For many years I was an IT manager at Midland Bank (now HSBC). I was involved in communications technology there and in a private capacity, being a home user of the now long defunct Prestel. When the internet became available outside the original academic and military userbase I was an early adopter, it filled a similar role to Prestel but far more versatile.
The Bank initially took the view that internet was a fad only interesting to nerds and geeks. That changed when a student pressure group set up a web site critical of the Bank LAMB (Lloyds And Midland Bank). Unfortunately it was marketing department that got the brief to respond. Rather than discuss with IT they chose to use an external agency. They were charged a reported £10,000 for a small and unimpressive web site. My response was that I could have done the job in an afternoon but without the errors. Challenged to do so, I did.
When I told Wendy, my wife, always rather more entrepreneurial than me, she said “If you can get £10,000 for a half-day’s work we need to be doing that” and promptly set up a business. Of course there were few organisations ready and able to spend that kind of sum but still in the early 1990s even £100 for a half-day would be a decent rate of pay.
Back then you needed a PC, at a typical cost of around £1000, a modem (£200) and a software bundle (£100). The modem plugged into a phone socket, but many phones were hard-wired so you’d been BT to change to a socket. Connection speeds were maybe 10Kbits/sec (my current home broadband connection is 20,000 times faster).
It was very difficult to make a sales-pitch when few businesses had heard of the internet, far fewer had access or even a PC. We decided that the best approach was to work on the basis of making small affordable web sites with a view to growing with those customers as awareness of the advantages and opportunities evolved. We could demonstrate web sites in a potential customer’s offices on a laptop without the need for an internet connection. We addressed the full scope of requirements including helping to set up PCs and Modems, tutorials, securing domain names and providing hosting and email.
We quickly found that my wife, with my technical assistance when not at my day job, and working from a spare bedroom was not enough. In 1996 we registered Web Technik Ltd having recruited Pauline then Sue to help. We’d moved into commercial office space and added a dedicated telesales worker. As I was only involved occasionally for the more complex technical issues it was effectively an all-woman business.
There have always been problems with web site designers. The “cost of entry” to becoming a web designer is virtually nothing, there are no meaningful qualifications, there’s free software and inexpensive hosting, you can run a business from a spare room. As a consequence there are now tens of thousands of people and small businesses offering web design services. An awful lot of those have a very limited skill set and an awful lot soon discover it’s too difficult and not very lucrative so they move on to find different sources of income. Those who stay are seldom interested in the small-budget ongoing maintenance and support tasks just wanting the more lucrative new builds and redesigns. The result is many businesses at least disappointed with their designers at worst left completely in the lurch. I doubt there’s anyone else around who’s been creating and maintaining commercial web sites since the early 1990s. Several times in the past I’ve helped people who have found their website disappeared overnight or the designer cannot be contacted and he had both domain name and hosting in his own name.