldman: It was. I found some early success. It was the right place, right time, dotcom boom in San Francisco. Believe it or not, that is the path that led me to where I am today because I started or I co-founded a real estate brokerage. Part of my role at that brokerage was to create this brand and website.
I had to hire a firm, and in fact, it was a couple of different firms. It was a designer, developer, it was a brand firm. Although I loved the final product and I loved the whole process, and so much so that I fell in love with that more than real estate, but I felt as though there was an opportunity to create an agency that allowed small and medium businesses to hire one firm rather than conjoin different types of firms that weren’t at that enterprise-level because small and medium businesses can’t afford those enterprise style firms.
Through my journey, I ended up meeting Aron, my partner, and I explained to him how I had a little bit of experience going through it and I really was looking to create an agency. The two of us partnered up and created State Creative.
Russell Benaroya: When you say hire one firm; talk to me about what is encompassed in that one firm. What are the different pieces that you found yourself contracting with multiple firms when you’re in real estate but at State is all under one roof? What is the scope of that?
Garrett Goldman: I still get calls today from folks that say, “We have these designers. Can you do the development for us?” or vice versa. What I’ve found over the years is when these teams don’t talk, or when they create their product in a silo, the end result is never as smooth, or even the process in melding the two together is never as smooth as when you have both teams working side by side.
At State Creative, we have our designers and developers in-house and we work together from the earliest stages of the process, which is a discovery, all the way through post-deployment. The fact that our designers speak enough of the developer language and vice versa allows us to just make really robust products that are customized and look beautiful.
Russell Benaroya: When you talk about small to mid-sized businesses as your target, what’s the typical profile of a client that is in your genius zone or your sweet spot of delivery?
Garrett Goldman: E-commerce companies generally with 1,000 or fewer SKUs. Professional service firms or financial service firms seem to be our sweet spot. We also work in the education world; UC Berkeley is one of our clients and blockchain. There are a lot of verticals. Those are our core focus.
Russell Benaroya: How has the business changed over 10 years? Are you doing the same thing today that you were doing when you started? Has the business plan changed? The environment certainly has evolved. How have you adapted?
Garrett Goldman: Yeah, the environment has changed quite a bit and we have as well. 10 years ago, when State Creative was founded, we were building our own content management systems. We have migrated from that to an open-source model. We’re big believers in the open-source movement, and we build almost everything on platforms like WordPress or Drupal.
Frankly, the price point has come down. Web design has been somewhat of a commoditized service. We’ve had to find ways to differentiate between the do-it-yourself platforms, and also the mom and pop web design development agencies. Between going to an open-source focus and finding equilibrium in prices, I would say those are probably the two biggest changes over the years.
Russell Benaroya: How have you done that? I’m in the professional services arena, too. There’s a commoditization that naturally happens. The question that we all ask ourselves is, are we going to commoditize ourselves before we get commoditized? How do we use the energy that we have for higher-level value? What has that meant for State?
Garrett Goldman: Well, we’re big believers in the product that we provide and our core values. We think that’s what differentiates us. Most importantly, when it comes to the products that we design, our clients want to see results. We are able to produce results like more clicks, more pageviews, and better bounce rates, whatever the metrics that you want to follow. Our products have shown that versus their old website, they’re going to see a massive improvement.
What it also comes to is our values within the process of creating this, which include things like communication, creativity, timeliness, quality, and the white-glove service that we provide, which you’re not going to get from something like Wix or Shopify.
Russell Benaroya: Well, I certainly like the data-driven approach that you take toward your value proposition. Listen, analytics, analytics, analytics. If the data is there, and it demonstrates that sites that you build convert at level X, that’s tangible. It’s not just a promise. That’s cool.
Question for you on your projects and I’m projecting here a little bit based on my own experience. When I’ve used a firm to build a website for me in the past, not in all cases, but in a couple of cases, every time I want to make a change, I’ve got to call the agency, and they need to change that letter, or I found a grammar error. It takes my power away when I want to be empowered to make changes. How do you share power with your client?
Garrett Goldman: I love that question. It’s part of the reason why we love the open-source movement. We share the power in a way that all of the finished product is owned by our client. We don’t own anything. We’re going to build this on the servers that they want the site to live on. The platform itself, WordPress, for example, is a really easy-to-use platform, and part of our service at the time of completion is training our clients on how to use it themselves.
Some of our clients love that flexibility and ease of use. If they want to go in and publish a story or add a product, it’s just a matter of logging in after they’ve been trained and they can go ahead and do that. Because it’s built on an open-source platform, they have the flexibility to find another designer or developer should they want to go that route.
That’s probably the way we ultimately give them the power. At the same time, we provide a level of service if they don’t want to run the site themselves. If they prefer not to or they don’t have the resources to make these edits, we also offer that service to our clients. They have a choice, essentially.
Russell Benaroya: You referenced for me in the past this service that you provide around ongoing security and maintenance. What is that? Why does it matter?
Garrett Goldman: It matters a lot especially on an open-source platform like WordPress or Drupal because the web is a dangerous place. There are countless hackers, there are folks that are trying to steal your customers’ data or attack your website for various reasons.
Russell Benaroya: Fear; a good strategy, Garrett. Hey, it works.
Garrett Goldman: Yes. It does, but these open-source platforms, because there are constant attacks and WordPress powers a huge number of websites on the internet, it’s very powerful. Hackers target these websites specifically because if they find a vulnerability in one, they might be able to find that same vulnerability in another.
This ongoing security and maintenance package that we offer keeps the sites up to date. As there are patches a lot like on your phone when an app or your operating system requires an update, you go and you push the button to get the latest version because it might be more secure, WordPress and these websites systems require something similar.
