Wilton grads turn web hobby into a business
WILTON — When George Copley and James Ward ventured into the world of building websites in 2017, they never thought a hobby would become their full-time occupation.
Three years later, the two Wilton High School alumni (2012) have launched a virtual company called StyleSite and helped dozens of business owners improve their websites to generate new business.
Copley, 25, and Ward, 26, offer services including build-from-scratch, redesign, mobile optimization, search engine optimization, site speed and audits.
In simpler terms: They help clients ensure their websites look modern and appealing, function properly and align with their business goals.
“A lot of business owners tell us, ‘I don’t need a new website. My website doesn’t generate business,’” Copley told Hearst Connecticut Media. “But that statement is one of the biggest selling points for us, because their websites should be generating business.”
Ward said other owners simply don’t know that their website needs improvement.
“They don’t realize that they’re missing out on higher quality or they don’t know how to trust a web developer,” he said. “We’ve seen cases where clients purchased another website package and continue to pay unreasonably expensive monthly rates.”
But these monthly packages and their high costs don’t always offer a return on investment.
“A lot of consumers simply assume that the developers will do the proper job,” Ward said. “But this is like taking your car to the mechanic and assuming that he always fixes it correctly.”
How does StyleSite handle its own jobs? The process begins with understanding the client’s “vision” for the website and what purpose it will serve. Then they create a staging site, a clone of a live website which allows developers to test changes before finalizing.
“We’re very human with the development process. We involve the client a lot and are very communicative,” Copley said. “We do objective tests of website speed and performance and focus vigorously on improving the speed and performance. We’re focused on building websites that are strategic and cater to the specific needs of clients.”
The Wilton grad said that an especially critical yet overlooked aspect of websites is “mobile optimization,” which refers to how well the site functions when visited from a smartphone.
“If your website isn’t displaying its information in a mobile-friendly way, then the unfortunate, hard truth is that your website is out of date,” he said. “More than half of all web traffic now comes from mobile devices and tablet computers. This means we have to design for three and sometimes four different-sized screens.”
Copley said his company, which operates remotely, has seen an “unprecedented” increase in business during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think having a business that is 100-percent virtual is the way of the future and we’re seeing it now with the pandemic,” the co-founder said. “We can have interns in Wilton, sales people in New York City and our head developer in California. We’re not restricted by location.”
But Ward said they consistently face one glaring obstacle — building trust with doubting customers.
“There’s a lot of hurdles and skepticism,” he said. “A lot of people think that one website agency is the same as all of the others and many customers have had bad experiences. It can be hard to convince them that we’re going to provide significant value.”
StyleSite has provided services for as many as 50 clients in Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York. One of those clients is Wilton resident Kate Parisot, whose organization Stand Up for Nick honors the memory of her late son, Nick.
Parisot said she contacted Copley in 2019 and asked him to revamp the organization’s website which had not seen an update since 2013. Parisot said she wanted to change the website’s message and branding to highlight the newly opened Nick Parisot Memorial Trail in north Wilton.
“I don’t know anything about websites. I had a vision but it needed to plug into the format and have a certain structure which I’m not aware of,” Parisot said. “George helped me format [my vision] so that it would fit into a website.”
“George happened to reach out to me a month ago,” Parisot said. “I hadn’t actually looked at the website in a couple of months. But when I did I was very appreciative and I couldn’t be happier with how it came out.”
StyleSite’s other Wilton clients include Christian Rigby, a retiree who wanted to create a website to sell artwork by his late mother, Norweigan artist Amy Berg.
Berg created hundreds of works during her career which spanned from the 1930s until the 1990s. Rigby said he has at least 150 oil-on-canvas paintings and dozens of watercolors and lithographs — artwork created on stone plates.
“When my mother passed in 2000 there were quite a few paintings left in her studio that hadn’t been sold,” he said. “I got in contact with George to see if he and James could help me set up a website to sell some of the art.”
Rigby said the two developers “couldn’t have done a better job” with the site, amyberg.art, which will launch this month. The site features an interactive layout in which visitors can read Berg’s biography, select artwork by category, see digital previews and sizes and submit price inquiries.
“James and George are very knowledgeable about building websites, domains and so forth” Rigby said. “I’m really happy. They’re very professional and very reactive. If I have a question then they come back right away with the answer.”
StyleSite’s other local initiatives include hiring part-time, unpaid interns from Wilton High School for summer 2020. The co-founders said interns will learn “hard skills” such as the basics of building and maintaining websites, as well as “soft skills” including client outreach and relationship strategies.
“Our goal is to get to a point where, if someone is talking about building websites in Wilton, then they’re talking about StyleSite,” Copley said. “The industry is ever-changing and website development companies might even be extinct in 10 years. But for now we strive to stay ahead of the competition.”