This business owner is an OPEN Forum® Member. If you'd like to share your business story to be considered for a feature on OPEN Forum, please sign in or sign up and answer a few short questions.
Becky McKinnell had just graduated college when she opened her website and digital marketing agency, iBec Creative, in Portland, Maine.
As web retail has shifted, so has her business. Today she focuses on developing e-commerce growth, working with firms throughout New England and nationally, helping them grow their online reach.
“I started my company on the premise that blending creative energy with technological savvy could help clients grow their businesses," McKinnell says. “Through a collaborative process, we develop targeted performance-based digital marketing solutions that deliver results for both clients and their customers."
But it's the e-commerce pivot, and carefully focusing on bringing on the right clients—often saying no and referring out business that's not the right fit—that has helped iBec grow.
1. How has your business grown since you started it?
iBec started as a web development company that would take on any development or design project it could. We have since focused on the e-commerce niche, particularly with helping physical retailers compete online by establishing or optimizing their digital stores using [an] e-commerce platform. We've found that our team's knowledge and expertise in this area is far beyond that of our competitors. It is this differentiator that has been driving and will continue to drive our growth.
At the same time, retailers across the board are facing waning demand from their brick-and-mortar locations, and many struggle with successfully transitioning to an omnichannel model to compete online and on mobile devices. This, too, will drive our growth, as we hyper-specialize to fulfill this urgent need. Specialization will afford greater efficiency and thus deliver greater value to clients at lower a cost, based on the repeatability of strategies and our team's expertise.
2. What hurdles have you overcome in running your business?
One of the greatest hurdles of our transition to e-commerce has been realizing opportunity costs. We still receive inquiries from prospective clients whose digital services needs are not necessarily aligned with our new e-commerce focus.
—Becky McKinnell, founder and president, iBec Creative
While we certainly have the capabilities to serve them, we are careful not to be everything to everyone. We carefully review each inquiry we receive and offer referrals to agencies or freelancers better suited to meet their needs. As a result, the percentage of our work in e-commerce has continued to grow month-over-month.
3. Why did you decide to pivot to e-commerce clients?
Through a lengthy strategic planning process, we concluded that our expertise is best utilized in serving e-commerce businesses, which typically have very specific goals in terms of website traffic growth, conversion rates, and other metrics. We aren't just digital experts—we are strategic partners, project managers, and trusted advisors. At the same time, e-commerce businesses have complex data and systems integration needs, and our designers and developers are the best in the business when it comes to the technology, branding, and user experience.
E-commerce businesses also understand that websites are not meant to be static, and that having a partner like iBec that understands their data and can make tweaks based on that data will boost their the bottom line. We designed our core service, iBec Membership, to help clients move fast, be flexible and evolve. Clients pay a flat monthly fee that gives them access to a dedicated team at iBec, and together we prioritize what we can do each day, week or month to deliver the most value for the smartest investment.
4. What would you want other business owners to know about starting a business?
Specialization, and not being everything to everyone, isn't easy, but it's the only path to achieving scalable, repeatable work. It is hard to innovate when your staff is stretched thin among a variety of software systems serving clients in different industries.
The more your business can specialize, the more ingenious your problem-solving becomes, and the more patterns you identify that are common among large numbers of businesses within your niche.
Research and development (R&D) needs to be treated like an investment no different than new computers or office space. Just as taking on work that is irrelevant to your specialty carries an opportunity cost, so too does choosing not to invest in R&D to avoid obsolescence and maintain the highest possible quality.
5. What has been your most memorable moment as a business owner?
Two years into the business, when we were still a small team, one of my employees announced they had bought their first house. I realized that the business that I created is helping people I care about achieve their personal goals. It is so important to recognize that, in the day-to-day craziness of owning and growing a company, your business has the power to be an engine for happiness and progress.