Because we design really customized sites, it sometimes isn’t quite as easy to just push the “Update” button and it does require a little bit of know-how. Our maintenance service offers a white glove opportunity where we will take care of all of the updates. We back the site up continuously. We also have our sensors out there for malware and attacks. It’s both security for the client and also almost like insurance as well.
Russell Benaroya: If you future-casted the next, say, three years or five years, how does State Creative continue to stay relevant, leading, aligned with the needs, goals, and wants of your customer? Can you even think that far out?
Garrett Goldman: In technology, it’s hard to think more than a couple of years in advance. It’s still a fun exercise, and also as a business owner, it’s really important. We do need to stay ahead of the curve.
I do anticipate a lot more automation. I do anticipate a lot of “cannibalization”, where the platforms like Squarespace and Wix and the do-it-yourself platforms are going to create more of a competitive environment for us. The best way for us to stay ahead of the curve is by continually educating ourselves on the latest and greatest technologies.
Another reason why we love the open-source movement is that as these new technologies become available to the masses, we’re able to adopt those and continue learning how to design them better and more efficiently. In general, it’s just a matter of education, education, education.
Russell Benaroya: If there was a CEO or a founder that was listening to you that ran an e-commerce site with fewer than 1,000 SKUs and was acknowledging this pain that they have or desire to be more effective in selling online, and let’s say they were going to call State Creative. Are there two or three things that you might guide that CEO or founder to be thinking about on their own site to say, “We don’t have to do this for you, but these are a few best practices you should absolutely be thinking about and adhering to for the site that you’re managing today.”?
Garrett Goldman: First of all, some folks believe that once the site is launched, it’s done. The way I look at it is, it’s never done. It requires constant improvement and constant updates. I would encourage the CEO to evaluate the performance of their site and what’s going on a quarterly basis, if not more frequently, to use all of the metrics and reports that are available to find areas of weakness and amplify areas that are doing really well.
I also would have them question why they might be putting their entire business on another company’s platform? I’m a fan of Shopify and they are putting out a great product, but what happens when Shopify isn’t around? What happens when you want to integrate something that doesn’t work with Shopify? What happens if your business is scaling and you have a new tool that doesn’t play nicely with these other closed-garden platforms?
If they were thinking ahead and they did anticipate change, they may want to think about more flexible solutions that can work with all of the tools that they may need. You asked for three. One of them will just be a constant evaluation of the performance of their website. One would be asking whether or not their current solution is flexible enough. Then a third might just be how do you improve? Is it possible to improve or push any further within the current system that you are in? Or could you use some insights, some expertise, and have someone help you find a path to actually improve?
Russell Benaroya: Awesome. What didn’t I ask you that you think is important to share about the work that you do at State?
Garrett Goldman: Going back to what I just mentioned a moment ago about having a continual need to evaluate the performance of your site, I feel a lot of our customers just don’t do that. No one likes surprises. We’re really good at transparency; we pride ourselves on that.
I’m always reminding folks that you don’t want to spend your entire budget on building a website. You need to save something to drive traffic there, to market your website. You also need to budget for maintenance, resources, publishing, and content. I’m not sure if that answers your question, but I was thinking more along the lines of what I would tell folks to consider in addition to just a website when they’re thinking about this full project.
Russell Benaroya: What I’m hearing is that you have those conversations with your clients as a guide. Not that you can necessarily own all of it, but to help them recognize, “Listen, don’t put all your eggs just in the website basket.” It is part of a holistic experience when you really think about, what is the goal that you’re trying to achieve? One tactic is, yes, let’s build a great website, but there are a whole lot of tactics to achieve your ultimate outcome.
Garrett Goldman: Absolutely. We start those conversations early and often.
Russell Benaroya: Terrific, Garrett. Well, it’s been such a pleasure to get to know you as a fellow entrepreneur. I’m curious, in this environment which is an uncertain environment, the COVID environment, what’s going on with your business right now? Are companies coming to you because they’re like, “Oh my gosh, we’ve got to get online,” or are they retrenching? What’s happening?
Garrett Goldman: They started coming to us when COVID first started infiltrating the news in mid-March. We were inundated with calls, with inquiries of people and businesses looking to build a new website. Everyone thought that if their website was outdated, they were going to be in trouble, or they, in the back burner, wanted to improve their site anyway. Since everyone started working from home, everyone expected that our digital lives to be enhanced over the next few months. We were inundated in that sense.
However, as the pandemic went on and the uncertainty started being felt by businesses, we noticed that those folks that originally inquired were a little nervous to spend money. So although we had a spike in inquiries, our business slowed down quite a bit in May and June.
I don’t know if it’s part of the fact that this is becoming the new normal or if businesses have found ways to adjust, but we are now seeing some of those early inquiries resurface or coming back to us and they are ready to move forward at this point. It started busy, people got scared, and they seem to be coming back.
Russell Benaroya: Well, good. For the health of your business, I’m excited about that and certainly want to acknowledge the folks that look at their online presence and say, “Hey, there may be a better way. Who’s the best class partner that we can work with?” Clearly State Creative is one of them.
Garrett, I just want to thank you so much for joining us today on this edition of Stride 2 Freedom. It’s awesome.
In an environment where many people are struggling to hang on to their business, we wanted to bring you on specifically to share some strategies and techniques that companies can use to improve their e-commerce presence and impact. Thank you for being a voice for small businesses and helping them also stay alive and hopefully thrive. Really appreciate your time, Garrett.
Garrett Goldman: Thank you so much, Russell. I appreciate you as well. This is a great podcast and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.
Russell Benaroya: Thanks, everybody. Have a great day. Bye.