Web site creators, makers and builders could learn a thing or too from my dad. He never made a website, but he made lots of other stuff. He made buildings, businesses, relationships and made lots and lots of people laugh.
Sadly I can’t give my dad a father’s day card today. Neither a hug, nor a kiss. But like many others who have lost their father; I can still celebrate, appreciate and learn from my dad’s life. I thought I would take the opportunity to share some of my thoughts about my dad here. I think he would like that. It also will give you an idea of my roots and give you a sense of some of the values we hold as a family business. I think his life story and work as a plumber, builder, chauffeur and entrepreneur contains some important lessons that help guide me and might be of benefit to others not only in the web development business but in all aspects of life.
The Master Builder
Work hard. Work smart
Most of all I will always remember dad as a working man. A hard working man. I worked for him from an early age. £2 a day. Even then it wasn’t a great deal. But what I learnt from him and my grandad, more than made up for anything lacking in my pay packet. Later he would go on to build extensions, new houses, restaurants and even Mosques. Often he would take too much work on though. He didn’t like to say no to people. If someone asked him if he could do something. He wouldn’t hesitate, look them in the eye and say yes. But he would always get the job done and do it right. My dad would often have left for work before I got up and return home after I had gone to sleep again. For years he did this seven days a week.
Not sure if he got the work/life balance right. But we’d appreciate us all being together for a month in the summer holidays. Some of the happiest days of my life.
Measure Twice, Cut Once
A phrase I know that came from at least as far back as my dad’s dad. He used to repeat it all the time. This rubbed off on my dad, and onto me. If you ever need to cut wood, or measure something before cutting. Do it again. Double check that measurement, before you cut. Which might stop you having to cut again or even worse buy more material. So how does this apply to web design & development? Well, it means think about the size of layouts, break points, image sizes, page weight etc before you start creating.
How many times have you exported a bunch of images to a certain size, to find that actually they are slightly too small, or too big? I have lost count.
Plan to succeed
Dad was more of a lover than a fighter. Yet he instinctively knew about the 7 Ps. I remember carrying sheets and sheets of plasterboard up flights of stairs. Stacking them in the centre of the room so, we could still work on the walls. Being pretty pleased with my self. My dad would walk in and tell me to re-stack them. The problem? They were not perfectly aligned. I thought he was just being picky, but he was right of course. Plasterboard, or any other sheet material keeps much better when stacked properly. The sheets will last better, be less prone to damage and are less likely to cause an accident. He would also make sure I had swept the room first. Today I can tell just how good a builder is by the tidiness of their building site. Also by working out exactly how many sheets of plasterboard we need. Means not having to take the sheets backdown the stairs again and then dispose or store them. It also means we don’t eat into our profit or client’s budget.
Your websites will not build themselves. You need proper planning and preparation to make something perform well.
Build on strong foundations
Never cut corners with your foundations. I remember my heart sinking after working hard digging out foundations by hand. Thinking this has got to be deep enough but then my dad would come along to inspect what I had done;
“Have you reached the gravel yet?”
Me: “Erm, no Dad.”
Dad: “Keep going mate.”
Dad was right though. If you don’t dig down to that solid base. You have just been wasting your time. Everything you do afterwards. No matter how beautifully crafted will be flawed. So how do we apply this to the art and craft of web design? Always build on good semantic code. Make sure it validates. If it doesn’t be happy that this isn’t effecting search engines, spiders or bots reading your code.
Build on solid foundations and you can reach for the sky.
Invest in a beautiful tool kit
Dad always had a great tool kit. He would spend sometimes a great deal more on lets say a new power saw than he could have done. But this expensive power saw is lighter, faster, tougher, more reliable, durable and more pleasurable to use. Similarly, you can buy a really cheap hammer. But if you look after your tools they can last a lifetime. Maybe less so in the web creation industry, but getting the right tools of the trade is essential to what ever you are doing. Doesn’t always mean buying the most expensive, but sometimes it does pay to buy the best.
Of course this means spending time in learning how to use them properly too. So read, buy books, attend workshops. Never stop learning.
Adapt and be flexible
Your web designs are not the only thing that need to be flexible, fluid and responsive. You do too. My father, and his father had lots of changes of direction in their lives.
My grandad worked in the automotive industry, was a carpenter, worked as a mechanic during WWII and once even ran a business taking pictures of tourists with monkeys and donkeys.
Dad had completed an apprenticeship as a Heating and Ventilation Engineer, or a plumber to you and I. Many a Saturday I spent sorting his 1/2 & 3/4 inch copper elbows from their matching sockets; fetching pipe, flux or solder.
My dad has been a plumber, builder, taxi driver, chauffeur and director. Life is like that. You might find that you need to move in a new direction in the future. You might invest everything into design but later move into content strategy and then later who knows?
By all means get good at that “one thing”. But always keep an eye on what is happening in related disciplines.
Sometimes you just have to stand up and be a man (or a woman). Know the client’s proposals are wrong? Tell them! If you don’t, you’re not doing your job. It takes courage sometimes but you can not afford to be chicken. Your client can’t afford that either. She doesn’t pay you for that. She might not like it if you tell her she is wrong. But she will respect you for it.
