What do you call knowledge workers that move around from place to place? For William McKee the answer is Knowmad, a name he coined in the early ’90s while working at a Colorado community networking project as a programmer and consultant. It would be 10 years later, in 2002, before he incorporated the company under the name Knowmad Services, Inc., doing business as Knowmad Technologies.
McKee has since joined forces with Diona Kidd, and together, as managing partners, they have built a successful and comprehensive Web agency. During that time the reach of the company has changed, from physical geography-based to predominantly cyberspace, and the name continues to serve them especially well.
McKee describes the mission of Knowmad Technologies as helping their clients advance their businesses online. This involves enhancing online brand visibility, creating Web-based sales and lead generation engines, and optimizing online revenue. Specific primary services include Internet strategy consulting, Web design and usability, content strategy, design and development, audience research and analysis, Web analytics, conversion optimization, Internet marketing, search engine rankings, and open source programming.
Enhancing Online Brand Visibility
“Ultimately, we’re sherpas to doing business online,” says Kidd. “Tell us where you need to go and we’ll help you get there.”
The agency examines business models and guides clients on how to use the Web most effectively based on growth strategies, sales and marketing goals, long-term sustainability and cost management.
Knowmad Technologies is not a typical Web agency. The company doesn’t just build websites. Rather, it takes a close look at the brand and goals of a company and works to translate that in an online setting that is compelling for viewers.
“Inherent is a lot of business consulting,” says McKee. Often, clients will self-diagnose and report that they need a new website or social media tools, according to McKee. “A client may say that they need to be #1 in Google rankings. We don’t take that assumption. We dig deeper to find out why they think they need that,” says McKee, explaining that among the multitude of things they can do, they need to determine what will have the greatest impact for the company.
“We help our clients become better perceived in their markets,” says Kidd. “Not only in the visual appeal of the website but also with content, form and function or usability of their website.” The ultimate goal is to increase traffic and then convince that traffic to become engaged with the client in a way that makes sense for the overall business.
Web-based Sales and Lead Generation
One of the areas the company looks at is cost. “If a client is selling something online for $200 and spending $150 for the sales lead, that doesn’t make a lot of business sense,” says McKee. “We help in that regard.”
They also look at how easy—or not—it is to buy online. “Some websites leave you pleading, ‘Just let me give you my money,’” jokes McKee. Kidd likens it to being in a restaurant, ready to pay the bill with no waiter in sight. “We address those issues online; make sure the viewing customer has a clear map to the call to action,” says Kidd.
“We set out to improve whatever is not working. Plus, we build some type of content management system so the client doesn’t have to come to us to make minor changes and updates of information,” says McKee. He explains that just a few years ago websites would be built and then remain stagnant until another was built. “Now, we design websites to last for three to five years with direct management,” says McKee.
Knowmad Technologies serves clients in many different business sectors and industries including manufacturing, technology and data service, higher education and professional services. Clients are mostly established businesses who hire the agency on a retainer basis.
“We’re in it for the long term,” says McKee. “We work with our clients as partners in their business.” While the agency has clients located across the country in California and Chicago as well as in Canada and Mexico, it mainly focuses on the Charlotte region, according to Kidd. New clients come through the Internet exposure, from conferences, technologies that the agency supports, and leadership in online communities.
At present, two local clients are enjoying the broad scope of Knowmad Technologies’ offerings. The agency has redesigned the website of Johnson C. Smith University.
“There are not a lot of companies that can pull off a university website redesign project,” says McKee. “There’s a lot of politics, lots of decisions, content, special interest and functionality that tie into their existing software running behind the scenes.”
While the university’s primary goal was to attract more students, the new website needed to reach and meet the needs of existing students, alumni, donors, faculty and staff, and community partners. “Thus far, the feedback has been excellent,” says McKee.
Knowmad Technologies has also worked with Suite 1000 to redesign their website to be the company’s primary lead generation tool. “For this client we developed Web interaction to provide what’s called a convincing value proposition,” says Kidd. “Now this business can spend its time working with interested parties versus trying to find interested parties.”
