We only write from our experience. We put our skin in the game, learn things after a lot of trial-and-error, and share the lessons we find relevant. It’s our way of packing useful stories in a world overloaded with low quality and superficial information. We do it because we find it to be our responsibility, not because we play some PR games.
Pixelgrade’s mission it’s not written on the office walls. It’s not a message that floats on the screensaver of our laptops. Instead, it’s something we’ve been learning to live, manifest, and express. It is placed in our website’s footer because we think it makes sense to be there, next to other useful resources.
Our mission is to support people have an impact in their communities.
Maybe you wonder why you should care about it? It’s a legit question, but I hope you have time for the answer as well.
Our mission is broad enough to govern our evolution, and it’s narrow enough to keep us laser-focused.
We pursue this mission in various ways, but I’ll name a few to paint a picture. On the one hand, we rely on it every time we build a digital product and make decisions to enhance our customers’ experience. On the other hand, whenever we evaluate a new project or initiative, we make sure it aligns with our mission.
During the last (tumultuous) couple of months, we kicked-off a new initiative that puts our mission at the core once again. It’s an endeavor aimed at our local community in Iași, Romania, that brought us plenty of satisfaction and Aha! moments.
This article covers everything that happened: from making a public call to small local businesses to the day we successfully launched the first two websites.
I chose to name each section of this story after a song that I obsessively listened to while working at the project. Maybe you can relate to them too. If not, it’s okay, focus on the essence, there’s plenty.
Things don’t always turn out how you imagine. Sometimes, the outcome exceeds expectations. Are you eager to discover how we decided to lend a hand when the pandemic hit everyone, and how things materialized? Let’s dive in.
Talking to our higher self
After a few weeks of facing a tsunami of bad news, it became clear that things are getting worse with COVID-19. People around us tried to help however they could. We, too, felt the pressure. We wanted to find a meaningful way to make an impact. As you know, contribution comes in many flavors.
We thought that helping local businesses (especially from the hospitality industry) build performant websites is the best approach. It’s in alignment with our mission and values, among which caring played a central role.
The need to contribute was strong right from the start and only increased when some of our favorite venues closed their doors.
After an internal chat within the team, we agreed about how we can jump in.
Everything started from a public message shared on my profile on Facebook where we announced our plan: we’re going to help three local businesses build their website.
I chose to use my personal profile because I know the local community quite well. I’ve been a community builder for the creative industries since 2011, so I was the best spokesman for the job.
Similar to the way we build products, our deal had a few constraints:
- Businesses that are selected have a two-months period to put the website up.
- We would only use Rosa2 due to its flexibility and ease-of-use.
- We would provide the hosting solution to make sure things fly in terms of performance.
- Our main task would be to act more as assistants than implementors.
- Everyone who wanted to take the chance has to write an email to let us know their story and what made them suitable.
My inbox was starting to light up with all kinds of messages from people I knew, but also perfect strangers. One thing was crystal clear: the need we wanted to cover was real and painful.
That’s the human way
We received 9 emails from all kinds of local businesses: from coaches to people running afterschools, from bistros to NGOs. People behind the scenes were grateful for our help, but what gave them hope was that they felt they were part of something bigger.
An invisible thread of compassion and reciprocity was gluing the community and brought people together.
While we did not have an exhaustive plan about how we will work, Andrei, my marketing comrade, and I knew about how we will kick-off. The rest followed, and we adjusted as needed.
After the first Skype call, I created a brief with a few questions regarding their current digital presence. Here are some of the things we were interested in finding out more about:
- What makes your current website good?
- What makes it deficient in terms of experience or functionality?
- What needs it doesn’t cover at the moment?
- What do you plan to accomplish with your future website?
- What kind of actions do you wish people would take on the website?
For Andrei and me, these questions felt natural. We both worked in digital agencies, so the experience turned out to be useful. Plus, we both have a marketing background, so asking these types of questions comes naturally at the beginning of any project.
But for most people that reached out, our approach was new and surprising. They did not think about it that way. They did not imagine they need to have a specific goal when building a website. They were aware of the advantages of a website, but they lacked a more profound understanding of how this digital place can cater to their needs.
As they filled the brief, I had another round of discussions to make sure we are on the same page and that their needs align with what we want to achieve through this initiative.
Those who did not convince us just got full access to one of our premium WordPress themes. It was our way of giving back and encouraging them to build a website on their own.
Once we selected the three local businesses, we made a move that turned out to be far more valuable than we imagined. We created dedicated resources to explain all the phases we are going to go through together, from the initial setup to launch.
Moreover, we kept track of their progress and helped them when they needed our assistance. We created dedicated tutorial videos, we wrote in-depth articles in the documentation, we followed-up via email and let them know if something is not working right.
The fact that we have complementary skills within our team helped a lot because we were able to go the extra mile in design, development, copywriting, and marketing.
We just can’t get enough
With all the experience working in digital agencies and the first years of Pixelgrade when we focused on doing custom development work, there was still a lot to discover and relearn.
We got in the trap of imagining things from the comfort of our office. We started to assume why some people are not making progress instead of asking them directly. We were a bit disappointed when there were big delay between emails or flawed communication.