I watched my dad shout and bawl at more than 30 builders, plasterers and other tradesmen on one of his building sites. Not one of them, no matter how tough talking they were when he was not there would look him in the eye. They just shuffled their feet awkwardly like berated teenagers. while he swore at them for sloppy work, or just the shoddy state they had left the site in. My dad didn’t enjoy it but it had to be done. Another time he stood up to an Albanian giant who threatened to hit him with a shovel. He didn’t back down. He didn’t need to fight him either. He just stood there and looked him straight in the eye. Bravery doesn’t mean you have to fight. However none of this comes anywhere near to the bravery he showed when he was fighting cancer. I got very close to him in this very challenging period of his life. Despite all the pain, suffering he endured he still managed to make the family and nurses laugh.
Sometimes you need to have a brave heart.
Dad was always a people person. Wherever he went, he knew somebody. It didn’t matter where. Tesco, Harrods, Acton or Mayfair. I thought everyone knew my dad. I was so proud to be his son. I think it was his love of people that made people love him so much. He was always happy to help people out. Even people he didn’t know too well. He always gave them a chance. He didn’t suffer fools gladly though. He normally could sort the good from the bad. He could mix with businessmen, dustmen or superstars.
Love people and people will love you.
Be Flash, Harry
Dad had a bit of a Flash Harry, Arthur Daily or Delboy vibe to him too. Not as fast talking, his rhythm was more honest and genuine. He certainly knew some colourful characters. No gangster for sure, but he might have known a few. He loved the Ealing Comedies. This was right up his street. I am sure many of the characters he could relate too from his experience of life in London. He loved to show off his new Bentley, or show how well he had built something. But this is essential. No matter what industry you are in. You have got to sell. You are always a salesman. Give it a bit of Flash Harry. Sell that sh*t!
People want to be entertained, and enjoy a good salesmen. Be honest, truthful and always fair. They will always be happy to come back for more.
You gotta have soul
Dad and mum turned me on to music. What a gift that is to give to someone! Music has always been there for me in good and bad. I still have some of his vinyl. Led Zeppelin’s finest hour; Physical Graffiti, Jimi’s best production; All along the watchtower; Rod Stewart’s; Maggie May and many others. I remember him grooving round our living room to Prince Buster, Detroit Spinners, Van McCoy, Earth Wind and Fire, The Jimmy Castor Bunch and the wonderful Stylistics. Yes, my dad was a soul man too. He oozed it. My brother, sister and I giddy with excitement clapping our hands in time with his lead. The beat booming through his state-of-the-art stereo. The volume was always eclipsed by his smile.
People love soul. My dad was a soul man. I suggest you be one too.
Things happen in business. Partnerships may fail and so do economies. He stopped working as a builder and became a driver. The rented mini cab soon became a Mercedes-Benz S Class, soon he would own his own chauffeur business. If cancer had not have cut his life at 63 years of age, he would be flying all over the world now. Staying in his clients’ ranches, holiday homes and mansions. His customers loved him. He would always go above and beyond what they might expect of their chauffeur. He would check their builders were doing their jobs right, advise them on property acquisitions, get them into clubs but above all he was fun to be around. Not a comedian, just warm, friendly and always happy to help.
Why have fun? Because, life is too short. Ask Warwick Davies and my dad. Dad was 63 when he died…
A positive atittude
It is this positive attitude that people resonate with. It is this energy that his clients’ could feel. “Come on over Andy, I insist!”. Dad loved that too. Who wouldn’t? He loved the Bentleys and Rolls-Royces, restaurants and shops. The high life. Yet he always loved nothing more than coming home to his house in the country and spending time with my mum and family. He didn’t buy a sports car, he bought a tractor. I don’t exactly know the roots of his passion for farm machinery. I guess it must have come from when he used to live in a caravan on a farm.
Be positive and people will respond accordingly.
I am in many ways very different from my dad. I am much more reserved. I enjoy a drink now and again. Dad was teetotal. Dad would make strangers feel like they have known him all their life. He liked to show off but I’m a little more quiet. Yet when it comes to work and the websites we build for people. We, like my dad, always want to exceed expectations. To make something great, not merely adequate. I work hard too. I don’t do the seven day a week, and late working nights which dad did for many, many years. But when I’m working, I am working hard. Spending time on getting the foundations right. Building something that I can be proud of. Building websites our customers will really benefit from. Doing it right. I learnt that from my dad and my grandad for £2 a day.
I also learnt that if you get it right your customers will love you for it.
Dad was always a Very Important Person in my life. He was a VIP for many others too. The family spent a lot of time thinking about his gravestone. No, we didn’t want shiny granite. We felt that it had to be stone. This reflected more about what he did in life as a builder. It is a proud stone with a classic shape, with simple, large letters. My dad couldn’t stand small type on business cards. You can read his inscription on his gravestone from far away. We used the classic Times font. Like his beloved vintage Ferguson tractor or Rolls-Royce. Timeless. At the bottom of the stone you will read VIP. We thought he would like this simple but bold statement. And he of course was and remains a very important person in our lives. He always made people feel very important too.
Remember relationships are a two way street. Treat your self and your clients as VIPs.
Whenever the sun shines, I think of dad. I love to sit in the garden and feel his warmth and effervescent glow. My ambition now is to build his spirit into every project I work on. It might not be obvious. It might only come from the smiles of my clients when they see their website doing more than they ever thought it could.
Happy father’s day, Dad. xxx