Today we’d like to introduce you to Debra Ferguson.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Debra. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I’d have to say one of my greatest strengths from the beginning has been my work ethic. I got my first job at 14 and worked all through high school. I was always more of a “hands on” learner and didn’t feel like college was the right path for me so after graduation, I sought full time employment. I landed a job in the Marketing Department for a loudspeaker manufacturer (Eastern Acoustic Works) in Whitinsville, MA. I started as the literature coordinator, providing all reps and dealers with whatever marketing or sales materials they needed. Over the next 6 years, the company grew exponentially. I had an insatiable desire to learn and grow and luckily for me, the company had many roles that needed to be filled as they grew. I absolutely LOVED the company, the atmosphere and was committed with all my heart and soul to my positions there. I was promoted to the Marketing Assistant and eventually the Project Manager for the department. I gained a lot of experience with graphics, layout programs, project management and trade shows in these positions.
Eventually the owner decided to sell the company and started an internet ‘start up’ which would be a website geared towards the audio industry (ProSoundNews.com). He took a handful of people from EAW with him and I was fortunate enough to be one of them. This was around 2001 or so. I had zero web experience at the time but I still had that work ethic and insatiable desire to learn. We literally started from nothing; an empty office that needed to be furnished and went on to create a website that would end up receiving over 3.5 million page views per month! Let’s just say I went from zero web experience to highly skilled in a short time span.
We eventually merged resources with an industry publication (Live Sound International). In addition to maintaining the PSW site and creating content, I was tasked with assisting the Art Director for the magazine with graphics and other tasks related to the publication. Eventually, I took over that position full time. The role of Art Director was by far the most creative for me. It also required an impeccable eye for detail. I believe it’s this skill that has contributed to most of my success today.
At this time in my life, I was faced with some personal challenges that led me to truly evaluate my life. I call it my mid-life-mid-life crisis. Midlife crisis typically happens at 50. I was 25 at the time. I decided to get rid of everything I owned and move to Arizona.
Moving cross country was a bit intimidating. I attempted to get into the mortgage industry, which was booming at the time. I worked for a mortgage broker processing loans. Going from a highly creative position to working in the real estate industry was a “shock” I had not anticipated and it left me wildly unhappy. I was out in a bar drinking away my sorrows one night and someone mentioned that I should apply at Go Daddy. At the time, they were also growing at an insane rate and were hiring like crazy. So, I did just that.
I had never worked this type of position before, customer service/sales but it turns out, I was naturally good at it. After a few weeks of training, I became a super nerd as it pertained to email, hosting, and all of the things that can go wrong in the world of online technology. The massive amount of knowledge I gained during my 3.5 years here was more than enough to satiate my desire to learn and then some! I eventually applied for their Executive Accounts department and was hired into this highly coveted position in the company. Executive Account Managers worked with the top clients within the company as their personal representatives. It was the top position in the company outside of upper management positions and often required long days. In addition to dealing with technical support, I learned a lot about the art of sales and customer service in this time.
Over the years at Go Daddy, I spoke with hundreds of business owners. Many of them had been abandoned by their web designers or had an awful experience in which they did not feel they received a return on their investment with their websites. There were extreme cases where people had paid a web developer thousands of dollars for a site and the designer never delivered. Or even worse, the designer would build the client’s site in their personal account and then disappear, leaving the client without access to their own intellectual property and having to start over. It was against Go Daddy’s policy to pitch personal services if you owned a business on the side. I had not started a business at that time but would often offer to help the most extreme cases, free of charge, to at least get them a site that was functioning. It was excellent experience for me.
At some point, Corporate America was no longer satisfying to me. I had learned a lot, gained a ton of experience and was committed to my career at the time but the reality of this position for me was that from the company’s perspective, I was just a statistic on a spreadsheet. Although the blood, sweat and tears I put in paid out well, money truly could not buy my happiness.
After 13 years without a vacation, I decided to quit my 6 figure a year job on my birthday as a gift to myself and take some time off. I took about a year off. I was pretty active in environmental and animal rights at the time, so I created a web site that was dedicated to raising awareness about those topics.
Eventually I worked for a small, high-end pool and landscape firm as their marketing manager. I actually ended up taking on the role of HR, Sales Manager and IT for this company as well! There really didn’t seem to be too much I was not capable of handling. The atmosphere in the office was incredibly dreadful and the turnover at the company was unlike anything I had experienced before. The owner of the company was a brilliant man but lacked leadership and people skills. I became THAT person that just hated going to work every day. I knew there had to be something better for me. I received a referral from a friend for a construction company in NJ that was in need of a website. This was my first “real” project. I did a redesign and applied SEO to the site with incredible results. That business ended up referring me to another. Another friend referred me to a local company in Phoenix and I landed that contract as well. The rest is history. It’s been 4.5 years and I am still a referral only business to this day.
Has it been a smooth road?
I would say if I’m looking at the big picture of all the things that can go wrong, the road has been relatively smooth. I think my biggest struggle and a continued challenge is knowing what the best decisions are for the business and trying to avoid learning lessons the hard way.
We’d love to hear more about your business.
Dog Star Web Solutions offers a variety of services. Our primary business focuses on web design and branding. We offer everything from standard web design to more complex and multi-faceted projects. We also offer SEO, Infusionsoft (CRM) Integration, Hosting Services, Security, Print Marketing and Consulting. None of our projects are “cookie cutter”. Every project we work on is a custom project.
Our specialty is helping small to medium sized businesses rebrand and use their websites to help achieve specific goals and streamline their business processes. Of course, this applies to new businesses as well.
What sets us apart: Web design is a pretty competitive industry with the majority of companies being “mediocre”. It has been my experience throughout the years that most web design companies are just that – design companies. A website is so much more than its appearance. Having a site that is “FUNCTIONAL” for your business is our priority. We take the time to understand how a business operates on the back end and will integrate whatever functionality necessary to help streamline our clients’ processes. If they don’t have processes in place, we will help them to establish them. Efficiency is one of the most important aspects for all businesses so we help the client identify and improve upon any areas of their business that need it as it pertains to their customer experience. A good example of this would be automating marketing or creating digital forms and contracts.
I believe my background and experience leaves me with a tremendous advantage over my competitors. Every project we handle gets treated with the same amount of passion and detail as if we were developing our own.
Is our city a good place to do what you do?
I think Phoenix is an amazing city for all kinds of businesses. Phoenix is continuously expanding with new businesses going up every day. There is tremendous opportunity.