This project helped us shake off some assumptions and dive in a real environment with customers that shared direct feedback. On top of that, we reminded ourselves that assumptions serve no one. Nothing beats the power of straightforward conversations and asking the source directly.
I summed up the most relevant beliefs we either needed to accept or deconstruct. Even though this project is small, we already found patterns that give us plenty of food for thought.
Not having a clear goal regarding the website slows everything down.
Without being specific about the goal of your digital crib (to promote the business, to increase sales, to sell tickets to concerts, to build a community, etc.), it is tricky not to get beat up during the process. It’s even harder to achieve meaningful results in due time.
Diving into areas that aren’t covered by your core skills can be overwhelming.
We, as humans, can be good at just a couple of things. For example, a restaurant owner knows best how to manage his business and has few content writing or photography skills needed when building a website (even though some surprised us). Sometimes, without external help or guidance, getting through these parts can be a real challenge.
Writing about your or your business’ story is hard.
During this project, we found that it was more comfortable to talk about what they do or offer, but not why they do it, who they are, and what they stand for. Their experience was limited to writing 100 words on social media, and that doesn’t provide enough exercise to tell a compelling story.
Pictures can either make or break your website’s experience.
Not having beautiful photos to showcase your business can be a real blocker in moving forward. In the end, you shouldn’t use Unsplash. On the contrary, you should offer your visitors an accurate image of what your business is all about.
Focusing on a few goals is crucial to getting things off the ground.
People wanted their website to be one-size-fits-all. To mix and match a presentation page with a shop to sell products, throw in a blog and a newsletter box, and present their full food and drinks menu. Reality showed that they barely have time to maintain an active social media presence, so focusing on less stuff is a better idea.
Dance just one more time
Throughout helping these three local businesses, we gathered our fair share of lessons that I genuinely believe made us better, both personally and professionally.
On the one hand, we managed to get closer to our city’s community and learn more about their struggles and needs. On the other one, we learned that being straightforward is the best option, even when things are not moving along as agreed upon initially.
Thankfully, our mission statement came to the resque and provided us with answers about how to move forward when things get off the tracks. Our products are for those who are ready to make it happen. They don’t need to be convinced nor incentivized. They are self-driven.
The truth is that creating a website is way more complicated than posting something on Facebook or Instagram. It implies a different level of involvement and planning. It pushes you to be clear and honest about your goals. Otherwise, things will start falling like dominos.
Like everyone who is zoomed-in into his job, we, too, made wrong assumptions. We started with the conviction that people understand our products quickly, that they will find the time, the knowledge, the motivation, and the money to build a website. After all, that’s why they signed up in the first place, right?
The reality is often on the opposite side of the spectrum. Everything is contextual.
Here are our takeaways after almost four months of working on this initiative:
Talking with people face-to-face is far powerful than in writing.
We got more from live conversations because we had access to the entire communication act (gestures, voice, etc.). Neither of us could hide, so the dialogue was full of meaningful ideas.
Assisting people in building a website reveals how they understand the product. Along the way, we learned how people are doing things, how their flow is different from what we imagined, and how they understand specific features. There’s a difference between what we think and how things actually happen.
Pushing Rosa2 beyond its initial purpose revealed areas ripe for improvement. We discovered how we could fit certain use cases or make the editing experience more natural and straightforward. From expanding the documentation to adding new features, we learned how to make the experience better.
Flexibility is crucial, especially when it’s the first time you run such a project. Andrei and I have been quite agile and flexible, switching tasks along the way. Our responsibility went beyond just assisting. We got our hands dirty by putting our knowledge on the line and doing things ourselves because we cared about both the relationship and the final result.
Without follow-up, we would have got plenty of frustrations.
The same applies if we didn’t accept that these people have a lot on their plates. Delays are reasonable, and we need to be kind and sympathetic because they, too, were facing a pandemic.
High hopes for a living
We are grateful we landed here today, with two local businesses that got the digital crib they always wanted. This experience made us stronger and created powerful bonds with the community.
From now on, we no longer talk about Bistro “La Noi” in a detached manner because we know Carmen, the host behind the venue.
The same applies to Acaju. They’re not only a lovely place where intimate live concerts used to happen. Andreea, the owner, got our respect and admiration for running a business for 12 years in a row.
It might seem like these things are small or naive, but they are not. Beautiful connections take shape when people can work together and create something bigger than themselves. This is an excellent way of making a community better and more reliable.
Today, two local businesses have top-notch websites made with Rosa2, ready to expand their revenue and strengthen communication with their tribes.
As for the third company that joined our initiative — not part of the hospitality industry, things are a bit more complicated regarding their business model. The pandemic greatly affected them, but Smaranda, the owner of DigitalEDU, made it in the end. Yaaay!
As for our team, the project led to more collaboration between us, more meaningful dialogue, and a better understanding of how we will twist and turn Rosa2 in the future. This experience made us better professionals.
Maybe even more importantly, it revealed that our mission is something we live by every day and keeps our wheels spinning. It means a lot, especially in a world full of uncertainty and complexity that we continuously need to digest and make the most out of it. We can proudly say, once again, that we’re supporting people who want to make an impact in their communities.