Occasionally, McKee says, the partners do themselves a disservice by making it all look so easy to their clients. “We’re like a swan, beautifully smooth and graceful above the surface of the water but paddling away as hard as it can under the water,” he describes. “Fortunately our clients appreciate the work involved when seeing the end results.”
Optimizing Online Revenue
McKee and Kidd met each other in 2005 in a Charlotte coffee shop. He was structuring Knowmad Technologies and growing his consultancy; she was operating a business called ModernFlow Technologies that she started in 2004.
“We ended up hiring one another for each of our clients,” remembers Kidd. Finding that they each had a vision of building something bigger than themselves and that they had similar values, they merged their businesses in 2006 with Kidd bringing her clients over to Knowmad Technologies.
Both partners are computer programmers and identify themselves as Web strategists and Internet business consultants. Kidd also has a background in digital product sales and e-commerce management.
“It’s just a good match,” says McKee.
The values they incorporate into Knowmad Technologies include authenticity, continued learning, community, quality and creativity. These are practiced by building honest relationships based on trust; engaging in an ongoing search for knowledge that will benefit clients; helping grow the local economy and provide thought leadership; producing high quality work; and bringing a fresh set of eyes and ears to look at problems and figure solutions.
Kidd offers an example in creativity: “Most people look at websites as cost centers. We develop them such that they are powerful revenue generators.”
McKee’s love of all things computer goes back to the 1970s. “When I was in college I got introduced to the Internet and I knew that this was going to change the world. I wanted to be a part of that evolution,” he says. “What I saw was the connections it made possible; I just understood that this was going to change things. I took a deep dive into the technology side to understand how the connections, server and programming work.”
McKee was born in Charlotte and lived most of his childhood years here. It was after completion of college at UNC Chapel Hill that he left for Colorado to explore his craft. He returned to Charlotte in 1998 to work as a contractor for Duke Energy. Over time, he took on additional clients and worked as a consultant and programmer under the Knowmad name.
Kidd describes herself as self-taught through work with numerous Internet-based companies, many of them start-ups—first in pharmaceutical R&D, then in dot-coms. Originally from Greensboro, she moved to Charlotte because she saw Internet commerce growing at a rapid pace here.
“My interest was in building businesses online and learning how this will impact our culture,” she explains.
Knowmad Technologies staff has grown to five members who work in a highly collaborative and creative environment. “In technology things move fast,” says McKee. “But we don’t want a factory-focused work style. It’s important to foster the creativity of the design and problem solving sides.”
Workers in Web development come from three basic backgrounds: IT, graphic design or marketing and public relations, according to McKee. The problem is that the knowledge and skills needed are so diverse, so specialized and change so rapidly, that it is difficult to create a working curriculum.
“Schools are starting to graduate students that have attended specifically for a Web curriculum but none of the established agencies have come from that environment,” says McKee. “Self-taught or life-skills are very valuable in this field.”
McKee and Kidd admit that they were taken off guard by the force of the recession which started in 2008. “We didn’t entirely see what was coming,” says Kidd. “We had to move quickly in 2009, adjusting staffing and expenses and re-planning our revenue.”
In early 2010, the partners made plans to add revenue streams in Internet marketing and consulting. As a result, in 2011, they’ve seen revenues double. Now, they are back on track and, while the industry is fairly volatile, they are experiencing steady growth.
“As a matter of fact, this is the best year we’ve ever had,” says McKee. “Three years ago, we couldn’t possibly have envisioned where we are now and the clients we’ve garnered. We credit it to persistence and what we think the Web can be for businesses.”
The partners also salute the business-friendly city of Charlotte. “It’s a great place to have a business,” says Kidd. “Charlotte is about relationships. We’re relationship-based. Business is built on trust,” adds McKee. “If we need to go anywhere, we can go via Internet or there’s a great airport here.”
McKee and Kidd both agree: “The Web is where everybody is. We saw what was happening and also what was not happening. We set out to address what was not happening. That requires speaking a lot of different languages—that of IT, marketing, executives, and sales people. We work between all those different groups.”
Knowmad advises its clients that when it comes to websites, you can’t just build it and they will come. But if you build it with solid business growth strategy, and state-of-the-art interface and functionality, and then market it well, it can take a business far, indeed.